In the last three years I have lived in three different states and one of them twice. I lived in Southern California from 1996 – 2008, then in New Mexico from 2008 – 2009, then Colorado from 2009 – 2010, and then I arrived back in California again late last year to set up shop. The story behind all those moves is long-winded so I will spare you from the details, but that’s not really the point of why I am writing this post– I really wanted to discuss the cost of living in different communities and what effect that can have on your financial well-being and stability.
Of the three states I have lived in, New Mexico was definitely the cheapest in every way. Rent on my 3 bedroom house with acres of land was under $1,000 a month, car insurance and registration was dirt cheap, gasoline was $1.00 less/gallon than California, going to the movies was only $6, and the lack of much to spend money on allowed me to save up some money. While there isn’t much work in the state and the education system is one of the worst in the nation, one cannot beat the dramatic beauty of the place. I hope to one day find myself living there once again, in a small little house surrounded by mountains, horses, and a few goats. That’s my long term dream place to live again, and here are some of the reasons why.
California on the other hand is so incredibly expensive that I am continually amazed that so many people can survive here. Gasoline is currently $3.75/gallon, my car registration cost me $400, car insurance isn’t cheap, groceries are expensive, and the rent? Forget it – I pay a small fortune for my little house I rent with neighbors so close I could hand them sugar through our bathroom windows. While the weather is fantastic and having access to the Pacific Ocean is part of the value per dollar spent to live here, SoCal requires its residents to make quite a bit of money in order to live comfortably. It takes a lot of work to live here, which is why I can see myself moving back to NM to enjoy a quieter, simpler life again.
Colorado came in right in the middle of those two extremes, but it wasn’t a place I could see myself living long term. It had natural beauty, for sure, but I didn’t find the charm of New Mexico or the splendor of California there. But many people love it and price-wise it’s a pretty fair place to live.
Cost of living in different communities is a huge factor in how well-off you are going to be, what kind of money you are going to make, what kind of work you will have to do, and what kind of experiences you will be able to have. You can choose somewhere cheap to live and have the opportunity to make way less money while doing something you love… or you can live somewhere really expensive and possibly have to work extra hard just to try to make ends meet. It’s all about what an individuals’ priorities are, and everyone has their own ideals of place/work/lifestyle. I used to think I needed (AKA wanted) to do something I didn’t like too much just to keep up with the Joneses or live in a community I couldn’t afford, but as I have gotten older my priorities have shifted away from making money to making a life.
If you are interested in comparing the cost of living of that new location you have been thinking about in comparison to where you live now, you may want to check out this handy-dandy cost of living calculator over at Sperling’s Best Places. You enter in current city, your possible destination city, and your annual salary. The calculator then spits out a cost of living comparison based on costs of services, food, and housing, combined with the differences in salary. Give it a try before you jump ship from your current locale!