Living in the Most Expensive Cities in the USA
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This is a guest post by Melanie who blogs about breaking up with debt at deardebt.com and invites others to write breakup letters to their debt as well. She’s accumulated a total of $81k in student loan debt between two degrees, and has paid off $37k. Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

In the personal finance world, we are always talking about ways to save money; cut out lattes, clip coupons, implement no-spend days, pack your lunch, etc.

Some people have gone so far to suggest that people should move from high cost of living areas like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to more affordable areas to save money. I don’t think that this is terrible advice, but I don’t think it works for everyone either.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California; not a cheap place by any stretch of the imagination. My studio apartment cost $1,000 per month and I had to have a car. Between gas, insurance, and repairs, it was a money sink. Living on a nonprofit salary wasn’t easy, but I did it.

Would you beg for tuition?After leaving Los Angeles, I attended graduate school in New York City, which is even more expensive than L.A. I saved some money by not having a car, and of course getting a roommate. I paid $800 per month to live in Brooklyn and occupied a room that could pass for a walk-in closet in size.

To many people, the idea of living in an expensive city is unfathomable. You’re met with resounding skepticism, I could never live there! Most people can’t imagine getting by and feel that their whole existence would be miserable. However, there are millions of people making it and getting by everyday in those cities. I am not saying it is easy, or perfect, but there are reasons why people migrate to expensive cities, and why they stay there.

After graduate school, I moved to Portland, Oregon to reunite with my partner after surviving a long-distance relationship. Compared to Los Angeles and New York, Portland seemed dirt cheap to me. $4 for a beer? A room for $400? I thought I’d hit the jackpot and would be well on my way to saving all the monies.

But I quickly realized that Portland’s economy is terrible and it’s very difficult to find a job here. It took me a year and a half to find a full-time job. Expensive cities get a bad rap, but here is why I love them, and hope to return one day:

More Money

If you are an entrepreneur, this probably excludes you. But if you are like the majority of the population, you have a “day job”. When I first arrived in Portland, I got an entry level job at $10/hr to pay the bills. Previously, any entry level job I had in LA or NYC was at least $15/hr. While my rent was lower in Portland, so was my pay.

More Jobs

In bigger cities, there are also more jobs. In New York, the website Idealist updated 10 pages worth of jobs per day. In Portland, I was lucky if one job per day got posted to Idealist. It felt like a lot of waiting around for jobs to be posted, and pickings were slim.

I had previously thought that moving to Portland would be great for my career. I’d be a big fish in a small pond, and there would be less competition. But really I was just in a small pond and most people got hired based on who they knew. In Portland, I had 5 interviews in 1.5 years, and in New York, I had 30 interviews in two months. While the population in larger cities is dense, and can cause more competition, that density often creates more jobs overall. Also, consider that some cities with higher price tags “never sleep” and have robust tourist industries, so there are going to be additional work opportunities that are unavailable in cheaper variants.

Working in a Specific Field

I have spent my career in arts education and administration as I believe in the transformative power of the arts and creativity. In Los Angeles and New York, it was easy for me to get started in this field and learn from a supportive community. While Portland is very creative, there is a lack of funding here for the arts. I currently don’t work in my field of study because the jobs are so limited.

If you are interested in working in a specific field like the arts, entertainment, politics, technology, and international relations, you probably need to be in San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C. or Los Angeles. You can definitely be a part of those industries in other cities as well, but you can learn from the best and have more opportunities in the bigger cities.

Weather and Geography

Bixby Bridge Big Sur, CaliforniaExpensive cities are usually expensive for a reason: everyone wants to live there. It’s simple supply and demand, which equates to crazy prices. However, you can call some of the most gorgeous and interesting of places home. The weather in Los Angeles is unbeatable. The geography in San Francisco is stunning. The arts and culture in New York is incomparable. People love waking up everyday and saying this is where I live.

Travel Hub

The big, expensive cities are often considered travel hubs as well. If you are a world traveler like me, you are always looking for a good deal to go abroad. Los Angeles and San Francisco easily transport you to Asia or Down Under, while New York is the gateway to Europe.

While living in LA and NYC, I often found deals to go abroad for less than $500 roundtrip, off-season. In Portland, I’m lucky if I can find a flight abroad for less than $1k. Also, bigger cities provide you with more direct flights and less layovers.

In short, I don’t think expensive cities deserve a bad rap, even in the personal finance community.

What do you think of expensive cities?

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