This is only as expensive as you make it (gas notwithstanding).
>and you have to worry about your kids getting hit by a car
There's a really simple solution to this. Don't worry. There's plenty of things to irrationally worry about in a city too if you want to do that.
>Housing in other parts of the country is absurdly expensive too,
Outside of places where rich people congregate they're really not.
>locales, but then you run into the problem that there's no jobs there, or the jobs pay peanuts,
So commute somewhere you can find a good job. When you're not stuck in bumper to bumper gridlock it sucks a lot less.
>so unless you banked a bunch of money while you were living in the high-CoL area, you're not going to be able to afford one of those nice houses anyway.
This is pure BS. The people that live there afford the houses somehow. Considering that mortgage lending is fairly standardized at the high end it still shouldn't be any harder to afford a local house on a local salary, if it were nobody could get that loan.