We’ve all heard the stories: four people teaming up to live together in a micro studio because that’s the only way they can afford to live in New York City or Vancouver or San Francisco or Seattle. Even Portland is showing signs of pricing people out of its market and they’ve always been known as something of a renter’s paradise. When you’re figuring out your next move or being transferred to a city that has a reputation for being expensive, it’s normal to feel some trepidation about whether or not you’ll be able to afford everything.
What many people don’t understand, however, is that the cost of renting an apartment is not the only signifier as to whether or not a city is truly “too expensive” in which to live. In this article, we’re going to teach you about the other factors that you need to evaluate when figuring out the real price of living somewhere.
Obviously, the goal is to find a living space where the landlord includes the cost of utilities in the rent or pays for a portion of them him or herself. If you are in charge of footing that bill, however, it’s worth looking into alternative energy and electricity providers. This will be easier to do if you rent or buy a house and if you live in a deregulated energy market. Take some time to find the best rates available in your area.
Small spaces are cheaper than large spaces. This is universal. It is also why so many recent college grads tend to low wage earners find themselves in micro studios. Make no mistake, a micro studio can be a perfectly functional living space, but it can quickly become overcrowded. If you are aiming at the smallest living space possible, try to find a space that has storage space on-site. This way you won’t need to keep everything in your living space.
How much time do you think you’ll be spending at home? If home is just a place to sleep, shower and store your clothes, partnering up with a few roommates likely won’t be that big of a deal. Neither will choosing to live in a teensy apartment. This can save you a lot of money. If you’re a homebody, however, and choose to save money by, say, cooking at home most nights or hosting potluck game days, it might be worth paying for a larger space. Look at how you live for ways to save–not just on your living space but on everything else, too. Speaking of which…
Cost of Living
How much do the groceries cost in your potential new city? If it will cost you half your paycheck just to fill your fridge, it won’t matter what the rental costs are, you won’t be able to afford living in that city. How much does the average restaurant charge for a meal? What do movie tickets cost? How much is the average price of gas? How much will you pay in taxes? How much will your space cost to insure? Look at everything you spend money on now and find out how much it will cost there. You might find that, in spite of high housing costs, everything else is super cheap!
Does the city have a functional and affordable public transit system? If it does, you might consider selling your car to help cover other costs and take the bus or the train instead. In fact, in some cities–like New York and San Francisco–having a car is a bigger headache than going without. If you can get around reliably without a car and without having to take cabs or pay for Uber every day, that’s a worthy savings to figure into your decision.
In addition to a good public transit system, what kind of layout does your potential future city offer? Will it be possible to find a neighborhood in which you can walk to everything you need–groceries, parks, gyms, the bank, whatever–so that even if you have to drive to work you can leave your car parked the rest of the time (or if public transit is good, get rid of it altogether)? If you rarely have to drive or take a bus, that is a significant amount of money that you will save. It could make up for slightly higher priced groceries, or more expensive rental costs.
Remember: the amount you pay for your living space is just one factor in deciding whether or not you can afford to live somewhere. Make sure you are considering the costs involved with all of these other factors, too!