Author Topic: A Tale of Two Cities: Bend, OR or Helena, MT? Hair on Fire Decision by Friday!  (Read 9290 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Hi, All -

My wife and I are fairly newly-minted Mustachians. I attended 'Camp Mustache' in Washington a few months ago, and we are rebooting out lives to retire in 15 years. To that end, we are considering moving to a city with a lower cost of living, better bike commuting options, and lifestyle options that suit our values. In the past week, I have been offered jobs in Bend, Oregon and Helena, Montana and we must decide by Friday which direction to go. We are currently living in Portland, and love it here, but are looking for more low-key and low-cost cities to start a family and build our nest egg. The jobs have a pay disparity of about $20k/yr, but that's somewhat offset by a lower cost of living in Montana vs. Oregon.  Here are the details (all figures are combined between my wife and me):

Income potential in Montana: $98K (before taxes) / estimated after-tax income @.66 = $65,000 net income
Income potential in Oregon: $120K (before taxes) / estimated after-tax income @.66 = $79,000 net income

Estimated Housing Rent in Montana: $9,600/yr.
Estimated Housing Rent in Oregon: $13,200/yr.

Estimated Mortgage Payment in Montana: $19650/yr (assuming 175k house, 15yr. mortgage @ 3.5% + taxes/insurance)
Estimated Mortgage Payment in Oregon: $21,600/yr (assuming 200k house, 15 yr. mortgage @3.5% + taxes/insurance)

Net Income After Mortgage/Rent:
Montana Net Income After Rent: $55,400
Montana Net Income After Mortgage: $45,440
Oregon Net Income After Rent: $65,800
Oregon Net Income After Mortgage: $57,400

Monthly Expenses:
Student Loans: $300
Internet Service: $40
Mobile Phones: $80
Heating: $30
Electric: $60
Water: $80
Garbage: $60
Car Insurance: $65
Gasoline: $175
Food/Bev: $400
Prescriptions: $20
Dog: $50
Netflix: $8
Haircuts/Massage/Manicure: $75
Barre 3 Online: $10

Total Monthly Expenses: $1473 / $17,676 Annualized

Total Income After Mortgage/Rent and Expenses:

Montana Income (Rent): $37,724
Montana Income (Buy): $27,764
Oregon Income (Rent): $48,124
Oregon Income (Buy): $39,724

$50k in 401k and IRA accounts
$75k in equity in the house we own in Portland (valued at $320k)
$15k in cash

$25k in Student Loans
$245k Mortgage Loan @ 4.25%

Our plan is to rent our Oregon house until we are SURE we like it in Helena or Bend, then sell. We can rent for about what we pay in mortgage (approx. $1800/mo.).


There are some contributing factors to this decision. My parents live in Montana and are aging and experiencing some health problems, and we would like to be able to assist them as they age. We are strongly committed to saving at least half our income in any case, and are laser-focussed on that goal. We also want to have a child in the next year or so, which will impact these numbers somewhat. For instance, my wife will probably take 3 months beyond the normal 3 month maternity leave, and will likely work 4 days a week until the child is school age. But the numbers won't change significantly.

Here are my questions:
1. Is there a clear choice between these two cities when looking through a cold, hard, unflinching Mustachian lens?
2. Are my income/expense figures reasonable based upon what Mustachians typically spend?
3. Anyone have experience or knowledge of these two cities that can inform our decision?
4. Any other thought or input is greatly appreciated!
5. What am I missing?

Thank you in advance!



  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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I vote for Montana to be closer to the parents with health issues.

I also suggest nosing around on Zillow for houses in Bend at $200k.  I think you are looking at two bedroom condos for that price.

Both places seem like a good fit, so congrats on getting those job offers.


  • Walrus Stache
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I would chose Montana..little less hectic and gotta love the big sky country!!


  • Walrus Stache
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Bend is a great town but I don't think your housing estimate is accurate (at least for buying a place). Bend will have more of a granola vibe and there's a ton of mountain biking. Weather is a little less cold in the winter. Skiing on Bachelor is mediocre but there's tons of snow!

Also, Bend has breweries like crazy if you're a craft beer person. And your friends can visit you from Portland very easily if they want.

I've never been to Helena so can't comment there.



  • Pencil Stache
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Don't know Montana, but visit Bend every year. Right now it is a growing area with housing costs increasing every year. There is a costco right there in Bend. Bicycle usage is increasing with more dedicated bike lanes appearung every year much to the dislike of most people from outside Bend. Being a German I like the numbers of micro breweries in the area. A lot of what is special to Portland seems to make it to Bend with some delay, so I would think of Bend as Portland being 10-15 years behind.


  • Handlebar Stache
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I would go to Bend, personally, but I also think you should examine housing costs more closely. There's variance in town, and the parts of the west side that are more pleasant and generally more compatible with walking/cycling for most trips have gotten quite a bit more expensive in the past couple of years (or so it appears to me). Schools in Bend are pretty good, if you expect to have kids.


  • Magnum Stache
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It looks like your state income tax rate in MT would be 6.9% vs. 9 to 9.9% in Oregon.  You might want to check on property taxes as well if you think you might buy.  Looks like a sub $200K humble abode is available in either place, though I'm surprised that it doesn't buy more in Helena.


  • Walrus Stache
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It looks like your state income tax rate in MT would be 6.9% vs. 9 to 9.9% in Oregon.  You might want to check on property taxes as well if you think you might buy.  Looks like a sub $200K humble abode is available in either place, though I'm surprised that it doesn't buy more in Helena.

You beat me to it re income tax differential...

OP you may want to consider that Montana tends to be a car town, at least for travelling around, and Bend has that "granola" or stay put and bike mentallity.   Bend is a bit more like a resort town which could drive food and other prices up, tho.


  • Magnum Stache
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What are you going to choose?  Don't leave us hanging here!


  • Stubble
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I found Montana to be breathtakingly beautiful, but never been to Oregon.  Plus the family is in Montana.  Do let us know which you choose.


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I would be closer to family, but would you be leaving behind a strong network of friends in Oregon?

An intrastate move is much less disruptive than an interstate one.

I've been to Montana but that was ages ago. Never been to Oregon.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Hi, All -

Thanks so much for your wise words and thoughtful consideration of my dilemma. We chose....Montana! It ultimately came down to our desire to be closer to family, lower cost of living, and the ability to really control expenses more predictably.

This forum is a great asset for vetting big decisions, and I thank you all for your honest appraisals.

Kind regards,



  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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I have lived in Montana for 20 years.

Best biking town in the country besides Portland is Missoula, MT.  Missoula is more young/hip and has more energy than Helena, and is a fairly cheap place to live.  I would recommend it over Helena if biking is primary motive.

I currently live in Bozeman, but you don't want to move here because it will grow to the size of Salt Lake in the next 25 years and become very bloaty/expensive/big city like.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Staying in Oregon earns you 12K more per year.

You definitely are just starting out on your ER journey in terms of assets saved.

Are there differences in either job? Would be less stress and more interesting then the other?

I am a big fan of taking care of parents and I highly support the idea of living near your aging parents. You only have so much time with them before they pass, and your children may like having family around. Are there any extended family that could help with their care as they age? Its hard to manage caring for someone out of state with a full time job back home and a wife a kids. Montana is beautiful. Does your wife have a preference?


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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I've been to both towns, love them both! I was really struck by Helena  when we drove through last year. Surprised more people don't talk about moving there. Best of luck! I'm sure you'll love it!


Wow, a phone plan for fifteen bucks!