Less than a year ago, I decided to leave my high cost city to pursue a better quality of life. I’m going to start right off by saying that I’m from the NYC area. This post won’t be from someone who moved to a high cost city for a few years and decided to move back home. I’m going to share with you why I left all of my high school friends, college friends, family, and the city I love for a cheaper city.
I’m assuming since you clicked on this article, you might be debating whether you should leave your high cost city for a better quality of life. My goal today is to share with you how I decided to leave my high cost city and what I’ve noticed since leaving.
Before I get into it, let me first note that everything is relative. I moved from NYC to Denver and to me it is a cheaper city (it is technically considered a mid-cost city). Many longtime residents of Denver view it as a high cost city now and are looking to move to even lower cost cities. Everything I’m laying out can still be used for consideration whether you live in an extremely high cost city like San Francisco or if you live in Austin and are fed up with the rising prices.
Considerations Before I Moved
Like many people in my generation, I would eventually like to own a house but I am currently stuck renting while I save up for a down payment (and wait for prices to dip). The biggest bill I have, and that most people have, is their rent (or mortgage). No surprise here but rent in New York City is really high. I know a lot of people who spend half of their monthly pay on rent alone. Every high cost city has high cost rent. With the current lack of affordable housing, it’s impossible to avoid.
Hearing from friends who live in cheaper cities like Phoenix or Denver about how nice their apartment was and how much less they were paying, was a huge eye opener. (I also lived in Charlotte for a year and experienced low-cost renting first hand.) Is it wrong to want to be able to save money while having a liveable sized space in a safe neighborhood?
When it comes to high cost cities, you can only downsize so much. While trying to save money while living in NYC, I kept reducing my rent year after year. However, the rent reduction came at a price. My commute kept getting longer and my apartments kept getting smaller. It got to the point where I knew I was fed up with what I could afford in NYC. I had to leave my high cost city.
Like I said, I would eventually like to buy a house (hopefully one that can also be used as an investment property). Denver prices have skyrocketed but the prices sure beat the suburbs of NYC. In high cost cities like NYC, affordable homes exist but they will involved a very very long commute.
When I lived with my parents in the suburbs and commuted to the city for work, I lasted 4 months. I was running on fumes and living on coffee and 5 hour energy shots. It wasn’t sustainable. My mom is the type of person who barely needs sleep and answers emails at 4:30am. Sleep is extremely important to health and I unfortunately need more than most.
Not only did I realize that I could never handle my parents’ commute, but I also grew to learn that the middle class suburb I grew up in has become extremely expensive. If I wanted to purchase a home in the suburbs of NYC, I would have to take on a much longer commute than my parents’.
Ah commuting. Who doesn’t love packed subway cars and stand still traffic? Although some lower cost cities aren’t immune to this issue due to growing pains, 7 out of the top 10 cities with the worst traffic are high cost cities.
Many people here in Denver will complain about the traffic. I’ve sat in it and I can definitely vouch that it is pretty awful. The thing is, it’s better than where I came from. New York traffic is really bad so that the subways are often quicker than a cab. I was a subway rider and got very creative to tolerate my commute.
Over the years, my subway rides got worse and worse. The delays and crowd increased a lot. There were many times where I would have to let a few subways go by because I couldn’t physically fit on the train. It was too packed. By the time I would get to work I would be exhausted and in an awful mood. I knew that commuting this way was optional and that I wanted out. If I was able leave my high cost city, I could get a better commuting experience.
Because getting around the city was such a pain, I would often skip out any events going on in the city if they weren’t in my neighborhood. I also wouldn’t see my friends who live in other boroughs as much as I would have liked. It was too much of a hassle. What’s the point of living in the same city as your friends if you don’t even get to see them?
Enjoying the City
I like to eat out every once in a while. Although I make almost all my meals home cooked, I appreciate quality food. Except for a couple of places in NY that have amazing and cheap food (usually not the healthiest options), I had to spend way too much money for just a dinner with friends. And don’t even get me started on NYC drink prices. Some of the food prices you can justify, but $8 for a draft bud light? You gotta be kidding me.
If there’s an event going on in the city that your friends want to go to, most likely it’ll be too crowded and expensive. I’ve gone to countless cool events in NYC but afterwards I regret going because they are usually too packed and overpriced.
Since everyone in NYC has small apartments, people go out to hang out. You just can’t fit very many people in the living room of most NYC tiny apartments. So, I got stuck in this cycle of being too broke to afford a bigger apartment and spending too much money to hang out with my friends. It was really frustrating.
High cost cities tend to have ridiculously high taxes. I’m all for paying my fair share but the taxes in the NYC area are strangling the middle class. I could go off on a rant about the gluttony and mismanagement that’s occurring at government agencies in New York State/City but that’s a discussion for another day.
There were so many times that I would hear my parents or my friends parents complain about the taxes in NY a lot. I knew that they were high compared to the rest of the country but when I actually did the math, I was in shock. Where is the money going? I finally understood why so many people were flocking to lower taxed cities.
Let’s say you make $50k a year. Your New York State income tax would be 6.33% while in Colorado you would pay 4.63% ($850 difference). The Colorado rate is flat, so if you do well in your career, the most you will pay is 4.63%. In NY, you can get taxed up to 8.82% (almost double!). Remember that there is also salary inflation in these higher cost cities, so you will likely jump to higher tax brackets than you would elsewhere. Don’t want to pay any income taxes at all? Move to Florida, Texas, Wyoming, South Dakota, Washington (state), Alaska, or Nevada.
Let’s not forget city taxes. Denver unfortunately is one of the cities that has an additional income tax. It is a whole $5.75 per month on pay over $500 ($69 a year so I can’t complain much). New York City’s income tax rates range from 2.907% to 3.648% depending on your salary ($1,824 a year based on a $50k salary). This is a huge difference especially when you tack on the federal and state taxes you’ll already be paying.
I don’t own property yet but I plan on it. Property taxes were something I had to consider with my decision on where to move to. Many of my friends’ parents have their houses paid off but are still paying a ton of money each year on property taxes. Almost every one of them talks about how excited they are to move to a lower cost location. Like with state and city taxes, I totally understood their point of view when I looked at NYC area property taxes.
Denver and the surrounding counties’ (Denver, Jefferson, Douglas, Boulder) property taxes range from about 0.6% to 0.8%. The suburbs outside of NYC (Westchester, Rockland, Bergen, Husdon, Passaic, Essex, Nassau, and Suffolk) range from about 1.8% to 2.1%. Not only would you be paying over double the tax rate for a comparable house in the NYC area, but the home prices are higher.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that you bought a $300k home near both cities. You will have to pay about $4k more a year just to live close to NYC. Now to make things more accurate, let’s look at average home prices.
The average home in Westchester County (a suburb directly north of NYC) is $618k. It’s a desirable county to live it. Now the average home in Douglas County (a suburb directly south of Denver) is $479k. Another desirable county to live in. The property tax on the average home in Westchester (1.76%) would be $10.9k a year. When looking at Douglas county, the tax (0.78%) would be $3.2k a year. That’s another big difference in taxes, especially if you stay in your home for say, 15 years. Over that 15-year time span, you would be paying about $115k in additional property taxes to live in Westchester over Douglas.
Big city living can be exhausting and I hit my breaking point. I constantly felt like I wasn’t getting ahead despite my solid Finance salary. The financial stress was getting to me. I couldn’t afford to take advantage of all that NYC has to offer. The city had become a playground for the rich. I was paying all this money to live in this incredible city but I couldn’t enjoy it.
Since salaries and taxes are higher versus lower cost cities, companies are also constantly downsizing and moving jobs to lower cost cities (or countries). There is a ton of competition for jobs and expectations to perform at your highest ability or beyond, because your job can be moved at any point. To top it off, by the time my stressful work day ended, I would then have to spend over an hour dealing with a stressful commute.
I knew that my health and wellbeing were taking an unnecessary beating just from living in NYC. Not one of my friends who lived in cheaper cities felt this way. However, most of my friends in New York were struggling just like I was. Everyone is working too hard and hustling just to get by. I knew I had to make the leap soon because staying put was not an option.
What I Learned After the Move
Some people may assume that you have to live in a high cost city to get a great job, I know I did. When I was debating whether or not to leave NYC, I stumbled upon the unemployment rate at the time. I was shocked to realize that it was above the national average. I knew a lot of my friends were struggling to find new positions in NYC but I assumed that was the norm everywhere.
There are many booming lower cost cities where the job market is hot, Denver being one of them. When you move to a city that is on the rise, you have more options. You can move to a new industry more easily or shoot for that reach position. There are many bright people living in these lower cost cities but, since the growth is occurring so quickly (because companies are leaving higher cost cities), the talent pool can’t keep up.
My entire career has been in Financial Services so NYC is supposedly where I would do best in my career. Denver is known more it’s Tech companies than its Banks and Hedge Funds. Since I had the leverage of a good job market, I was able to land a lot of interviews with great companies across many industries. A lot of these were reach positions or positions with much better work life balance. Neither of these would have been options if I stayed in NY.
The Salary Myth
When I had mentioned that I wanted to leave NYC to move to a lower cost city, even before I chose Denver, I was flooded with the same response. “Well, you may save on money but your salary is going to go down.” While it was definitely a concern for me, I soon learned that it’s not always the case.
I moved out to Denver with my NYC company but was only going to able to work remotely for 1 month. Since I just had the month to look, the fear of taking a low paying job to avoid unemployment was real.
Not only did I land a job offer within a month of moving to Denver, but I ended up with my total pay only $5k less than my NYC salary. The difference in taxes alone for me is over $5k. It’s a lot easier to increase your pay in a lower cost city than it is in a higher cost city. So, assuming that your high salary in your high cost city is the best financial outcome is naive.
Don’t get me wrong, Denver has a great food scene. However, I have had the takeout and it is limited. In cities like New York City, San Francisco, LA, there are a lot of late night food options (almost too many).
I lived in a part of Queens that was extremely diverse. So, obviously the food was incredible. You want authentic Thai, Greek, Halal, Mexican, Peruvian, Australian, or Korean food? No problem, it will be there in under an hour still warm. You want healthy hipster creations? Got that too. Let’s not forget about the amazing pizza and bagels.
Denver’s takeout scene isn’t as robust. Most places have a high delivery fee. The restaurants are further apart so the food doesn’t’ arrive as fresh. If it’s late, the delivery options are minimal. This means that I don’t spend as much on delivery and I eat healthier because I’m eating home cooked meals instead.
Having a Car
I could go on and on about how nice it is to be able to have the freedom of a car again. It’s been amazing. If I want to take a quick 1 day hiking trip, I can. In NYC I would take 2 subways to Grand Central to take a 40 minute train to get picked up by my parents to then borrow their car to go on a hike. I like knowing that if I need to go somewhere I don’t have to rely on others. There isn’t a need to get picked up or hope that the trains aren’t delayed. I just go. And since the city is smaller and the traffic isn’t as bad, I can really go anywhere at any time.
When you live in a high cost city, parking is usually few and far between. It is also insanely expensive. In Manhattan, you can pay anywhere from $300 to $600 a month for parking. I don’t know anyone who works in a building with free parking in NYC. There’s just not enough space for it. My friends in Queens who had to drive to work had free parking on the street. The only downside was that it could take over an hour sometimes to find a spot. That’s not exactly how I want to spend my time after a long commute.
I now have a car and parking at my apartment is $20 a year. There’s no searching for parking spaces for hours on end. My boyfriend and I also have free parking at our office buildings. Oh, and since Denver is a smaller and less crowded city, biking to work is also now an option for me. Yay for healthier and cheaper commuting options!
Being Far Away
Moving isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are sacrifices that have to be made. I’m at a period in my life where I have a lot of weddings to attend. Since most of my friends and family are still in the New York area, that means flying back a lot. This cost adds up quickly. Unfortunately, this also means that I have to make tough decisions on what I can and cannot attend. This isn’t limited to weddings. You will undoubtedly miss some milestones of friends and family who still live in their high cost cities.
I’ve been here for 3 months and I have already missed my close cousin’s baby shower, a best friends’ bachelorette party, and another friend’s wedding. I will be flying back to NY 4 times this year for weddings and the holidays. In the future, I may not be able to come back for both Thanksgiving and Christmas every year.
Better Quality of Life
When moving, I had to weigh my everyday quality of life versus being close to the people I love. For me, I know that I made the right choice to leave my high cost city, when I think back to the constant struggle of surviving in NY. I was exhausted and broke. The financial struggle took a lot out of me. I didn’t have much energy to make plans to visit my family. And, the thought of spending tons of money to hang out with friends kept me from seeing them as much as I should have.
Since life is much easier out here, I actually have the energy to enjoy the time I spend with my friends and family when I see them. I also don’t take them for granted as much as I did when I was closer. The saying “distance makes the heart grow fonder” is an understatement. When I lived closer, I wouldn’t make the effort to see everyone as much. Subconsciously, I knew I could see them anytime. Now, the trips back to see loved ones are much more cherished.
I’ve Become Nicer and More Patient
When life isn’t a constant struggle to compete and get by, you have time to stop and appreciate life more. I don’t get as angry about slow walkers or the cashier who is taking their time. I don’t have to be in a rush at all times because I have more time to myself. My commute is shorter, I have more of a work life balance, and it doesn’t take me forever to get to the other side of the city. The relaxed vibe of my new city has de-stressed this anxious New Yorker. Since decided to leave my high cost city, I actually have more time to be grateful for the small things like the sun shining in my face.
You’re Not the Only One
The more time that passes, the more I see people leaving high cost cities. My friends are starting to disperse across the country as they grow closer to buying homes and having their own families. My aunts, uncles, and others in my parents’ generation are also making the move as well. Many are realizing that they have flexibility as empty-nesters and that their retirement could be enjoyed more in a lower cost location.
As time passes, we will see more people moving to lower cost cities to try to overcome the affordable housing crisis.
Since this subject is very close to my heart, it was a very long post. Props if you made it through the whole thing!
Choosing to move is an extremely personal decision. I don’t have children or a mortgage so I had an easier time moving than others. When making the decision, I made a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to decide whether or not to move. It was really helpful to see the pros and cons on paper. I also made a trip to Denver to see if I would enjoy day to day life out there.
What really gave me the nudge to move was picturing what I wanted my future to be like. (A realistic future, not the one where I own 5 luxury houses and am rich beyond my wildest dreams). When looking at my ideal future, I knew that I couldn’t achieve it if I stayed in the NY tri-state area. We are all trying to make a better life for ourselves and moving to more affordable places is a pretty effective way to do it.
New York will always have a special place in my heart and it will always be a part of me. You can’t replace New York or Miami or any of the unique high cost cities that we love, they are expensive for a reason. Although my new city won’t replace New York, it will give me the life I want.