Our generation is one of maximum mobility. We have the freedom to live almost anywhere we want, so long as we have a good job and enough money to maintain a decent standard of living wherever we go. Approximately 6 in 10 Americans have moved at least once in their lives, whether it was for economic opportunities elsewhere, displacement due to natural disasters, job relocation, searching for better weather, or any number of reasons why people leave their communities for a different city.
Whatever your reason might be for wanting to move, one thing is clear: a successful transition from your old place of residence to your new one depends on the amount of research you undertake to determine which cities or states are the best places for you to live.
An example of the consequences of bad or no research is best exemplified by Hawaii. Many people move to one of the islands in hopes of living in paradise, but soon find that the cost of living is too high, the availability of mainland resources is low, and island fever begins to set in when they realize just how isolated they are.
This isn’t to say that moving to Hawaii, or any specific state for that matter, is a bad idea but your decision on where to live depends on your family, needs, interests, and career. From low crime rates to beautiful landscapes to great schools and education systems for the kids, before deciding on where you should live, figure out what is important to you.
Here is a list of factors to consider when answering the question “Where Should I Live?” and deciding the best places for you and your family.
Money may not be the most important thing in your life, but the affordability of the city and state you call home should be a huge factor when deciding where to live. If you are constantly worried about mortgage payments or rent, groceries, utilities, car payments and taxes, you won’t be happy no matter how amazing and fun the town you’re living in.
Maintaining a reasonable standard of living, one in which your budget will still have room for entertainment, vacations, savings and funding your retirement accounts, is a primary objective for many families. Ergo, it would make little sense to pursue your dream life in the city by renting an outrageously expensive apartment in Manhattan or San Francisco when there are much more affordable big cities to live in elsewhere.
Since buying a home is likely to be the largest investment you will ever make, keep in mind real estate prices and size of homes relative to your income. Furthermore, research the current real estate market in the city: will you be buying a property at peak prices or will you get a bargain and be able to sell the property for a profit in the future?
Housing and real estate are not the only living expenses to account for, of course. How much does the food cost where you want to live? How much is gas? Would you be okay with paying up to a dollar more per gallon in your new area of residence? What about healthcare services, gym memberships, utilities, car prices, or anything else you have in your budget currently?
If you’re moving from an area with a low cost of living to one with a relatively high cost of living, it’s crucial to determine whether or not your family’s income can handle the extra financial burden. Doing the math before you move will prevent a lot of headache later on.
On the positive side, moving from a relatively expensive city or state to a cheaper one can feel like a huge raise, especially if you are a freelancer/self-employed and your income stays the same. Affordability can significantly affect your quality of life, so keep it in mind when choosing careers.
Tax rates can also be a consideration when choosing where to live, especially if you own a business or have a high income. If you’re considering a move out of state and want to pay fewer taxes, then watch out for states like New Jersey, Hawaii, California, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Iowa. These states have the highest personal income tax rates in the United States. Meanwhile, Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming don’t collect any personal income taxes. I’d check out TurboTax’s Free Tax Calculator to estimate the tax consequences of a move to another state.
As for sales taxes, calculated as state and local sales taxes combined, beware of Tennessee (9.44%), California (9.08%), Arizona (9.01%), Louisiana (8.69%), and Washington (8.61%). States that don’t have a sales tax at all include Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon.
This is just a small sampling of the taxes you’d be paying in a new locale; to get a better idea of how much you’ll be paying in each state, check out the Tax Foundation’s Annual State-Local Tax Burden Ranking. In 2010, residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut paid the highest state-local income taxes, each paying over 12%. On the other hand, Alaska, South Dakota, Tennessee and Louisiana had the lowest tax burdens, with Alaska paying just 7.0%.
If you’d like to live somewhere with more job opportunities available, it is imperative that you check out unemployment statistics before moving. Research parts of the country where the highest concentrations of jobs in your industry are located. For example, if you want to work in the financial services industry, then New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago are the best cities to live in. However, teachers, customer service representatives, and nurses can likely find work anywhere.
Additionally, you will need to compare pay rates and salaries for various careers. Although salaries are mostly based on your industry and profession, cost of living in a specific city is also a factor. Jobs in cities such as Houston, Oklahoma City, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Phoenix may offer lower salaries, but these cities are incredibly affordable.
If you’re accustomed to urban or suburban living in which you’re close to every amenity you could need, it may prove difficult to adjust to living in a rural area where you need to drive several miles just to get to a hospital. This is especially important for those with pre-existing health concerns, medication needs, and elderly individuals who may not be as independent as they once were.
Be sure to account for your medical situation when deciding where to live and look for cities and towns with good hospitals or medical schools located nearby. Quality of healthcare can be a huge factor in determining your lifestyle down the road.
Safety, stability, climate and local statistics are top priorities for anyone considering a move, and the importance of investigating local crime rates and the weather beforehand cannot be stressed enough.
Crime Rates and Statistics
Utopias don’t exist, but no one wants to live in a high-crime area, especially if you have kids. To see the crime rates in an area you want to live in, check out this crime statistics comparison tool. It tells you the city’s population, the number of incidents, the crime rate as a percentage of the population, law enforcement density (how many police officers patrol the city), and burglary, theft and violent crime rates (aggravated assault, rape, murder, etc.). No city has a spotless record with 0% crime, but some areas are much safer than others and crime statistics could aid you in your decision as to where you want to live.
First and foremost, what weather conditions do you enjoy? Climate is among the most important factors on this list, because if you utterly hate snow and you’re living in an area with three or more months of snowfall per year (i.e. New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Colorado), no amount of economic opportunities or low crime rates will be enough to make up for winter misery.
On the flip side, if you enjoy all kinds of weather and prefer to have actual seasons instead of yearlong warmth and sun like places in Southern California, you’ll have more options. Some of the top places to live in the US aren’t known for having the best climates, but if you can cope with all kinds of weather, such as heat and humidity, hail and snowstorms, possibly even hurricanes or tornadoes, then Texas, Florida and the South should be considerations. In Southern States, you’ll also be able to take advantage of things such as more affordable property and lower state taxes.
When you ask yourself “what city should I live in?” you may not consider city size immediately. If you’ve grown up in a rural area, you may find the fast-paced city life dizzying and nauseating and the people cold and unfriendly. On the flip side, someone who has always lived in the city will likely have some difficulty adjusting to the lack of retailers, restaurants, entertainment options, and culture found in small towns. You may have to drive several miles to find a grocery store, movie theater or bar, while back in the city, one was just walking distance away. Every city has its own “feel” to it, and although it may not be what you’re used to, you could learn to appreciate the new way of living over time.
Got kids or thinking about having them? If the answer is “yes”, then the availability and quality of schools in a given area will be very important to you.
Good school districts have spent years building up a reputation for themselves. They hire quality teachers, keep the campus clean and safe, offer learning resources such as tutoring, counseling, and computer labs, to their students, and have a track record of academic success. Where your child goes to high school is taken into consideration by college admissions boards, so give them a head start and enroll them in the best public or private schools.
Community Colleges and Universities
With the cost of tuition on the rise, many college students are opting to go to community college instead. Having one close by could reduce your transportation costs and allow you to put those savings towards tuition at a four-year university when you transfer.
Another alternative is for students to attend out-of-state universities where the cost of living is cheaper than their home state; however, keep in mind that most public universities charge significantly lower tuition for in-state students. For the non-student considering a move to a “college town”, if you’re uncomfortable with thousands of twenty-somethings living around you, then you may want to live elsewhere.
Although these factors may not directly influence your decision, they could be tie-breakers when deciding what city, state, or country to live in.
Proximity To Friends and Family
Do you have a ton of relatives? Some people want to get away from their family and decide to move to opposite coasts. Others want to be close to them and maintain a tight relationship. If you fall into the latter category and already spend the holidays traveling to visit family, it would save you time and money if you lived closer to them. Those with aging parents or relatives who need to be cared for might also want to live close to them, thus saving money on hiring a caretaker to provide them company in their ailing state.
Surprisingly, your food preferences could play a role in choosing where to live. For instance, if you love fresh seafood, you may not want to venture too far away from the coast. Despite the rampant globalization in our society, which has allowed us to order food from around the world and expand our culinary horizons, we are still limited by our location from time to time.
Some brands of beer or soda are only sold in certain regions, and the same goes for food items such as potato chips, fruits, and meat. You’ll probably want to live in an area that has your favorite grocery store nearby, and if fresh and/or organic produce is a must for your shopping list, then make sure there’s a farmer’s market where you’re going.
Restaurants and fast food joints also play a small role in determining where to live. For instance, if you love In & Out Burger, you may not want to venture beyond California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, or Texas, since you won’t find any In & Outs outside of these five states. If you love Tex-Mex and barbecue, Texas is the ideal state for you.
Of course, eating habits can change and every place has some new culinary options you’ll want to explore. Therefore, your dining options should be considered, but not be a major factor in your decision of where you want to live.
Transportation and Commuting
Car payments and gas prices aren’t cheap and commutes in some suburban and urban areas border on intolerable. Unless you’re fine with sitting in traffic for hours at a time (California and New York are the biggest perpetrators here), moving somewhere that offers ample public transportation might be worth your while. Some cities have subways, trains, trams, or buses and huge downtowns that encourage you to walk everywhere. Others are bicyclist-friendly, allowing you to get in some exercise while commuting to and from work.
If you have a unique lifestyle – LGBT, non-English-speaking home, self-sustainable living, vegan – then you’re going to want to live in a community that is accepting and open-minded. Other cultural factors that should be taken into consideration include sports teams, theaters, museums, music halls, local recreational activities, nightlife, bars, clubs, religious services, ethnic communities and the ability to pursue any unique passions you may have.
How To Choose A Place To Live
So, where should you live? Relocation need not be difficult. Yes, there are multiple factors to consider prior to deciding where to live, and you may not find the perfect place right away. Some people move several times throughout the course of their lives and settle down only when they’re retired, if ever. Deciding what variables are important to you, the needs and wants of your family, and vigilantly researching where you should live will give you the greatest chance of successful immersion and long-term happiness in your new community.