Do the Math: The True Costs of Relocating for a Job

The Muse

Forget about the heart: Home is where you’re gainfully employed.

Taking on a new job can be a frightening change for anyone—particularly when you have to relocate to a different part of the country. You weather these huge changes to advance your station, find more satisfaction in your career, and reach for the elusive American Dream. These decisions are made with the enchanting siren song of a five or six-figure salary, but those numbers can be deceiving. Cost of living fluctuates across the country, and while a salary improvement might lead you to believe you’re getting ahead in this world, the reality is a little more complicated.

Here are four questions you need to ask yourself before you relocate for a new job.

1. Where Does Opportunity Live (and Can You Afford the Rent)?

One of the most common financial mistakes people make is assuming that a larger income will necessarily equate to a more prosperous life.
Money is not immutable: Its value changes as you cross state and national boundaries. Consider the following Consumer Price Index map from
Each pin in the map above represents a major U.S. city; the darker the shade of red, the more expensive it is to live there. The light green pins represent the most affordable cities.
Once you look beyond the horizon, you start to get a sense of just how wildly the cost of living can fluctuate. Unsurprisingly, New York City sits at the top of the heap with a CPI of 100, while much of the Midwest enjoys an average CPI in the mid-70s.
Sites like CNN Money and have cost of living calculators to help you determine just how far your salary will go in your new home. They’re useful in determining whether you’ll have a comparable net income after you factor in common expenses such as groceries, housing, and utilities. As an example: a $50,000 salary in central Pennsylvania would need to increase to a whopping $84,000 in Brooklyn in order for you to maintain the same quality of life.

2. Are You Moving to a Land of Opportunity?

Financial considerations go far beyond your salary and cost of living. Between the first and second quarters of 2014, nationwide employment rose by about 0.5%. That’s a nationwide average, though, and shouldn’t be too heavily factored into your calculations.
More useful would be the jobs forecast for the area you’re thinking about moving to. USA Today put together an interactive map, which it updates monthly, to put the spotlight on job growth in a variety of industries across the country. When you’re researching the economic climate of your new home, this map should be your first step.
A successful company in an economically depressed region might feel like an oasis in the middle of a desert, but it could also be a portent of troubling things to come. Make sure you know the full story.

3. Who’s Going to Pay for It?

So, you’re going to take the plunge. You’ve done the math, you’ve located a quiet, little neighborhood near your new employer, and things seem to make sense on paper. You’re done, right?
Not exactly. Even if your new opportunity will net you an income similar to what you’re used to, the one-time expenses of moving are not something you should ignore, and you should always do your due diligence when it comes to moving expenses.
As an example, a single person who wants to move from Los Angeles to Chicago would spend about $2,240 for professional moving expenses. That probably won’t break the bank, but if you’re factoring in breaking a lease or selling a home, putting down a security deposit or buying a new home, or moving your family, pets, and car, it could be much more. And you’ll want to be sure you have savings to fall back on when the dust finally settles.
That said, you may be able to support this relocation on your employer’s penny. While employer relocation budgets have been decreasing each year, nearly 59% of employers still offer a full reimbursement approach. Others, as this chart from Atlas Van Lines shows, offer some form of compensation. Don’t be afraid to ask (or negotiate) for these expenses.

4. What’s Important to You (Besides Money)?

Finally, before making any kind of move, you need to ask yourself “Who am I?” and “What does this mean for my future?”
While the current state of the economy would seem to indicate that relocating for a job is not only possible but potentially encouraged, you’ll need to think about what moving means for you. Are you the type of person who wishes to stay close to your childhood stomping grounds? Do you want to remain near your family and friends? Are you currently in a committed relationship? What would moving mean for your partner’s career aspirations?
Remember, the support of a community that knows and loves you—whether they’re friends, family, or co-workers—is something you can’t put a price tag on, no matter how attractive your new salary might be.
If you find yourself contemplating this kind of change, hopefully this has given you a useful place to start. As with any big decision, don’t make this one lightly. The novelty of a fresh start is counterbalanced by the appeal of comfort and stability—make sure you know which you value more highly.