When is saving money more important than living in a great place?

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By: Aaron PareckiCC BY 2.0

I live in the wonderfully offbeat city of Portland, right in the thick of things. I love where I live, like LOVE LOVE where I live. I can walk anywhere I could possibly need or want, and our apartment is adorably vintage. My husband quite possibly loves it even more than I do.Problem is, I’m about to have to take a major pay-cut to intern for grad school. We’ll be losing a big chunk of income that, up until now, we’ve been putting towards paying off my husband’s student loans. We’ll still make ends meet, we just won’t really be able to save much.

It seems more financially responsible to move, but it’s good for our souls to live here.

All that to say, when is saving more important than living in a great place? -BigCityStudent

This is a struggle with which I am very familiar. I’m a born-and-raised Los Angeleno, and boy do I pay out the nose for it! But since I want to live near all my best friends, that guy I married works in “the industry,” and I’m just generally happy in my hometown, we “get by” instead of “thrive.”

Is it worth it? My answer: sometimes yes, sometimes no.

It’s worth it when I get to go on an evening hike with my best friends on a moment’s notice, and watch the sunset over the twinkling lights of a big city. It’s not worth it when I realize that I’ll never be able to afford a home anywhere in that big twinkling city. It’s worth it when I can take a relaxing beach day in January. It’s not worth it when it takes me almost two hours to drive the 10 miles back home.

I look at expensive city living like a lifestyle tax. As long as I’m not going broke, and it’s not having a negative impact on my family, then continually “getting by” is the price I’m willing to pay… for now.

What about you guys? How do you balance the idea of saving money with the desire to live in an expensive city?

Comments on When is saving money more important than living in a great place?

  1. It’s been a few years since I lived there, but there are definitely places in Portland that are cheaper than others, and it has a really, really good public transit system. Do you absolutely have to be RIGHT in the thick of things, or would trading your walk for a bike ride be a deal breaker? And don’t discredit the less popular neighborhoods- for awhile we lived in St John’s which is way up on the north tip, and yeah, it was a tiny bit of a hassle to get to some other places in town…but we had an adorable neighborhood one block away, a gorgeous park right outside our door, a great landlord, and our view looked like this:

    and the rent was less than it cost to get a similar one-bedroom apt in a crappy, mismanaged complex on a highway down in Milwaukie (the suburb to the south).

  2. Hubby and I are in the process of looking for our first home this year after renting together for 10 years in nearly every part of Austin. The last three have been in the heart of 78704, which has been a dream. Everything is so close. Parks, restaurants, downtown in just a few minutes. He hates commuting and loves his leisurely 5-10 minute ride to the office. Now we’re spoiled and the neighborhood we love is more than double the cost to buy than anywhere our friends live. I’m so paranoid we won’t find anything in our budget and will be renting do another year until we have a larger budget to work with. Then I think about about our long term plans and I just know this is the place for us for the long haul and can’t really picture living anywhere else in town.

  3. Haven’t read all the comments, so this might be a repeat. What stands out to me in your post, besides the fact that you love, love, love it, is that you can WALK everywhere. Do not underestimate the cost of transportation if you move. Car maintenance, insurance and gasoline is a huge chunk of money. It might even equal the difference in rent. In other words, being able to walk everywhere equals money. Plus health.

  4. I am in the same dilemma. I moved from Providence 40 minutes away to a crummy run down city when I met my husband. A child and divorce later were still here but plan to leave. I am miserable here, but if my son and I move to the city well be at least 40 minutes away from my parents and the father. I dont have any other family in the city but lived there for 8 years ad loved it and regret the move. Im torn. How do single parents do it with no family around balancing work and school and child care. I think I will be miserable if I stay here though. I earn a decent living so I could rent in a safe area but of course not right in the most trendy- I wont pay 1800 buck a month to rent. I too, am rethinking buying a home. Seems like all additional savings and time go into house repairs . Not sure I want the headache. I would rather have $$ in the bank to travel or take classes. Society puts pressure on adults to own homes and theres still a stigma to renting but is buying always a good idea? Sure, the tax write off but not when its spent in taxes and repairs.

  5. Boy oh boy do I have experience with this! I was born and raised in Victoria, British Columbia which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I left 11 years ago to go to college, travel, etc. After being in great cities in Europe, living in Boston, Whistler, and the Rockies, I found myself in Ontario for university…not the sexiest of locales. The plan was to stay for only 4 years since I didn’t really like it here…that was 9 years ago. I ended up in a long term relationship then met my husband. We ended up back in my university town which was the closest thing to Victoria in Ontario. We bought a house here and settled in for what we thought was the long haul.
    Last summer we realized that there was little room for either of us to grow here professionally and the cost of living here was too expensive. Although we got a steal on a GORGEOUS home in the “it” neighborhood we were burdened with almost $4k in property taxes, outrageously expensive entertainment costs, and a pretty expensive lifestyle. Because we want to have a kid soon, I started looking for jobs elsewhere where the cost of living is lower (hubby is a tattooer so he can work anywhere). I ended up getting a great job in the Kawarthas (anyone know the Tragically Hip song Bobcaygeon? That place) which is coincidentally where my Dad was born and raised so I have some family there. The pluses added up – lots of free entertainment being in cottage/lake country, cheaper houses, lower taxes, more doctors, less pressure to “keep up with the Jones’s,” which all leads to more money in our pockets for a kid and that honeymoon we never got to take. We were also able to buy a great house with a granny suite which we’ll rent out for $1000 a month making our costs for the mortgage and taxes at a whopping $100 a month. That suite will also be used in the future for ageing relatives instead of putting them in a retirement facility.
    The process has also been freeing as we are moving from our 2000 sq foot place with a huge basement for storage into a 1000 sq foot place with no basement (because its the rental suite). We are purging so much stuff and selling lots of it too which is great to help with the costs of moving.
    We saw the financial freedom in moving to a smaller town. Yah there isn’t going to be that awesome gourmet deli down the road, or that funky store to shop at but Toronto is only an hour away. Our trips to the city will not only be a great day trip but they’ll be more fun now that we’ll have that extra bit of disposable income to buy the good stuff rather than the crap.
    Even if you do move and decide you don’t like it, you can always move again. Life is full of adventures – seize them.

  6. The comment thread on this post is amazing, and it’s good to know that so many other people have this struggle. My future husband and I have had this same internal argument about once a year. Breaking up with such a close-knit community of friends, local businesses, scenery and culture, would be devastating, but we can’t seem to save a dime — and it’s been 7 years! (It’s funny, our pacific northwest community is awesome and expensive but PDX must be some kind of magical utopia. We have several friends who have moved there, are struggling, and will probably never return, for the same reasons you describe.)

    I’m no help, I’m sure, but I do wish you the best of luck with finding happiness for whichever choice you make!

  7. I would lean towards stay. I moved from San Francisco to San Jose 7 years ago for grad school and to live with my then boyfriend now husband. I love San Francisco, but my husband can’t handle all the people.
    The pros: able to afford to buy our own home, travel all over the world, grow our own food, have my own library 🙂 , plenty of space for guests, my dream kitchen w/2 ovens.
    The cons: we live in the less affluent area of San Jose which means we haven to drive everywhere. Our savings has been decimated by everything that could go wrong going wrong with our house. Our local grocery stores are just glorified liqueur stores, so we really have to drive for healthy food. We have become hermits because the little bit of free time we have from work is spent working on the house. I have gained 40 pounds, because when I lived in SF, I relied on walking, 80’s dance clubs, and restaurants with healthy food options to stay fit.
    Once a year we go visit my husbands family in the UK, for those 3 weeks it’s like living in SF again, and I feel amazing. I drop weight without even trying, both mentally and physically. So I guess in the end I would say stay.
    My husband and I have come up with a compromise, since Portland is not as crowded as SF he is willing to live there. But he has to find a job there first since my teaching credential is not excepted there. So for now I keep crossing my fingers hoping he finds something, while trying to reverse the health damage caused by my lifestyle here in SJ.

  8. My husband and I have just been through the exact same thing in a way. We’ve just been through an expensive wedding and our first year with only one income (he’s studying – for another 3 years!). Our landlord said she wanted to put the rent up by $30/wk (ouch), but we asked to negotiate because we loved living here so much. She said okay, and so it’s going to go up $10 this year, $10 next year, and we sign a 2-year contract. Better for us, better for them.

    So, adding that up, that’s an extra $1040 over the 2 years. If we hired a company to move all our furniture, that’d be $400. Carpet cleaners to clean our current place as per our contract – $200. Time to clean/pack/unpack, stress of moving, time looking for new places – worth lots. Possible increase in gas money. Stressing out cat having to move again. It all adds up.

    We looked at our bills and found we can easily knock off a good $50-100 month without losing out on much, so that also makes back that money anyway! If you really feel if where you are is perfect, look into all your options first before ending up being miserable somewhere else.

  9. In San Francisco, rents/sticker shock is ALL anyone can talk about right now (seriously newspapers- stop it…didn’t you know signing up as a writer for a local paper pretty much guarantees you a lifelong supply of cup o’ noodle?). I feel for these folks, but where was the foresight on the boom a couple years ago? I have been wracking my brain for years on how to make more money, because city life is NOT going to get cheaper, and is already unaffordable for most people making under 3 digits.

    I was fully studying for the LSAT, picking out law schools (in desperation – I don’t want to work 80+ hours a week), when I got serious with my FH and decided to let go of my sweet studio in the heart of the city, in favor of paying only half the price of the studio on a house in South SF (read: the fugly shitbox suburban Peninsula) with a yard, garage, huge kitchen, dining, living, plus an art studio for me and office for the Fi. While I have not invited friends to visit said shitbox, my cat and I are enjoying our space and I am stacking the extra cash to buy a house.

    I still work in city proper (about a 20-30 minute drive), and my best friends are dispersed on all sides of the bay, so it’s no biggie to me. They would gladly come visit me – even the ones that don’t usually drive (Zipcar is big here), but I am much more interested in hosting parties once I buy, and in going out for dinner and drinks in city proper for now, since I am currently deprived of having it all outside my doorstep (but honestly, I don’t miss it at all – from the drunks yelling “Bust-er Po-sey!!!” at all hours, the ambulances, crazy neighbors, and worst of all, cockroaches…. I would still be eating pasta every night and handing over my whole paycheck to the landlord if I stayed in my old studio. Good riddance). If I were still in my 20’s, however, I would have a harder time moving away from the epicenter of excitement, the bars, restaurants, farmers markets….SF has so much to love, but I am happily loving it from a bit of a distance now. Everyone’s situation is different, of course.

    • Also – for those whose friends might have a harder time visiting you outside city proper – it helps to have a transit plan laid out for them (BART in SF’s surrounding areas), and a cozy guest room (converted office or otherwise). I have a friend who keeps her guest room occupied very regularly, no doubt aided by the fact that she is an excellent hostess, and sets her guests up with a mini bar and basket of bedside treats catered to that particular guest each time. Who would have thought some chips and candy bars could make people SO happy to stay over? (Also, don’t forget the mini disposable toothbrushes in a guest tray in the bathroom.) Truly, if people feel they can comfortably crash, it lessens the hesitance to venture out.

  10. I don’t know if I have an answer for you, but I am in a similar situation and feel the need to commiserate. I live in San Francisco and have since graduate school. I grew up in the suburbs of New England, went to college in the east bay, and moved to S.F. after graduate school. Now my husband and I live in San Francisco on the income of a public school teacher and an under-employed musician. We pay a little under $1700 per month for a two-bedroom in-law apartment with a little backyard and a washer and dryer in the garage, where we live with our two cats. This is sadly a crackhead, below-market rate deal in the increasingly expensive San Francisco. We live in the foggy, far-west part of the city, and I’m not sure if we’ll every be able to own a home, which is more important to the husband than me, as homes here tend to go for close to a million dollars. One could say, and it might be true, that, with our tight budget, we don’t take nearly enough advantage of the nightlife and cultural events that San Francisco offers and that’s probably true. However, I love living so close to the beach and Golden Gate park and going running through them. My husband can walk or bike to work, I can walk to my cantoring job, and in general I can walk to the supermarket, the drug store, and other little shops in the area, and we live right along several bus lines. As I hate, hate, hate having to get in a car anytime I go anywhere, I love this arrangement. I’m also a reasonable distance from my friends. If we lived elsewhere, I worry I’d feel isolated (which I already tend to feel) and we’d have other transportation challenges. I do feel like we’re paying through the nose to live very modestly, but given our career path, we wouldn’t be earning much anywhere we lived, and for where we are in life at the moment, I’d rather be where we are right now, even if that means we’re pinching pennies.

    • Your rent is lookin good! I just gave up a seriously janky under-market studio apartment on Divis for the same price and they bumped it right up for the next tenant. Rent on my house costs about the same in South SF (just down the coastal highway from you). If you’re willing to buy outside SF, there are still homes for half a mil. Sad, I know, but doable. Try out the math on a mortgage, with 20% down (I know that’s like $100k. Eeek!).

      I am determined to buy, so I figured out what it would take to save $100k in 5 years. $400 a week. If, as a couple, you can come up with a way to make an additional $400 each week, or save that together, you’re in business! (Of course, in 5 years, who knows if anyone but millionaires will be able to buy within 2 hours of SF. We are asking for down payment contributions as our main registry.)

  11. For me, I just chose a cute building in a good location over a boring building in a less convenient location, even though it was more expensive.

    I just left my husband, and needed to feel connected and good about my space. So for me the extra money for this place, even though it will make my budget even more tight, was worth it. For me, feeling good about my neighborhood and the space I live in is really important. It needs character. If you can find a cheaper place in a cute community outside of central Portland, Gresham or Kenton or somewhere around the edges, maybe it will be a good fit for you, but you live in the now, and have to feel good about where you live.

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