We left California for Texas to escape sky-high prices and COVID restrictions. We love the slower pace of Southern life and will never go back.
By Erin Snodgrass,2023-05-27
- Jennifer and Chuck Balek moved their family of seven from California to Texas in April 2021.
- The couple said California's high prices and strict COVID response sent them fleeing.
- The couple loves how friendly Texans are and said they would never go back to California.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with couple Jennifer Balek, 38, and Chuck Balek, 43, about their experience moving their family from Camarillo, California, to Rockwall, Texas, in April 2021. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Jennifer : I was born and raised in Camarillo, California. I lived there my whole life, went through school out there and didn't live anywhere else until we moved.
Chuck: I was born in Whittier, California. When I was 21, I moved up to Ventura County where I planted roots.
We've been together going on 10 years now. We had both gone through previous marriages and when we got together we established our blended family, which we refer to jokingly as the Balek Bunch.
Jennifer: Picture the Brady Bunch, and that's us, just a little crazier.
Chuck: Our kids are our greatest joy, even though they are chaos.
Jennifer: We have six total. Our youngest is about to be 11 and our oldest is 24.
We lived in a really nice area in California. It was a nice, middle-class town. It was really small when I was growing up. But it was very family oriented, very conservative. The neighborhood was really well-kept. Camarillo was 10 minutes to the beach, which was awesome.
But the prices just kept going up.
Chuck: We were paying $4,000 a month in rent for 3,200 feet. And because of that, we just could never save enough to buy a home.
Jennifer: We never really tried to buy in California because the down payment to purchase a home the size we would need for our large family is over a hundred thousand dollars. How do you save that?
$4,000 a month on rent and $6 a gallon for gas and all these other expenses just made it feasibly impossible.
There was a time when we were spending at least a thousand dollars a month on gas.
Chuck: The California Dream — that was our parents' dream, it was our grandparents' dream. But it wasn't attainable for us trying to do it on our own. We don't come from families with money that could help us in that aspect.
California's COVID response was our last straw
Chuck: We had always loosely discussed leaving, but COVID was definitely what pushed us over the edge. Our kids were doing okay until COVID.
We saw our kids struggling every day doing the online thing.
Jennifer: I was working full-time from home and trying to help five kids with their Zoom schools. It was insane.
It was killing us. With the schools, they were going back part-time, but your kid could only go in two days a week. And if someone got COVID in class, they shut the whole school down. It was something new every day.
And the kids weren't learning anything. They were so behind the ball. It was just brutal.
Chuck: It was in December of 2020 that we sat down and said we need to actually consider moving.
Jennifer: By January 2021, we were like we can't do this anymore.
We were pretty set on getting out of there. We can't afford this. The school thing is ridiculous. I was so tired of the restrictions in our county. We were just so tired of it all.
Chuck: We booked our flights for the first week of February to come find a house in Texas.
We looked all throughout Texas to find the right place to settle
Jennifer: We had looked at other states. We were definitely looking for somewhere conservative. We wanted to move to a Republican state and one where we had the most freedoms possible.
We had a lot of friends that had already moved out here to Texas, people from our church, family, friends. They were loving it.
But Texas is a giant state.
I wanted a family area. I didn't want a city. I didn't want it to be a college town or a small town with a bunch of older people. I wanted a young community with really good schools. Every time we looked at a house, I checked the school ratings.
Rockwall wasn't even on our radar. We didn't know what it was. We hadn't heard anything about it.
Chuck: Rockwall is the smallest county in all of Texas.
Jennifer: I just happened across a listing of this house that was really cute. And the schools are really good in this city.
So we're going to check it out and we turned into our specific neighborhood and everybody's front door was decorated for Valentine's Day because we came in February. I was like oh my gosh I love this. Everybody decorates for holidays. These are my people.
And there is rolling terrain. It's so pretty. Everyone's yards are nicely kept. This looks like such a nice neighborhood.
We just fell in love with North Texas more than anywhere else to begin with.
Chuck: It just felt like it was meant to be.
Initially, we put in an offer of full asking price. They came back and said they had three other offers. Jennifer felt very inclined to include a little love letter, a photo of our family saying we're just a family looking for a home to raise our kids.
That worked. They accepted our offer even though there were offers that were above us. We paid $386,000.
Our family quickly fell in love with Texas
Chuck: We took the approach of being modern-day pioneers. We're going to leave everything and everyone we've known and we're going to go find a better life for our kids and ourselves.
Jennifer: We had a big support network in Camarillo. My whole family was there. I lived there my whole life. We had a big church family. The kids had been in the same schools, so they all had their friends.
Taking them from that and us from all of that, that was my fear moving out here: I wanted to be able to find that again.
We moved out here in April 2021.
Chuck: I think we landed exactly where we were supposed to. Everybody adjusted really well. The kids have all thrived.
Jennifer: The schools are really, really good here.
Chuck: They have programs that allow kids to use their hands and their brain, not just sit behind a screen.
The biggest price difference we've seen since moving out here was gas. At the time we moved, gas was like $2 less than in California. We were paying $2.86 when we first got here and in California, it was $5.
We are doing very well now. The cost of living is probably a good 15 to 20% lower than in Southern California.
And lo and behold, now we have my mother and father-in-law living three minutes away from us. And my brother and sister-in-law and our three nephews are living one street away from my in-laws. And my sister-in-law's parents are leaving Camarillo now too.
Jennifer: We've definitely had quite a few people follow us out here.
Chuck: My best friend says I need to be a spokesman for Texas because all I do is sell people on moving to Texas. I just want people to understand that this was the best decision we could have ever made.
There's only one thing we miss about California
Jennifer: Everyone is so nice out here. Southern hospitality is definitely present. Everyone is very respectful. They hold the door for you. They don't cut you off for a parking spot. It's very community-based.
It's a slower pace here. Everyone will stop and talk to you. You go to the grocery store and you strike up a conversation with literally anybody.
Chuck: I spent many, many years in traffic on the 405 Freeway in California. And it's just not that way out here. It doesn't feel like people get angry because we're going slow. People just roll with it.
Jennifer: It is hard to find good Mexican food out here, though.
Chuck: Everything is Tex-Mex. They drown everything in queso. Don't get me wrong — some of it can be extremely delicious, but when you've lived 41 years eating Los Angeles Mexican food, it's not the same.
Jennifer: In Southern California, you're really spoiled with the number of restaurants.
Chuck: You'll find barbecue here. But you're not going to find much beyond that.
But there's no looking back. My boss asked me the other day if I would ever go back to California, and I said he could offer me a 4,000-square-foot house on the beach and $200,000 in income and I still wouldn't do it.Read the original article on Insider