Updated on 07.14.11

Should I Move to Find Work?

Trent Hamm

A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.

Jennifer on Twitter wondered about moving to find work. “How about life changes? Got fired. Do I move or stay where there are no jobs?”

This is never an easy decision to make. There are a lot of factors involved, and many of them push in opposing directions. Here are three key factors I would consider.

Could you actually earn more money in another area? In other words, if you take your resume to another part of the country, could you actually find employment with income that exceeds what you could currently earn?

It’s easy to think this is true, particularly if you were recently fired from a job, know of others employed in that field, and simply can’t find any openings in your local area. However, it may be that there are very limited hiring opportunities in your field anywhere. This is certainly true in some fields and less true in other ones.

Your best approach is to look for job openings in other parts of the country. Are there are a lot of job openings in other areas? Are they promising job openings?

You might also want to start applying for jobs that look interesting before you move. Try applying for a bunch of jobs in large cities that you can easily travel to, go there for interviews (if needed), then move only if you actually find a job that earns well and seems stable.

Would that difference in pay more than exceed a different cost of living? Quite often, you’ll find jobs in other areas that pay the same as what you were making, except that the new area has a much higher cost of living. I know of computer programmers who can live well in the Midwest, take the exact same job on a coast without much additional pay, and be practically homeless.

Before you apply for any job, know how the cost of living in that area compares to your current cost of living. If it’s significantly higher, you’re going to need a significantly higher salary to account for it and maintain your current standard of living.

A good way to calculate this is to get the cost of living index for the current area where you live, as well as the cost of living index for where you’d be headed. Take your current salary, multiply it by the cost of living index of the area you want to move to, then divide it by the cost of living index of the area you’re currently living in.

An example: let’s say I lived in Des Moines, IA and I had a job offer on Long Island. The cost of living index for Des Moines is 90, while Long Island’s index is 400. If I was making $20,000 in Des Moines, I would multiply that by 400, then divide the result by 90. That means I’d have to make about $89,000 to have an equivalent standard of living on Long Island. Obviously, I’d probably be seriously downgrading my living quarters in this case (or else this is one major career upgrade). Of course, the reverse is true – if you’re making $89,000 on Long Island, you can have a roughly equivalent standard of living on $20,000 in Des Moines.

Unless you’re significantly improving your standard of living (by getting a salary that exceeds your calculated number) or you’re getting a spectacular career growth opportunity, it doesn’t make sense to move.

Do you have a support network in the area where you’re moving to? This is another factor that ties heavily into the cost-of-living question as well as quality of life factors. If you’re moving away from family and friends, you’re moving away from a lot of time and money-saving conveniences.

I know that when I first moved far away from my family and friends, I was stunned at how many little things they helped me with. Free meals were gone. Useful advice was gone. Many of my social circles were gone. These things added up to a lot of value, financial and otherwise. I would go out solely to meet new people and cement friendships. All of my meals were on me. I had to seek out new sources of entertainment. This added up to substantial costs.

This factor varies heavily for different people, but it can be a huge factor and one that shouldn’t be overlooked when considering a move.

It may seem as though I’m attempting to talk people out of moving to get a better job. I’m not. Rather, I’m simply illustrating the point that moving for a better job often puts you in a worse financial position, let alone the impact on other aspects of your life.

Before you make that leap, know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and whether or not you’re getting positive value out of the move.

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  1. Katie says:

    Though, of course, you should remember to count in fixed expenses like loan payments in your cost of living equation. Your student loan payments don’t rise with higher costs of living and are therefore easier to afford on the more expensive geographic zone salaries.

  2. kristine says:

    Katie- so true. For fixed loans, the move is an advantage.

    But on the subject of financial aid, and much government assistance, help is based on national averages, not state CLI, so the “inflated” incomes of some metro areas preclude getting financial aid, even if you are making the “means’ equivalent of being impoverished in other areas of the country. As per Trent’s example, a family making 20K in DesMoines will get fed fin aid. A family making the equivalent of means on LI, 89K, will likely not- they are considered well-off, even though they can afford no more, and live no better, than the 20K family in DesMoines.

    So if you have kids going to college in a few years, and need fed fin aid, or use some other fixed income such as an annuity to help make ends meet, I would advise against moving to high income/hi CLI area. States can no longer afford to try and even out the differences- they just do not have the resources.

  3. valleycat1 says:

    Do you have enough money to make the move – moving expenses, living expenses while you’re job hunting & until you receive your first paycheck? If you own a house, will you be able to sell it in the current economy; if you rent, are you committed to a lease term?

    Check out the stability of the company before accepting a position and get any job offer in writing, especially if you are relocating based on an offer – I know several people who moved based on a verbal offer & then found they didn’t actually have the job once they relocated.

    Also, I have a family member qualified for jobs in a specific industry. Moved to an area where there were lots of jobs. Faced a ton of competition from locals (with local references) and in-house applicants, and almost all jobs came with a probationary period. Found that a number of employers seemed to keep cycling through probationary employees instead of letting people move to permanent status. Temp jobs also were highly competitive in that field.

  4. Johanna says:

    Has anyone who’s actually moved between places with very different costs of living used the cost-of-living indices and found them to work? They’ve never made much sense to me. What matters is how *your* cost of living would change from place to place, not what the average person pays.

    For example, some places have sky-high car insurance rates, for no particular reason. (It’s a self-reinforcing cycle – the higher rates are, the more people try to get away without having car insurance, the more likely the person who rear-ends your car doesn’t have insurance, the more costs your insurance has to cover, the higher your rate is.) But if you don’t have a car, this doesn’t matter. If you have three cars, it matters a lot.

    More generally, not everything on Long Island is going to cost four times as much as it does in Des Moines. Some things will cost more (real estate, I imagine), and some will cost proportionally less. How much your expenses change when you move from Des Moines to Long Island depends heavily on how *your* household expenses break down, and how much you spend on different things.

    Plus, moving from one city to another is the perfect time to make adjustments in your lifestyle. Getting a bigger or smaller place, adding a car or getting rid of one, forming new habits about where you buy your groceries and other necessities, exploring new entertainment options, etc. Your lifestyle may be very different (not upgraded or downgraded, just different) in your new city than it was in your old city, and you may be OK with that.

    Plus plus, if you’re living well below your means before the move, you can absorb a big increase in your cost of living without having to change your lifestyle as much.

  5. kristine says:

    We are planning to move rural in 2 years, when my son goes off to college. We live on LI and it is unaffordable. The average family has a mortgage hat is 4-5X their annual income. It’s nuts.

    To prep, we have been spending a lot of time in western MA. The biggest thing I have realized is that my 1/2 a tank of gas a week went up to 3 tanks a week. That’s an added 3-400/m. That was with my normal round-robin errands. And if you forget something you need at home when you get to town- it is a BIG deal.

    (On LI I only commute 10 min to work, but if I took the train to NYC for work, as most do, it would cost 400/m for train, plus about 100/m for parking. So it would be a wash.)

    We have been monitoring the MA job market, and the costs of housing, groceries, etc. I have a friend in the area, so that helps. But the CLI index link is a great resource, thanks! I would not have thought to check that, I would have guesstimated from my scattered research.

    On more thing I would check on before moving anywhere is the availability of state option health care or health insurance, especially if you are older, but not yet retirement age, because if you lose a job, ins. will be expensive. And the cost of water. Something I had never even considered- it’s practically free here!

  6. valleycat1 says:

    I agree with Johanna that you need to look at the details of how the COL was calculated. We’re looking at relocating & that’s one factor, but a lot of the items the calculators use are things we just don’t spend money on. Also, if you are familiar with other towns, check the comparisons for your current location against those & it’ll give you a feel for whether they seem on target, before you start looking at unfamiliar areas.

    Local city websites usually have a lot of good information for relocation (check both the tourism site and the actual city government websites).

  7. kristine says:


    Exactly right. I will look at the CLI for a guide, but the best way is to look at your existing budget (everyone has one, don’t they?), and then cost out the same items in the new area.

    Then look for line items that will go away (garbage collection?), change to something else (like train vs. car), or have to be added (water bill?). Cost out the new numbers.

    Then talk to some real families living in that area, and ask them if there are any expenses you have not considered, or other issues that will impact the budget.

    Then calculate the ratio of of old salary/old expenses, vs. new salary/(new expenses x 1.10 to allow for unexpected expenses.) That should tell you if you come out ahead with the move, or under, or stay the same.

  8. Stephanie says:

    I am contemplating the same thing myself. I was laid off two and a half years ago and graduated from school a year ago. It has been incredibly hard to find a good job. So I have 3 part-time ones.

    Fortunately I have family that I can live with. If I need to go out of town, there are people to watch my dog. If I were to move away I would have no support whatsoever from friends & family.

    Those social networks are very important to me, but they may not be as important to someone else. I really want to stay in the area I am in, but relocating isn’t completely off the table. :/

  9. Johanna says:

    Trent, where are you seeing a cost of living index of 400 for “Long Island”? I clicked on the link, and the list that’s there says it’s 218 for the entire NYC metropolitan area (including the city and the suburbs in New Jersey and on Long Island). I thought 400 didn’t seem right – I knew NYC was expensive, but I didn’t think it was *that* expensive.

    In fact, except for just a few really expensive cities (NYC, Honolulu, and the SF Bay area), the most expensive cities in the country are barely 50% more expensive than the cheapest. It seems like you’ve got this idea in your head that anyone who lives on the East or West cost is paying astronomical prices for absolutely everything, and it’s not true.

  10. Nancy says:

    Back in the days before the Great Recession, I impressed upon my children to pile up as much $ as possible during the high school/college years, and live as cheaply as possible during that time. (Thanks to my younger years being raised by Great Depression parents.)

    Oldest just moved from a Big Ten University and has discovered that her “cheapest in town”(dicey neighborhood) rent was still higher than her house payment in a larger city. Utilities are now cheaper too!

    Moving expenses can really add up. The transitional housing, flat tires on the way, contract slow ups in housing and jobs; these all add up to more expenses. The $1,000 set aside for moving turned into $2,000.

    Her younger sisters see how much things cost and are taking extra hours at their high school/college jobs for their own futures.

  11. Dee says:


    What did your friends do when they moved and found out they didn’t have a job?

  12. krantcents says:

    You point out a few of the decisions you must make if you are going to move. Approaching it conservatively and realistically is important. The down side can be moving and losing your job. You should think through all the possibilities not just ones that support moving.

  13. Corith Malin says:

    “Free meals were gone.”

    I’ve always hated this. Really, I kinda hate the whole premise that you get anything for free when you live near a support network. The reason I hate this is that if someone is inviting you over for meals a lot, then you should be doing something equally worthwhile for them. If you’re just taking free meals and never watching their kids, cooking for them, or helping them with their house.

  14. jim says:

    Johanna is right, I found the same thing. The Kiplingers website says the cost of living in the New York, North Jersey, & Long Island metro is 218 not 400. And Des Moines is 92 not 90. Don’t know where Trent got the 400 figure from.

    Maybe 90 vs 400 is just the cost of housing? Thats more realistic. With any cost of living number it seems the large majority of the difference from city to city is the cost of housing. If you remove housing then expensive cities like NY,NY and San Fran are more like ~10-30% more expensive than places like Des Moines or Plano, TX in other categories.

  15. Carole says:

    Sometimes the spouse or school age children just don’t seem able to adjust to a move into a different area. I have seen people move back to a former area because a family member couldn’t or wouldn’t adjust.

  16. lisa says:

    I know of people who bhave lost jobs due to compabies going under or just not getting paid on time & some have moved themselves to live far away during the week at a rooming house 7 then come home on weekends. It’s that or lose their house.

  17. Tom says:

    That 400 number must be for housing, because I can’t imagine how anywhere in the country $20k is equivalent to $90k. Using the 218 number and Trent’s equation makes $20k in Des Moines equivalent to $48k in Long Island, and that seems more reasonable.

    The point about fixed costs that travel with you (car loan or student loans) being positively affected by higher salary and higher cost of living was a good one. The installment loans now take up a smaller percentage of your income, leaving more room for regionally affected costs like housing and food.

  18. Brittany says:

    @13 Agreed. I think the point is solid, but the delivery awkward. When I moved cross-country, meals with friends and family were one of things I missed the most. But while there were some cost-sharing benefits of this (for example, making one inexpensive dish for a potluck meal, but having access to a ton of food), what I really missed was the shared experience of group meal.

    The value is not so much in things you get for “free,” but things you can share on a social network. This is the actual point, I think, stripped from the awkward delivery.

    Free (or “cost of pizza and beer” moving help (in exchange for future help), chore exchanges, tool sharing, etc. When I moved to Texas, I needed a rake for months after Magnolia trees dumped on my patio. But I only needed one once a year, not worth the expense. Back in Illinois, I could have borrowed one from a whole host of people. Once I moved, it was about 6 months before I built up a social network that included someone who owned a rake. Little benefits like that are easy to overlook.

  19. Matt says:

    @ #12 Corith – I don’t think Trent was encouraging mooching off everyone – just saying that nobody’s going to show up with a meal at your door if you’re really sick/just had a baby/etc. We just had a baby who ended up in the hospital for an extended time… and I don’t know what we would have done without any support network. It’s the first thing we think about when we talk about moving… would the rewards be worth losing this community?

    In terms of family meals… what I’ve seen is that the older generations tend to foot the meal bills more often than not. I’m younger now, and appreciate this immensely… when I’m older, I expect to take my turn.

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