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would you move for a lower cost of living?

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So last week I compared the amount that I’d be taxed if I lived in Wisconsin, with the amount that I actually am taxed living in the UK. Many people astutely pointed out that the cost of living is somewhat lower in Wisconsin. I have absolutely no doubt that they are right.

Where I live the cost of buying a flat or house starts at around £80k (US $160k approx). You can buy a 3 bed 2 bath family house in Madison, Wisconsin for the same price, and the lowest you can really go is $50k or £25k. Using the Big Mac index, you can see that the cost of a Big Mac in the US is $3.57, whereas in the UK it’s the equivalent of $4.57 - that’s 28% more, and something that’s almost certainly repeated for other food goods. The price of petrol/gas in the UK isn’t at about $4 a gallon like the US, it’s more like $7-$8.

So, what about moving somewhere with a lower cost of living? Well, of course I can’t move to the US because it’s almost impossible to get a work permit, but it would still probably work out cheaper to live in Australia, Canada or New Zealand, which are all places where it’s feasible that I could both emigrate to, and find a job in my current field (I’ve seen the trade press adverts).

Moving across an ocean is a little extreme, after all going that far away from friends and family brings it’s own costs in regular flights back, and international calls. But, many (not all) EU countries have a lower cost of living, Spain, Cyprus, Italy, Poland, Slovakia all come to mind - particularly for the cost of accommodation. I’d need to learn a new language though. More of a challenge. The other country that almost solely speaks English, is Ireland. Whilst there are many great things about the place, I’m not sure that low cost is one that springs to mind. Especially if you’re considering the Dublin area.

Which brings me back to the UK. Most of the costs are generally the same throughout the country, unless you’re in or around London, in which case all bets are off. If I wanted to move somewhere cheaper, I’d have to go further north in England, into Wales, or up into Scotland - carefully avoiding pricey Edinburgh. Towns are usually cheaper than cities, and there are plenty of nice ones dotted around the place.

I’m actually not in a great position to move somewhere cheaper. I bought my house last year at the height of the property boom, and I think *forever* is a good description of how long it would take me to sell. Most of my friends and family actually live in more expensive parts of the country than I do, so it’s not like I’d have the advantage of being near friends and family. I don’t think that I could move somewhere that was that much cheaper.

The price of property is the biggest difference between the regions, but I don’t think that it makes enough difference at my end of the ladder. In the four cheapest regions in England the average price of a terraced house is between £110k and £120k. But I only spent about £100k on mine in any case.

I guess where I live is cheap enough that I can’t easily save money by moving anywhere else. I’d have to look at seriously altering my lifestyle instead. But, I think I might be in an unusual position. Have you moved or thought about moving somewhere cheaper? What have your experiences been? Let me know in the comments

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26 comments for “would you move for a lower cost of living?”

  1. I wouldn’t. I’ve moved a lot, but always to very expensive cities (Dublin, Amsterdam, NYC, Toronto). Quality of life is really important. I mean, never say never, but to me “saving money” is a really, really bad reason to move anywhere.

    Posted by guinness416 | August 5, 2008, 1:09 pm
  2. I would first like to disagree with guinness416. I think money is a big reason why many people move. They see better opportunities elsewhere.

    Have you been to Madison, Wisconsin? There is a reason why the cost of living is so cheap there. Also, don’t quote me on this, but I don’t think you can make as in Wisconsin even if you do online work.

    Posted by Jerry | August 5, 2008, 2:01 pm
  3. Now I haven’t been to Madison, but I do know that it’s a reasonable sized place, and it’s there’s a large well respected university there. So it can’t be all that bad.

    I think it would be hard to replicate the lifestyle that I like somewhere cheaper as I prefer to live in a city. It would be almost impossible to do so in the UK/EU and would be extremely difficult somewhere like Canada (extra costs of being from overseas).

    Sometimes I envy people who aspire to live in the country or whatever. At least where they want to live isn’t intrinsically expensive.

    Posted by plonkee | August 5, 2008, 2:10 pm
  4. I am dealing with the opposite of this right now. We hate our house, don’t care for the neighborhood, really want to move, but the rent is $400 less per month than we would pay nearly anywhere else.

    Worth it for us to stay? Most likely. We won’t live here forever, so as long as we can stand to stay we come out on the winning end of the deal.

    Posted by Jenna | August 5, 2008, 2:25 pm
  5. Yeah, I agree people move for opportunities Jerry but that’s the point - you have to have something to move TO rather than just moving FROM your current high rent or whatever. Not just consider dollars and cents. It’s a package.

    I could move to a significantly cheaper area. But for us personally what we would be giving up in terms of diversity (we’re both immigrants), leisure activities that are important to us, public transit, major airport, commute time, friends, job opportunities aren’t worth a few thousand a month. If it would even be that by the time we’ve taken jobs elsewhere. Others would disagree, I guess.

    I see blog commenters all the time saying things like “why doesn’t he just move from LA/New York/London/expensiveplace!” as though it were the easiest thing in the world, and a person’s lifestyle and support network isn’t intricately tied to where they live.

    Posted by guinness416 | August 5, 2008, 2:42 pm
  6. What about retirement?

    I know a big reason I saw so many Canadian expats in Mexico was the very favorable tax treatment they get from emigrating from Canada.

    Once they emigrate, Canadians in Mexico are charged a maximum 15% tax rate on Canadian-sourced retirement income (pension, RRSP, etc.) and not taxed at all on any income earned outside Canada or Mexico.

    That’s in sharp contrast to U.S. expats, who are taxed on almost all income regardless of residence (Roth accounts are an exception) - they could easily be paying 28% on their retirement income stream vs. 15% for a Canadian expat.

    Does the U.K. offer such favorable tax treatment if you emigrate (say to Spain) upon retirement?

    Posted by Bill | August 5, 2008, 2:51 pm
  7. My wife and I have considered moving to a cheaper part of the U.S. We currently live in San Diego where we are definitely priced out of the housing market. But other than that we get by just fine in California. We love the fruits and vegetables we have easy and local access to, the weather, and my side of the family.

    But just on the other side of the country we could buy a reasonably sized home for a family of four, fuel would be cheaper, and we would be close to my wife’s family. In some ways our costs would be lower (mainly housing and fuel) but in other ways they would be higher (food, electric bill).

    I think the main factor in our circumstance is the price of property.

    Posted by Steward | August 5, 2008, 3:57 pm
  8. I’ve lived in cheaper parts of the country, like North Dakota. But, the problem is that the income are also lower - so it’s just as hard to live. I suggest living cheap is a place with a high cost of living so that you can save a pile of money and then more to a lower cost of living area. Your savings will be worth a lot more. I have a friend that did this for three years after college and he is still ahead today.

    Posted by Curt | August 5, 2008, 4:14 pm
  9. We didn’t move here because it was cheaper, but we are hoping to stay here longer than originally planned, in part, because it is cheaper.
    Eventually we’d like to move to a rural area, so essentially we are doing as Curt suggests: living cheap in a (relatively) high cost area and saving.

    Posted by Looby | August 5, 2008, 4:44 pm
  10. I have considered it in the past, but when I sit down and really look at it I’m happier where I am now. I’m near all my friends and family isn’t far off either. I don’t think that I would move just to save money.

    However, if I happened to be moving anyway (like for work or something similar) I would look into moving to community that was less expensive overall. It would be silly not to.

    Posted by Maggie | August 5, 2008, 7:16 pm
  11. I know a lot of families that have children that have moved due to finances, particularly when the second child comes around and the childcare costs are so very high it makes more sense to move and have 1 parent @ home. I know Brits who’ve moved to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France for those reasons. Now, many found things more expensive then they bargained for, but now they have a good size home, kids in good non fee paying schools, are able to afford hobbies and interests as well as saving for retirement they say it is worth it. Having said that, other countries often only offer 2 weeks annual leave, so I think people need to think long and hard. Also what will you do when your parents are in their 80’s or 90’s and can’t travel etc. What about health care? A friend of mine moved to US with her husband, they ended up having a very bad miscarriage and despite the fact they pay £180 a month into insurance (discounted through his work!) the bill for the miscarriage plus 2 subsequent surgeries has left them £48k in debt, something they NEVER considered before deciding to leave England and live in the US!
    Finances to me would only be one part of the decision.
    Re cost of living, Plonkee I’m amazed I didn’t know there were places in England you could buy for £100k?? I’ve lived in 4 counties and certainly a 2 bed flat was a minimum of £190, although obviously where I am now (in London) I would need about £350k!!
    hhmmmm……pondering move?! LOL Seriously right now London is right for me, in 3 or 4 yrs that may be a different story!

    Posted by Frugal Trenches | August 5, 2008, 7:31 pm
  12. It looks like everyone is picking out standard of living issues as reasons for either moving or staying put. Very sensible.

    Brilliant comment.

    I’m not too sure about retirement. I know that the UK doesn’t tax on worldwide income in the same way that the US does, and I imagine that within the EU (so in Spain for example) the tax situation is likely to work out well. In fact, Spain is a common destination for British retirees.

    Salaries are always a bit of a trade off. I have relatives that moved to New Zealand where the cost of living is much lower than the UK, but most salaries are commensurably lower as well. My relatives are living like kings because they had property in the UK and so now have no mortgage, and he’s a well respected family doctor, which pays well even in NZ.

    It’s sounds like it’s handy that it works out cheaper. Living cheap in a high income area is a great thing to do if you can manage it.

    @Frugal Trenches:
    Have you ever lived north of the Watford Gap? The reason that my house is cheap is that it is small (2 bed, <750 sq ft), it is out of the South East, and most importantly it’s in a neither fashionable, nor up and coming area. Good job I love it :) .

    Posted by plonkee | August 5, 2008, 7:55 pm
  13. We have moved to an area with a lower cost of living and better job opportunity. It’s been 4 months and overall , we love it. Best thing is we’re only 3 hours away from our previous place. We’re able o keep in contact with our friends and family.

    Posted by Laura | August 5, 2008, 10:35 pm
  14. It all depends on what I have where I’m at. I could go somewhere else but would I have the same friend and family base? Not likely, but my costs would be cheaper; is that worth my happiness? Well, depending on HOW much and HOW far it is always up for debate. I live in Seattle area and housing is pretty pricey, but so are the job salaries. If I could keep the same salary, but do it elsewhere, I’d consider it, but again not sure if it is worth the family and friends I’d be giving up in this area…

    Posted by hank | August 5, 2008, 11:46 pm
  15. I would not move just for a lower cost of living. But when thinking of places to move that is one factor I definitely consider. Especially if you consider where to live after you work - often lower cost of living means lower salaries which offsets some of the benefit but after you retire that issue goes away. Or if you earn your money online, doing work remotely… then where you live doesn’t effect your income only your expenses.

    And if money is no object, a place in London another in Singapore, another in New York City and another in Costa Rica might be nice.

    Posted by Curious Cat Economics Blog | August 6, 2008, 12:48 am
  16. Yes, I moved in large part to be able to afford real estate. I’d lived in metropolitan areas of the US, as well as in Europe. As it turned out, I ended up moving back to the area I grew up in, after having lived away for 20 years. Even though we bought at the height of the housing boom, we still feel we got a much better deal on our home than we could have where we’d lived previously (SF bay area).

    The surprising bonus has been living near my family, which was not a selling point for this area when we were scouting for relocation areas. But if I’m honest with myself it’s been a boon in terms of the huge resource of local knowledge. Family members can tell me where to find a good cheap seamstress, a reliable plumber, and furniture repair. We loan each other tools so that we don’t all have to buy our own. And I’ve also gotten a fair amount of free fruit from a relative with a large property with peach and apple trees and berry bushes. We carpool fairly regularly, and pitch in on home maintenance projects too. It’s turned out to be a great help having family nearby, certainly one that saves us time, money and effort.

    Posted by Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife | August 10, 2008, 2:36 pm
  17. I recently moved from a low cost of living area (Iowa) with a good salary, to a high cost of living area (los angeles) with a bump in salary that didn’t cover the rent increase. But I like it much better here, and moved for personal reasons. If move in with the boy, my rent will actually be lower, my salary higher. There are ways to get a low cost lifestyle in a high cost area.

    But if I ever want to buy property? Hmmm…. I’m just not in that phase of my life, so it doesn’t bother me yet.

    Posted by SP | August 10, 2008, 6:31 pm
  18. As I just posted on the original UK/WI comparison, from the tax info it looks like I make roughly what plonkee does and I live in Wisconsin. It certainly doesn’t hurt to take a look to see what you can get if you’re thinking you’d like to move out of your area. I’m not really advocating Wisconsin, just saying that it’s worth taking a look to see what you can find jobwise before assuming that there couldn’t possibly be anything good.

    Posted by slinky | August 12, 2008, 10:55 pm
  19. Having moved to texas ~5 years ago, I’d find it hard to move away. Eventually we plan to move back to the east coast… but financially it doesn’t make any sense. I guess I’m in the opposite situation as you - I can’t justify moving and increasing my cost of living drastically. Low cost of living is the win. I don’t know how else to put it.

    Posted by Llama Money | August 29, 2008, 2:26 am
  20. When my wife got the opportunity to relocate to an area with a much lower cost of living, we decided to take it. In such scenarios you can largely avoid the salary issues mentioned by Curt. Not only did she keep her Boston salary despite the move to the mid-western US, I kept mine as well by telecommuting full time to my old job. We’re going to move back to the east coast soon, but the three years out here made it really easy to get way ahead financially.

    Posted by Mike | November 13, 2008, 5:46 pm

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