Before I begin I want to make it clear that this is not a contest post. I am not making any claim that the south is better then the north or vice versa. Personally, after living in both places for a good number of years, the south is what I prefer. Your preference may be different.
I’ve thought about writing something like this for a while since I moved from New England to the southeast almost a dozen years ago. I have noticed a number of differences. From my perspective, most of them are positive but there are a few that are negative as well. Some of these observations might be useful for others who are considering a move to the south and these days that seems to be something that is happening more frequently. Where I live they seem to be building houses as fast as they are able to accommodate all the people moving to the area.
Why We Made The Move
It may sound a bit silly to some but one of the main reasons we decided to move was that we just felt like we were ready for a change. We kind of felt like we were in a rut and not really satisfied with our lives at the time.
We didn’t have any location restrictions where employment was concerned and our two boys who were both out of school and still living with us at the time were definitely in favor of the move.
For me personally, I was also very tired of the long, cold winters we had to endure. I had developed a pretty serious aversion to the cold. I despised it, to be honest.
I first traveled to the south when I was around 12 or 13 years old. At that time we had relatives living in western North Carolina and we drove down to spend some time with them back in the early 1970s. It was my first trip that far from home and as a kid, I thought it was magical. I loved it in North Carolina because it seemed so new and different to me at the time. I actually thought all the invasive kudzu growing along the interstate was native to the area and looked cool. I still think it looks cool but now understand it is something we would be better off without.
I visited the south four or so times as an adult and found that I enjoyed being here no less than I did when I was a kid. I did not despise the cold as a younger adult the way I do now but I still loved the warmer climate here.
Cost of Living
In general, what you have heard about the lower cost of living in the south is true and in my experience, that is attributable more to local government than anything else. In particular, real estate taxes are much lower here and other government-imposed expenditures usually are as well.
For example, when we left New Hampshire, out annual property tax bill was approaching $6,000. Here in South Carolina it is around $700. Our home here is a bit smaller so even if we assume that a home that is closer to the one we left up north was taxed here to the tune of $1000, that is still represents very significant savings.
There is a sales tax in both North and South Carolina and that was a little disappointing coming from New Hampshire but I also realized I pay a lot less in sales tax in a year than the nearly $6,000 I was paying for property taxes up there. The conclusions I have reached over the years is that they are going to get you one way or another. In a place like New Hampshire they may boast about having no sales or income tax but they make up for it with property taxes. In a place like Massachusetts where I grew up they get you with every tax and fee anyone has ever heard of. Overall, there is no doubt that the cost of living is lower in the south.
Another pretty notable difference in government fees turned out to be a driver’s license. In New Hampshire it costs $50 for the “typical” license and it expires in 5 years. We were quite surprised to discover that a driver’s license in North Carolina (where our first home in the south was located) cost just $32 and expired in 8 years. However, I was not at all pleased by North Carolina’s requirement to take a written exam to get a driver’s license despite my having been licensed in another state for over 30 years! I am not sure that rule still stands but it is ridiculous. Traffic laws in North Carolina do not differ that significantly from other states so I fail to understand what motivated them to put that requirement in place. There is no such requirement in South Carolina or at least there wasn’t for me when I swapped my North Carolina license for the South Carolina version.
When we relocated to South Carolina we discovered that the cost of a driver’s license was even less than in North Carolina. Here it cost $25 and is also good for 8 years. That’s half of what it costs in New Hampshire and lasts 3 years longer! However, there was a pretty big negative where driving is concerned when relocating to South Carolina. I’m talking about the dreaded “Infrastructure Maintenance Fee.”
This fee, which I would not expect to encounter in the south, mandates a significant fee when registering a motor vehicle in South Carolina. Although I am sure there are variations, exemptions and a litany of complex regulations involved, what I can tell you is that it cost us and additional $300 to register our car when we moved here. And that is for a car that is a long way from being new. The good news was that it only has to be paid once and we did not have to deal with it again when we got around to registering our second vehicle. I won’t defend South Carolina where this abomination is concerned.
Like I said at the outset, some changes here are positive and some are negative.
We did not notice a significant change in what we pay for auto insurance in North Carolina, although it went up a little when we moved to South Carolina. But we are older and are both retired and do not have to commute to work as we once did.
As far as other expenses go, like grocery shopping for example, we honestly did not notice any major difference between what we paid for groceries up north compared to what we are paying here. Some things may be a little less expensive here and some things may be a little more expensive.
Yes, it’s true that people tend to differ a bit here in the south when compared to those in places like New England. Everyone has heard the term “southern hospitality” and in my experience that is not a myth. One might be tempted to say that people are nicer in the south and I can understand why but I think it is more accurate to say people are more open here.
Having lived both in the north and south I know that people in the north are as kind, friendly, helpful and generous as they are here in the south. I believe that people here in the south are just a bit more outgoing and open towards others. As a Yankee myself, I recognize in myself the somewhat more closed off and stoic attitude that one tends to find more up north. I can also see that a dozen or so years here in the south has opened me up somewhat and I find myself acting a bit more “southern” now when it comes to interactions with others when I am in public. I think I may have even said “You’re fine” at least once to a stranger while out and about! That will make sense to those living in the south or have spent any significant time here.
Something that saddens me is the near complete disappearance of the southern accent. Now southerners may want to argue this point with me since they may believe it is alive and well but for someone who hails from another part of the country and to whom the southern accent really stood out, as far as I am concerned, it’s all but gone.
Sure, I do still encounter people here that speak with that old familiar southern “twang,” particularly older folks, but comparing today to the early 1970s leaves no doubt in my mind that it is dying. I’d say that 90 percent of the people I interact with here have no trace of a southern accent and speak with a more generic “accent” that really does not remind me of any particular regional accent. When I visited western North Carolina in the early 1970’s it seemed unlikely that you could find anyone that did not speak with a distinctive southern accent and a good many of them were quite pronounced.
I guess it is just sad to see something like that disappear. It was such a distinctive feature of the south for a long time. I suppose part of it could be the result of migration from other parts of the country but the most popular theory I have heard is that the main cause is mass media like television and radio. I do not know the answer and am just sorry to see it disappearing.
Again I want to emphasize that I lived in New England for more than 50 years and have been living in the south for nearly a dozen years because some people (particularly southerners) may not agree with this next part.
In general, driving in the south is more dangerous than driving in the north. That statement is referring to how people drive and has nothing to do with weather or road conditions. In fact, despite the almost constant complaints about the road conditions where I live, the roads here are in much better shape than anywhere I ever lived in New England. When I hear people complain about the roads around here I always want to suggest they take a road trip up to Massachusetts where they can get a real good taste of what lousy roads are like! And I do realize that the colder weather and harsh winters up north make it more challenging to maintain the roadways.
To support my claim that driving here is more dangerous than up north I want to point out the fact that our local evening news broadcasts often remind us that we live in an area with some of highest traffic fatality rates in a state that has hold the distinction of being the very worst one for traffic fatalities according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute. That information is based on fatalities per 100 million miles traveled and is not a simple (and misleading) total of all traffic fatalities per state.
Based on what I see in the local news around here, I have no trouble believing that we have more traffic fatalities than any other state. I just see more reports of fatal accidents here than I have in other places I have lived. Does that mean you are doomed to die in a traffic accident if you live in South Carolina? Of course not! The number of people who die that way are still an incredibly small minority of all the people traveling on the roads. However, there is no denying that your risk is slightly higher here compared with most other areas of the country. I do doubt that any significant portion of people consider that to be a deciding factor when they are thinking about moving here.
For a while I was a bit puzzled as to why there are more traffic fatalities here than other places and particularly New England where I spent most of my life but I think I may have figured it out. Or at least come up with a pretty significant contributing factor. I can sum it up with one word: Enforcement.
Like it or not (I tend to like it), the south is known for its more laid back and easy-going attitude about things. That is also not a myth and as I indicated, I prefer it to the somewhat more hustle and bustle lifestyle I experienced up north. Unfortunately, there are downsides to this difference as well and one of those is traffic enforcement. It just isn’t the same as it is up north. Down here they tend to let things slide more and people seem to be accustomed to being able to get away with more bad and dangerous behavior while driving. Allow me to provide some personal experience.
It is not uncommon for me to see vehicles on the road in such bad shape that I would not consider driving them on a public road. Here in South Carolina they did away with the vehicle safety inspection requirement some years ago. In general I support that decision mainly for selfish reasons. It was a hassle to go get my vehicle inspected once a year and hand yet more money over to the state and I do not miss that. And frankly, most of the serious accidents we hear about around here do not seem to have anything to do with the condition of the vehicle. I am sure the news media would be more than happy to tell the world if that was the case but I have not heard that one time that I can recall since I have lived in the south.
Allow me to give you another example. My son’s friend, who lives in North Carolina, once drove his vehicle for three years (that is not a typo!) with an expired license plate before he finally got pulled over. And this is a guy with a regular day-job who had to commute to work every day. I can pretty well guarantee that someone would not get away with that up north. I suspect someone would be lucky to last a month under those conditions up there.
Getting back to the condition of the vehicles, some of those I see on the road make me confident that they would be pulled over by the first cop that saw it up north. In fact, there are some that I think should indeed be pulled over and taken off the road until they are repaired. We may not have vehicle safety inspections here but that is no reason for obviously unsafe vehicles not to be taken off the road by the proper authorities. I suspect states like South Carolina did not do away with vehicle safety inspections without first knowing that they have no real positive effect on traffic safety. Like I said, I tend to believe they are more of a long-standing money grab that some states are reluctant to let go of.
Another thing I have noticed here in the south, and perhaps I should not paint with such a broad brush since maybe some southern states have better traffic safety records. Maybe I should just say “in the Carolinas” instead. At any rate, my experience both here in South Carolina and North Carolina is that I have never seen so many people run red lights and so few people use turn signals. Surely the turn signal thing is much more prevalent than the running of red lights. At times it makes me wonder if some drivers around here have arm injuries that prevent them from using their turn signals. I do not see red light runners all the time but surely more than I ever did up north. Again, I strongly suspect it all comes back to enforcement. It just isn’t taken as seriously here as it is in many other places.
Another factor that makes me think enforcement is the key to the inferior traffic fatality history around here is another very distinct class of motor vehicles I see on the road in numbers too numerous (one would be too many!) for my liking: The Thunder Truck
If you live in the south you are probably all-too-familiar with this phenomenon. The culprits are undoubtedly young males who, for some reason that is not clear to me, want their prized pick-up trucks to sound like 50 Harley-Davidson motorcycles revving their engines simultaneously. Now I admit that might be an exaggeration, but I promise you that what follows is not.
I have worked on a few cars in my lifetime and although I am not a mechanic or even a “motorhead,” I did a lot of the repair work on my vehicles for most of my life. Having replaced mufflers and such, I know what a vehicle without a muffler sounds like. It makes one appreciate the inventor of the muffler more than you otherwise would. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that a few of these Thunder Trucks literally (and I do mean literally!) sound like vehicles that have no muffler installed whatsoever. Yes, it is that bad. And how these kids drive around inside these things with that constant racket is a true mystery to me. They are surely not among my favorite people that I have encountered in the south and I have had more than a few unkind things to say about them. It’s very inconsiderate to cause that much of a racket driving around.
Although the Thunder Truck phenomenon is a southern thing as far as I am aware, that is not to say that there are not a select group of young lunkheads in the north that would not take the same obnoxious path. And that brings us back to. Yes, you guessed it. Enforcement.
The young lunkheads in the north most likely don’t do it only because they know that they would not get away with it. They know that if they did attempt it they would likely be pulled over and had their vehicle towed away by the first cop within earshot of their shiny, jacked-up noise machine. It just would not be tolerated by the authorities responsible for enforcing traffic laws but here in the laid back south it appears to be something that is overlooked. And yes, I have checked South Carolina motor vehicle laws and it is indeed unlawful to have a vehicle that is louder than some certain level. Trust me, these trucks I am talking about would exceed whatever limit that is because I cannot imagine how a vehicle could be made any louder. Again I stress that none of this (except for the Harleys) is an exaggeration.
If places like South Carolina would take traffic enforcement more seriously I suspect they could bring their traffic fatality rates more in line with other states that have better numbers. It would make the roads safer for everyone and also a lot quieter. But since being easy going is such a long-standing and established way of life here, that is probably not something that will happen any time soon.
Here’s some breaking news! In the summer it is hot in the south!
OK, on a more serious note, yes, if you hate heat and humidity the south is probably not the place for you. Even some of the people here don’t care for it much. I have a neighbor that was born and raised here and he would rather live in Alaska! He actually lived there for a couple of years and said he would have preferred to remain there but for a host of reasons he moved back home.
I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. I love the heat and hate the cold. For me, moving south was a clear win. But even I will admit that day after day (after day) of sunny days with temperatures in the mid to upper 90s and humidity that is agreeable to a catfish is a bit much even for a heat lover like myself. I would need to move to a more tropical location that was around 80 degrees all year to improve upon what I have now.
I don’t deny that I spend a good deal of time taking refuge inside my air conditioned home during the hottest months of the summer. However, if I am so inclined, I can get out in the mornings before 10:00 am or so and it is typically very lovely outside even on a day that ends up being very hot. I can also get out in the evenings, which is not quite as pleasant as the mornings but much better than the daylight hours.
Now that undoubtedly sounds unpleasant to a lot of people and the south may not be right for them. However, the other side of the coin was much less pleasant for someone like myself. Where I lived in New Hampshire it was not uncommon to get snow in November and it was often not completely melted off the ground until May. Personally, I would much rather endure three or four months of heat from hell than four or 5 months of cold (as well as snow and ice) from hell, making the south my clear choice.
I should also point out that there are significant differences from one region to another in the south. For example, when we lived in North Carolina we were in the area commonly called “the mountains” and believe me, the elevation makes a difference. In North Carolina I would say that our summers were a lot closer to what they were like in New England. In general, it was hotter and more humid but the move down to the flatlands here in South Carolina is a very noticeable change. On average our temperatures here are five to ten degrees warmer year round. I feel confident saying that someone who has a serious problem with hot weather would be much happier in the mountain areas as opposed to just about any flat terrain in the south.
The weather differs here in other ways compared to New England. I have noticed that the extended period of overcast and rain that we would see a few times a year up north do not happen as often here and when they do, they do not last as long. Every New Englander knows what I am talking about. There are times when weather systems can get stalled in that area of the country and cause days of dismal, damp, overcast and depressing weather. I can recall a time when I lived in New Hampshire when that went on for about three weeks. No, I am not making that up.
Since I have been in the south I can recall only one spell similar to that. We were in North Carolina at the time and I remember a time when the weather was like that for about a week. Other than that, we do indeed get a dismal rainy day or three in a row but it does not happen all that frequently. Weather system seem to move better in this area and it seems like even on days when we get rain it usually clears up before the day is over. I feel quite certain we get more sunny days here compared to my over five decades of experience living in New England.
Did I mention that I hate the cold? Well, the winter here in the south makes that a lot easier to take! We sure do have our four seasons here in South Carolina and we definitely get a taste of winter cold here but it is nothing compared to up north.
Where we lived in North Carolina was definitely a bit harder to take for a heat lover like myself. During most winters we would see at least some snow. Often times it was just flurries that barely dusted the ground but there were other times that we saw a significant snowfall. I can recall at least two instances over the course of ten years or so when we had a snowfall that measured 10 inches or so. It was not uncommon to see lesser amounts like three inches but it did not happen every year. And remember the temperature difference between the mountains and flatlands around here. It is cooler in the mountains during those summer heat waves but also colder during those winter cold spells.
I can recall one winter in North Carolina when we got down to –3F one night. That is definitely a rare occasion since nighttime lows during the winter in that area usually do not dip much below the upper 20s and the days are often in the 40s and 50s and sometimes 60s even in the dead of winter.
We have been in South Carolina for almost two years so my experience with the weather here is not as extensive. However, my neighbor (the one that lived in Alaska) tells me that snow around here is “a joke” and that it hardly ever happens. I can say however, that I actually did see a few flakes one cold night around Christmas last year but that was it so far. As someone who lived in New England for over five decades, the idea of no snow does not bother me much at all. I don’t mind seeing an inch or two around Christmas but that is about all I want to see.
Fall comes late and spring comes early here in the south and that I really do love. Unlike where we lived in New Hampshire, the month of March actually seems like spring here while I always just considered it a “bonus” winter month up north. In a lot of ways it still seems like summer well into October around here and that is just fine with me as well.
I hate to admit it but living in the south has turned me into a wimp where cold weather is concerned. I knew someone who moved from New Hampshire to the south before I did and he warned me about that. “Once you are here for a while you will become a total wimp about the cold,” he told me. I did not believe him. Now I do.
Silly me! Imagine thinking it would be easier gardening in the south! It’s warmer and has a longer growing season. What’s not to love? Two words: The soil.
I enjoy gardening. Vegetables, flowers, the usual things and I did so in the north for probably 10 years or so before I moved south. I really looked forward to gardening in the south. With the long growing season it seemed like it would be superior to gardening in the north.
When we were in North Carolina I did not get a chance to garden much due to our circumstances at the time but I did plant a small vegetable garden one year and it did not turn out to well so I decided to call it quits until we moved.
To be fair, this is only my second year gardening down here so it may not fair to say that it is more difficult than it is in the north. No matter where you are it can take a couple of years to get a new garden established enough to produce well.
What I can say however, is that the soil here is more difficult to work with. It’s that classic red clay that seems to dominate everywhere in the south and is very much unlike the darker and more “normal” soil found in the north. This stuff seems like it can be as hard to dig as concrete and it has an annoying tendency to form into clumps that stick together and just make things more difficult. And it can stain your clothes pretty good as well. I really do not care for it much at all.
In order to work up a decent area to garden in, particularly when it comes to vegetable gardening, you need to add a lot of amendments to the soil. Did I mention that you need to add a lot of amendments to this red devil soil in order to make it worth trying to grow things in it? Yeah, I did mean a lot. Things like peat moss and other lighter organic materials are particularly useful to fluff up the soil and transform it into something you can worth with. Do not be shy about adding what may seem like insane amounts of good stuff to southern soil. Trust me, it will pay off.
Am I still happy about moving south? Definitely! And I have never considered moving back to New England. I suppose it makes it an easier decision since I do not have any immediate family left at this stage of my life. As far as extended family is concerned, I do still have an uncle, two aunts and perhaps 20 or so cousins who are still living in New England and other than perhaps three of my cousins, I am not at all close and are not in touch with them.
I loved the south the first time I visited as a kid and I still do. For me the benefits outweigh the negatives easily and we plan to remain here for the rest of our lives.