I Got Paid $10K to Move to Tulsa and It’s Helping Me Retire Early

This unique opportunity brought me closer to my real estate and retirement goals — here’s how I did it.
10/17/19 | By Brandon Neth
I Got Paid to Move to Tulsa

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If someone had told me a few years ago that my wife and I would pack up our wiener dog, all of our belongings, and leave our lifelong home in Portland, OR to move to Tulsa, OK, I’d probably have rolled my eyes and laughed.

What could motivate us to say goodbye to friends, family, and the laid-back beauty of our beloved Pacific Northwest? The answer is $10,000 and the chance to get that much closer to our financial goals, which include increasing our real estate portfolio and moving from our current lean FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) lifestyle to fat FIRE.

Through the Tulsa Remote work program, which is spearheaded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and aims to make Tulsa a more vibrant and attractive city, I was offered $10,000 plus other incentives to live there for one year.

Here’s the story behind our 2,000-mile move and the details on how it’s going five months in.

How I found the Tulsa Remote program

I learned about the Tulsa Remote work program through the FBZ Elite Facebook page. As a financial independence expert and Community Manager at FinanceBuzz, my day-to-day involves running our social media, serving as our brand ambassador, and generally answering questions about points, miles, finance, and real estate.

Both online and off, I’ve become notorious for being the cheapest person alive. Knowing that I’m crazy frugal, multiple people reached out to me and said the Tulsa Remote program would be right up my alley. I hadn’t heard about it, so I did some research and learned that it was offering $10,000 to remote workers who were willing to move to Tulsa for one year.

In addition to cash, there was a housing stipend, a membership to a communal workspace — similar to WeWork but strictly for people in the program and local entrepreneurs — as well as monthly lunches, dinners, and weekly activities. I immediately got the sense that it was trying to build a community of entrepreneurs and digital nomads, so I applied right on the spot.

The application process

The application was pretty straightforward and involved a combination of written essays, quantitative questions that gauged your agreement with charity-, community-, and volunteer-focused statements, and a series of “yes” or “no” questions. It took roughly 2.5 hours and gave me a pretty good idea of the type of people the program was hoping to attract.

I was so into it that I submitted the application without even telling my wife, Mariel. Luckily, we share a similar mindset for making and saving money, so I was pretty sure that if I were selected, she’d be onboard. We’ve been together for 16 years, and we joke that she’s the one who created the money-saving monster I am today.

But as I quickly found out, I wasn’t the only person excited about the opportunity to make $10,000 simply by moving to Tulsa. The program was originally expecting around 1,000 applicants, with the intention of bringing about 25 people to Tulsa. The program eventually had to cap the number of applications at 10,000.

Fortunately, I made it through the next rounds of interviews and was invited to fly down and check out Tulsa. Of course, Tulsa Remote needed to make sure that a) we wanted to be there and b) the program wanted us there. Thanks to my Southwest Companion Pass, Mariel was able to fly with me for just $11. We spent three days meeting the program’s administrators, seeing the workspace, visiting the city’s highlights, and getting a sense of what life in Tulsa really might look like for us.

A step closer to our financial goals

Once I was officially accepted into the Tulsa Remote program, it was time for serious evaluation.

We did a little research and found that, according to PayScale data, the cost of living in Tulsa is 8% lower than the national average; Portland, on the other hand, is actually 29% higher than the national average. Housing alone in Portland is 79% above the national average, while Tulsa’s is 35% below the national average.

Because one of our main financial goals is to expand our real estate holdings, the move was a no-brainer. We already owned multiple properties in Portland, but we were eager to move into larger, multi-family homes. I dug into the numbers a bit more, and immediately, they looked pretty promising. By selling our properties in Oregon, I could buy 20 properties in Tulsa. The cash flow was going to be better, and overall, it made a lot of sense.

Right now, Mariel and I are in lean FIRE with a passive income of almost $4,000 a month. But my ultimate goal is to reach fat FIRE and achieve a passive income of $12,000 a month before I hit 40, four years from now. On paper, it looked like taking advantage of this opportunity would help us get there. Plus, we’d been looking to move somewhere new anyway, so everything lined up — we decided to go for it.

Making the move

Once we accepted the program’s offer, we put our houses in Portland up for sale, and I flew down to Tulsa and bought our first place. While I’m no stranger to packing at a moment’s notice and embracing the opportunity to check out new surroundings, there’s a big difference between taking a few weeks to visit another continent and permanently moving across the country.

Mariel and I are extreme minimalists, but even though we’re simple people, we still had a lot more stuff packed into our 900-square-foot home than we thought we did. Because we knew we wanted to fit all our belongings, plus our dog, into our Toyota Corolla, we started selling everything.

We had one big garage sale and then sold a lot through Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and Letgo. If it couldn’t fit into the car, it wasn’t making the trip!

Second-guessing ourselves

In addition to the physical toll of packing up, there’s an emotional component that goes into moving, too. Our parents, who live in Portland, weren’t too happy about us leaving, and as it got closer, there were moments when we definitely second-guessed ourselves.

To combat those doubts, we adopted a mindset that was pretty empowering. We told ourselves if moving didn’t work out, we’d put the house up for sale or rent it out and move again.

Once we had the car packed to the brim, we set off and spent six days on the road. We went hiking in national parks. We took historic Route 66 and hit famous roadside attractions. We even stopped in New Mexico to check out some “Breaking Bad” landmarks and really made the most of it.

For us, the move didn’t financially cost too much at all. We didn’t rent a trailer, and we planned our route ahead of time, so we knew which hotels we could use our points at to score free rooms. I also calculated how much gas we would need and where we were going to stop and buy it — because, again, I’m crazy frugal.

Getting settled in Tulsa

When I initially pictured Tulsa, I envisioned it filled with cowboys and people who most likely have very different political views from our own. But what I found is a city that’s really unique with a lot to see and do.

There have been plenty of positive surprises. The Tulsa Remote working space is very cool, and I’ve met some really smart and tech-focused people. Tulsa also gets all the Broadway shows at a fraction of the price — my wife’s mind was blown when we saw “Hamilton” for just $75.

Plus, Tulsa is very unique in what it offers; the vibe and energy in the community right now is what Austin, TX was 15 years ago — which is also what we’re counting on to help us reach our real estate and passive income goals.

Looking ahead

Overall, the Tulsa Remote program has given me an opportunity to do exactly what I wanted to do. This move has put us closer to our financial goal of moving from lean FIRE to fat FIRE, and I absolutely would do it again. In fact, I’ve heard there are similar work programs elsewhere, and I’ve looked into those, too.

For now, I think we’ll stay in Tulsa with a goal of purchasing 20 rental properties within the next two years. That will give us the cash flow we want and still allow Mariel and I to fund our discounted trips around the world.

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