Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mailbag - answering a couple questions about moving to and living in Alaska

I received a comment on the post with the

Whew, where was I?  Oh, yes, the comment.  It had questions:

My husband and I are looking into moving to AK from CT. We have been talking about it for years! I am glad I came across your blog, every other one I read is old. I like that yours is current. What does your husband do that you can afford to not work? We would love to have that same situation but always find we cant afford to live on one income. Any advice on housing and making that huge of a move? 

Okay, well, first of all, Thanks!  I love to find out that someone's reading my blog, especially someone I'm not related to or friends with and therefore "forced" to read it.  Welcome!

Your first question was about what my husband does for work that means I don't have to.  Jeff works for the phone company.  That fact isn't all encompassing of why we don't monetarily need income from me.  We live modestly.  We always have.  We were each raised in families that had to watch their budgets.  To quote an awesome movie* "We don't go to Europe.  We don't own fancy cars.  I don't own expensive jewelry."  So we don't have that expensive lifestyle to have to try to keep up.

Plus, we left a lot of expenses behind.  I was driving 200 miles a week, just to and from work.  Not including any little side trips.  I would go to the store just to go.  I ate out for lunch almost every day.  We ate out as a family entirely too often.  All expenses we don't incur anymore.  Plus, Alaska doesn't have any state sales tax (but some cities do), or individual income tax, and where we live there's no property tax.

Now, If I drive to town, it's less than 25 miles round trip, and it's not every day, more like 2-3 times a week.  I never eat lunch out.  I don't go to the store just cuz I'm bored (oh, Target, Hobby Lobby, Michael's, how I miss you...).  And we go out to eat together once a week, max.

My degree and background are in Human Resources.  To take a job up here, I'd probably be an administrative assistant or bank teller or grocery clerk, which would be great because, you know, less stress, but also, less income.  And if/when I decide to go back to work, I will be spending less time cooking, which means more "easy" meals, which means more processed stuff, convenience foods, which are more expensive.  Or more days when we say "Let's go to the Fireweed" (which costs $25+ for the two of us).  For us, for right now, this works.  Luckily there are enough employers around here that there would be employment opportunities.

Moving on...

You also asked:  Any advice on housing and making that huge of a move?

Wow, that's a big question.

And I've only lived here for less than 2 months.

But here goes.

First off, you really need to get a better idea of what part of the state you want to live in, what kind of a lifestyle you want to have.  Alaska is huge!  You've got the populated areas like Anchorage/Wasilla/etc.  The populated but colder Fairbanks.  The populated but can't drive there from anywhere Juneau.  You've got tons of small towns.  For the small towns, you probably have to figure out how far or how long of a drive you want to be from, well, WalMart.  Girdwood (not that far) or Seward (2.5 hours)?  You've also got the parts of the state where you can't drive, like all those cute little towns on the Inside Passage, or the western part of the state, including Nome, Alakanuk, Unakleet where you have to fly out.

You can also decide on your location based on geographic features.  Live in the rain forest that is the Inside Passage.  Live where temps pretty much stay between 0 and 60 degrees throughout the year down in Homer.  Live in Whittier, where everyone lives in the same building and it rains 187% of the time (slight exaggeration).  Live where there are plenty of mountains and trees, or where there are none.  Lots to choose from.  I moved here from the Midwest where it's flat.  Now, well, you've seen the pictures.

Before May 17, I hadn't even heard of this town Jeff works in.  I always figured we would live somewhere much closer to Anchorage or the MatSu Valley; I was checking out houses in Eagle River.  Somewhere I could run to the drug store, or Target, or whatnot whenever I wanted to.  But we had to consider employment, and this is where the work was, and a good job at that.  We came up for the interview, and it's beautiful.  It took me a while to see the beauty, because people up here live differently than what I was used to.  My eyes have stopped seeing all the abandoned/disabled vehicles and junk in peoples' yards.  I've stopped really seeing that you can have a nice house next to one that looks like it belongs to a hoarder.  Maybe the the early snow this year was God's gift to me to help me get over the difference in lifestyle up here...

Also, when deciding where you want to live, you have to also think about how you want to live.  Many people live just like they would anywhere else in the US, with regular utilities and running water, like we do.  You could decide you want to live very far away from other people, or right in town in an apartment complex.  You could decide you want to live in a dry cabin (no running water, no way Jose!).  Or maybe you want to be so remote you can't even drive anywhere close to your humble little abode, with no neighbors for miles and miles.

So, you know, lots to think about.

As far as housing goes, in our neck of the woods, one of the pieces of advice Jeff heard from many many people during the trip up here for the interview was to rent for the first year.  And that's what we're doing.  What's nice is that we're in a house without a commitment.  We can explore and figure out what our needs and wants are up here.  What different areas there are to live in.  Where we can be on the town water or at least have potable water from a well so we don't have to go and get water.  We can see what the winter driving conditions are on different roads, and get a better feel of how far of a commute we are willing to take on.

This next idea is not for me, as I am not a camper, but I think is probably the best idea for a couple that likes camping.  Sell all your crap, except what you can comfortably live with in a camper or RV.  Selling all your stuff gives you money to live off of.  And then drive up here and explore.  Maybe drive up here, get a job, and explore.  Whatever you're comfortable with.  Up here you can pretty much pull off and camp almost anywhere.  There was a couple who were camped out in their camper in the scenic lookout when we were up for the interview.  Of course they were camped out there because they had mechanical problems on their way south for the summer to see family, but you get the idea.  Also, selling all your stuff means you don't have to either hire a moving company or drive a UHaul up the ALCAN.  Which Jeff did.  He did not enjoy it.  Maybe if he'd had enough time to drive at a leisurely pace...

Which really brings me to the next thing:  The cost of moving to Alaska.

Let's face it, there is always going to be expenses when you move, even when you are lucky enough to have relocation paid by your employer.  If nothing else, you know you're going to have to buy a new toilet bowl brush and plunger.  Because, really, don't move those, that's gross.  And when you're making this big of a move, you're going to have to buy new kitchen stuff like salad dressing.  Do you have any idea how much salad dressing got thrown out when I finally made the move up here?  It was a lot.  And window coverings.  And maybe a new bookshelf.  And oh, wouldn't that be a nice (fill in the blank) to put on the wall in the living room?  And utilities and phone service and satellite TV, all have "connection fees."  So, you know, moving expenses.

If you wait to make the move until you can afford it, you might never move.  Earlier this year I had told Jeff that we could financially afford to move to Alaska in 5 years.  And I'm so happy that we took the opportunity that presented itself, even if we hadn't hit what I would consider being "financially ready."

But how do you really actually physically move to Alaska?

Well, that depends on the part of Alaska you're moving to.  If you can drive to where you're moving to, do the RV thing like I wrote about above.  Or drive a UHaul like my husband did.  Or hire a moving company (which apparently takes a month or more to get your stuff).
If you're going to live somewhere you have to fly to (the entire Western half of the state, basically), you don't have those options.  I've read blogs (from a lot of teachers & their families) who have moved via the USPS.  That's right, the post office.  Someone has to move your stuff, so why not trust the people who have been moving stuff for pretty much ever?  I have mailed my share of Priority Mail boxes, and I also mailed a tote.  In fact, I raced my tote up here.  I took it to the post office in Illinois right before my sister and I took off to drive to Seattle (here, here, and here).  I then picked it up about two weeks later at the post office, somewhat worse for wear, but intact.
I also read a blog from someone who moved to Juneau to teach.  She sold almost all her stuff, packed her car as full as possible, and drove to the west coast.  She caught the ferry from Bellingham WA up to Juneau.  And she also had some stuff mailed to her.

So, what else do you want to know?  I'd love to try to help out if you have questions, even though I am by no means an expert.  I just have recent experience.

And if you're looking for other Alaska blogs, I read:
Alaskan at Heart
At Home on the Last Frontier
Our Wild and Precious Life
The Cunningham Family in Bush Alaska

Hopefully that helps.

*Have you figured out what movie?  Father of the Bride.


  1. What an excellent post!!! Funny, and informative :)

  2. So true about not waiting until you can afford to move here - I decided to just take the leap and I'm so glad!
    Thanks for sharing a link to my blog, too!

  3. Wow!! Thank you so much for this response!! Ive been trying to convince my husband that we will never be ready financially. We are getting our house ready to sell (replacing the roof and renovating the kitchen) and then we plan to move. I would love to just up and go but he wants to make sure one of us has a job (which is totally opposite of our normal roles, hes the adventurous one! Haha) we have been looking at towns around anchorage. I thought renting in CT was expensive! Haha. I agree with the rent for a year first. Our only problem is we have a dog who has fear aggression/not good with strangers and alot of listings I saw say no pets. I like the RV idea though!

    Ive always loved the idea of the community Alaska offers. From what ive read the people out there are so nice and helpful and thats what I want! I hate living in corporate america where everyone is miserable. I will have to show my husband this post and look into the other blogs you listed. Thank you soo much for the post! :)

    1. You are most welcome.
      I don't know what it's like to look for a place to rent over near Anchorage, but where we are, it's very much word-of-mouth, which is how we found where we're living. I would think there would be homes to rent that would allow your dogs - but you're probably mostly seeing apartments on-line.
      As far as amenities in the towns outside of Anchorage, Eagle River has a WalMart & grocery stores. Wasilla has Sears, Target, WalMart, etc. And Palmer has multiple grocery stores. Thought that might be helpful.