Mechanic on Fires

Well, I’ve just spent a week in High Level, Alberta.

I was there looking after the maintenance on a helicopter while it does it’s part to ‘control’ the massive wildfires. It’s hard to fathom over 300,000 Hectares on fire! There have been huge columns of smoke 10’s of 1000’s of feet high, thunder and lightening, high winds, and suffocating smoke for us on the ground. Yesterday we couldn’t fly, in fact we couldn’t see 500 meters down the runway. It was oppressive and disgusting. Hats off to the guys on the front line working in that all day long.

However dramatic, that’s not what this post is about…

The interesting part for me, was the town of High Level (wiki). It’s not a major city, only 4,000 or so people. I travel a lot for work and ever since I became a FI enthusiast, I’ve been much more inquisitive about the communities I visit. I find it interesting to consider the FI challenges and advantages that come with living in these varied locations.

High Level is no doubt an industry town. It sits half-way between Edmonton and Yellowknife, it is a major truck stop, and wow, there are a tonne of hotels. I did get a kick out of the fact that they are loosely Vegas themed. I actually watched the Toronto Raptors make history in the Mirage lounge. But, make no mistake, the flamingo and stardust across the street, were…. well maybe they are a bit like old seedy Vegas…? They did have Video Lottery lounges! Don’t even get me started on that rant!!

Anyway, the economy of the region is resource based. This is the furthest north for agriculture in Canada, and there are oil fields in the region. I would assume that many of the jobs in the area are dependent on these resources and are sometimes unstable due to external factors. Now, in my mind, that’s every reason to have a high savings rate and to prepare for down times. But with boom and bust type economy, I can imagine it’s hard to get out in front of these events. Employment uncertainty and the cost of living here has it’s own challenges.

As you’d expect everyone drives a truck. But is there another option?

At least, for the most part, these trucks haul stuff, battle hash winter weather, traverse gravel roads and rough conditions. So add a few extra $$$ into the FI budget for that replacement truck every, say 10??? years. At least Mr. Money Mustache wouldn’t berate you for owning a truck here! But he sure as shit would tell you to get on a bicycle because…

This town is NOT pedestrian friendly at all.

You end up driving everywhere. All the time. Even if you live in ‘town’. I did the 5 km round trip from one end of town to the other way too many times to count. All possible on a bike, but that just isn’t a thing. I really should have asked more people in huge pickup trucks why they didn’t ride bikes. My dentist would have thanked me. It’s also a fact that many people travel considerable distances to town and work everyday. I met one trades person who was driving 130 kms to work, EACH WAY. Living here, you’d have to make sure your FI number accounted for your extra gas and the wear and tear of high mileage on your truck.

Everyone has to eat…

There’s two grocery stores, and I shopped them both. At the same time. Frequently. You can’t always get what you want… but sometimes, you get, what you get. This results in a cross town drive of 2.5 km to see if the other store has what you want. I’m going with an in depth personal study of… 45% chance they don’t. We were meal prepping for 8 people*, so most of the time we went to both stores. What a pain in the ass. Not to mention the prices are definitely higher that my hometown of Victoria, which could be considered a high cost of living area. It’s just a fact that delivering food costs money, and moving avocados to High Level is expensive. However, they were cheaper than home! WTF? Most other fresh food was limited and expensive in comparison. Especially if you were to grab some snack food or ready made convenience (frozen) food. There was an abundance of that and if it was your ‘staple’ diet. I’m sure you’d feel like you just shopped at whole paycheck foods of the north.

No doubt transportation and groceries are expensive. What about housing?

I liked the look of this place, 10402 Chinchaga drive. Which at $409K is the high end of the price scale here, but it’s a deal compared to my home in Victoria. However, You’d have to like a LOT of wood inside!! At the other end of the scale you’d be looking at something like this place 15 Beaver Ranch Drive just $212K. I think both of those numbers are easily manageable in most FI ‘plans’. But considering you are living an 8 hour drive from a major Canadian city, they’re pretty expensive. I didn’t do any research into rentals, but to be sure they’re very dependent on the economy and the season.

How does this all add up?

Employment could be seasonal or resource dependent. Food and transportation cost more. It’s highly likely that you would spend money on things that make your life here a meaningful one. A camper or jet boat for exploring the river and spending time with friends and family. A couple of sweet sleds for ripping around in the winter. Maybe a trip to Mexico with the family to escape said winter. Those may seem like extravagant living for city FI, but I’m not sure how to value the cost of living here. Is anyone even interested in FI? Towns like this are built on a hard work ethic. Maybe they’re just good at a work-life balance. After all, FI isn’t a definitive term. I met people here that surely could be FI. But choose to continue working and doing something, because for them, that’s what a community is all about.

Are we seeking FI to live, or is it interdependent on where we live at the time?

*We did not serve any convenience dinners. Big shout out to the guys that BBQ’d, slow cooked, and made the best meals out of the service van cooking!

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About the Author: Money Mechanic

The Money Mechanic is a 40 something 50% of his way to FI. Active in the FI/RE community. He is passionate about personal finance and educating others and sharing the tools you need on the path to Financial Independence in Canada.


  1. Great post! You brought me back to my days of flying in to small town Northern BC – where everything you talked about is 110% true lol.

    A lot of different considerations to factor into the FI equation in those places. Although I have to say, (speaking in very general terms here) the vast majority of people I met in those towns had a lot more disposable income as a major factor of the lower cost of housing. As you mentioned, a good chunk was siphoned away on high transportation and food costs, but a lot of them also had a garage full of ATV’s, boats, dirt bikes, you name it. And they really didn’t get the appeal of living in or near the big city!

    The difference in mentality and lifestyle was definitely intriguing.

    1. Good point, I was going to go into the whole, ‘He who dies with the most toys, wins!’ attitude. But I was lacking the first hand experience there and didn’t want to make a generalization. However, I’ve worked in enough places similar to say that having the camper, the boat, the ATV’s, the Snowmobile etc are ‘necessities’ for a portion of the population. I did pull into the grocery store one afternoon and there were 5 huge fancy new trucks, all towing fancy expensive jet boats. All paid for in full (cough) I expect. Looked like all the owners were in their late 20’s. Did they have more disposable income, or is credit just too available? It’s definitely interesting from a sociological perspective.

  2. wow…very interesting observations and definitely disturbs the FI complacency in our comfortable, eclectic, university towns.
    One could liken the rush of big earnings in these remote towns, to that of a meteoric rise to fame In the sports or entertainment industry. To manage big earnings, one has to have either good advisors or a developed financial acumen.
    What is the fate of these young high earners? Maybe the lessons of feast or famine dictate how they manage their lives. do they live on the edge, because life is so raw? Is this where education and social awareness/responsibility move others to a different path. Hmmm…lots to ponder.
    What makes a young person choose to take a risky high paying job at a young age, rather than go to university and study for years in order to get that high paying career ….eventually??
    well done!…

    1. Interesting thoughts. I think we see it everywhere, and it’s called lifestyle inflation. It’s definitely not limited to resource jobs or small towns. Many people that suddenly finds themselves in a high paying job, ‘usually’ go out and ‘treat’ themselves to new flashy things. Eventually as financial literacy improves people will at least be making a conscious choice when the spend on toys. Because if having a Snowmobile adds value to your life and gets you outside with friends and family in the winter, and you paid for it in full after all your other obligations are met. Absolutely have that toy.

      1. I’m seeing this happen in real-time at my new’ish job.

        I recently went back to school and changed careers. It was a good move as it significantly increased my income, but the environment among the workers is very much a “keeping up with the Jones'” situation. The coworkers – especially the younger ones – all pressure each other to buy that big house, the big vacation, the new vehicle, the new computer, the boat, and etc. It’s a little fascinating.

        It’s a slippery slope, but it’s gradual. It compounds the same way investing does except it’s in the opposite direction. It kind of sucks watching good folks bury themselves and then realize it much later. It’s even worse talking to the older workers who lived that way all their lives and now they’re scared to retire.

        1. Yes, hopefully the growing trend of financial education opens up productive conversations and people can actually be honest and understand their situation. Only then can they make alternative choices based on understanding and not comparison or competition with others.

  3. Is there anywhere I can get a large print out of Mr Money Mustache riding his sweet-ass bike like that? I’d like to pin it to my ceiling for motivational reasons.

  4. Thank you for your post. I grew up in Peace River, not too far from High Level (but never made it that faaaar North), and I’ve since made my way to a very southern town in B.C. You’ve described the anti FI pressures very well, they are real and make relating to FI a challenge. I’ve never needed a vacation more than after a long hard northern winter. And now that I live where the walk score is above 70 and we get real summers, I can’t believe how easy it is to live a more FI lifestyle. Thank you for the respect shown to the folks of the north.
    Oh, have you ever had a Powell Brewery Lazy D’Haze IPA on the podcast? Good stuff…

    1. Thanks for the comment. It is hard to quantify the regional differences as they relate to the FI journey. So much of the content out there fails to take into account the unique costs and challenges we face in different locations. I will definitely be on the lookout for the Lazy D’Haze IPA and we’ll have it on the show. Thanks for the suggestion!

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