Location, location, location

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WHAT I'M THINKING ABOUT: Location, location, location

The articles that follow will - I hope - cause you to ponder where you currently live and why you live there. Sometimes we have little control over where we live, but most of the time we have a choice. Choosing where you live should not be driven solely by the financial factors. Our personal values and life priorities should have a much stronger voice in the matter. When we allow financial factors to primarily drive our decision-making we are letting money control us. I often see people approaching the question “Should I stay or leave the city?” based on the high cost of living. In reality, the cost of your lifestyle is only one of several factors that should be driving this decision. We should start with these questions and then figure out how to align our income and expenses with our responses:

  • Why is money important to you?
  • What in life is most important to you?
  • What kind of work is fulfilling for you? Where can you do this work?
  • What kind of culture, environment, and home do you want for yourself and family?

Sometimes the answers to these questions mean you should stay in the city, and other times they should lead you to leave the city. There are sacrifices and an ordering of priorities in either case. The authors of the following two articles illustrate this beautifully. Each has chosen to bear a different set of sacrifices for where they choose to live. 

WHAT I'M READING: "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans"

The Atlantic, By Neal Gabler

Gabler’s article highlights that “nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency.” While this is troubling, it doesn’t surprise me. The article does a great job of addressing some of the cultural and economic issues rooted in the ‘80s that have contributed to this environment today.

I think the article’s greatest value is Gabler’s candor around his own money mistakes and financial illiteracy. He lives in Brooklyn with his family and struggles financially. Most heartbreaking to me was reading that college expenses for his kids not only depleted his own savings but also his parents'.

Basically, I screwed up, royally. I lived beyond my means, primarily because my means kept dwindling. I didn’t take the actions I should have taken….

In retrospect, of course, my problem was simple: too little income, too many expenses. Credit enabled me to forestall this problem for a time—and also to make it progressively worse—but the root of the problem was deeper. I never figured that I wouldn’t earn enough. Few of us do.

WHAT I'M ALSO READING: "Opting Out of Coastal Madness to Live a Low-Overhead Life"

The Atlantic, By Anne Trubek

This article is in response to Gabler’s article above. The author has chosen to live in a rural suburb with a lower cost of living and proposes that, for many, a similar move might be satisfying and a smart financial decision. I appreciate how the author has found unique and positive aspects of where she has chosen to live. She finds value in the opportunities and intangibles unique to her town. You can see her wrestle with both financial and non-financial factors of where she lives, which I appreciate.

But, all in all, I am doing fine, and the indulgence of hiring a house cleaner seems to pay itself off in spades, because I now never lie around hating myself because I am too lazy to clean the bathroom…. 
I have also had to work through some more personal reservations about my way of life. My technically downward mobility over the years—my parents are in whatever class lies between upper-middle and the one percent—causes me some shame. I will never be able to move to New York to some impressive-sounding job in publishing or editing, because it would be unaffordable—and thus I will never be able to re-join the cool kids....

But part of the crunch Gabler describes might have to do with an unwillingness to opt out of living in such a rich city. Low overhead is something all manner of middle-class people—including writers, whose arrival could enable them to document parts of America less visible from New York—might find to be a huge relief.