Maybe the next-door neighbor's house was burglarized last week, and yesterday you had trouble breathing because of the pollution, and this morning your spouse was after you to push for a raise to counter runaway living costs, and after you fought your way to work through the usual traffic jams the garage was full and you got a $15 parking ticket.

On the way home through the evening traffic snarl, you decide: Enough is enough. We're going to do what we've only been dreaming about for the last several years. We're chucking the urban scene and moving to the country! No more commuting, no more guerrilla warfare in the big-business arena, no more car-pooling the kids.

We're heading for greener pastures and the simple pleasures of rural life. We'll get an old farmhouse with a few acres, buy a little business and . . .

. . . and hopefully you'll come back down to the real world before you get home.

If the itch to leave the stress and strain of urban life really has you scratching, it may be that the country life is right for you. But -- and there are many buts -- there's a lot to know and even more to consider before packing up and hitting the road.

You won't be the first to make the leap:

According to the U.S. Census, between 1970 and 1980 around 4 million people moved into the country. That compares with the 1960s, when nearly 3 million more people moved out of rural areas and small towns than moved in.

Frank and Nancy Kirkpatrick are one couple that made the move in the 1970s. Frank Kirkpatrick, now 61, was a vice president at Young & Rubicam advertising agency in Manhattan before he and his wife bought the J.J. Hapgood Store in Peru, Vt. (pop. 312).

"It's an attractive, old [1827] general store," says Frank Kirkpatrick. "The business became ours on Nov. 4, 1977, after we made just about every mistake possible in the process of buying it."

Making those mistakes, it turns out, is good news for anyone now thinking about following in the Kirkpatricks' footsteps: Kirkpatrick kept track of their errors, as well as comparing notes with many others who now "feel they are a lot better off because they were part of the big move to the little town."

Kirkpatrick sifted through all this information, then boiled it down into How to Find and Buy Your Business in the Country (Storey Publishing, 1985, $11.95), a step-by-step manual, workbook and resources guide to help others easily learn what he and his wife picked up the hard way.

"We did no research at all on the community in which we were going to make our living," Kirkpatrick says. They used the same lawyer as the broker; they used the seller's accountant to check over the store's books.

"It's hard to believe we made these mistakes," says Kirkpatrick. "We behaved just like most people do when they buy a business in the country. We were guided by our emotions, not our intellects. We just lucked out, that's all."

One of the mistakes many city people make is to fall in love with the idea of owning a country business because of what they see when they're vacationing. Maybe it's Washington's Birthday weekend, or around the Fourth of July. They go into a grocery (or hardware, or whatever) store, make their purchases and walk out.

The place is bustling with business, full of charm and atmosphere. The vacationer has a wonderful time, thinks how nice it would be to live there all the time, figures business must be like that the year round and . . . forgets that the store proprietor isn't on vacation and has to run the store, doesn't realize that service businesses often are very slow in off-seasons, doesn't stop to think that country people have different interests and backgrounds than city people.

The country fantasy can be turned into reality, Kirkpatrick admits, but there are dark sides to the dream:

* The city's 40-hour work week likely will be an 80-hour week.

* The frantic, stressful pace of the city may turn into "a pace that has slowed to the point where there is absolutely no noticeable trace of activity."

* Simple doesn't necessarily mean cheap. "You'll soon wake up to the fact that you still need a change from time to time, and you probably won't be able to afford it."

* Some days, the "biggest challenge you're going to face all day is getting out of that warm bed."

People who really are cut out for it will find that country living at its worst is more than balanced by its benefits:

* Country people don't live by the clock.

* They take pleasure in little things that might bore their sophisticated city friends to tears: "You'll find yourself getting excited about birth, for example. Not of people, but of pigs. And goats and sheep. You'll get excited by the mail -- third-class mail."

* Country people share with their neighbors and watch out for one another. "When new people come to the country," says Kirkpatrick, "a few retreat inside themselves and that's sad, because they miss one of the few great advantages that little places have over big places: people working closely together."

Only about 2 out of 10 people who buy country businesses succeed, warns Kirkpatrick. But that, he says, "is because people tend to look at the green grass. They love the country and they don't pay enough attention to running their business."

An even earlier -- and fairly common -- pitfall: People tend to think because a business is in the country it will be easier to run than a business in a "citified" area. Explains Kirkpatrick: "People don't usually look at a country business the same way they would at a dry-cleaning establishment on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. They would analyze the living daylights out of that business. A country kind of business? They say 'It's just beautiful and wonderful,' and they buy it on that basis."

Of the various types of country businesses, buying a store or inn seems to be the most popular. The innkeeper, according to Kirkpatrick, has a pretty fair life. Country inns tend to attract people not from the immediate area and innkeepers often draw people a lot like those from their former life.

Storekeepers, however, generally close their doors in the late afternoon or early evening, "when the innkeeper's day really is just beginning." Also, says Kirkpatrick, stores may draw some out-of-town vacationers, but most of their customers will be townspeople and people from the surrounding area.

A perfect example of an option to the country business is provided by John and Martha Storey, owners of Storey Communications Inc. and Kirkpatrick's publishers.

What the Storeys have isn't so much a rural business as an anywhere-business that happens to be located in the country. "I came out of the corporate world and years at Time-Life," says John Storey, 42, who took his knowledge of the publishing business with him when he and his family moved from Ridgefield, Conn. -- and his job in Manhattan -- to a job with Garden Way Inc., manufacturers of Troy-Bilt Rototillers, in Troy, N.Y.

The Storeys eventually bought the publishing division of Garden Way and, in 1983, founded Storey Communications in Pownal, Vt., where they work and live with their three children.

While it isn't always easy running a publishing business such a distance from urban centers, Storey says the rural Vermont location has numerous benefits.

"I saw less of the children daughters 18 and 15, and an 11-year-old son when I was working in Manhattan," he explains, "and now if a kid is having a sixth-grade band concert at 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon we simply take a break, drive down, go in for the 45-minute concert, leave and come back after that.

"Also, I'm happy to say, all three children have been very active in the business in one way or another."

As a publishing company specializing in country- and gardening-related books, he adds, "The Vermont address gives us some credibility."

Storey agrees with Kirkpatrick about the pitfalls: "There are going to be as many, if not more, problems involved with this kind of life as there are with your life in the city."

"But," says Kirkpatrick, "if you think you've got half a chance -- maybe a little less than half -- don't wait too long. Just make up your mind to go for it."