Is your expensive hometown holding you back from reaching your goals? Tyler Dolan, CFP®, compares three cities to show how a Grownup’s finances can be impacted by zip code.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a different city? I think about it all the time. During the winter months in the suburbs of Boston, I often find myself fantasizing about living on the West Coast, especially California.

While family roots and the four seasons have kept me a New Englander thus far, a recent WalletHub article made me reconsider this region from a financial perspective. WalletHub ranked the country’s best and worst cities for WalletFitness™, taking credit standing, responsible spending, savings, risk exposure, and earning power into consideration. And their findings inspired me to dig a little deeper into what it would actually be like to live elsewhere.

I know some people just move from coast to coast and plan on winging it once they get there. I wouldn’t be able to do that. I’m a planner at heart. I’d need to do my research, make a pros and cons list, make sure I had a job lined up, build a few budgeting spreadsheets, and (of course) get some West Coast-appropriate sandals.

So that’s what I did. OK, OK—only the spreadsheets.

But in all seriousness, I figured my methods could help fellow Grownups determine whether a big move would be a wise financial decision for their own goals.

Here’s how I undertook my research. You can adapt these techniques for your own planning, keeping your personal budget, values, and goals top of mind.

To start, I prepared a mock budget for an average Grownup in three different cities, selecting Boston, Los Angeles, and Nashville as a representative sample (check out my Google Sheet outlining the cost breakdown if you want to geek out on the numbers). I set aside the qualitative traits (e.g., perks) for each city, viewing each instead through a financial lens. I also tried to concoct a Grownup representative for each city: This person had that city’s average salary and average expenses, and each had the same goal: to build an emergency fund. (Pro tip: Typically, it’s a good practice to maintain an easily accessible account with enough savings to cover at least three months of expenses.)

Based on this setup, how long would it take a Boston, Los Angeles, and Nashville Grownup to save three months of expenses for their emergency fund?

Here’s what I found:

This photo shows a graph of average living expenses in Boston, L.A., and Nashville

This photo shows a graph of average earnings in Boston, L.A., and Nashville

The Grownup in Boston has the lowest net cash flow, mainly because it’s the most expensive city of the three profiled. If she saved every extra penny toward her emergency fund each month, it would take her more than 12 years to get to her goal. (Pro tip: She might want to pick up a side hustle.)

This photo shows a graph of how long it would take someone to reach an emergency fund goal in Boston, L.A., and Nashville

At least the Grownup in LA has a few hundred bucks of net cash flow. It would take him about four and a half years to reach his emergency fund goal, a much more reasonable time period.

The Nashville Grownup’s cash flow situation is the best. She has more than $450 in net cash flow, which allows her to reach her emergency fund goal in less than two years. She has the lack of state income taxes in Tennessee and the lowest cost of living to thank for that.

Does this mean all Grownups should pack up and move to Nashville? Not necessarily. There are tons of factors that go into a decision about where to live, and not all of them are financial. Keep in mind that all of these numbers are averages, and each Grownup situation is different. But it’s a question to investigate: Is where you’re living helping or hurting your goals?

Take Kate Dore, for example. She’s a Nashville-based freelance writer, social media consultant, and founder of Cashville Skyline, a personal finance blog. Originally from the Boston area, Dore planned on moving to New York City to work in the music and entertainment business after attending UMass Lowell…until her college advisor thought she might prefer the vibe in Nashville.

Once she moved to “Cashville,” as she affectionately calls it, she said “it was a lot more affordable than I was used to.” Dore was able to concentrate on her savings goals, such as her emergency fund, which she said has saved her twice in the past few years. She was able to pay off her car, which has given her even more flexibility. Dore was also able to buy a house just outside of Nashville, and she’s not the only one. A recent Smart Asset article shows that, in nearby Chattanooga, just over 30 percent of Millennials own their homes. “I got really lucky,” Dore recalls. “I can’t even pretend I planned it!”

Hey, some people have that great sense of adventure and would rather totally wing it. I get it. Sometimes you just get lucky!

I’m just not that lucky of a guy, though. I’d be the one to win the lottery, but lose the ticket. If you’re more like me, I encourage you to think holistically and plan ahead. If you’re contemplating a move to a different city, first and foremost—choose your own path, but crunch the numbers.

Make a pros and cons list of qualitative attributes for each city. Do your research. Dig a little deeper into the financial impacts of your move. How would the move impact your budget? If your budget would be a little bit tighter, are there other factors that outweigh the financial impact?

As always, it helps to learn from other Grownups: Blogger Danielle Corcione relocated 1,800 miles away for her first job. Check out the five questions she wished she considered before deciding to make the big move.

This photo shows Tyler Dolan, CFP, at Society of Grownups.

Tyler is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner who believes financial education can empower people to reach their goals.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

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