There is is one question that I have been asked a million times since I graduated college and started making rumblings of relocating: “Why would you ever leave Southern California? OK, you can leave Southern California, but you’re moving somewhere “fun” like San Francisco, Hawaii, Boston, Washington DC, or New York, right?”

A brief disclaimer in that I’m not intending this post to be any sort of complaint or rant about the cost of living in HCOL areas. It The cost is what the market dictates. I’m also definitely not intending to “judge” or “shame” anyone who willingly spends more money to live in an expensive area. I want you to live your life wherever it makes you happiest because it’s your life and you should be happy. I’ve said before that money isn’t everything. In my particular case, I see a very intriguing location arbitrage opportunity where I can essentially inflate the value of my current dollars.  

Well….no. Not exactly. I have pondered the Hawaii move but it makes so little sense financially that it’s never gone beyond the “oh, well yeah, I guess that would be nice” phase. But hey, if life on the road goes under budget, maybe Life in Hawaii could be an actual thing for a tiny bit.

Anyways, I have a friend who lives in Boston, and about 6 months ago he posted on Facebook that he had a friend who was looking to fill a room that was opening up around this time of year. I’m thinking, hey that sounds cool. You always hear great things about Boston. That would be a great life experience. Right?

Here’s what he had to say when I inquired about the cost of the room and just the general craziness re: housing costs in the area.

Boston has some apartments available any time, but 90%+ run on a Sept 1 renewal cycle because of how many students are here.  And landlords expect renewals to be locked in as soon as Apr 1 so they can start looking for replacements if need be. It’s super competitive. The whole city + Cambridge & Somerville are like that. I live in the North End which is even worse. Tiny apartments but really desirable area because it’s close to downtown & has a shitload of good food options. The available room is ~$1100-1200 + utils.  Which is about on par for the area  (That’s per person, not total apartment cost. That’s $3450. (3 bedrooms, 1 bath.) For comparison, my apartment is a 1-bed @ $1800/mo + utils, which is on the more affordable end of the spectrum. I’ve been here for 2.5 years. My landlord hasn’t raised my rent, thankfully. But they theoretically could at any point. The other pain in the ass that most areas of the country don’t feel is move-in costs. Tenants are on the hook for first, last, security & in a lot of cases 1 full month for broker fee. Sometimes you get lucky with no security, or a half broker fee. It’s absurd, but the market sustains it.
 So I very quickly learned that Boston is not going to be this fun and exciting place that I can just spontaneously move to because it sounds like a fun thing to try. If I wanted to move to Boston….I would probably have to book an apartment 6 months out and hope that I might find a job when I get there?  And pay a lot more in rent to SHARE a bathroom with multiple people? And this comes from someone who has lived his whole life mostly in high cost of living areas. I’ve definitely paid $1100 for rent before, but it was always a spacious room with plenty of privacy where I had my own private bathroom.  Major sticker shock reading about the realities of renting in Boston.

THIS IS NOT A NEW IDEA FOR ME.

During my junior year of college, I had every intention of relocating to Phoenix, Arizona upon graduation. I had wanted to try living in a different metro, as I had lived in California suburbs my whole life (sound familiar?)  but Phoenix was still close enough to family in California that it’s a long drive or short flight away for holidays. My dad and I had gone to Phoenix several consecutive March’s at the end of high school and during my spring break in college to watch spring training baseball games. We even looked at apartments in Phoenix on one of those trips. They were brand new, and they were so much more affordable than apartments in SoCal. I also had always liked some of the bars and restaurants that they had in PHX. I thought the weather in winter and spring time was amazing. Warm nights in the winter? heck yes. The only time we get warm nights like that in California is when there’s a fire burning somewhere. Also some of my college friends were from Phoenix.

That all sounded great. But I never moved to Phoenix. We took a family vacation there in summer 2008, the year before I graduated, so that I could experience Phoenix in the dead heat of summer. And, unsurprisingly, it was blazing hot. I think that gave me some push back, and I was the stubborn 23 year old who decided that it’s not worth dealing with the heat. Despite my stubbornness, over a million people live in the Phoenix metro every day. And they have learned how to deal with the summer heat. Just like other places have learned how to deal with the humidity, deal with the mosquitoes, deal with tornadoes, and deal with whatever “major frustration” that people who live in SoCal just don’t have to deal with. I’m not sure that Phoenix is the right place for me at this point in my life, because I’d appreciate somewhere with more trees and lakes, and obviously neither of those are to be found in the middle of a desert.

HOUSING INSANITY IN “DESIRABLE” PARTS OF THE COUNTRY

I hope that I can explain in three simple images why I would be surprised if I came back to California after my road trip on any sort of permanent basis.

Newport Beach vs Minneapolis

Newport Beach vs Indianapolis

 

Newport Beach vs Raleigh

Source: BestPlaces.Net

Minneapolis….Indianapolis….Raleigh….These are not podunk towns out in the middle of nowhere. These are major cities with international airports, professional sports teams, jobs for the people who live there, restaurants, symphony orchestras, and hundreds of thousands of people just living their lives every day. Of those three cities, I’ve only been to Minneapolis as an adult and it was enjoyable enough. But it was summer. I do hear that Minnesota has some of the most brutal winters there are.   Would you live somewhere where you need to triple or quadruple your expenses in order to live in year round perfect weather? 

I’m not sure what makes some of my Californian amigos just assume that the only places better than Cali are the Bostons, The DC’s and the Hawaii’s of the world. I personally feel like I would have left California long ago if I didn’t have a solid job opportunity that kept me here. But I’ve outgrown that opportunity and I’m ready to move on.  The hardest part about leaving California is not going to be the adjustment to weather, the leaving behind the lack of bugs, the lack of humidity, or the lack of snow. The hardest part, by a rather significant margin, is that I’d no longer be a short drive away from immediate and extended family. But I am at a point in my life where I can afford to come visit my family, they can afford to come visit me, and with technology, you can do video phone calls and all sorts of fun things to stay connected. Plus, if I did move somewhere cold, Christmas in Sunny California sounds like a pretty amazing escape from the cold.

WHY DID I CHOOSE NEWPORT BEACH IN THE COMPARISON?

It’s admittedly an exaggeration of the housing cost for the average Southern Californian, but I lived in Newport Beach for 6 months and I was making less than $50k/year at the time, so it’s not like it’s completely unheard of or not doable. It’s also the city where my dad went to public high school after his family moved to California in the 1960’s. At the time, my grandfather was either at the tail end of his 20+ year Navy career or starting his second career. Newport Beach was a very different place then. I certainly am not expecting to drop my personal expenses by 60-75% when I leave California, but it’s fun to think about what drastic lifestyle deflation could occur if people living their lives in HCOL areas were willing to live the same life somewhere that is a lot more affordable.

 

Readers: Have you ever relocated somewhere with either a drastically higher or lower cost of living than where you were living previously? Were you able to notice any difference in your personal spending habits?