San Diego hates me

June 8, 2010 · 30 comments

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. San Diego doesn’t hate me, but it definitely hates my income. And if you live in San Diego, it hates your income too.

I love playing around with Personal Finance calculators and this one does something interesting. It takes your current income in your current hometown and then tells you what a comparable salary would be in a different city of your choosing.

So here’s what I did. I took my $62K annual salary in San Diego and figured out I would only need to make $57K in Seattle to maintain my standard of living. If I lived in Houston, I could take a $21K hit and maintain my lifestyle on $41K a year.

This evokes one primary reaction. Frustration. I hate that my cost of living is twice that of most other cities. Or that we have property tax, sales tax, and income tax, when most other states just have two of those three. Or that it’s one of the worst states in the country to live for business owners.

That said, my salary is probably proportionally higher to help limit the effects of the various SD expenses, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me.

If nothing else, I guess I can be encouraged by this information as I don’t plan on living in San Diego forever, and chances are, my next hometown will have a drastically lower cost of living.

I’m beginning to think the classic phrase “Stay classy San Diego” really should have been “Stay ridiculously expensive San Diego.”

How much would your income translate to here in San Diego? Where is the cheapest place in the country to live? How ’bout the most expensive?

1 Rogue Marvel

I live in a rich suburb of Dallas. Mu husband and moved her so he could go to grad school. We moved from a semi slummy part of garden grove (close to Disneyland and nice places, but we are pretty sure our neighbor was a drug dealer). We went from a tiny studio in that semi slummy place to a two bed, two bath, over twice the size for the same price in the upscale part of town (our place is actually considered pricey out here). If I could do it all over ago i would have gotten a smaller cheaper place but it was amazing to be able to upgrade to so much!

The really weird thing, my husband and I can’t wait to get back to California. Can’t beat the CA weather and people.

2 momninja

shout out I grew up in Garden Grove and being close to Disneyland was it’s only saving grace…..

3 Jeff @ sustainablelifeblog

I live in wyoming, and there is only 1 city in the state, according to that calculator. Luckly, it’s close to me and a fairly good (if slightly higher) cost of living. So, If I lived in san diego, my housing would go up 96% and transportation almost 30% !!! Those are pretty huge numbers, I think. To translate my income, I’d need to make almost 15k per year more than what i’m currently getting. Also, on taxes, we have no state income, but we do have property and sales (although our sales is 6%).
California is expensive, but out of the places I’ve traveled, NYC is probably the most expensive.

4 dogatemyfinances

Um, you’re an adult. Move.

The thing about being an adult is that you get to choose where you work/live. I have never understood this nonstop whining from high cost of living people. If you don’t like it, move. Nobody is making you live in California.

5 Heidi

Can I live in your world where there are no such things as extenuating circumstances?

I don’t know about Ninja and why he lives/works in San Diego, but he probably has completely valid reasons for why he is there. Maybe he could request a transfer, maybe not. But to imply that it would be simple for someone to quit their current job in this economy, move to a low cost of living area and get a job without taking on a serious amount of risk is naive.

Also, there are industries/occupations where there isn’t much flexibility on where you live, you go where the job is. I think it would be amusing if you tried to tell someone in the military to just move if they don’t like where they are stationed. Sure, they chose to join the military, but they chose a career, not a living area, why shouldn’t they have the right to be irritated with where they are forced to live?

My husband is an airline pilot, when he joins a company, he might be lucky enough to be allowed to put in his preferences as to where he would like to live, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get it. In addition, most airports are located in major cities, which just happen to be high cost of living areas. Therefore, I live in the DC/Baltimore metro area. We moved here from the middle of Indiana because that is where we were told to go and in this economy, if you have an good position in an airline, you don’t give it up just because its in an expensive area because you won’t be able to find a new position for years.

6 PunchDebt

There are a lot of things I like about San Diego, particularly the weather and my group of friends. Leaving them would be difficult, although one day I do plan to move. I was simply indicating I had frustrations with the high cost of living, not trying to imply it’s the worst place in the world to live. I’m sure there are things you don’t enjoy about your city (traffic, weather, etc), but that doesn’t mean you are willing (or have the ability) to pack your bags and move on.

7 Michelle

When I was a wee lass, young in my career…all of 12 years ago: I lived in Norfolk, VA and made $35K. I traveled to San Diego for business and worked there 2 – 3 weeks A MONTH, which was pretty pricy from a travel-point-of-view. So I was asked to move. In Virginia Beach (next door to Norfolk), I rented with a good friend a 2 master-bedroom duplex, within a 5 minutes walk of the beach (the cool beach – Chick’s Beach on the Chesapeake Bay). My share? $325/month. The offer to move to SD was a 10% COLA raise, and the cheapest studio apartment in the non-slum sections of Chula Vista was renting at $890/month. For 1/4 the space, 3X the price. I couldn’t do it, as much as I loved San Diego.

I wonder where my career would have gone had I taken that offer (or the company accepted my counter offer of a 40% cola increase). I moved to DC instead for a 25% cola and was paying $1000 for a nice 1BR. two years after that, I moved to Austin, where my first one-bedroom apartment cost $580/month (and NO decrease in pay!). And I still do live in paradise. My mortgage on a 1500sq ft 3 br/2 ba is now about $1100. I’m so blessed!

8 Everyday Tips

Tis all relative Ninja. If you were living out in the middle of nowhere, you would probably make half of what you are making now. So, you could look at the flip side and say ‘San Diego is cool because I make more money here than I would somewhere else.”

9 PunchDebt

True, that’s why I said…

“That said, my salary is probably proportionally higher to help limit the effects of the various SD expenses, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me.”

It’s a psychological thing I guess

10 Larry

Yes, and if you lived where I do (New York City/Long Island metro area) you’d be paid proportionally more with proportionally higher living expenses. It absolutely is all relative, which is also why talking about the “good old days” when chicken was only 39 cents a pound is equally futile. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking amounts are absolute. Two personal examples:

1) About 20 years ago, the small company where I worked in NJ was acquired by a very large corporation on Long Island. I was offered a job on LI on condition that I relocated there. Each employee who was retained (most could stay in NJ) was offered an immediate raise. As taxes in NJ at that time were much lower than in NY, I argued (successfully) that the “raise” I was being offered was actually a pay cut, and I got a larger increase.

2) Before the euro was adopted, I travelled to Amsterdam on a college-sponsored trip. At that time the exchange rate was about 2 Dutch guilders to the dollar. We went out to dinner once with a couple of students, who were shocked at the prices. They couldn’t adapt to the fact that a burger costing 10 guilders there was equivalent in price to one costing $5 here, and so they stuck with appetizers.

11 Everyday Tips

Ninja, I realize you recognized the concept of you having a higher salary in San Diego in your post. My point just was, you could look at the positive instead of the negative. It is the half-full/half-empty debate. I was just saying you could have written another post focusing on the flip-side titled ‘I love San Diego because I make so much coin’.

12 PunchDebt

I can’t, and wont argue with you. I’m a total fan of positivity and like that you are too :) My glass is half full, I just wish it was all the way full :)

13 Liz

I would need to make just 1% more to live in San Diego than I do living where I am now.

14 Money Maus

But we live in the BEST city…happy people, amazing weather all year, tons of outdoor activities and the beach! Last year I barely made $41K before taxes (incl $6K bonus) and I don’t complain because I love this place! I have a secure job that I enjoy, even if the salary is low. I have amazing friends and a great life. Would it be cheaper to live in Seattle, also my home area? Yes, but not by much. And the weather sucks. SF & NYC are my ideal locations…and MUCH more expensive than SD! So, I’ll take the happy medium on my low salary. Because? I live in San Diego! All my friends/family around the country are jealous! :) This is what dreams are made of. And, I can afford to live here, with roommates, and STILL save for retirement and emergencies plus have FUN! A place is only as expensive as you make it. :)

15 PunchDebt

The weather is pretty nice, although I don’t know if it’s worth $20K. I think it’s the perfect place for me to live right now, but in the long run, I plan on settling down somewhere a little less expensive.

I had a feeling you were gonna run to the defense of SD :)

16 Steph/seenonflickr

But you get to live in San Diego!! (I live in Toronto, Canada – and while I like it fine for what it is, it isn’t San Diego!!)

But you’re right, housing costs are really high in SD. And for a lot of people, living in SD is worth that extra cost.

17 Money Smarts

The area I live in is somewhere in the middle of the pack -not particularly cheap, but definitely nowhere near the top of the list like some places in Cali and NY. Since I love where i work and live – I’m just fine with the cost of living..

18 RDT2

On the plus side, if you are getting a % salary match to your 401k then you are at least benefiting from the high cost of living in that regards. Granted you have to move away when you retire to really reap those benefits.

19 Young Mogul

I live in the South and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I also love the weather in the South–mild winters. My issue with other, high-cost-of-living places is that, sure, it’s fun when you are young, but most people are not as financially responsible as Ninja. So, for them, as long as they can make their fixed expenses, they figure they are fine financially, while forgetting about retirement and sacrificing other important things such as disability insurance.

Sure, salaries are lower in the South, but in porportion to cost of living, the amount is more than enough for me to afford everything I need without sacrificing any necessities, including an emergency fund and savings for big ticket items like a new (to me) car.

20 Jen

I’m surprised I haven’t seen anyone mention federal income tax as a downside to high cost of living areas. I’m sure in most cases that there is higher pay to compensate for the higher cost of living. Unfortunately though, the federal tax brackets are not indexed to the local cost of living. So the person that has to make more money in an expensive area also has to pay higher taxes on that extra money, which just makes the relative cost of living even higher.

This could also apply to a lesser extent to state income taxes in states that have an income tax. For example, I imagine the cost of living in SW Virginia is much lower than around D.C., but both are under the same Virginia income taxing system.

21 Larry

Yes, but that can be turned around too. Take the IRS limit on Roth IRA contributions (below age 50 to keep things simple). As of now, it’s $5000. Obviusly, that’s a smaller percentage of a San Diego or NYC annual income than of a Wyoming income, and thus makes saving for retirement more manageable. No doubt other examples could be found of fixed limits that benefit higher earners.

22 Jen

Yes, this is true: as a percentage of your income, the burden of maximizing a Roth IRA is lower.

However, another way to look at it is that if you are maximizing your Roth IRA, when it comes to take out that money, the maximum won’t go as far in an expensive area, assuming you don’t move after you retire. You’re also more likely to be ineligible to contribute to the Roth due to the income caps.

Like you say, I’m sure you could find example where fixed limits benefit higher earners, but my brain is fried and I can’t think of any at the moment.

23 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

I empathize Ninja. I love Houston, TX because of my friends and family even if the summers are HOT and hurricanes come through all the dang time. We were without power for 8 days after Ike…yuck.

Our 15 year mortgage on our almost new 1750 sq ft home is only $740 a month. Property taxes are 3.2% in my area and sales tax is 8.25%. No state income tax, so woot. Hubby makes $43,700 as a teacher and will be making $47,400 next school year as a school librarian. I make $35,000 as a cubicle worker that builds forms and handles customer service calls.

If you ever do move to Houston, give me a heads up! We’ll still be here…

24 South of Houston

Don’t feel too sorry, Ninja… if I moved from my current location of Manhattan to San Diego, I would only need to make 61% of what I make now to maintain my current lifestyle! And we don’t even have your fabulous weather!

Still, wouldn’t trade NYC for anything at this point in my life (and I completely understand why you don’t want to leave San Diego to move to a lower cost area either), so really, it’s all about your current priorities.

25 paranoidasteroid

Just imagine living in LA, where the nice weather is balanced by the horrifying brown clouds of smog, the cool places to visit are at least an hour away in freeway traffic, you only see your friends at work because driving to their neighborhoods is a PITA, and even living in the slums is expensive! You definitely have the better SoCal city for a little less money!

There are benefits to living in California that compensate for the high cost of living. I probably would still be in CA if I’d been in San Diego and not LA!

26 MattyIce

You are so bitter. Enjoy the benefits of living in the SD for now and then be happy with the other benefits of wherever else you live in the future.

27 eef

holy shit.

my boyfriend is from encinitas and moved out to live with me in indiana–in part because of the cost of living. i make $28,000 here, and in san diego i would have to make $42,094!!!

Meanwhile, my boyfriend (although currently unemployed) has been interviewing for jobs out here that pay about $51,000. which in san diego would be $76,672. crazy.

of course, we don’t have the ocean, or great weather all year, but still.

28 Bankruptcy Ben

ONce i’m all online (job wise) I’m moving to the country, I mean rural. The cost of accomodation is so much cheaper. The opportunity to spend your money on soy capachinos is also a lot lower

29 DENIS

Here’s a question -based off this long scenario :)
I live in Miami, i’ll make 57k-60k this year. I’m not middle management, upper management, heck I’m not an engineer and I don’t hold a master’s degree. I’m a video producer for a big university.
Say I move to NYC (Manhattan) where the comparable salary is $112K-115K. To make THAT amount in NYC, wouldn’t I need to be middle management, upper management, VP of something??? I can’t see any university there paying 112k to produce videos so very likely I’d probably need more schooling which to many people would equal more debt, more stress and income loss (opportunity costs).

30 Larry

I would not assume salaries between Miami/NYC are in lockstep parallel. I don’t know where the calculator gets its numbers, but if these are *average* salaries for the two areas, the numbers for NYC could be skewed upwards because there are so many high-paying jobs in the financial industry. I worked in Manhattan many years ago, and I wasn’t making nearly $115K or even the inflation-adjusted equivalent.

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