Here's How Much Life in the Big City Will Cost You

By Andrea Cannon on 1 November 2016 0 comments

So, you got a new higher-paying job in the big city. Now you have to decide whether it's worth making the big move. Fortunately, there's an easy cost analysis that can help you determine if the move is worthwhile.

Cost of Living Calculators

For a better estimate of how much you'll need to earn to maintain the same standard of living, use a cost of living calculator. Once you enter your current income, where you currently live, and where you would like to move, you can see a side-by-side comparison of what it will cost to live in both cities.

Some basic calculators will show how far your salary will go in another city by comparing the price differences of major categories, like housing, utilities, and groceries. There are also more advanced cost of living calculators that will break down everything from what gas costs in the two areas, to how much you pay for coffee and ibuprofen.

For example, say you're living somewhere like Bakersfield, California with an income of $50,000, and you're deciding whether to move to a big metro like San Francisco. So, how much will you need to earn in order to maintain your same standard of living? Using a cost of living calculator, you can see that you would need to be making $81,636. Otherwise, you'll have to get used to a lower standard of living and cut costs wherever possible.

Housing

Generally speaking, the closer you live to downtown, the more expensive the rent, food, and entertainment costs. When you live in a bigger city, it also generally means that you will have a smaller living space. Worst of all, rent just keeps getting more expensive over time. According to StreetEasy's annual New York City Rent Affordability Report, the median rent-to-income ratio in NYC rose from 59.7% in 2015 to 65.2% in 2016. This means that nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers' income is devoted to rent. (See also: The Simple Way to Decide How Much Rent You Can Really Afford)

Higher Income

In most cases, a higher cost of living also means that the area has a higher than average median household income. While you can usually get a more robust starting salary in a large city, you might not want to count on hefty raises. Income growth is lagging behind things like rent increases and cost of living growth, so your expenses may increase in the years to come, but your income might not keep up.

Transportation

In most cases, the closer you can live to work, the better. This will allow you to bike to work, take part in a carpool, use Uber, or even take public transportation.

If you will be taking advantage of public transportation, consider storing or selling your car, so you don't have to worry about parking. Driving can also be a lot more overwhelming for someone moving from a smaller town to a big metro (think Los Angeles gridlock). Look into public transportation options in your new city to determine if you can reasonably live there without a car, and how much you would save by making the change to public transportation. Keep in mind that places that are more walkable, or have better transportation options, are typically more expensive to rent.

Parking

In cities like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle (to name a few), free parking is basically a pipe dream. With parking meters and paid parking lots as far as the eye can see, it's very unlikely that you'll find free parking. Even if you did find street parking, the posted rules can be very confusing and, in large cities, parking tickets are very common.

Convenience

Living in a large city means most things will be at your fingertips. For instance, there isn't much that you won't have access to in New York City. However, getting what you want and need is a different story. Living in a small town means quicker trips to the grocery store and general merchandise stores like Target.

In a big city, on the other hand, you have to worry about fighting traffic and finding parking before you even get to the store. Then, there are hordes of people to deal with and long lines at the checkout counter, so small day trips can become much longer and more stressful. Try completing your errands at odd times, like early in the morning or during your lunch break, to beat the crowds.

Entertainment

Living in a big city means there are generally boundless things to occupy your time, such as endless places to eat, shows to watch, people to meet, and free activities to take part in. In a city like San Francisco or New York, you will be exposed to more culture more easily, and can find more fun, free events for the kids.

To better deal with the culture shock, try seeking out social groups and other resources for newcomers to the area. Make a valiant effort after moving to make friends with locals and other transplants so you can quickly become acclimated with the city and what is available to you.

Is It Worth It?

Moving to a large city can be very expensive. The move itself can be a frustrating, expensive undertaking, and once you're there, things like rent, groceries, utilities, health care, and transportation can be much more expensive than what you're used to. Take this into account when you're deciding whether to make the move or not.

The decision on whether it is worth it to make the big move is an entirely personal one. After living in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing comparable to living in a big metro. What you can (and will) experience in a shorter amount of time there is well worth the higher cost of living. However, if you are trying to save more money or contribute more towards your debt, savings, or retirement accounts, you'll need to use a cost of living calculator (at minimum) to determine whether it's worth it for you.

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