Would you move to a new town for $10,000?
Erik Bovell and his family did -- and they've never looked back.
This family's experience highlights a unique quirk that came out of the: When the shift to remote work turned the American office experience upside down, small and medium towns throughout the country saw an opportunity.
No longer bound to the physical office in big, expensive cities,in search of more space and more affordable accommodation. In some cases, they found new towns and communities offering cash incentives of $10,000 or more to move there. And many people took them up on their offers.
So, how do people who took advantage of these programs feel about their moves? We caught up with five people who enrolled in these incentivized relocation programs. And the verdict is in: They've loved it.
Saavedra has moved several times for career purposes and recently made a cross-country move from New York to California. She saysfor many people to make a move and save money in the process, even if it does come with some initial costs and general risks.
"If you're young, if you don't have kids and if you're not married," Saavedra said, "I strongly recommend that you do as many moves for your career as possible. This is the time to experiment and take big risks -- and save money if you can while you're young. You're never going to have this period of freedom ever again."
But even with a $10,000 check for the trouble, moving to a new home comes with big risks and big rewards. Here's what people who have made the move for money said and how you can apply for a relocation program.
Moving to a new city made it possible to...
Buy a house
Who: Erik Bovell, along with his wife and two kids
Where: Seneca, Kansas, to Topeka, Kansas
When: September 2021
Erik Bovell was ready for a move. His family lived in the northern part of Kansas, not too far from Bovell's office, but his kids started playing competitive soccer in cities more than an hour's drive away. Bovell needed a more central location, and Topeka turned out to be just the right place.
Originally from Venezuela, the Bovells first moved to Pennsylvania in 2015 and subsequently to Kansas in 2016. They moved to Topeka in 2021 with help from a relocation incentive program that offered remote workers $10,000 to move there.
Six months later, the Bovells say they love the area. They're located just five minutes from the heart of the town, but the best part is that they were able to buy a new house for a lower price than they could've gotten elsewhere. They moved into it in April 2022.
"For that price, you cannot find a house like that in a really nice area in Kansas City, not even close," Bovell said. "I received the money from the program and was able to build my backyard fence," adding that they also used the money to furnish the new place, which was more than double the square footage of their prior residence.
"We love this city," Bovell said. "My kids love where they are right now, they love their school, they love the people here. Everyone here is welcoming."
Who: Maggie Blume
Where: Chicago to Lewisburg, West Virginia
When: March 2022
Maggie Blume was born and raised in Chicago. Though she's moved to other areas throughout her professional life, she always found her way back to the Windy City. But when the pandemic hit, Chicago started to feel like an isolating place, and she found it difficult to build new communities, Maggie told CNET.
"I was a remote worker, and it was hard to get out and about," Blume said. "I was really craving any type of community; there's definitely places you can find it in Chicago, but it feels a bit harder."
So Blume decided to make a change: moving from Chicago, a city of 2.6 million people, to Lewisburg, West Virginia, a town of less than 4,000 people.
In Lewisburg, Blume has been able to find new communities and build relationships, especially among other remote workers who also moved with the Ascend West Virginia program, which offers a $12,000 cash incentive.
Blume also noted that the folks of West Virginia are super friendly, and she often runs into new acquaintances on a daily or weekly basis. "It's nice that [people] want to strike up a conversation with you," Blume said. "It's hard doing errands without stopping and talking to people."
Beyond meeting new people, Blume has been able to enjoy the great outdoors, which was harder to do back in her hometown. From biking, kayaking, skiing and hiking, as soon as Blume is done with her workday, she closes her laptop and heads outside.
"If you would've asked me a couple years ago if I wanted to move out of the city when I first moved there, I would've said absolutely not," Blume said. "But the change of pace, like things being a lot slower, I feel that it's just been healthier for me all around as a person."
Find a forever home
Who: Amy Strande, along with her husband
Where: Woodinville, Washington, to Bemidji, Minnesota
When: May 2022
Amy Strande and her husband were ready to find their "forever home" after their daughter moved away for college. They lived in Woodville, Washington, for 22 years, right outside of Seattle. But they were ready to move elsewhere since her and her husband's employer, Microsoft, allowed employees to shift to remote work in the wake of COVID-19.
The Strandes were already looking for a place in Bemidji, Minnesota, which checked all of their boxes, when they heard of 218 Relocate, Bemidji's relocation program. At the time they moved, 218 Relocate paid up to $1,000 of the moving costs, which was helpful in getting them started.
The program offers a way to connect with others through something called the LaunchPad, which is a co-working space that also throws social events for newcomers to the program, Strande said. The Community Concierge Program also connects new remote workers to other people in the community who have "similar mindsets and life stages," Strande said.
"The program was just a wonderful icing [on the cake]," Strande said. "Moving to a new city is much like starting a new job. You want to onboard really well, and you want to feel like you have a sense of belonging and you know where to go for things. It's kind of a buddy system and onboarding process."
Start a new business
Who: Cynthia Cunha
Where: Woburn, Massachusetts, to Tulsa, Oklahoma
When: September 2021
Cynthia Cunha moved from Woburn, Massachusetts, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2021 through the Tulsa Remote program, which offers a $10,000 cash incentive that you receive incrementally over the course of a year.
A Massachusetts native, Cunha never considered living outside of the New England area. But during the COVID-19 lockdown, she began reassessing her career and craving a big life change.
After a year of living in Tulsa, Cunha says she loves the area and reports that the program does a stellar job of orienting and embedding new movers into the community. The program connects remote workers through weekly and monthly events. But her remote job, which she carried over from Massachusetts to Tulsa, prevented from fully appreciating her move at first.
"When I came to [Tulsa], I had a job that was very stressful and intense," Cunha said. "I found I was working 60-plus hours a week, and I wasn't able to enjoy Tulsa and Tulsa Remote programs as much as I wanted to. So, I ended up quitting and going out on my own. I'm an HR consultant now, and I'm also starting to build up my life coaching practice, so I'm doing both."
Cunha found an unexpected benefit of the Tulsa Program as she transitioned from employee to business owner: receiving support as an entrepreneur. The program includes membership to a co-working space, where she is able to network and attend other professional events.
As part of the membership, workers can also attend educational sessions geared toward professional development, including learning to create a website and learning to plan financially for running a business. You can even get a free photo shoot with a local photographer who will take professional headshots.
"There are so many resources here for entrepreneurs," Cunha said. "The city itself just has this great innovative spirit and you feel like you have this great community around you, supporting you for starting your own business, learning about entrepreneurship and all of these great things."
Connect with new people
Who: David Cooper
Where: Fredericksburg, Virginia, to Tulsa, Oklahoma
When: July 2022
David Cooper has been all in on remote work since 2019, when he started his first remote role. He's made it a priority to work remotely ever since, and he finally kickstarted a nomadic lifestyle by moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma through the Tulsa Remote program.
For Cooper, this first step toward a nomadic lifestyle has helped him cut costs, as it's the first time he's moved away from his native area of Washington D.C. and some portions of Virginia. Moving west of the Mississippi river symbolized for Cooper a jumpstart to that nomadic lifestyle. He hopes to see other parts of the country -- and even the rest of the world.
His first stop toward becoming a digital nomad is teeming with perks, from access to remote working spaces in the heart of Tulsa to a dedicated Slack that lets you connect with other remote workers. There's a Slack channel for just about every interest, from hiking to cryptocurrency, Cooper said. It's been easy to get connected with others in the community and find others who share your interest, which has been a highlight for him.
"My transition here has been very smooth," Cooper said. "I've made fast friends that are both in the Tulsa remote program and that are not in the program but that are in my building."
Beyond the money and the opportunity to meet new people, Cooper told CNET about another great opportunity that moving to Tulsa afforded him: learning about and experiencing the "forgotten history" of Greenwood Avenue, also known as Black Wall Street. In the early 1920s, this area was one of the most prosperous black communities in the US -- until it was devastated by a two-day massacre by white rioters. Three hundred people died and more than 800 were injured in the massacre.
Cooper's advice if you're thinking about moving? Meet people.
"Everyone has a story," Cooper said. And hearing other people's stories has made it easier to feel at home in his new community. "You never know who you're gonna meet."
How to apply for a relocation program
Every program has its own rules, but there are two key requirements to keep in mind. First, most programs will require you to already have a remote job, whether that's a traditional 9 to 5 company that allows you to work remotely, or your own business. In addition, you'll also typically need to reside in the new town you choose for up to one year to receive the full stipend.
Here's how to apply to the programs mentioned above:
- Choose Topeka: Earn up to $15,000 to move to Topeka, Kansas. Remote workers can earn between $5,000 and $10,000, while on-site workers with employer approval can earn between $10,000 and $15,000. Learn more and apply here.
- Ascend West Virginia: Earn up to $12,000 and gain free outdoor recreation passes to move to one of three communities in West Virginia. Learn more and apply here.
- 218 Relocate: Earn up to $1,000 in reimbursed moving expenses and other incentives to move to Bemidji, Minnesota. You'll get access to a co-working space, teleworking tools and a community connection program. Learn more and apply here.
- Tulsa Remote: Earn up to $10,000 to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gain access to remote office space and a network of other remote workers in the heart of Tulsa. Learn more and apply here.
You can find additional towns, cities and opportunities at MakeMyMove.com.
Steps to take before relocating
Moving to a new city or town isn't easy, and it can be costly -- even if you receive money for your move like these remote workers did. Here are Saavedra's tips on what to consider before moving.
Get familiar with the housing market
Withrising at a pace not seen in decades, it's a tough time to right now, Saavedra said, which means the may be competitive.
"Knowing how housing works in each market is the biggest preparation," Saavedra said. "You don't want to be in a situation where you think you're going to find an apartment or house right away, but then you end up spending extra on temporary or extended housing until you figure things out."
Plan to give yourself plenty of time to find the right place. Be ready for multiple offers on the sameor rental place, Saavedra said, since demand could be really high right now.
Saavedra also recommends you thoroughly research the cost of living in the area you're planning to move to. Saavedra said she made this mistake when she was younger.
"I probably didn't do as much research around the cost of housing before I made any move," Saavedra said, adding that she sometimes found herself living somewhere for a month or two before realizing her budget would look a lot different than she'd expected it to. She also mentioned that speaking with folks of the prospective community can help you get some insight into overall housing and living costs.
Prepare an emergency fund
Because there might be unanticipated hiccups in your move or once you've settled down, your budget could look different than you thought. Especially for those living, Saavedra said it's important to have a bit of a cushion in your bank account before you make the move.
The typical advice for emergency funds is three to six months of living expenses -- though, admittedly, reaching any of those milestones is tough. But the exact amount you should save up will depend on your particular situation, Saavedra noted.
"I'd say if you're single, and you plan on having roommates and you can easily move back home, three months is probably fine," Saavedra said. "Six months is better if you have people depending on you. So, if you have children, if you're the only working spouse in a family, if you're supporting a sibling or parents, or if you work in an industry where it takes a really long time to find a new job … I typically recommend six months of emergency fund savings."
Consider your moving costs
The farther you're moving or the more stuff you have to, the pricier your move will generally be, Saavedra says.
You'll want to get as clear as you can on how much exactly it'll cost you to move. Some costs are inevitable, but there are some things you can do to tamp down the overall costs. For example, Saavedra said that sometimes it might be better toso that you don't have as many things to move, especially if you're making a cross-country move like she did.
Considering your moving costs could be one way of choosing where to move, if it makes it more feasible. Luckily, many local incentive programs ease the cost of moving by providing a large portion of the cash incentive up front. Check with each prospective program to see if they offer this.
"It's hard to start anew, to build community and friends," Saavedra said. "It can feel lonely at times, and I just want to encourage people and say, this is very normal. Put yourself out there and make some friends. And if you move to a place that is your vibe, it will eventually click and you'll find yourself feeling like you're at home."