Ask the Readers: Should you move for work?

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

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Vanessa
Vanessa

COL can also vary within a state. I moved a few hundred miles within Florida and everything seems to get more expensive the closer you get to Miami. Car insurance was way more than I expected even though I’m living in a smaller town now. My salary stayed the same, but I couldn’t find work for a year so I had to take what I could get. With prolonged unemployment and moving expenses, my finances still haven’t recovered to where they were a year and a half ago. I’m just glad I was debt-free when I moved and had a… Read more »

Jon
Jon

Living in Idaho, my wife and I receive wages for our jobs which are far below industry average, nationwide. Quality of life, however, seems much better than when we lived in California before our children were born. The calculations aren’t always financial.

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body

Same thing within California. Cost of living between San Diego, San Francisco, and Bakersfield are all different.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

All good points! In Ontario, we’re often faced with the question of moving to a city like Toronto or Ottawa where the cost of living is a lot higher and salaries don’t always make up the difference. Some people love the big city lifestyle and others hate it.

The high cost of living and long commute were always a turn-off for me, so I think the decision is about more than money.

Emily @ evolvingPF
Emily @ evolvingPF

My husband and I are currently in grad school – we moved to this city for school and we’ll move away when we finish. We might be able to move directly to our target lifetime city next or we may live in an additional location for postdoctoral training before getting there. But part of the reason for choosing our lifetime target city is that it is a hub for the industry we’re in, so we’re hoping to transition jobs within the same city for the remainder of our lives. Our parents both provided the stability of living in the same… Read more »

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies

I am a huge advocate of living in a low COL, low tax area. Your gross pay can be significantly lower and still you can still come out way ahead of friends in similar jobs in higer COL/higher tax areas over the long haul. The numbers are pretty astounding over a 30-year mortgage term comparing somewhere like Florida to DC.
http://www.plantingourpennies.com/move-to-florida/

Holly@ClubThrifty

My husband started a new job a few weeks ago and we’re moving 30-40 minutes away to be closer. For us, it’s important to his job since he spends many nights “on call.” But, more than that, we just don’t like the commuting lifestyle. Right now he’s driving about 45 minutes each way (because of rush hour) and losing an hour and a half of his life each day.

ANP
ANP

I wonder if it would be worth comparing the real value of disposable income, factoring in CoL again, given that $X in City A might only buy you $Y in City B. Using your example, $21K in disposable income in Columbus may still end up being worth more in durable goods etc. than $26K in Denver, depending on CoL in each city …

Adding that extra step might be more useful for moving to a different country, admittedly… 🙂

Kathy
Kathy

You definitely have to consider COL but if you are unemployed and an opportunity exists elsewhere, I’d definitely move. North Dakota is a good example. There are all kinds of construction jobs there plus the oil field and pipeline jobs. Another way for construction workers, plumbers, electricians etc. to find work is by going to an area ravaged by tornado or hurricanes and help re-build. If you are unwilling to do something to improve your circumstances, then I have no sympathy.

Jane
Jane

“If you are unwilling to do something to improve your circumstances, then I have no sympathy.”

This is rather myopic and lacking in compassion of you. Not everyone is in a position in which they can move across the country for employment. Would you have sympathy if someone was foregoing moving because of a sick parent or because of a teenager who the parent didn’t want to uproot so close to graduation? Life is not this cut and dry, and sometimes people have valid reasons for not moving for money or employment.

tracy
tracy

I agree. Moving is also very expensive – even just moving within the same town can add up with deposits, gas/transport for you and your stuff, etc. For lots of people moving is a luxury.

TEB
TEB

Exactly what I was thinking. My niece and her husband are trying to find a cheaper place since he lost his job but are finding it difficult to get together 2 months of rent as well as a deposit, extra gas money for the move and rent for the place they are in currently.

Tux
Tux

We are in the process of moving for work. The new place is in a lower cost of living area (although it does have a state income tax), and they matched my husbands salary to within 200$ of his current salary. He is also moving from a 60-70 hour per week job into a 40 hour per week job, where overtime is paid or comped. We will also be trading a 2.5 hour daily commute for a <30 minute daily commute. Downsides: no stock, further from my family, we are losing money when selling our old house (but we aren't… Read more »

Brian
Brian

I think you need to consider not only the cost of living, but the possibility of moving away from family, friends etc. I have seen some co-workers moved back to places they have come from because their move put a big strain on spouses being so far away from their family.

Kathy
Kathy

Sometimes being further away from family is a good thing! 🙂

Brian
Brian

Ha! another way to look at it.

Anna Haugen
Anna Haugen

As someone living in North Dakota right now, yes, there are a lot of opportunities! But working directly for the oil companies or directly in the oil field may not be the best way to go about it, because the cost of living (and specifically housing) in the oil field is ridiculous. However, there are a lot of jobs in the areas around the oil field (for example, Bismarck) where people have left to go to the oil field and people are scrambling to find replacements. The cost of living is lower, but wages are rising as a way of… Read more »

PB
PB

As another North Dakotan, I second that! Plus there are a lot of tech/computer jobs on the eastern side of the state. Housing costs seem high, but that is only because we are used to seeing them very low.

Carla
Carla

We’re casually considering a move from Portland to Minneapolis because things are not looking promising for him here job wise. Since his industry crumbled here a few years ago, he’s been biding his time at “its a paycheck” type jobs. At age 53 (him) there isn’t a lot of time to play around. Unfortunately a move is probably 1-2 years down the road especially considering neither one of us has even been there and has never lived away from the west cost and experienced a real winter. I think the tools in this article would be a good start to… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith

I’m with Holly, commuting sucks the life out of you. After grad school I moved to the city where my now-husband was living. Then after I got a job that turned out to be over an hour’s commute during rush hour, we moved across town. Twenty minutes is about my limit for a daily commute!

PawPrint
PawPrint

I’m assuming if you don’t have a job (i.e., no income), and you were offered one in another location, you’d come out ahead just by the sheer fact that some income coming in is better than no income. Shouldn’t you adjust your lifestyle and expenses to be in line with your new income?

Vanessa
Vanessa

You won’t be coming out ahead right away unless your moving costs are zero.

PawPrint
PawPrint

While that’s true, if you don’t move and can’t find a job in your current location, you might be worse off than if you’d moved and incurred moving expenses. If the company that hires you pays the moving expenses, that is, of course, better yet.

MoneyAhoy.com
MoneyAhoy.com

I like the idea of looking at what money you’ll have in your pocket after everything is said and done. This is much smarter than just comparing COL. Great tip if I ever move for a job!!!

Esteban
Esteban

I struggle with this question on a more micro level. I commute about an hour each way to work in the city. The issues boil down to this: -We like where we live. Its cheap, nice neighborhood, decent school district in a suburb. -I like generally like my job. I get decent pay (enough to let my wife stay at home and take care of our baby) and find it challenging. -The commute sucks. The company is situated in a place where the closest commute I can get, without compromising on schools and what we value such as neighborhood etc,… Read more »

LMaS
LMaS

Looking at your personal COLA is definitely more meaningful. Standard COLA adjustments only account for spending on basic standard of living type stuff which does vary around the country, but all the things you can buy with discretionary income mostly don’t change price from city to city (especially investments/savings). So if you have a very high savings rate the effect of moving to a high cost area is more muted. For example my wife and I moved from Texas to the northwest and got 30% “raises” mostly due to COLA adjustment. But since we only spent 50% or less of… Read more »

Alice
Alice

I didn’t see this issue addressed so I’d like to open a discussion about it. What about moving your established business? That’s what I’m doing right now. It’s as much a personal move as it is a business move. I have my business at home and do not have clients coming in so it doesn’t matter to clients where I live or where I office. The subdivision where I live presently (until Nov. 1st of this year) seems to be going downhill. The business have all but moved out as well. Everyone has to drive into another area just to… Read more »

Carla
Carla

@Alice – That’s a good question and a very inciting food for thought. I think for me, in my limited experience and exposure I’ve met very few people who *could* work past retirement age. My mother is 62 and is literally counting the hours until she will retire which is probably sooner than later. After 40 years as a nurse (30 as an RN) her body is broken from head to toe from work related injuries. Her last operation was two months ago on her knee and she may never be able to return after this. Three years ago she… Read more »

A-L
A-L

When trying to figure out the personal cost-of-living, it’s important to have a real sense of what is being compared. I live in New Orleans, and it actually is fairly reasonable on cost-of-living calculators. But when you look at the housing options, to find a place in a safe neighborhood, the prices go WAY up. So you definitely want to talk to someone who is from the area you’re considering relocating to in order to get more accurate feedback.

Marie
Marie

I was downsized because my company wanted me to move to the “main office” a thousand miles away and I wouldn’t go. My mother was terminally ill at the time. I’m underemployed right now, but I wouldn’t have traded those last months with her for any amount of money.

Meghan
Meghan

What’s funny about this is that I think that Denver is dirt cheap now that I live in DC. The locality doesn’t help for the federal employees, but I moved to gain experience and to diversify my skill set. Maybe I was being to idealistic and should have appreciated what I had, but I was bored and limited. Here, I’m hoping that I will increase my pay grade faster and have more challenging work. I’m still deciding if it was worth it, but if so, it’s for potential, not immediate financial benefit.

Kylie Ofiu
Kylie Ofiu

When I was a teen my parents moved for my dads work. We moved to a much more expensive area but his job prospects there far outweighed what we had in Tasmania. It was a very good move long term as all of us kids got jobs easily when we were teens and as adults whereas our cousins where we used to live struggled to get work and many of them still do. It can be a hard decision. For my parents it was going to be a struggle for the first 12 months at least. I have moved because… Read more »

Brenton
Brenton

“These days, if you’ve got work, you’re among the lucky.”

What a stupid thing to say. I couldnt even read any further, it was so misleading and uninformed. ~93% of those looking for work, find it. You have to be unlucky or unmotivated to be out of work.

George Horne
George Horne

No i don’t think so to move out for a work.

Eduardo
Eduardo

I would say it depend on situation if anyone want to move for the work or not.

Nurafest
Nurafest

I agree with Brenton .. “These days, if you’ve got work, you’re among the lucky.” – is misleading and I read the remaining lines without conviction.

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