How To Measure The Cost Of Living Of A Place Before Moving
Relocating is often a thrilling journey, an opportunity to start a new chapter in your life—in a new environment. However, it's also a decision that requires a ton of careful financial planning. One important aspect that shouldn't be overlooked in this process is the cost of living.
This blog post will walk you through the process of measuring the cost of living in your potential new home, making sure you find a place that aligns with your finances and lifestyle.
What Makes Up Your Cost of Living?
Your cost of living is a measure that mirrors the total expenses needed to maintain a specific lifestyle in a particular location. It captures your key expenses like housing, food, healthcare, taxes, transportation, clothing, education, and even recreational activities. Understanding the cost of living allows you to compare the affordability of different places and estimate the income you (and your family) need to make to sustain your current way of life.
Calculating the Cost of Living
Calculating the cost of living involves a comparison of the prices of goods and services that an average person is likely to spend when living in an area. These expenses are broken down into categories such as healthcare, food, and housing, which are then weighed based on general spending habits and budgets. Price data is then collected for different locations, creating the comparison of the cost of living between various states, counties, etc.
Some Factors That Shape the Cost of Living
The cost of living in a specific area is influenced by a bunch of factors, including:
- Housing costs: The average rent or mortgage payments in the area
- Transportation costs: The costs of public transportation, gas prices, and car maintenance
- Healthcare costs: Charges for medical services, insurance premiums, and prescription medications
- Food prices: Expenses related to groceries, eating out, and other food-related costs
- Taxes: The impact of local, state, and federal taxes on the overall cost of living
- Utilities: Costs for utilities such as electricity, water, gas, and internet
- Education: The cost of tuition, school supplies, and childcare services
It's crucial to remember that the cost of living can vary substantially from one city or county to another, even within the same state. Therefore, conducting thorough research is essential before deciding to move.
Key Factors To Research Before Moving
Housing is often the largest part of a person's budget. To research housing costs, consider online real estate platforms that offer a wealth of information about the median prices of homes for sale and rent in various neighborhoods (Zillow is usually the best place to start). Local real estate agents and city housing authorities are also useful resources for understanding housing costs.
Utility costs can vary greatly by region due to factors like climate and infrastructure. Reach out to local utility companies for estimates or check with the US Chamber of Commerce for state-level data on energy costs. Local government websites may also provide information on water and waste disposal (i.e. sewage) costs.
For food expenses, research the average cost of groceries as well as dining out. Local supermarket websites often list prices, and restaurant menus are frequently available online. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides data on average food costs in different regions.
Childcare costs can be a significant expense for families. Reach out to local daycare centers, after-school programs, and babysitting services for pricing. Websites like Care.com can also provide a sense of the cost of hiring in-home caregivers.
Entertainment costs can include anything from movie tickets to local park fees. Local business websites, tourism boards, and event listings can provide some info on the cost of fun activities in the area.
Car insurance rates vary by state and even by zip code. Contact insurance companies for quotes, and remember to consider factors like your vehicle type, driving history, and the level of coverage you need. If you don’t want to change the company you’re currently with—note that your monthly premium may change when you move.
In urban areas, parking can be a significant expense. Check with local city government websites for information on parking permit costs and the average rates for garage or lot parking.
Average Annual Income
Understanding the average income in an area can help you measure its affordability. Websites like Salary.com provide data on average salaries for specific occupations by region. Even if you have a remote job, it’s important to look at the average income in the state you plan to live in because it'll give you an estimate of the overall living costs in that area.
Evaluating and Comparing Cost of Living Between Locations
A practical way to compare the cost of living is by looking at expenses between your current place of residence and your potential new home. This comparison can help you estimate how much money you'll need to maintain your current lifestyle in the new location and identify any potential differences in living expenses.
Making Use of Cost of Living Calculators
Online cost-of-living calculators can be an extremely valuable resource when comparing costs between two places. These calculators let you input your current city, the city you're considering moving to, and your current income. They then provide a detailed breakdown of the differences in common costs between the two areas. If you have children, these calculators can also provide insights into expenses such as childcare, education, and even children's clothing in your potential new location (some calculators show this data, but not all).
Tapping Into Government and Local Websites
Websites run by state, county, and city governments often contain useful cost-of-living data. They show information on expenses which can help in measuring an area’s affordability. Several private organizations and research institutes also provide cost-of-living indexes, offering insights into how your income might stretch in different parts of the country.
Gaining Insight into Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs)
As the cost of living changes over time, wages and benefits may need to be adjusted accordingly to keep up with rising expenses. And because of the need for these changes, when you move you may be able to ask for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) from the company you work at. For instance, entities like the Social Security Administration (SSA) occasionally adjust benefits to reflect the increased cost of living. Understanding how COLAs work in your potential new area and with your company can be an important part of evaluating long-term affordability before moving.
Gaining a deep understanding of the cost of living is important when thinking about moving to a new location. Equipped with this knowledge, you can make an informed decision that protects your lifestyle and financial well-being. For more insights on personal finance, dove into our other related blog posts below. We're committed to supporting your financial journey, no matter where it takes you.