These days, if you’ve got work, you’re among the lucky. And not to be picky, but the sad fact is that even if you have work, there’s a real chance you may be “under-employed” – where you either can’t get enough hours to meet your expenses or the jobs that are available to you are far below your abilities. There are a lot of situations out there: from the long-term unemployed to those who keep three, four, even five different jobs to make ends meet. I’ve heard tell that there are some amazing opportunities in North Dakota right now. But if you were willing to live in North Dakota, would it be worth it to move for the job?

In the years before we were married, my husband’s work required him to live in many states around the country. And while his job situation didn’t always require that he pull up stakes, he did a fair amount of that too. As a result, he learned to gauge the cost of living in different locations in order to determine if a job prospect was worth pursuing. This also helped him negotiate better compensation packages when the prospects showed promise.

The fastest way to determine what your future income needs to be is to use a cost of living calculator like the one found on CityRating.com and plug in your current and future locations and annual salary. (This site can also help you learn about the crime statistics, school rankings, and many other things about communities around the nation.)

Let’s say you live in Columbus, Ohio, and you’re considering a job in Denver and your present salary is $45,000 per year. Just due to the cost of living in Denver, your future salary would need to be at least $61,140.61 in order to come out even – theoretically.

But the devil is in the details, so my husband developed a better method to compare like for like, to the degree it was possible – and that was to compare his disposable income wherever he was situated to what he expected it to be after he moved. Here are the steps he would take:

Determine your current disposable income
(Your household expenses usually amount to 30 percent of your income.)

  1. Determine your current monthly take-home pay. (He uses paycheckcity.com for this.)
  2. Determine your current monthly expenses.
    • Ongoing, non-changeable, monthly bills: Car payments, loan payments, credit card payments, consumer loans, student loans, medical and dental bills. (These are the expenses that you have to meet regardless of where you live.)
    • Normal monthly household expenses: Food, dry cleaning, clothes.
    • Monthly utilities expenses: Electricity, gas, propane, Internet, phone service, cable.
    • Regular housing expenses: Rent or mortgage payment, property taxes, renters or homeowners insurance, homeowners association fees, landscape maintenance.
    • Other monthly expenses: Daycare, transportation costs, meals and entertainment, gifts.
  3. Subtract your monthly expenses from your monthly take-home pay to determine your disposable income.

Determine what your future income needs to be

Essentially, you take the future annual salary of $61,140 and determine the monthly take-home pay as in Step 1 above. But then you take a look at the major variable expenses that relate to your new location to see if they have increased as well. Will you need to pay for childcare? Can you walk to work or do you need to commute? How much would housing cost? If you are renting, you could look at sites like HotPads.com and ApartmentFinder.com. A two-bedroom apartment in Columbus, Ohio, might be as much as $950; but in Denver, you could be looking at $1,250 or more. The utilities may require more research. Ask a rental management company; they will know what the average monthly utilities are. They could vary by hundreds of dollars if you are moving from Seattle to New York City, for instance.

Try to be as specific as possible with your monthly expenses so you arrive at an accurate future monthly disposable income. Then determine the difference between the current and future to see whether you come out ahead.

Example:
(Using 30 percent of your income as monthly expenses.)

Columbus Income: $45,000 Denver Income:  $61,140
Take-Home Pay: $34,680 Take-Home Pay: $44,222
Monthly Expenses: ($13,500) Monthly Expenses: ($18,342)
Disposable Income: $21,180 Disposable Income: $25,880

In this case, the move to Denver would pay off, since you would have around $4,700 more per year in disposable income.

You may be seeing that employment opportunities are leaving your area or maybe you could get work if you were willing to move. Regardless of where the job takes you, you need to evaluate how it meets your goals. It helps to know the relative salaries in your field, but it’s also necessary to investigate and learn more about the company itself. You can get some information from sites like Glassdoor.com. And if it’s a public company, it’s also helpful to look at the company’s SEC filings and annual reports. If you are trying to determine the best place to start your career or you don’t have an idea of salaries in your field, you can search the Occupational Employment Statistics on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website for information. It gives employment and wage estimates by city.

Are your employment opportunities better in a different location? How do you compare your job prospects? If you’re new to the job market, are you considering a different location to maximize your income and job prospects?