Is the Financial Grass Really Greener? 3 Couples Test Life in Another Corner of America

Is the Financial Grass Really Greener? 3 Couples Test Life in Another Corner of America

“I wonder how much better it would be to live in … Seattle/Sioux City/Saratoga Springs?”

If you've ever posed a similar question to yourself, you wouldn’t be the first to romanticize about living in a different place.

But you don’t really know what it’s like to put down roots in a different pocket of the country if you haven’t been there—or at least done your research.

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Perhaps you’re drawn to the historic homes in a particular region, but your mortgage would double if you actually moved into one of them.

Or maybe you love the idea of living in a quaint town—but there isn't a job in your industry for hundreds of miles.

In other words, before you start checking out online real estate listings, you need to determine if the grass truly is as green as it looks from afar.

But we know that’s easier said than done.

That’s why we asked three couples to share their real-life relocation quandaries—then tapped experts to help them suss out what their daily (and money!) lives would be like in another corner of America.

RELATED: Money Happiness Across America: A State-By-State Guide

Malcolm and Janel 2

From Brockton, Mass., to Chesapeake, Va.

Who: Malcolm Pace, 30, assistant director of academic advising, and Janel Pace, 30, executive program coordinator

Why They Want to Move: “Janel and I grew up in the Boston area, but now that we have two sons, 4 and 1, the cost of living is a killer.

We currently earn about $105,000 a year between the two of us, and have no trouble meeting our financial obligations—but we'd like to get more bang for our buck.

Janel has family near Chesapeake, Va., which makes it an attractive possibility. We both work at colleges, and Janel doesn't anticipate having trouble finding comparable work. It's harder for me because I have a very specific title in higher education, so if we move, I need to make sure it’ll be good for my career.

The good news is our oldest son will start kindergarten in September, which will lighten our child care bill. Our younger one will go into full-time day care, which would cost us $200–$230 per week where we live now.

If we move, we'd sell our three-bedroom house—which we bought in 2011 for $230,000—and reinvest that money into a hopefully less expensive home in Virginia.”

The Paces' two major costs—housing and day care—wouldn't be substantially cheaper in Chesapeake.

Running the Numbers: The Paces' "more bang for their buck" would likely come down to less day-to-day spending, since their two major costs—housing and day care—wouldn't be substantially cheaper in Chesapeake.

For starters, "[they should] meet with an agent to see what their true buying power is," says LaMonica Hummel, a Seattle–based director of relocation for Windermere Services Company.

According to data from Trulia, the median sale price for a home in Chesapeake was about $230,000, between January and April 2015.

The good news for the Paces is that the median sale price for three-bedroom homes in Brockton over that same period was up almost 28% over last year.

The bad news? The five-year trend is downward by about 2%—which means market timing will be a big factor in assessing how much buying power they truly have.

In terms of their other big expense, full-time day care for an infant averages $10,028 in Virginia, or about $193 a week—so the savings wouldn't be significant.

The most substantial savings would come from a lower cost of living: Groceries are 16% cheaper, utilities 21% less expensive, and health care 11% cheaper in southeast Virginia compared to the Boston area.

But in order to reap those benefits, the couple would have to avoid lifestyle inflation, says Benjamin Sullivan, a CFP® with Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Scarsdale, N.Y.

“If you're moving to get a lower cost of living, are you going to absorb that by getting a nicer car?" he says. "Or by contributing more to your 401(k)?"

What Malcolm Thinks: “This really sheds light on the pros and cons of moving to Virginia. On the one hand, Chesapeake seems good for housing, and would allow us to live near family.

But on the other, my job search is revealing that there aren't many positions in my field there. After weighing this, we're thinking Virginia may not be a viable choice, after all.

Chesapeake is in our price range, and we can afford living there, but there just isn't enough potential for career growth and financial gain. We're now playing with the idea of looking somewhere else down South.”

RELATED: More Money, More Problems? The Dangers of Lifestyle Inflation—and How to Avoid It

Stacy KendallFrom Bucks County, Pa., to San Francisco

Who: Stacy Kendall*, 31, PR and marketing professional, and Jerry Kendall*, 32, nurse

Why They Want to Move: “Jerry and I have lived in Bucks County since 2010, and we think it’s a beautiful place and a great area to raise a family.

But I grew up in the East Bay of San Francisco, so the truth is, Pennsylvania just doesn’t feel like home. That’s why my interest was piqued when a recruiter from San Francisco approached me about a job there.

After some long-distance interviews, I received a great salary offer: $110,000—a big bump up from the $72,500 I’m making now.

But heading out West is no simple decision.

My husband is almost done with his nursing degree, and has a great job lined up in an E.R., where he’ll be making $57,000. We'd also have to sell our three-bedroom townhome. On top of that, we have a son who’s a year and a half—and another baby on the way next month!

I don’t know how far my new salary will go in San Francisco. I know, for instance, our child care costs will go up, but I have no idea how much. Currently, we pay $150 a week, but that’s just for one child.

My potential new employer has also offered to throw in $3,000 for relocating—but is that enough to move a family of four all the way to California?”

"What I’m most shocked by is child care. $1,900 a month is unbelievable—and it’s almost a deal breaker!"

Running the Numbers: The one advantage Stacy has is knowing how much she'd be earning in their new city—but things get a little trickier where Jerry is concerned.

In 2013, 76% of new nursing grads found jobs in California, down from almost 85% in 2010. But if Jerry does snag a position, he could get a significant pay hike: The average salary for an RN in the Bay Area is $91,000.

Jerry's job, however, may be a less worrisome dilemma than the big spike in housing costs. "What's really interesting are the average home values," Hummel says. "In Bucks County, it's about $326,000. San Francisco’s is $786,000."

And the median price of a home that sold in February in San Francisco? Just over $1 million.

As for moving costs, Linda Craft, a Realtor and relocation expert in Raleigh, N.C., estimates it'll cost around $15,000. "Hopefully, the job has tremendous move-up potential,” she says. “If Stacy can continue increasing her salary dramatically with the new company, then she should look at this loss as an investment in her career."

But the hefty price tags don’t stop there: The average monthly cost for full-time care for one infant at a childcare center is $1,900.

What Stacy Thinks: “I can’t say I’m surprised about the housing. We were anticipating having to give up living in a nicer home to be in that part of the country.

What I’m most shocked by is the child care, because I'm currently paying about $600 a month. That's unbelievable—and it’s almost a deal breaker!

It's also disheartening to hear the nursing market has weakened, which is more concerning to me than if the market were strong, but the average salary wasn’t great.

I’m still interested in the career growth this job could offer me, and the next step is to fly out in July to work out some details. But this information is giving me a lot to think about—not least of which is renegotiating my relocation package!”

RELATED: The Most Surprising Childhood Expense at Every Age

Brandy and husbandFrom Maple Heights, Ohio, to Dallas

Who: Brandy Rankins, 37, stay-at-home mom, and Thomas Rankins, 33, paramedic

Why They Want to Move: “When Thomas and I bought our home in the Cleveland suburbs eight years ago, we were thrilled. We snagged a great deal, receiving the keys to our three-bedroom home for just $90,000.

But three years ago, the neighborhood began changing. There was more loud partying, loitering, littering—and an uptick in crime.

Burglaries are on the rise, and my oldest son has experienced bullying. On top of all that, our city is having a major fiscal crisis.

We knew we had to start thinking about moving. After doing some research, we decided we liked the Dallas-Fort Worth area for its reasonable cost of living, good schools and strong economy.

Thomas currently earns about $30,000 as a paramedic and an instructor at a local college. He also has a knack for media, so we launched a small side business offering photography, videography, and graphic design services that brings in $500–$1,500 a month. If we head to Texas, we want to build up this business.

The money from our side gig and tax returns has helped us build a $7,000 moving fund. Our biggest hurdle, however, is our house. I'm certain the value has declined, based on what homes near us are selling for, and I'm afraid it’ll prevent us from leaving as soon as we'd like.”

"We were pleasantly surprised to learn what Thomas could be making in Dallas—but the crime rate is upsetting."

Running the Numbers: Brandy's top priority is providing a safe place to raise her four children, ages 6 to 11. But based on the stats, Dallas isn’t an improvement in that arena.

At 41 crimes per 1,000 residents, Maple Heights has a higher crime rate than the national average—and it’s particularly steep for its small size. But the Dallas crime rate is 51 per 1,000 residents, and there’s been a spike in violent crimes this year.

The Rankins can also expect a big jump in housing costs. As of the end of April, the average listing price for a three-bedroom home in Ft. Worth was more than $223,000, according to Trulia. In Dallas, it was more than twice that, at more than $478,000.

"My biggest suggestion for Brandy would be to meet with someone to make sure they're able to sell [their current home]," Hummel says. "A comparative market analysis can help show what's going on in their neighborhood, and the range in which they might be able to sell.”

One bright spot? Thomas can expect to earn more in Dallas, where the average salary for a paramedic is $49,000. But Sullivan stresses the importance of securing a job before making any major moves.

"Incurring a lot of expenses for the move, and then hoping to find a job is essentially a recipe for financial disaster," Sullivan says. "If you don't have enough money to cover the short-term costs of moving, you may dig yourself into a hole."

What Brandy Thinks: "We were pleasantly surprised to learn what Thomas could be making in Dallas—but the crime rate is upsetting. It's what we want to leave behind!

This information has me revisiting our overall plan. Perhaps another area in Texas might be a good option. I'm also interested in Georgia, which we've enjoyed visiting.

Either way, I'm still feeling encouraged about our next chapter. I think getting a comparative analysis of our home is a great idea—I’m already making plans to have our home appraised.

And we’ll continue to keep our moving fund rolling. I want to build it up as fast as we can because we’re desperate to give our kids a better life."

RELATED: House Hunter Report: 5 Trends That Will Change How You Buy a Home in 2015

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