Leaving Home

Jonathan Clements

SHOULD YOU MOVE when you retire? The numbers can be compelling—especially if you’re like my wife and me, and you live in New York City or one of its surrounding suburbs, where living costs are absurdly high. This was hammered home by the cost-of-living calculator cited by Kristine Hayes in her article yesterday.

I discovered that, by leaving New York, we could cut our living expenses by almost 60% if we moved to Bismarck, N.D., Dodge City, Kan., or Grand Junction, Colo. Boston, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, DC, would all be cheaper by 35% or more. San Francisco was a tad less enticing, but still 22% less costly. Even notoriously expensive Honolulu looks like a relative bargain, at 17% cheaper. These figures are for someone moving from Manhattan with a $100,000 income. Those moving from Brooklyn or the New Jersey suburbs wouldn’t save quite so much, and in some places they’d find themselves paying more.

Much of this is driven by housing costs. For many folks in our area, retirement planning seems to consist of buying an overpriced New York home and then, upon retirement, trading down to cheaper Florida real estate. The home equity that’s freed up thereafter pays for air conditioning and early bird dinner specials.

All this might sound like great news. Lucinda and I have endless retirement possibilities that promise great financial savings. Problem is, we aren’t interested. We’re happy where we are, with our children relatively nearby, a network of friends we wouldn’t want to lose and a great apartment we’d hate to give up.

In short, we live in a part of the country where—even with a good salary—it can be a struggle to save for retirement, because living costs are so high. And the struggle is even greater if you want to stay here in retirement, because you need a supersized nest egg.

None of this is designed to elicit sympathy, let alone a flurry of charitable contributions. Lucinda and I are doing fine. Still, I now realize that we have inadvertently bought the sort of luxury good that I regularly warn readers against. Whether it’s first class air travel, European sedans or living in New York, there’s a fundamental problem with luxuries: Once you have grown accustomed to them, they’re awfully hard to give up.

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