As a Texas native, I grew up accustomed to a very cheap cost of living, but realized that if I wanted to have my dream career that I would have to look beyond the Lone Star State. My basic philosophy is that if you’re going to live in an expensive city, the money you invest there should yield you future opportunities for career growth and happiness. So far, my moves to more expensive cities have been worth every penny.
I will say that not all people should move to improve their careers, but if you do, there’s a way to make it work without breaking your wallet. I want to share my story of how I moved to increasingly expensive cities, advanced my career, and tackled the higher costs of living head-on.
What are the job prospects like in your city?
After I graduated from UT Austin, I had the desire to explore career opportunities in Washington, DC, which was an expensive transition from living in Texas. But DC offered more job opportunities, so I made the plunge based on the career options available to me in the industries of communications, public affairs, and public relations.
As a result, I ended up doing communications work for a think tank, but I could have done communications work for an office at Capitol Hill or for another non-profit. The diversity of industries in the city gave me a lot exposure to other careers and helped me think more clearly about where exactly I wanted to take my career, despite the high cost of living.
All that exposure directed me to a new job in San Francisco, where I currently work helping Millennials search for scholarships and improve their financial literacy. Had I not worked in DC, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to realize that I wanted to pursue opportunities in San Francisco, an even more expensive city. The upside to my transition is that I’m in a startup environment—an experience I’ve always wanted in my career.
Can you realistically make the cost of living work?
It’s always hard when you’re trying to move forward with your career and at the same time deal with expensive rent and basic living costs. But if you’re aware of what the cost of living is, you can form a game plan to make your move to a more expensive city work. I didn’t have the luxury of using a cost of living tool, but I wish I had. So I’m letting you take advantage of it now.
According to NerdWallet’s cost of living tool, my housing costs went up 210 percent from Austin to DC, and 12 percent from DC to San Francisco. Being aware of how much your housing costs will increase can help you make a plan as you transition into a new job in a new city. You will also have to make sure that you can pay your rent with the job you have. Don’t forget to also factor in the cost of food, transportation, and leisure.
Match the cost of living in your city to your budget.
It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that living in an expensive city means spending more money to live, so it’s important to fit your budget to that expectation. When I moved to DC, I landed a somewhat affordable housing situation with a roommate and tried to set specific parameters in regards to how much I could spend going out (given the lively nightlife in DC) and how much I could spend eating out. Do the same and let your budget evolve without being too hard on yourself. If you want to feel comforted by budgeting challenges in your 20s, check out Nerd Girls Who Budget. We are Millennials with money on the mind, but we want to have fun too.
The bottom line is that I had to set a budget and stick to it because I had student loans and a high rent to pay every month. The upside, however, was that I got to work at a place that helped me grow professionally, and now I’m better positioned to leverage the skills I gained in my future work.
Factor in the cost of living when negotiating your salary.
Finally, it’s important to remember that you should factor in the cost of living when you’re negotiating your salary. Be aware of how much more expensive it will be to live in the city where your job is located, and keep that in mind. Be sure that your negotiation is centered around why you deserve the salary you do as the amazing employee you are, but do your research to find out how much a person in your position typically makes in your city. All you have to do is ask.
Overall, moving to progressively more expensive cities has improved my career and increased my quality of life, even if I do pay more rent. When you feel frustrated that the high cost of living in New York or San Francisco or anywhere else might derail your budget, think about how it might actually help your career grow. If you don’t have the opportunities in the city that you live in now, consider moving and adapting your budget. You’ll only learn more from it!
How have you learned to budget in a more expensive city? Share your tips in the comments!