leaving the northeast, a retrospective

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I was browsing through my archives (I’ve forgotten quite a few of my posts) and I came across Why I Will Not Live in the Northeast Forever. I wrote it almost a year before we decided to move to Florida. Some thoughts…

A constant topic of conversation I have with my wife Bubelah is where we want – or should – live. We live in a suburb of New York City (the only major city growing in the northeast). Our cost of living is horrific. We have a three-bedroom townhouse that cost just shy of half a million dollars in 2004, pre-boom. Our house would go for almost $600,000 today.

Ah, 2007, when we still held the laughable idea that we’d get anywhere close to a 20% gain on the sale of our house (we ended up getting 7% before closing costs – net 0%). Since we’ve moved I’d say that we’ve experienced a mixed bag in the cost of living, although part of it is that we’re still getting accustomed to life outside New York and we’ve made some mistakes (shopping at the most expensive supermarket, for example). Some notable differences:

Food. Food was pricey in New Jersey, and it’s pricey in Florida. If anything we spend just as much on food, although part of that arises from the fact that we aren’t careful about creating shopping lists and we’re picky about organic foods. Some of that will change.

Transportation. Gas was an afterthought in Jersey; it was cheap and we seldom drove long distances. Here we drive much more. My 2-mile commute to the train station in Jersey has been replaced by a 22 mile drive. However, my daily light rail/subway or ferry costs (often as much as $15 per day), parking costs of $4 per day and miscellaneous tolls/fees (all over the map) are gone. Parking is free and gas (and wear and tear) on my old Pontiac are the only expenses. So far, better.

Education. Little Buddy’s half-day preschool was $800 in Jersey. Public schools were horrific, and we faced the possibility of two children attending 12-13 years of expensive private (and religious) schools. Now, we have found a wonderful part-time Waldorf preschool for less than half of that. We live in one of the best public school districts in Florida. Huge savings.

Taxes. New Jersey’s tax burden was horrendous. State income tax rates floating around 4% (for me), property taxes that were increasing to $1200 per month, not to mention the fact that I paid taxes in New York State (and City) as well, since I worked there. In Florida? Property taxes are still high compared to many non-coastal states, but far less than Jersey. No state income tax, and I live and work in the same state.

Housing. We have exchanged our small townhouse with no yard for a bigger house (not much bigger, though, just better use of space) with a large fenced-in yard for 10% less. Association fees are about 1/4th what they were in Jersey. Having a yard does mean some additional expenses that we didn’t have before; termite protection, sprinklers, etc. Other than that, though, I think we’re better off.

And as I mentioned in the old article, we left a place bereft of public services (libraries were awful, ill-maintained parks and horrible roads) and moved to a green place, with wonderful libraries and a beautiful, well-maintained public beach within walking distance of the house.

I don’t think it’s perfect now that we’ve moved – far from it. Establishing yourself in a new city is tough, socially and professionally. The distances from our families are much greater now, and we did leave behind things we loved (Manhattan, although we seldom visited). Florida has its own long term challenges; while not as serious as the meltdown in New Jersey yet, the future continues to be uncertain until the economy rebounds. Florida fell further than almost any other state when the crash came, other than perhaps Arizona and California.

Yet our goal was simple: to get ourselves out of a place and lifestyle where we simply couldn’t see any hope. The education problems, long commutes and steadily mounting cost of living in the northeast made it increasingly difficult for us to visualize an “end game” for our financial freedom. Now, with lower costs of living we have more options and see at least a glimmer at the end of the tunnel.

photo by Old Sarge

13 comments

  • remodelingthislife

    I like the new header. I guess I don't know how new it is. And the photo for this post is hilarious.

    There are pros and cons to both places, the NE and here. I sure do miss the NE this time of year, and there are parts of me that long to go back for good, but not to NY.

    the bugs, snakes, and 93 degree autumn days top my list of reasons to leave florida someday 🙂

    You're right though, this area has much to offer and I'm glad you're settling in.

    • You are right, it's strange to me that we are in mid-October and still have summer with 90+F temperatures. A loooooong summer! And the thought of snakes scares me to tears, but so far I've seen only snake skin next to our house.
      We are planning to visit NE in Fall and for winter holidays. Hope to get the variety this way.

    • @remodelingthislife: Thanks (on the header)! It's about a week or two old, I guess… (the pic on the right is from your neck of the woods, actually).

      I'll tell you what I plan to do – eventually I'll get the summer home in Maine and the winter home in Florida, and of course the weekend apartments in Manhattan and Miami. Heh 🙂

    • remodelingthislife

      funny you say that – maine is at the top of my list of places to move one day. i had to remind hubby that my not yet being 31, it might be a bit early to become snowbirds though 🙂

      re: other comments. homeowners insurance has not bitten us in the butt yet, and is FAR cheaper still than it was when we were in NY. i do believe i drive more now than when we lived in NY but that is 100% due to have two children that i choose to drive to school each day.

  • I guess another part of the equation is the income. If you are maintaining the same level of income, then those savings actually do feel like savings.

    At the same time, there are fewer pressures to maintain the same level of earnings, so you can breathe more freely.

  • Many of your comments (positive and negative) are related to the relative densities and ages of NJ and Florida as major population centres. Older places have more maintenance issues (for the city and so on), real estate is cheaper in less dense areas, with the corollary of more driving. Bet you're creating a bigger carbon footprint now.

    • @plonkee: True, although I'd argue that since we're now living in the 12th biggest US city, we've actually moved UP since we were living in the Jersey burbs – admittedly outside of the nation's largest city, but technically we didn't live there. And yes, we're obviously driving more, although in some ways it's a bit of a wash – I drive more, but Bubelah's driving much less since all of the essential things we need are within about a 5 mile radius. And I doubt we could have reduced our cost of living as substantially having moved to a less-densely populated part of Jersey, which is partially what I'm getting at. It would be an interesting post for someone more analytical than I am – whether the cost of living in the States is more dependent on the location (by state) or the size of the town.

      But I'm sure our carbon footprint increased in total. It's not a great thing, but when my current car gives up the ghost I do plan to buy a hybrid for my commuting car, hopefully offsetting at least part of that.

  • misformoney

    You didn't address the one thing I hear is terribly expensive about Florida – homeowner's insurance. I keep hearing horror stories about people fleeing Florida because they can't afford to insure their home. What has your experience been?

    • @misformoney: Well, it's less expensive in NE Florida than other parts, primarily because we don't have the same level of hurricane risk. I'll be able to tell you better after this week because I'll actually be securing it on our new home after getting a few quotes.

  • I left the NE for Florida in 2001. Only lasted 3 months in Florida. Once May hit and the temps rose, I couldn't get back to NY fast enough.
    Your kids may be young BUT wait till they grow up and you have to deal with drug problems. I didn't meet one single parent who didn't have trouble with their kids and drugs. Drugs are everywhere in Fl. I didn't want my children socializing with ANYBODY. You can't get a job in FL without a drug test and then there are the constant on-the-spot drug tests. Wait. They'll come to you soon enough.
    Then there is the crime in FL, the sex offenders, the child molesters…..yeah, great fun. (and I lived in a wealthy area-Sarasota/Tampa Bay) As a mother, I couldn't get back to the law and order state of NY's finest fast enough. And a good bagel and pizza! And Broadway!
    FL is nice to visit. That's about it.
    I understand what you say about New Jersey. That state is a disaster (high taxes, corrupt) BUT when we came back to NY, we settled more upstate (lower cost of living) still within a 90 minute drive (or train ride) to NYC. I'll never be far from NYC ever again.

    PS: we found people in Fl to be really, really stupid (compared to the sharpness of New Yorkers). ugh.

    • @alicia: Sounds like you had a bad experience, to put it mildly. 3 months seems like a fairly short period of time to have such strong feelings, but I guess different strokes for different folks. I am enjoying the summer-like temps in October, I can say that much. Not going to miss the snow.

  • Hi Steve – I could make the same comparisons you did with my own state, New Hampshire, and almost certainly come out ahead of Florida (no state sales tax or tax on earned income, for example). The cost of living is probably about the lowest in the Northeast, and services are remarkably decent. Since I work largely out of my home, my 11-year old Subaru has been averaging 8500 miles driven a year (my carbon footprint suffers because of airline business travel).

    But a big thing with you was the weather; as a southern boy, it seemed that you longed for the kind of climate you grew up with. I, on the other hand, grew up in the industrial Midwest, and have a special affinity for the change of the seasons.

  • @alicia: Sounds like you had a bad experience, to put it mildly. 3 months seems like a fairly short period of time to have such strong feelings, but I guess different strokes for different folks. I am enjoying the summer-like temps in October, I can say that much. Not going to miss the snow.