How Do You Decide Where to Live?
For most of us, where we lived during our childhood was not our decision. We lived where our parents (or other primary caretakers) lived, and that’s that. For some of us, college is the first time when we might have a little bit more choice of where to settle, and once we are financially independent adults, our choices are wider, yet again. Where we live impacts almost every aspect of our lives – how often we can see friends or family, how much we are able to save, what kind of job opportunities we have, how often we have to travel, what kind of entertainment is available and so on.
I am in a decision analysis class at school right now, and loving learning about all the different ways to make decisions, evaluate risk, and calculate utility. So that got me thinking… how do people make a decision on where to live? How do we decide which factor is the most important in where we live? I brainstormed up a list of broad categories (in no particular order) on which people might make their location decision:
- Family/children – Proximity to family and children (especially in case of divorced parents with joint custody) may is a powerful anchor. It’s easier to live near family who can help out with kids or stay close to elderly parents who need more attention. On the other hand, I’ve known friends who have moved away from areas BECAUSE they didn’t want to be too close to family!
- Friends – Friends are the family you choose, and living near friends and having a strong social network have been shown to significantly increase a person’s happiness.
- Romantic relationship – Long-distance is no fun. Sometimes, we move so that we can actually live in the same zip code as the one we love, even though it is not a place we would have chosen otherwise.
- Weather – Many people have pursued their own Californian Dream because of 300+ days of sunshine. Many seniors have second homes in Arizona or Florida because of that same reason. If you can’t stand the rain, you shouldn’t live in Seattle. And if you can’t stand the cold, you should take a pass on Minneapolis.
- Career opportunities – You can’t live somewhere where you can’t make money. Even though online/virtual job opportunities are becoming more common than in years past, many careers still have “hubs” where more opportunities abound.
- Social/cultural amenities – Where we live determines what kind of social and cultural opportunities are available to us (and how long/far we have to go to access them!). Need to have great public transportation? Don’t move to Los Angeles. Need to be close to the best museums, most diverse food choices, and most 24-hour dry-cleaners? New York is calling your name.
- Cost of living – We all pay a price for living where we live. Personal finance blogs talk about this issue a lot, but where to live is never (nor should it be) a purely number-based decision. But finances, of course, do matter. A couple making id="mce_marker"00K a year can easily afford a house in Charlotte, NC, but will be struggling mightily in Southern California.
- Nature – Beaches or mountains? Or both?
- For example, I have grown up in Southern California and have stayed there after college mainly because of my then-boyfriend / now-husband was there (#3), I could find a good job (#5), and I loved the warm, temperate climate (#4).
- I had a good friend of mine move to New York City because her career is centered in Manhattan (#5) and she loved NYC and just wanted to be a part of the fastest-paced city in the country (#6). She certainly didn’t move to NYC for the “astronomical” cost of living – her words! – or the mind-numbing winter cold.
- Another friend moved from LA to Denver, Colorado because he loved being outdoors (#8) and the slower pace of life and lower cost of living (#6 and #7). His girlfriend later moved to Denver as well because she also found a great job, but her impetus for job-hunting was mainly #3 – because he was there.
- I’ve read many articles that talk about Portland in particular – a wonderful place that draws many well-educated young people with its affordability and quality of life, but that have been described as “the place young people go to retire” due to its underemployment and stagnant job market. I imagine that most of the folks who move there are not moving for career opportunities. More likely, they are moving because they can be closer to family or friends or because the culture just resonates with them. I also know several of my friends who would LOVE to move to Austin for the vibrant social scene, but the MBA jobs just aren’t there.
I wasn’t very thoughtful about where I wanted to be after college – I kind of just let the decisions fall where they may. But MBA recruiting opened up the country to me in a way that I haven’t experienced before. Recruiters came from New York and Boston and San Francisco, from Chicago and Houston and Atlanta. I took a very rational approach when evaluating my post-MBA geographical preferences. First and foremost, I focused on career opportunities: at which company and which geography will I get to work with the people I want, have the chance to do the type of work I want, and have the best opportunities for upward progression? For my husband, his 2 biggest focus is (1) me and (2) career prospects, when he evaluates the next step in his life.
But professional considerations are not the only issue for me when it comes to location. I also value proximity to my parents (within a 3-hour flight so I can visit them monthly if necessary), a relatively low cost of living (I want to save money! And buy a house and travel and have nicer things while being able to save money), and warm weather (below 60 is cold in my book).