Should Housing Costs Affect Our Decision on Where to Live?

Dollars & Sense on 04.14.11
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Me and my children, aged 9, 7, 2 and 6 months

My parents and aunts and uncles think we are nuts. After years of bopping around due to my husband's medical training, we are finally ready to choose the place where we want to settle down. And we picked one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.: Washington, D.C.

They're right. We are crazy to choose a place where houses cost four times as much as they do in places like Syracuse, where we live now. I mean, we could get a stately house here in a charming, walkable suburb with excellent schools for $300,000. We can't even touch a cramped apartment for that amount in Washington.

So why are we doing it? I could see myself being happy many places, including Ohio where I grew up, but it's very important to my Italian-born husband to be part of a bustling international city. So as a frugal mama, why don't I put my foot down and make him get a job in Cleveland, where the average four-bedroom, two-bath house goes for $87,240?

I go along for three big reasons:

  1. If Daddy ain't happy, ain't nobody happy
  2. OK, I admit I also love the fizzy energy and old world charm of big Eastern cities
  3. Money is not everything

What does that mean, money is not everything? My dad argues that if we bought a house in the Midwest, we'd be able to save almost a million dollars for our children's college education. It makes me seriously wonder, as the founder of a blog on saving money, what does $50 here or there matter when you overspend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house?

That's a good question, and I don't think I have all the answers yet. Besides the fact that I must be a little cuckoo.

I do know that we make choices in life based on what we love. People scrimp and save because they dream of something massive -- a house, a trip, an awesome retirement.

Yes, I want my kids to go to the college of their choice, and I'm not saying they can't, but I'm not going to sink roots into a place based on the cost of a four-bedroom.

What it boils down to is happiness. We believe that the choices we make will make us happy. Sometimes they aren't comfortable choices, and sometimes they require sacrifices.  But if the trade-offs make sense to you and your family, then that's all that matters.

So as we continue our search for a (very expensive) house in D.C., I am fully aware that the road ahead might not be as easy. But I bet it will be fun. And if it's not, I'm moving to Kansas.

What do you think? Am I totally off my rocker? Have you ever gone against all common-sense? Please let me know in the comments!

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