leaving the northeast, a retrospective


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 My 2-mile commute to the train station in Jersey has been replaced by a 22 mile drive.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