New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Salt Lake City are some of the most popular places new grads want to live after college, but not everyone aspires to life in the city.

Take Madi Lee, 24, who graduated in 2022 and found herself working in Medora, North Dakota — popoulation: 121.

Medora is a tourist town near Theodore Roosevelt National Park where the busy season brings in thousands of visitors. But the overall quieter setting means Lee can afford a quality of life she couldn’t elsewhere, she says, even while making friends, dating and building a future for herself there.

After visiting as a kid and returning for summer jobs during college, Lee, who studied to become a high school math teacher, now works for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes travel and tourism to the town.

She now earns roughly $50,000 per year before overtime as a ticketing and reservations manager.

“I’m really happy with how everything worked out,” Lee says.

Low cost of living but higher everyday prices

Lee’s salary is a bit under Medora’s $65,000 median household income, but as a single young person, her paycheck goes far.

Lee makes consistent progress on her financial goals: She contributes 6% of her paycheck to her 401(k) to get her company’s match, $230 to a Roth IRA and about $300 for savings every month. She recently bought a Ford Bronco, which comes with a $600 monthly payment.

She rents a a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in a building owned by her company, where she qualifies for a discounted rate of $850 per month. For comparison, Lee split a similarly sized apartment with a friend in college at University of Minnesota Duluth, and their combined rent was close to $1,300 per month.

Madi Lee, 24, moved to Medora, North Dakota, which has a year-round population of 121 people.

Courtesy of Madi Lee

Outside of employer-provided apartments, however, Lee says housing can be hard to find in Medora. Some of her older colleagues live in houses outside of town and drive into work every day.

One of the trickiest things to plan for is groceries. Medora doesn’t have any supermarkets, only convenience stores and gas stations, so Lee drives 30 minutes to nearby Dickinson, North Dakota, to stock up on food about every other week. She spends roughly $300 to $400 per month on groceries, and she has to be extra mindful of her biweekly hauls during the winter, when snowstorms can shut down the interstate.

That planning ahead helps save her money in the long run. Food prices are more expensive in town because it’s a tourist destination, she says, so she tries to keep convenience-store runs and eating out at restaurants to a minimum. Lee estimates she spends about $200 per month on dining out.

Another tradeoff is having to drive far for entertainment. Lee and her friends will plan trips out to Fargo (a nearly five-hour drive) for concerts and other big events. She estimates she spends about $250 on gas each month.

That being said, her job saves her a lot of money during the busy season. From May to October, Lee and other full-time employees (plus their family members) get free breakfast, lunch and dinner from the onsite cafeteria. That’s hundreds of dollars in savings every month, and thousands every year.

Making friends and dating in a small town

Despite its small size, there are actually a lot of young people in Medora.

Most residents are either in their 20s or 65-plus, according to Census data, and many of those on the younger side work alongside Lee in the tourism industry.

Many of her friends in town are co-workers who started off as seasonal employees and moved to Medora after college, Lee says, “so we really had the opportunity to become friends going into the same experience together of living somewhere in a unique little town.”

Lee and her friends make frequent trips to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to hike, stargaze and catch the northern lights.

“We’re in such a remote place that the sky is incredible,” Lee says.

Medora is so remote that Madi Lee has been able to catch the northern lights.

Winters are harder when the town is empty and the weather is harsh, but Lee lives in the same building as many of her friends, so they hang out all the time.

Making friends may be easy, but the dating scene is a little trickier. Lee says that dating people who become your co-workers comes with the territory.

“It’s definitely interesting dating in such a small town” and having to consider “this is someone who I’m going to continue to see at work,” she says.

Even so, she’s remained cordial and professional with her exes, and many of them remain good friends.

That being said, Lee says she’ll likely consider expanding her dating pool to neighboring towns in the future.

Building a career and future

Lee feels confident that she’ll stay in Medora “for the foreseeable future” and only thinks she’ll leave to be closer to where she grew up in Roseau, Minnesota, which has a population of around 2,700, further down the line.

Within a few years, Lee has already secured several promotions and feels she has room to grow at the company. She feels positively about her company’s goal of “connecting people to historic Medora for positive, life-changing experiences,” she says.

Madi Lee says it’s easy to make friends her age in Medora, despite its small size.

Courtesy of Madi Lee

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