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The Cost of Living Diaries: Marshalltown, IA

Get a local’s perspective on living and working in the region.

By Lindsey Hyde on July 7, 2022

The beautiful Marshall County, Iowa courthouse as seen in 2017. This majestic building was designed by the same firm as the Iowa State Capitol building and was completed in 1886. This building was damaged by a tornado on July 19, 2018 which destroyed the cupola, damaged the roof, and blew out windows.

Welcome to The Cost of Living Diaries. How much does it cost to live in Marshalltown, Iowa? What’s an average mortgage, a cocktail, or a week’s worth of childcare? Keep reading because we asked a Marshalltown local to tell us all about the cost of living in this thriving city!

The best things about the Midwest — friendly neighbors, four distinct seasons, outdoor recreation, delicious food, great job opportunities and more — can all be found in Marshalltown, IA. But this city also has a few unique aspects up its sleeve. It’s affordable, home to a cute downtown that locals love, full of a variety of housing options, and adorned with bright, colorful murals. To find out more about what it’s like to live and work in this fun, friendly city, we sat down with Afton Stout, who moved to the area from Ames, IA, with her husband and toddler in 2016. A soon-to-be member of the Marshalltown business community, she is opening a brick-and-mortar location on Main Street for her custom flower arrangement company, My Dinosaur Dreams, in May 2022. Formerly, she had a studio in her home and sold her creations online.  

Afton Stout
My Dinosaur Dreams

Q: What brought you and your family to Marshalltown?
A: We lived on a really busy street in Ames, and we had just had a baby the year before, and I just needed to get away from that street, and finding a slightly larger, more affordable house is easier in a smaller town, so we looked around the area and happened to find where we live now. The school — that was a big thing, too. The school district here (West Marshall Community School District) is really good, so having just had a child, that was a motivating factor for staying in this area. 

Q: How did buying a home in Marshalltown compare to buying a home in Ames?
A: It was pretty easy. Our house in Ames was a good starter house. It was a little tiny two-bedroom — I think it was 750 square feet, and I think we bought it for $103,000. The house we bought here was about the same price, but I believe it was 1,600 square feet, had three dedicated bedrooms with the potential to have a fourth bedroom. It was a lot bigger for around the same price. 

Q: What do you love about living in Marshalltown?
A: For being a small town, there’s a lot of stuff to do for little kids. The pool there is one of the best in the area, in our opinion, and the library is wonderful. My son loves going to the library. There’s the Mega-10 Park. It has all sorts of playground equipment; there’s an outdoor workout area and a walking track around it. 

Q: What are some free or low-cost activities you like to do in the area?
A: The parks are probably one of my favorite things, and then there’s Grimes Farm. There’s a conservation center there; there’s a tower you can climb, there are hiking trails — their focus is teaching kids and adults about conservation. It’s not a working farm with animals. And when they’re doing something at the farm, they’ll often invite people to come watch, like they just did a big field burn the other night, and they invited people to come watch while they were burning the weeds in the fields because it lit up the sky really pretty. 

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in the area, and how much would dinner cost for your family?
A: Our favorite restaurant is called Jack’s Pho’ House. It’s a wonderful little Laotian restaurant in Marshalltown, and it’s run by a family — oh, they’re the best! And they have the absolute best spring rolls and peanut sauce in the entire universe. I’ve tried to replicate it so many times, and I can’t do it. Dinner would probably be $35 for (our family). 

Q: What has it been like to open a new business in Marshalltown?
A: The person I’m purchasing the building from has a business downtown, and he was very helpful just navigating the whole process. And there’s the Development Center. They have been super helpful with letting me know what’s available as far as grants. They’re still looking at some stuff for me. 

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