Should I Move to Find Work?

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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