This past weekend I attended a friend’s son’s birthday party. I hadn’t seen them in over a year and enjoyed catching up with old friends. As the conversations progressed and the children bounced up and down in the bouncer and ran back and forth, a pattern developed in the conversations. That pattern focused around moving out of California.

Now, I’ve been researching towns in Northern California lately because I’m ready for a change and increase in quality of life. Southern California is beautiful, but the traffic is insane and the cost of living is high compared with what you get for you money. Though Northern California is just as costly, I’m under the impression the lifestyle is worth the cost.

Yet, within the discussions I had with guests, most of them mentioned moving to Arizona within the next year or two. This makes sense; it’s right next door to California, has plenty of sunny days, and costs a whole heck of a lot less. If it weren’t for the brutal summers, I’d consider it myself. (I secretly dream of Raleigh, NC but that’s another post).

None of us are in the top 1% or even 10%, so living in California is definitely more financially stressful than living in any other state. Though California has plenty of natural beauty and cultural activities to enjoy, the cost of living makes it difficult to fully take advantage of all the benefits. Which is exactly why many of the guests mentioned moving within the next couple of years, the grind isn’t worth it as you get older.

If I compare Los Angeles and San Francisco (most populated Southern and Northern California cities) to a few other major metros, there’s no denying it makes sense to move out of California: (note – salary = median family income)

  • Gilbert, AZ (I love Gilbert personally – at least as an AZ town. It has a cute old west downtown area and beautiful craftsman style homes): The cost of living is just at the US standard and houses now average about $167K with most incomes ranging above $50K.
  • Tempe, AZ (college area that has lots of restaurants and a high speed rail): Though also a part of the Phoenix suburbs, Tempe costs a little less than the US average. Houses are about $133K and incomes range from about $35K on up to above $50K.
  • Raleigh, NC (Okay, so I’ve been planting the seed lately to Mr. LH that Raleigh is hip and the weather isn’t bad, someone please back me up here!): It’s ranked number two on the Forbes best places for business, salaries are a little higher than the US average at about $57K and housing prices are reasonable at about $164K on average. It’s also the number one safest city according to Forbes.
  • Austin, TX (Mr. LH once mentioned that Texas seemed like home to him – he lived in Dallas for many years. Of course he recently withdrew his comment due to crummy weather, but I’m making him stick to it!): Cost of living is about at the US average, housing costs average around $188K, and Forbes ranks it number nine on the best places to do business. Salaries average about $50K.
  • Los Angeles, CA (I live in a suburb of LA. It’s sprawling and I can’t stand the traffic and lack of architecture!): Cost of living is 44% higher than the US average with salaries averaging about $50K and houses averaging $359K. Note that the salary to house ratio is pathetic.
  • San Francisco, CA (I hear it’s the West Coasts version of NYC so I’m sure I’d love it, but couldn’t afford it!): Cost of living is 99% higher than the US average with salaries averaging about $75K. Housing costs average around $648K. Definitely too expensive for me.
  • Davis, CA (one of the cities I’m checking out very soon): Cost of living compared to the average US is 58% higher with salaries ranging at about $50K and up. Housing costs are around $427K. Still expensive and really more so than where I live now. Raleigh is looking better and better!

Of course for now, my plan is to stick with Northern California. Once I visit Davis and Sacramento (Sacramento is a lot less expensive than both Davis and LA) later this year, I’ll have a better idea of what direction I’ll be heading – literally and figuratively. If neither of these two towns work out (too similar to LA or too remote or small), Raleigh or Austin are next on my list.

Where do you live? Is the cost worth the lifestyle? Anyone live in Raleigh and can share their experience?

18 Comments

  1. Christian L. Reply

    I’ve been in Columbia, Missouri for three years. It’s home to the University of Missouri-Columbia and a few other colleges. As such, it’s super cheap. I’m living with three other guys and my monthly expense–which includes, rent, utilities and Internet–won’t be more than $140 depending on how much energy we consume.

    However, I can’t walk outside and be close to big city attractions. With the students here, the population is in 120,000 range. But there’s still plenty to do. Hospitals and law firms seem to flourish here, as do alumni enterprises.

    It’s a good town for young professional to get a foot hold before they move on to greener pastures.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

    P.S. Raleigh sounds like a good change. Not too far from the ocean either!

  2. Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog Reply

    I live in wyoming, and in addition to a great quality of life, living here is fairly low cost (and no super hot days). There’s always plenty to do, but sometimes you do drive a lot (but there is no traffic). I’ve never been to the RTP area (raliegh, durham, chapel hill) but have always wanted to go.

    • @Jeff – I think I was in Wyoming once when I was a teenager and remember thinking it was beautiful. I’m sure there are lots of outdoor activities to choose from.

  3. krantcents Reply

    In your analysis, you may want to include the difference in wages in these various areas. The cost of living is lower and so our the wages particularly teachers. There is no perfect location and lot depends on your personal attitude about it to make it a good lifestyle choice.

    • @Krantcents – That’s a good point. My guess is teaching salaries are probably about 20% lower than here, but if the cost of living is 40- 45% lower, then it’s worth the move. And there are actually elementary teaching jobs in NC! (That’s the huge incentive.)

  4. We live in the “Rust Belt” in Western New York. Many people are amazed at how low the cost of living is here. There is also always plenty of water, no natural disasters and plenty of farm-fresh food. Of course, the winters aren’t exactly fabulous, but you have to take the good with the bad. Wages also aren’t very high. We love it, though.

    • @Wayne – Thanks for giving me a new vision of the “rust belt.” I love the east coast/New England area in the summer, but I’m not so sure I’d be able to deal with the winters. 😉

  5. I live in Houston, TX and can also vouch for Austin. The weather is better in Austin but the housing is cheaper around Houston. For example, we are buying a 5 bedroom, 4 full bath house, 3700 square feet, on the northwest side of Houston for $261,000 with all the options we wanted. Our 1750 square foot 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath house would sell right now for $110,000-$125,000…but we are renting it out instead for $1200 a month.

  6. Joe @ Retire By 40 Reply

    We live in Portland, OR. You should come up for a visit. It’s really nice and we have a ton of Californian transplants. The cost of living is less than CA, but not by a huge amount. The traffic is a lot better though and we have a lot of alternative transportation options. Good luck!

    • @Joe – We have friends that moved up in that area and someday we’ll have to plan visit – I’ll let you know if that happens. I know there are lots of great things about Portland (especially the bike paths!).

  7. Julie @ The Family CEO Reply

    We live in the Kansas City area, which we love because it’s home. We were both raised here and our parents and much of our extended family and friends are here. Housing is very affordable in the KC area, although we live in a county that is known for higher housing prices due to excellent schools and services.

    • @Julie – I have some family that lives in the Kansas City area (Overland Park really) and I know there area lots of great things there, too. I’m just not so sure I’d be able to handle the winters and Mr. LH has said absolutely NO to snow. 😉

  8. AverageJoe Reply

    I’d always heard Austin was a cool city. Then we moved closer to it and could go ourselves. If anything, it’s underrated. Austin is incredible.

    In 2000 we tried to move to Raleigh/Durham. I love that area, too. Lots of outdoor activities, close to ocean and mountains, and great weather.

    Both favorites!

    • @Average Joe- Thanks for sharing your experience. I really have to check out Austin and Raleigh/Durham. But first I gotta make it to Davis/Sacramento!

  9. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter Reply

    I would much rather live in a cheaper place and travel to nicer places. If home meets my basic needs and I have a good job and a bit of a social life, I find I can deal with not having other things. It is a very individual question though because everyone’s needs are different.

    • @Miss T – Me too. If we’re close enough to a city that offers lots of activities without too much traffic, I’d love that. (I really think it’s the traffic that’s making me want to leave LA).

  10. TravelingNurse Reply

    Indiana is one of the cheapest places to live, Indy, South Bend, even the Ft. Wayne area. The further away from the cities, the cheaper it is….and ELkhart, Indiana IS the job capital of the world! Seriously, there are SOOOO many unfilled manufacturing jobs it is ridiculous. Check it out, you’ll be shockingly surprised.

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