Why You Should Live FAR Away From Your Job

Note from Paula: I rarely publish guest posts. But a few weeks ago, I found a blog written by a guy who “lost a job he was too afraid to quit,” and is now forced to live his boldest dreams. I love the premise behind his blog, and he’s a fantastic writer. why my small town rocks

Without further ado, I’d like to welcome today’s guest writer, Matt Trotter.

(As a self-proclaimed city girl, I have to say that the views expressed here are his own.) :-)

********

I’ve seen many blog posts which argue that people should live closer to their jobs. They argue that it saves money. They couldn’t be more wrong.

This is my argument to the contrary.

The Price of City Life

Rent?

In the convenient parts of Portland, Oregon — the closest city to where I live — most studios start at $900. I’ve seen some that are just shy of $2,000 a month. For a studio?!

My friend swears that I can get an affordable place in one of the sketchy neighborhoods, in an inconvenient location. Why, though, would I give up the two-bedroom apartment I share for $247, which is literally two blocks from the downtown area of my town?

Transportation?

Most of these opposing blog posts point to the cost of driving—gas, maintenance, insurance — and think they’ve won the argument. I cringe at the thought of putting that many miles on a vehicle, and of spending that much money on transportation. No thanks. I’ll stick to my $92 a month for unlimited rides on public transit, and I’ll walk or bike the shorter distances and save on gym membership.

Groceries?

I live three blocks from the farmer’s market, and know many of the farmers by name. It’s one of the best ways to get quality produce for the cheap while skipping the grocery store markup.

When it’s not farmer’s market season, I’m only 15 minutes from a really affordable grocery store (and that’s going out of my way to avoid some of the less favorable big box stores, like Wal-Mart). I spend about $20-35 a week on food.

If I were to move into the city, I’d be nowhere near a farmer’s market, and I’d be an hour from an affordable grocery store. My grocery bill would be closer to $50 a week (judging by how much I end up spending when I do go to a more expensive store). This could just be a lack of awareness about the options in that neighborhood, but that lack of awareness would cost me until I could absorb the local knowledge.

Utilities?

Electricity is the only utility which is not covered by my rent, and in my small town electricity is publicly owned. In Portland the electricity is managed by a private corporation, and the average cost is $147 a month according to the local newspaper (it’s one of the higher averages in the country). My cost? $30-40 a month, even during the winter. My share is $15-20; the other half is covered by my roommate.

Entertainment?

This is the biggest mark on my small town, according to my friends and acquaintances. There’s a limited music scene. On the flip side, almost every single performance is free.

The only movie theaters are second-run theaters. If I want to watch something newer, it’s only a 15 minute trip to the nearest first-run theater. But if I’m okay with seeing something older, I can catch a double feature for only $3 or $5.

Really, my small town forces frugality when I might otherwise be tempted to spend money frivolously. (I’ll easily throw away twenty, thirty, or forty dollars just “hanging out” with my friends in the city).

In my small town, you spend more time on simple pleasures like reading, spending time in nature, checking things out from the library, or just interacting with people. It isn’t that there aren’t things to do — there just aren’t things to spend money on.

Crime?

On top of my actual savings, the crime rate in my sleepy little town is practically non-existent. That means there’s very little chance of losing property to theft or destruction. In that affordable Portland neighborhood? Six homicides in the past 12 months, and more larceny than you can shake a stick at.

In my town, I can also walk down the middle of Main St. at one in the morning and never see a car. But to each their own.

Time Investment

The other argument that people often make is that the time spent commuting is a waste of money. It’s time that could be better spent on business ventures and earning money. And I couldn’t agree more. If you’re driving that far for work, you’re just wasting time.

When I was still working at the office, my commute was 50 minutes each way. It wasn’t a short trip. The good news is that I wasn’t the one doing the driving. I could take care of business during my commute. Did my coworkers who lived closer use that time to take care of business? Nope. They were still in bed.

What did I get done during my commute?

  • When I was volunteering freelance work to a local non-profit, I used my commute to email my contact within the organization with updates, or to ask for clarification.
  • I caught up on personal email.
  • I read The Scarlet Letter and Dracula in my quest to become more well-read.
  • I practiced Spanish on my smartphone using an SRS flash card system.
  • I wrote a rough draft of my novel during National Novel Writing Month.
  • Networked with interesting people.
  • Caught up on current events.
  • Researched topics of interest.
  • Caught up on sleep. I dare you to try that if you drive.

Of course, none of these are directly related to making money. But the volunteer work could easily have been paid freelancing work. Spanish proficiency makes me more employable. A novel is certainly a possible money making venture. And these are things I would have done anyway, but I would have had to wait until I was done driving.

Instead, I let someone else take the wheel and focused on things I actually wanted to be doing. If you’re sitting on a bus or train, you also don’t have all of the distractions you’d have at home preventing you from writing the next great novel.

Money Better Spent

I’m not saying that a long commute by public transit is always a cakewalk. It is a lifestyle. Especially if you live somewhere with fickle weather. You have to be more prepared than someone who can pack half of their home into their vehicle. And I certainly wouldn’t complain about being closer to my friends who do live in the city.

The savings I make by living further away are worth it though. While my coworkers were living paycheck to paycheck, I was planning for the inevitable. With a well-stocked emergency fund, I didn’t even flinch when we found out that our contract was moving to India. Not only was I able to save more than my coworkers, but I was able to live longer on the amount I had saved up than they were able to.

(Did I mention that I was able to pay off all of my private student loans while building that emergency fund? That means I have one less bill than many of my former coworkers as well.)

But it wasn’t just a matter of saving myself money. I was also able to spend my money on things that I actually valued. My recumbent trike is a blast to take out on the hills or for short commutes, and my Bob Kramer knife makes working in the kitchen a breeze.

By all accounts, these items are too nice and expensive for a kid my age to own — without racking up credit card debt, anyway. But because I didn’t throw my money away on city living, I actually had disposable income to spend on luxuries which increase the quality of my life.

For you, the things you want to spend your money on will surely be different. A good kitchen knife and a ‘bent won’t appeal to everyone. But, if you are willing to give up the so-called convenience of city living, you can have those little luxuries you desire with the money you save. Or, forgo the luxuries and retire early. You always have the choice.

Bonus points if you can find a well-paying job in one of those sleepy little towns. In that case, please live close to your job. And hook me up.

—–

Guest post by Matthew Trotter, professional dreamer. Matthew writes at Tao of Unfear about losing a job he was too afraid to quit, and about how he’s using his new found joblessness to face his other fears, while (hopefully) inspiring others to do the same. You can also find him on Twitter @RealMattTrotter.

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32 Responses to “Why You Should Live FAR Away From Your Job”

  1. krantcents
    12. Dec, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Yes, rent and owning is less expensive in the suburbs, but time has value too. When I commuted to work a long distance, I added 2-3 hours per day. Time better spent on the job!

  2. femmefrugality
    12. Dec, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    You have valid points. But my city is weird. I live in Pittsburgh, where the cost of housing is actually cheaper in the city than the suburbs, our crime rate is relatively low (for a city…I will give you that relatively, the suburbs are safer,) we have tons of farmers markets in the city neighborhoods, and there is quality free entertainment if you’re willing to look for it. But I do still drive. Our public transportation system leaves something to be desired….
    Great article!

  3. Matt, Tao of Unfear
    12. Dec, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    Thanks for reading!

    @krantcents – Look at my coworker, who went from making $70-90k a year to making $10.50 an hour because of the down economy. Everyone’s circumstances are different, but for he and I, our time was better spent doing or creating things of value DURING our commutes rather than AT our jobs (i.e. looking for other jobs). For some people the cost will be negligible because of the size of their income–they may be better off at work. Not so much the case for people like my coworker and me, who have great educations, but have been forced into low-paying work because so many companies are going under, or sending their business overseas.

    @femmegrugality – I actually don’t live in the suburbs. :) I live a block and a half or so from the downtown area of my town. I just don’t live IN the nearest major city. No argument that it’s cheaper to live in NE Portland than it is to live in the outskirts in Nowthwest Heights, where many of the homes are $1-2 million. Suburbs are definitely cheaper, in general–it’s living in a DIFFERENT city that’s going to make the difference. (And I have heard griping about the transit system in Boston, so if Pittsburgh’s is anything like that, I believe it.)

  4. Jeffrey
    12. Dec, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Many great points, Matt, and I think you make an interesting argument for moving to a more or less “boring” town to save money.

    For me, the biggest factor is time and stress of commuting, both of which I think I’d be worse off for if I was driving versus taking public transport. That said, if trains or buses are available as in your case, I think you have me won over on the idea of living far from my job.

  5. Michelle
    12. Dec, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Great post. Where I live, it’s cheaper to live in the city than the suburbs. I wish I could take public transit, but that’s not very safe and it would take over 2 hours for me to get anywhere.

    I wish I lived somewhere better!

  6. Jessica
    12. Dec, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    This is so similar to my situation. I live in a small town a few blocks away from the downtown and commute 55 minutes to get to the big city. I’m saving a bundle on rent, not spending much on entertainment, and am fairly productive while on the train. The thing is, I’m such a city girl that I’m always yearning to be right in the thick of things. This commuting thing is a big adjustment for me, and I don’t always love it, but it’s not SO bad. Especially since I gave up my job to be a student again, so I really welcome the big savings. Unlike you though, I don’t want this forever. When my situation changes, I will move straight back to the city. It is worth it to me!

  7. Will
    12. Dec, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    You sound like you’re very comfortable where you are, man! That’s all that matters.

    I happen to live in NYC, one of the most expensive places to live, and I totally want to live somewhere cheaper. The problem is, I kinda want the best of all worlds. I want the exciting big city life AND affordable living, not to mention nice weather!

    Wish me good luck! :-)

    • AffordAnything.org
      12. Dec, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      @Will — Move to Atlanta! Awesome big-city life (5 million people in the metro area, tons of concerts/ restaurants/ museums/ etc.), plus a cheap cost-of-living AND great weather, if you don’t mind a few hot summer months (with 50-60 degree days in the winter). This place is seriously the best of all possible worlds. :-)

  8. Miss T @ Prairie EcoThrifter
    12. Dec, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    Like Michelle I actually save money living central. We are a lot closer to markets, shopping, and other places we frequent. In fact we can walk to most of them which wouldn’t happen in the suburbs. I guess it really depends on how a city is laid out.

  9. Matt, Tao of Unfear
    12. Dec, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    @Jeffrey — Yep. I grew up in a different small town where public transportation wasn’t an option. You had to have a car to get in or out. I certainly won’t knock anyone who sincerely has to have a car—many U.S. cities have been poorly designed for getting around in any way other than by car.

    @Michelle — It does take me 2 hours to get to the far side of Portland, but I don’t find myself over there very often. When I do, it’s usually to meet a group of people, and at least one of them will be passing through downtown and can pick me up on their way. Rarely a necessity though. I’ve personally never felt unsafe here—really, it’s safer in a crowd if you don’t have the car to shield you from any dangers—but I would feel uneasy about my female friends traveling through certain areas, just because they might look like an easy target to someone unscrupulous. But, that has more to do with walking to and from stops than being on an actual bus or train.

    @Jessica — You really hit the proverbial nail on the head. But, I really don’t see this as a forever thing. Once I’ve met my other financial goals, I intend to start saving money for purchasing a property which is more conveniently located in or near the city. It’s all about living within my means now, and saving for the future that I truly want. The city isn’t going anywhere. ;)

    @Will — Yeah, I want a huge property in the country, on the edge of the woods, that also has a high speed train running directly from my property into the heart of the city. Haha. As soon as I have the best of both worlds, I’ll invite everyone to come share it with me. (NYC is a place I’ve been wanting to visit, but the cost has deterred me for the time being.)

    @Paula — You’re close to convincing me. I still have that open invitation to stay with a friend if I ever end up in that part of the country…

    @Miss T — I’m totally within walking distance of tons of stores and restaurants. Biggest plate of delicious Chinese food you’ve ever seen for $6-7. I don’t frequent the closest grocery store (about a 5 minute walk) because I used to work there, and I prefer not to give them my money on account of how they treat both their employees and their customers. I’m also within walking distance of a new Walmart, but won’t shop there because of how they treat employees (based on what I’ve heard second hand from people who have worked there). A 15 minute bus ride to the grocery store isn’t entirely convenient, but I choose the inconvenience because I’m voting with my dollars. Other than those few things I choose to go further for, I’m within walking distance of everything. And during the growing season, I don’t even bother going further than the farmer’s market.

  10. PKamp3
    13. Dec, 2011 at 1:55 am #

    Nice post, even if it is tough to implement in the Bay Area (the more ‘rural’ places still in commuting distance are more expensive than the cities). I grew up outside of Boston so if the geography allows it, a commute is the way to go.

    It also helps if you aren’t driving, haha. I’m part of the problem – one dude in a car. Sorry about that, everyone else on the road!

  11. Melissa
    13. Dec, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    I don’t want to say that I necessarily disagree with the idea behind this post, but I think we’re definitely talking apples to orange here. While the idea of living close to your job is usually good advice, it’s certainly not always the case. (I lived close to my job — I recently left — which gave me the flexibility to walk to work, so that was definitely a money saver.)

    But we’re talking about lifestyle here! You can’t even compare the notion of living in the city to living in a small town. It’s not that one is better than the other, it’s just that they’re two totally different lifestyles. It’s like writing a whole article about how it’s cheaper to live in rural Tennessee than it is in New York City. Well, of course it is. But people choose where they live for a lot more factors than just what the cost of living is.

    • AffordAnything.org
      13. Dec, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

      @Melissa — I agree with you — hence my comment at the start of the post that I’m a self-proclaimed “city girl.” No matter what the cost savings, I definitely prefer the city lifestyle. I’ve considered moving to Manhattan, although I think I’d have a hard time adjusting to the cold winters.

      I think Matt’s point is that its not necessarily always cheaper to live close to your job — sometimes the money-saving choice is to live far away from your job. I think he means that we shouldn’t just accept the conventional wisdom that living close to your job is always the cheapest choice. But if you choose to live somewhere based on your preferred lifestyle, rather than on financial factors — you’re consciously spending extra on something because it’s important to you. (Living in a city is important to me, and I’d gladly pay extra for it.)

  12. Kelly
    13. Dec, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    Scientific American just posted a teaser article about city living increasing social stress. Apparently, city mice also have an increased chance of schizophrenia. So, you can add that to your list too!

  13. Sun
    13. Dec, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    You obviously have not commuted in Los Angeles. Your notion would not fly here. Commute time and traffic are big complaints here and with good reason. It takes me 90 minutes to drive 8.5 miles sometimes.

  14. Matt, Tao of Unfear
    13. Dec, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    @Melissa — I agree that there are other factors involved in choosing where to live, but it was a point about being economical. I could choose to live with my parents, and I would save an extra $150 a month or so, but it’s not worth giving up my independence (and it would probably be harder for me to get work done with all of the interruptions.) And really, when you consider that I spend most of my time eating, sleeping, and working (things which aren’t tied to being in the city), it makes more sense (for me) to take the occasional 1-1.5 hour trip to the city for the things I enjoy doing there—eating out, going to shows, visiting tea houses—only things which cost me even more money. Ultimately though, it’s about spending on what you value. If you get more out of living in the big city than you do out of travel, going to shows with friends, and any number of other things, then it certainly makes more sense to spend the extra money on living in the city than saving it for other things. And if you make enough to meet all of your financial goals and give to charity while still having plenty left over, then it’s a moot point. Saving more money isn’t going to be a priority if you make enough for everything you need AND everything you want.

    @Sun – You’re absolutely right. I haven’t commuted in LA. And friends I have from LA are glad to be done with all of the congestion. I could walk that 8.5 mile distance in a little over 2 hours, so there’s no way I’d be sitting at a dead stop in a car for most of an hour and a half. I would probably go crazy and shoot myself and everyone else, to be honest. There’s absolutely no reason to waste all of that time. Walking aside (I’m probably the only one that enjoys long walks), that distance could be biked in 20-30 minutes, tops (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWlh1o-fCEU). Both of those options give me the added benefit of exercise. And it’s people sitting in cars that cause all of the congestion. For every bus, you could take 30 of those cars off the road. “Congestion” is a common, and fallacious, argument against public transit. But it just doesn’t hold up. All of the people taking cars is the cause of the congestion (on top of poor urban planning which doesn’t adequately disperse residential areas amongst commercial areas, and which doesn’t allow adequately for bicycle and pedestrian traffic) and would be remedied by the adoption of public transit. Housing also costs 63% more in LA than Portland. I don’t see anything romantic about paying more to live somewhere with more pollution, more congestion, more crime, a higher cost of living, and where people riot when their basketball team wins. ;) (Haha. Our buddy is a hardcore Lakers fan, so we like to give him a hard time any time there’s a game.) I’m sure there are great reasons to live there, as there are in most cities, but there isn’t anything I WANT that I can’t get here cheaper and more conveniently. To each their own.

  15. Monica
    13. Dec, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    Hi Matt,
    I love your outlook on life, and your small town sounds idyllic! When I was in college I always loved being near the city, but as I’ve gotten older, I now want a simpler lifestyle in a small town. Like Paula, I live in Atlanta, but north of downtown in the “burbs.” It sounds like you are very practical and kudos to you for being prepared for an unexpected job loss. Sometimes things do happen for a reason so that you can take advantage of a new opportunity. Best of luck!

  16. Ralph
    15. Dec, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    I live in Orlando and I think as of right now its a perfect mix of small and big city. I can do many of the things you suggested, like go to a farmers market right in the middle of downtown. And there are plenty of same great attractions that you will find in a big city. The city is growing fast so I don’t know how much longer I will be able to enjoy the best of both worlds. But in the meantime, weeeeeeeeee!

    • AffordAnything.org
      15. Dec, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

      @Ralph — I used to live in Boulder, Colo., and I thought it was a nice mix of small town and big city. But once I moved to Atlanta, I realized just how small Boulder really is! :-) I’d love to check out Orlando; some friends of mine where considering moving there.

  17. Raymond
    18. Dec, 2011 at 1:13 am #

    What a fine list – Rent is mostly the reason I live so far from my job. Cool post thanks

  18. Matt, Tao of Unfear
    18. Dec, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    @Ralph — Sounds like my kind of place! :)

    @Raymond — Rent can certainly be a doozy. Glad I’m not the only one.

    Thanks for reading!

  19. Steve F
    20. Dec, 2011 at 3:17 am #

    That’s why freelancing or other on-line pursuits are so desirable. You can plant your butt where ever you’d like, without the worry of work proximity. The problem is that some jobs simply don’t lend themselves to living far from the city.

    I live in suburbia, but one of my immediate neighbors has 7 acres, and another has 1.5 acres. There is a vacant lot across the street, too, for even more isolation. It only seems like I’m in the sticks, however.

    There is a Starbucks 3/4 mile distant, a Rite Aid a bit closer, and a Winco Foods (really cheap, by most standards) a mile and a half away. The freeway is but a 4 minute drive, should I really need to get somewhere at 17mph.

    • AffordAnything.org
      20. Dec, 2011 at 4:25 am #

      @Steve F — I love freelancing for that exact reason. I never have to deal with rush hour traffic, or driving through snow or rain, or any other unpleasant condition. And I can schedule appointments mid-day when the traffic is light.

      Haha — the place you live sounds A LOT like the place where I grew up. I was raised on 7 acres of land, with a creek and forest and tons of wildlife — and a huge shopping mall 10 minutes away. You don’t happen to live in Cincinnati, do you? :-)

  20. Squeezer
    21. Dec, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    As an IT worker, you will want to live close to your job. When one of the computer systems goes down, management and the customers will expect immediate response. Often the IT worker can remotely connect to a server, but I have had instances of incorrectly configured servers where I could not remotely get into them, and I had to drive to the datacenter to service them.

    • AffordAnything.org
      21. Dec, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

      @Squeezer — Excellent point! I know someone who lives very far from his work (about 90 minutes), and he occasionally recieves late-night calls from his boss saying there’s some kind of emergency; he needs to come to work immediately. Each time he gets a call like that, he faces an additional 3-hour commute ON TOP OF the 3-hour commute he already made earlier that day! Needless to say, he wants to move closer to his job.

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