Adding Up the Costs of Moving for a Job

by | April 01, 2009

Moving to a new city is a common twentysomething experience. But no matter how many times you've done it, the process usually doesn't get any easier -- or cheaper.

Stacey Vanek Smith knew that moving from New York to Los Angeles for a job as an associate producer of a public radio program would be a major professional opportunity as well as an important life transition. But she didn't anticipate how moving across the country a year and a half ago would affect her finances.

Even though her job provided her with a relocation stipend to cover the actual move, the 28-year-old was surprised by the cost of setting up house in Los Angeles. After all, New York is an expensive city, too. And while she also had experiences moving to Paris and Boise, Idaho, this was her first move as an independent adult.

"It was very eye-opening how much everything cost," says Ms. Smith, who sublet furnished apartments in New York and had lived in dorms as a graduate student. "There was always a hook up-fee -- a $50 hook-up fee for the TV and phone," she says. "I felt like everybody was trying to get money out of me."

Moving is indeed a costly proposition, even for unattached twentysomethings like Ms. Smith who haven't yet accumulated large houses full candlesticks, paintings and vases to transport.

"On the one hand, moving by yourself is less complicated you only have one person's life to manage," says Leslie Levine, author of "Will This Place Ever Feel Like Home?" When single, there's no need to worry about balancing a spouse's career with yours or uprooting children, but there is a downside: "You have to shoulder all the responsibilities yourself," she says.

The minor details of moving when you're on your own can be daunting.

"There are a lot of hidden costs -- things you don't necessarily think of, like getting a new driver's license and new license plates," says Lina Paskevicius, a corporate relocation consulting manager with Cendant Mobility.

Of course, the actual cost of a move varies depending on how far you are moving, whether your employer offers relocation assistance, and most important, the cost of living in a new city.

Web tools can help you to get a better idea of the costs associated with each aspect of the move. For example, www.homefair.com this relocation calculator allows you customize a timeline of steps to take before moving, while www.homefair.comthis worksheet estimates transportation and packing expenses.

While salaries tend to be somewhat higher in expensive cities like New York and San Francisco, the cost-of-living differential can be much broader than the salary differential, says Bill Coleman, a senior vice president of compensation with Salary.com. For example, if you move from Des Moines to New York, your salary may go up 20%, but your rent may go up 50%.

Why? If you're headed to a more expensive city, it's understood you might not be able to afford the same lifestyle that you could in a less expensive locale, Mr. Coleman says. Employers probably aren't going to pay you more so you can afford as many nice meals and fancy martinis.

"You have to think about whether you would be comfortable living the way people like you live in that city," Mr. Coleman says.

Web sites like salary.com, www.homefair.com and salaryexpert.comCareerJournal.com (operated by Dow Jones & Co., publisher of this Web site) offer calculators that help you figure out how much money you would need to make in a new city to maintain the same standard of living you currently enjoy.

Also note that there are dozens of variations of salary calculators, some are very specific and other breakdown general costs, so use a few to get a range of ideas of what your new lifestyle may cost.

For Kimberly Krizelman, 28, moving from the Chicago area to comparably low-cost Bentonville, Ark., for a job as a buyer at a major retailer allowed her to afford a three-bedroom house and hire a professional decorator.

"Owning a house is something I never would have done in Evanston," Ms. Krizelman says.

She realizes that the standard of living she enjoys in Bentonville, a city of about 25,000 people in the Ozark mountains, is foreign to many of her friends on the East and West Coasts. "I was talking to a friend in San Francisco the other day as she was driving around trying to find a parking place, and I was struck by how different my life is from hers," says Ms. Krizelman, whose parking situation causes her very little stress since she has her own two-car garage.

After doing some number-crunching on how money you need to live in the city to which you are moving, then it becomes time to consider the actual costs of moving, everything from the cost of transporting your stuff to all the incidentals that were so irksome to Ms. Smith the costs associated with closing up your old household and establishing a new one.

If you are moving for a job, then the first thing to consider is your employer's relocation package.

If your employer offers you a stipend to cover the costs, you want to know if you are responsible for the taxes or whether all or a portion may be tax-assisted, she says. That can make a big difference. An employee usually must pay taxes on the reimbursements, such as the cost of an apartment-hunting trip, for relocation expenses. The employer may give a "gross up" to the employee to help cover the tax. www.homefair.comThis gross-up calculator can help you estimate taxable reimbursements. Read more in Internal Revenue Service www.irs.gov/publications/p521/ar02.htmlPublication 521 on taxes and moving expenses.

If you are renting, you'll probably want to ask if your employer will cover lease cancellation fees to break the lease on a current residence. You also want to find out what kind of assistance you will get on the other end with finding a place to live in the new city. Many employers will offer to cover real-estate agent or finder's fees in large cities. Or your employer might set you up with a real-estate agent who can show different neighborhoods and places.

These are issues to consider before you say yes to the move, and if you don't like the answers you get the first time, you might find that your employer is willing to be flexible. "You can discuss anything," says Salary.com's Mr. Coleman.

Once you made the move, settling in can be costly, too, depending on what you will need to make yourself at home.

"Some people are going to want to buy all new furniture right away," says Ms. Paskevicius. "Others are comfortable sleeping on a mattress and putting their TV on a milk crate."

Ms. Smith, who moved from New York to Los Angeles, was in the former category. Having moved to a place where she knew no one, she wanted to make her new apartment homey. So even though she tried to buy inexpensive furniture that she could assemble herself or shop at second-hand stores, she spent a lot of money stocking her new apartment.

At least some of her expenses from turning on the phone and cable TV to buying a couch were one-time expenses rather than recurring costs. And she was able to make up for all those expenses by living very frugally for the first few months after her move, even though it wasn't by choice.

"For six months, I basically spent no money," she says. By the time she made friends in Los Angeles, shelling out cash on restaurant meals and drinks seemed a small price to pay to have a social life again. "Spending money going out is a good thing."

Filed Under: Workplace Issues


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