Cyndi and Cameron Dieterich never imagined they’d be spending the bulk of their newlywed years in Cave Springs, Arkansas.
Yet that’s exactly what happened.
It all started with a job offer.
Cyndi, 36, was working in Seattle for a major wine production company when an executive called to offer her a promotion.
A sales director position had opened up, servicing the company’s biggest buyer, Wal-Mart.
The position came with a big title change and a raise, but there was a catch: The job was in northwest Arkansas, where Wal-Mart is headquartered.
“He said to me, ‘I’m pretty sure I know the answer to the question, and I think it’s going to be no,'” she recalled.
But for Cyndi and Cameron, 37, the decision wasn’t so obvious.
The couple had $60,000 in combined consumer debt. With an additional $76,000 in student loans and a mortgage, their net worth was negative.
On one hand, Arkansas would offer a fast financial recovery due to its low cost of living and affordable housing. It ranked as the fourth-least expensive state to live in 2017, according to CNBC’s annual Top States for Business study.
A downside, though, was that access to the arts and culture would be more difficult, and Cyndi and Cameron would be giving up on the quality of life they’d become accustomed to in a major metropolitan area.
Ultimately, the appeal of Arkansas outweighed the negatives.
Cyndi called her company back.
“The answer’s not ‘no,'” she said.
A history of spending
Cyndi and Cameron met in Los Angeles in 2011. They’d each found their way to the city many years earlier.
For Cameron, a television producer, Hollywood called to him right out of college.
“I had the itch to go work in the entertainment industry. So as soon as I graduated, I packed up my Nissan Sentra and my dad and I drove to Burbank, California,” he said.
Cyndi’s path was less direct. She’d lived in Minnesota, Colorado and Oregon before moving to Los Angeles in 2010.
Once there, each fell in love with the city despite its high cost of living.
When rent was tight one month, they’d use a credit card to pay for food. If they needed to fly home for Thanksgiving, the plane ticket would get bought on credit.
“It was just kind of survival,” Cyndi said.
It wasn’t until the pair got married in 2013 that they decided to get serious about their finances.
They hired Sophia Bera, a certified financial planner who specializes in advising clients in their 20s and 30s.
Bera set the couple straight.
“I think what Sophia said to us after she looked at our finances initially was, ‘You have some work to do.’ Which we knew,” said Cyndi.
Arkansas would help them get that work done, but money wasn’t the only impetus for the move.
Cyndi and Cameron were hoping to grow their family, and they felt Arkansas would be a good place to raise a baby.
Moving had financial risks, too. Cameron would have to quit his job.
The couple’s Seattle home became key to quelling any financial concerns they had about the move.
Even though Cyndi and Cameron had lived there only for 1½ years, the house had appreciated significantly. They were able to close on the home and walk away with some cash.
“We would have thought, ‘Hey, let’s put that money into the new house so we have a lower payment,'” said Cameron.
Bera encouraged them to only put down 5 percent on the Arkansas house and aggressively pay down their high-interest consumer debt instead. Following her advice, the couple paid off $50,000 of their debt and refinanced one of their car loans to 2.99 percent from 6 percent.
Things got more complicated when Cyndi gave birth to Oliver. The baby was born with a congenital heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot and would need heart surgery at age 6 months. Cameron postponed his job search to focus on caring for Oliver.
“Having a child with a congenital heart defect, there’s inherently expense there. We were able to get through the first year with him and focus solely on getting him where he needed to be from a health perspective and just pay the bills that we needed to pay to take care of him,” said Cyndi.
Oliver’s health costs wouldn’t have been any different had the couple stayed in Seattle.
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Because they have insurance through Cyndi’s company, the couple had the luxury of choosing where Oliver’s heart surgery would be performed — and they could have chosen anywhere in the United States. Ultimately, they selected a surgeon in Houston.
But they say that overall child-care costs, like day care, clothes, and food, are much less expensive in Arkansas and helped offset some of the out-of-pocket health costs.
The long-term plan
Despite the challenges of a move, heath-care costs, unemployment and child expenses, Cameron and Cyndi still managed to increase their net worth that first year in Arkansas.
Today, their finances are even stronger. The Dieterichs have eliminated all $60,000 of their consumer debt and are steadily decreasing their outstanding student loans.
On top of that, Oliver is healthy and Cameron is working at a creative agency as a producer.
In many ways, Arkansas’ affordability is to thank for their swift financial success.
Still, the Dieterichs say they may not live in Arkansas forever.
But they do see the state as a key player in allowing them to triple their savings account and grow their family. And for now, they’re enjoying it.
“I think overall we are still pleasantly surprised that we like it here,” said Cameron. “It’s where our family started, where our child was born and no matter where we end up as we go through life, we’re going to have very fond memories of our time here.”
Video by: Sophie Bearman, Qin Chen, Kyle Walsh