The High Costs of Staying

Top of the Hub, Boston circa 2010.

This weekend I made a super quick (and gluttonous) trip to my coastal hometown in Massachusetts, just north of Boston. I enjoyed fresh seafood, early birthday cake, buckets of gnocchi, and visiting with family and friends. It was a 48 hour trip that now feels almost dream-like as I lounge on my couch in Nashville, trying to recall the details.

I don't make it home often enough, but I always love my time there. Most of my hometown is militantly protected by historic districts, so it feels frozen in time, barely changing between my visits. I was incredibly lucky to grow up there for many reasons, including access to a great public education, the low crime rate, proximity to the ocean, a state park, a wildlife refuge, and a charming and historic downtown with great restaurants, art galleries, shops, etc.

Most of my friends from high school and college who stuck around have migrated closer to Boston and it's hard not to wonder what my life would be like had I stayed. I imagine myself a busy city dweller, getting around strictly by the T, and consuming endless lobster rolls (joking…a little bit). Sometimes when I'm out late at a noisy bar in Cambridge or Sommerville, it feels as if I never left.

Yeah, down by the river
Down by the banks of the river Charles…

While it's a commonly known that Boston is one of the most expensive cities in the country, just how expensive is it? And how does that compare to the cost of living in Nashville?

CNNMoney actually has a cost of living calculator that allows you to compare two cities. NerdWallet and PayScale also have calculators that yield similar results.

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As an example, I plugged in a salary of $50,000 to see how far that would go in Boston. Ouch. 139% more for housing?!

Check out these other figures for comparison. I've also included numbers from MIT's living wage calculator.

Income tax – 5.2%
Short-term capital gains tax – 12%
Sales tax – 6.25%
Property tax – A residential home in the greater Boston area is taxed at $12.58. The median home value is $351,600.
Unemployment rate – 5.9% (Boston)

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Income tax – none
Capitol gains tax – 6%
Sales tax – 9.25%
Property tax – A residential home in the urban services district in Nashville is taxed at $4.516. The median home value is $159,600.
Unemployment rate – 5.5% (Nashville)

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 10.07.53 PM

Additional posts I found helpful:

Our Freaking Budget – Real Costs of City Living: Boston
Apartment Therapy – What Does It Really Cost to Live in Boston?
The Jumpshell Blog – What’s the Actual Cost of Living in Boston?

As much as I love and miss Massachusetts, it really can't compete with the cost of living in Tennessee. I moved to Nashville to work in the entertainment industry and it would have been really hard to find the same types of opportunities in Boston. And starting out in Nashville is so much cheaper! As much as I'd like to take credit for being strategic, my decisions to move were embarrassingly impulsive, and I've been very lucky that it's worked out.

Readers: Have you contemplated moving to a cheaper city? How much would it cost you to stay?

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Discussions — 42 Responses

  • Lauren March 10, 2014 on 11:55 am

    I think about this all of the time. Between the weather and the high cost of living in the Northeast, I just do not see us staying here long term. I’m going to have fun plugging cities into those calculators- so far, a few of my top picks are much more affordable than Philadelphia, my current city.

    • Addison Cash Lauren March 10, 2014 on 12:49 pm

      I hear you, Lauren! Boston was even worse than I thought. It would be great to ditch my car, but it still wouldn’t be worth it.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 10, 2014 on 1:55 pm

    New York City is the epicenter of musical theatre. As long as I pursue this, I’m stuck here.

    • Addison Cash Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 10, 2014 on 3:37 pm

      Totally get that. I’m in Nashville to work in the entertainment industry.

  • Anneli @thefrugalweds March 10, 2014 on 8:10 pm

    That’s really eye-opening, Addison!
    I visited Lexington, KY last fall and pretty much fell in love with the small town feel. I was looking at home prices via the Zillow app on my phone and 3bedroom houses would cost about $200K total! My husband and I could practically pay for a house in cash in Kentucky! But alas, it wouldn’t be Los Angeles, even if that same place could easily cost $800K here 🙁
    I think ultimately, if you have a place like Nashville where you have opportunities AND a good standard of living – I say count yourself one of the lucky ones. (Although you can’t really beat seafood in New England!)
    Another great post!

    • Addison Cash Anneli @thefrugalweds March 10, 2014 on 10:09 pm

      Kentucky rocks! I’ll always miss the ocean, though. You guys are lucky to be so close to the water in L.A.

  • NZ Muse March 10, 2014 on 9:37 pm

    Oh my god. I live in a really expensive country and I know how far my money would go in say middle America. Sigh

    • Addison Cash NZ Muse March 10, 2014 on 10:11 pm

      Pretty wild, huh? I forget how much more expensive it is for you guys. I assume you have the ability to earn a lot more, though?

  • Brian @ Luke1428 March 10, 2014 on 9:47 pm

    Nice post Addison. I love looking at statistics like this. The cost of living decrease was one of the first things I noticed when I moved from the Midwest to the South. But, even here you can live large if you want to.

    • Addison Cash Brian @ Luke1428 March 10, 2014 on 10:13 pm

      There are a lot of transplants from California here and they are always amazed by how much house they can afford. Despite my ability to earn more money in Boston, I’m sure I’d still have a lot less disposable income.

  • Well Heeled Blog March 10, 2014 on 11:31 pm

    Hahaha. If you live in a high COLA, do not look at those calculators.. for your own mental well-being.

    I just visited the Bay Area last week and realized that I LOVE that area… where one tiny 3-bedroom bungalow is $700K. As I grew up in Southern California, the sticker shock is there, but lower than had I grown up in the Midwest, for example.

    • Addison Cash Well Heeled Blog March 11, 2014 on 2:50 am

      Yikes! I definitely love the Bay Area, but that would be overwhelming for me.

  • Alicia March 11, 2014 on 12:04 am

    I think about this frequently. Many of my friends moved to the booming west here in Canada, and I moved to a small town. Not the most obvious choice, but it’s been a great decision for me. COL is so much cheaper, but I am making very close to what they’re making, so more is going toward debt (eventually savings). Sometimes I find it a little “hum-drum” for entertainment and restaurants, but then I just go hangout in nature 🙂

    • Addison Cash Alicia March 11, 2014 on 2:52 am

      Having great things to do outdoors can definitely make up for a less than exciting entertainment and dining scene.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach March 11, 2014 on 2:11 am

    I contemplate it ALL THE TIME. In fact I’m going to Denver to kind of get a feel of what it would be like to live there. Check out neighborhoods, etc. LA is kind of kicking my ass financially. 🙁

    • Addison Cash Tonya@Budget and the Beach March 11, 2014 on 2:53 am

      Denver seems like an awesome city. You’ll have to report back and let us know what you think.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money March 11, 2014 on 2:15 am

    My friend moved to Boston from Minneapolis a little less than a year ago and the housing is definitely more expensive. That’s not to say Minneapolis isn’t cheap, but it’s definitely cheaper than Boston. The only time I contemplated moving to a cheaper city was when my wife and I were watching House Hunters and these people were buying a huge-ass house in some extremely low-cost of living city. We had just bought a house for the same price, and the only reason we got it in our budget was because there were a lot of – and still are a lot of – upgrades that we need to make. It was insane! Definitely made me wonder…

    • Addison Cash DC @ Young Adult Money March 11, 2014 on 2:56 am

      I contemplate moving out into the country sometimes. It’s amazing what you can buy just outside of Nashville proper and I’ve grown to enjoy the more rural areas. I have this fantasy of living in a cool, old farmhouse outside of the city.

  • E.M. March 11, 2014 on 2:24 am

    Thanks for sharing the calculators! Considering we plan on moving to a lower cost of living area, they will come in handy. Honestly, now that my parents have moved, and I am on my own here, I can’t even think of staying. It’s not financially feasible. I can’t picture owning a home, paying the amounts my parents did for utilities, their mortgage, and most of all, the taxes. I would rather be able to save that money for retirement. My boyfriend and I are hoping that we will be able to put more toward our student loans with what we’ll be saving by moving. I live in NY, close to the beach as well, but I sadly don’t take advantage much, so there’s not many reasons to stay!

    • Addison Cash E.M. March 11, 2014 on 2:58 am

      I think the same thing about my parents. They’ve never lived anywhere other than Massachusetts, so they don’t realize how much cheaper they could be living. I keep encouraging them to retire someplace else.

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply March 11, 2014 on 1:19 pm

    That’s a cool calculator…I’ll have to try it out. I live in the very expensive NYC and sometimes my wife and I wonder how much better off financially we might be if we lived somewhere more affordable. But we do have a lot of family and friends here which makes moving pretty difficult.

    • Addison Cash Andrew@LivingRichCheaply March 11, 2014 on 4:20 pm

      That’s tough for me too. Pretty much all of my family still lives in Massachusetts.

  • Adam Kamerer March 11, 2014 on 1:59 pm

    My wife and I moved from Birmingham last year to a small town in north Alabama. Birmingham isn’t a particularly big city, but even that move freed up so much of our money. Rent was higher, groceries cost more, traffic drove up gas prices, and so many other little expenses that come with living in the city. We’re glad we moved.

    • Addison Cash Adam Kamerer March 11, 2014 on 4:22 pm

      Where in North Alabama? You’re probably not that far from me in Nashville! I could definitely save even more if I moved outside of the city.

  • Kevin @ Credit Bureau Insider March 11, 2014 on 2:56 pm

    I live within commuting distance of New York City. Our cost of living is much lower than those in Manhattan, but still quite high compared to locations in the Southeast. The higher cost of living makes sense if you also enjoy the higher incomes associated with the metropolitan job market. As more of my income is derived from web publishing, the harder it is to cost justify staying put.

    • Addison Cash Kevin @ Credit Bureau Insider March 11, 2014 on 4:23 pm

      You’re totally right about the ability to earn a much higher income in NYC. That’s great that your income streams are becoming more diverse, allowing you to live wherever you want!

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 11, 2014 on 5:19 pm

    Definitely hits home for me. We moved from Chicago, and I’ve got a ton of family there, went to school there, have friends there, etc. I love it there, but the cost of living is absurd, especially when compared to Nashville. I’ve had the opportunity here to do things I never would have in Chicago, like get out of $70k of debt in 2 years, buy a home, save 75% of my income, and more. While I do miss a lot of the culture of the city, and in particular, Cubs games, I know that I’ve gained more than I had to give up. Cost of living is so important, but I’m struck by how many sacrifices people will make to live somewhere. To each their own though, right?

    • Addison Cash Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 11, 2014 on 5:32 pm

      Aw, I love Chicago! I can definitely see why you miss it. Paying off that much debt is amazing, though. And Nashville definitely isn’t the worst place to end up 🙂

  • Newlyweds on a Budget March 11, 2014 on 8:41 pm

    Thanks for the link to that calculator–so cool! MY husband and I live in southern California and would move in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the fact that both our families live here. It doesn’t make sense to move if we would spend all our vacation time coming here to visit family! Plus, they say it takes a village to raise a child… and we plan on jumping on that bandwagon in a while

    • Addison Cash Newlyweds on a Budget March 11, 2014 on 10:30 pm

      Great points! Being away from family is definitely not easy.

  • Raquel@Practical Cents March 11, 2014 on 10:55 pm

    Love Boston. Visited 3 years ago! I have thought about leaving northern New jersey as property taxes here are very high but not for now. Maybe in retirement definitely don’t want to pay these high taxes in retirement!

    • Addison Cash Raquel@Practical Cents March 11, 2014 on 11:33 pm

      High property taxes can be brutal, especially in retirement on a fixed income!

  • Cat@BudgetBlonde March 12, 2014 on 4:04 am

    That cost of living calculator is awesome! I will def use it once I find out where I am moving to in may. It’s either Michigan or NY depending on my hubby’s school!

    • Addison Cash Cat@BudgetBlonde March 12, 2014 on 12:55 pm

      Best of luck with your planned move! What cities are you guys looking at?

  • Erin @ My Alternate Life March 13, 2014 on 4:39 am

    I moved from Cleveland to Portland this summer. Plugging in the numbers, it should be about 17.5% more expensive here, but we’re actually spending less due to a smaller apartment with utilities included and a cheaper grocery chain than we went to in Cleveland. Plus, no sales tax!

    • Addison Cash Erin @ My Alternate Life March 13, 2014 on 5:04 pm

      You make a good point about the cost of living. Any city has the ability to be affordable, depending on what kind of lifestyle you decide to have.

  • Mel @ brokeGIRLrich March 14, 2014 on 4:22 pm

    I think about moving to cheaper cities all.the.time. Every big city has a theater or two. I’d really love to live out somewhere like Colorado or Nebraska, but I also think that by putting in a few years in a big city, that’ll make it easier to get jobs in other areas of the country later in life.

    • Addison Cash Mel @ brokeGIRLrich March 14, 2014 on 5:51 pm

      Agreed, Mel. I always enjoy my time out West.

  • Leslie Beslie March 14, 2014 on 5:20 pm

    This is great! I always kind of joke that living in nyc is great because I will never ever pay this much in rent/living anywhere else in the US. If I ever move, it’ll be a breeze.

    And after going through 23 states in that cost of living calculator, I can say it’s true! The only city that comes close to my current cost of living is Honolulu.

    • Addison Cash Leslie Beslie March 14, 2014 on 5:52 pm

      That’s how I felt when I first moved to Nashville, Leslie! I couldn’t believe I could actually afford to live in the city.

  • Weekly Recap: 3/16/14 | Income Surfer March 16, 2014 on 5:24 pm

    […] Addison over at Cashville Skyline wrote an interesting article discussing the differences in the cost of living, for different cities. As someone who’s interested in geographic arbitrage, I always look for these kind of posts. Check out her article HERE. […]


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