Home » Prosperity: For Better, or for Worse

Prosperity: For Better, or for Worse

One of the things that’s been in the back of my mind as we work our debt freedom plan is how we’re going to make sure to keep our egos and attitudes in check after we’re debt free and rolling in dough from our multiple income streams.  So when I came across this article from the Minneapolis Star Trib yesterday, I knew it was one I should take the time to read.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, our neighboring state, North Dakota, has long been a quiet farming community with little to offer for the modern American family.  Most of the tiny towns in that state are “blink and you’ve passed it” kind of towns.  I remember as a child visiting family in the mostly-unheard-of town of Fairdale.  We always had a wonderful time there, enjoying our time with Uncle Ernie, who would walk us over the bridge into the roughly two-block long town to get ice cream cones at the local drugstore.

Here’s some current-day tidbits to give you the perspective of this tiny town.  The earliest numbers I could find listed the 2000 census with a population of 51 people.  What that number was in the mid-seventies when we used to go there, I have no idea, but suffice to say it surely couldn’t have been much higher than 51.


Fairdale, ND

Population in 2011: 38. Population change since 2000: -25.5%

Males: 24 (63.2%)
Females: 14 (36.8%)
Median resident age: 56.5  years
North Dakota median age: 44.8  years

Zip code: 58229

Estimated median household income in  2009: $12,714 (it was $11,250 in 2000)

Fairdale: $12,714
North Dakota: $47,827

Estimated per capita  income in 2009: $13,376
Estimated median house or condo value in  2009: $9,295 (it was $9,999 in 2000)

Fairdale: $9,295
North Dakota: $116,800

Mean prices in  2009: All housing units: $9,976; Detached houses: $9,976
Read more: http://www.city-data.com/city/Fairdale-North-Dakota.html#ixzz2JGccjUwF

Every time I mention Fairdale, even lifelong North Dakotans say “Where?”.  You get the picture.

SO, on with the story.  This quiet little farming state had been chugging along, minding its own business when, in late 2008, ironically, oil, and lots of it, was discovered beneath the surfaces of those North Dakota farms.  When the rest of the country continued the plunge into recession, people and families started flocking to North Dakota to take advantage of the high-paying jobs (many were and are paying six figures) in the oil field.

Fast forward to 2013.  The boom is still rolling along wonderfully, and the financial benefits have done wonders for many, helping families to save their residences from foreclosure, and allowing them to once again feed their families, many of whom are still “back home”.

But there’ve been some downsides to this oil boom, both for the permanent residents and the temporary workers:

1.  Increased cost of living.  Business owners taking advantage of the highly paid oil workers have jacked up prices on many things, especially housing.  A two-bedroom, furnished apartement there goes easily for $2,200 a month.  Although the six-figure income people can likely afford these prices, they do make housing for a “regular” income person decidely out of reach.  Some companies, the local government included, have taken to building their own (affordable) apartment buildings on site as a lure for prospective employees willing to be paid a “lower” wage.

2.  “Regular” employers can’t find staff.  Even though the local Walmart is advertising pay starting at $17 an hour (starting pay is closer to $7 an hour in neighboring MN), no one wants the “cheesy” $17 an hour jobs when they can find jobs in the oil industry for two and three times that pay.

3.  Customers are resigned to accept bad service.  Not intentionally, I’m sure.  But with the population as much as tripling since 2008, there are more to serve, and with many people refusing to take “low-paying” service jobs, there’s simply not enough people to serve them.

4.  Misguided priorities.  From higher crime rates, to men offering their wives for sex-for-hire in the largely male population, to increased alcohol consumption (“There’s nothing else to do but drink” one man said) the focus on making and having money has distorted some folks’ reasoning between right and wrong.  For others, it’s simply the goal of wanting to be a “have” instead of a “have not”:

“She’d pack up and leave tomorrow,” he said, nodding toward his fiancée. “I can’t pass up the opportunities. … There’s money to be made.”

He had planned to stay a few months, but 1 1/2 years later, he’s still there because “a hundred grand a year is kind of addictive.  I’m watching my kids grow up in pictures,” he said, adding that his family visited over the summer but didn’t like it. “Every time I go home, it’s sooo hard to come back.”

To me, the whole problem stemmed, at least at the get go, from a lack of money and a shift in priorities for many of the temporary residents here.

The lesson?  I’m not exactly sure.  But it makes me all the more eager to persevere in maintaining an attitude toward money that keeps it at the bottom of the totem pole on my list of priorities.

I heard a Christian finance guy say once that  “Money is the least important thing in the Kingdom of God, and that’s why we must be good stewards of it, for those who are faithful in little will be faithful in much.”

Thus, the cry of my heart on this PF journey reads “Lord, help me to be faithful, in little, and in much.”




  1. Fort McMurray, Alberta is the same way. Lots of work in the oil industry for top dollar. A small home up there costs a fortune but people move there from all over the world to earn a living. Many just sock the money away in the bank and then after a few years move to somewhere nicer and pay cash for a nice house in a less expensive city.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, I had no idea they were dealing with the same stuff up there! Sound like at least most of them are managing the money responsibly at least. That certainly seems like the wisest thing to do. Thanks, Sicorra, for the educational comment! 🙂

  2. Great post Laurie! I’ve heard of this and the same thing is starting to happen is some small southern Kansas towns. Sure, it sounds great to make a huge amount of money each month off of oil, but do I really want to pay $2,500/month for a one bedroom dump…I don’t think so. In the long run not only does it bring potential problems to the community but is also kills small businesses that can’t keep up.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh my goodness, John, I didn’t know you guys were dealing with some of that too! And I agree about the small businesses getting squashed in the process too. At what cost progress, you know?

  3. eemusings says:

    I’ve read a lot of stories about how these things change towns. The problem with draining natural resources is what happens when the boom is over?

    • Laurie says:

      I think the bigger problem, regardless of the source of the boom, may be what kind of shambles the town will be left in once the money goes away. This can happen in any kind of boom, whether one of natural resources or not. When we make money our god, there’s always trouble to follow. See Club Thrifty’s post about the Queen of Versailles for more proof. Thanks for stopping by, EE. I appreciate your thoughts!

  4. Wow I had no idea that was even going on up there. This whole thing kind of reminds me of the gold rush. The sad part is what will happen once the oil is gone and nothing but ghost towns are left? It’s sad to think about it, but money can really make people crazy.

    • Laurie says:

      I know Chris, it’s crazy how an innate object can make people do things they would normally never do. That is one of the things I try and keep in mind for the day when we become financially free.

  5. michelle says:

    This is just yet another illustration that without good morals, values and ethics training from parents/elders and community. This is what happens when personal responsibility has been hijacked for a sense of entitlement.

    We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources here, but with out the traits above, they will be abused and people/communities will be hurt.

    Money cannot buy happiness, but we have allowed a culture to convince many otherwise.

    Great post laurie

    • Laurie says:

      You are right on, Michelle. I only hope our country can turn back toward the moral values it was founded on before it’s too late. :-(.

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  7. Jim says:

    It is very interesting about the unintended consequences of such growth. Makes you wonder if all the growth is worth the aggravation. Reminds me of the Hawaiians who were inundated by emigrants from Japan and the US mainland, who to this day dont think very highly of the new “locals”. I think they would say its not worth it!

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