Ways to Save Money

It’s Cheaper to Live in the Suburbs Than the City, Right? Maybe Not.

January 28, 2016
by Dana Sitar
Contributor

Many people consider a commute a given part of the workday.

If you want to afford a house in a neighborhood where you can feel comfortable raising a family, you work in the city and live in the suburbs. That’s just how it is.

Taken at face value, the argument seems simple: Housing costs are significantly cheaper in the suburbs than in the city. And job opportunities are higher in the city.

But running the numbers carefully might change your mind.

What Does It Cost to Live in the Suburbs?

Factor in the real costs of your daily commute for a two-adult household, and you could realize your suburban lifestyle isn’t actually saving you as much as you thought.

Money After Graduation ran the numbers and argues you can afford to spend $200,000 more on a house if you eliminate one car.

A one-car household is much more plausible in a central location — within walking distance to work and most services — versus the suburbs.

Adding up car payments, gas, maintenance and insurance, the cost of a car is about $9,000 per year in the U.S., according to the annual report by AAA.

That works out to $750 per month — money you could be putting toward housing if you live somewhere you could eliminate a vehicle.

Using the Canadian average annual cost of CDN $9,500 per car, MAG compares the cost of an average mortgage and two cars in the suburbs, versus an average mortgage and one car in the city:

Image from Money After Graduation
Image from Money After Graduation

You’re actually not saving money living in the suburbs. You’re just spending it differently.

So which is the better way to spend your money?

The Costs of Commuting

Which offers a better life: a $400,000 house in the suburbs with a daily one-hour commute? Or a $600,000 house in the city with a 10-minute walk?

Because you know the financial costs are about the same, deciding which is better is about more than just numbers.

MAG points out an important intangible cost of a daily commute: your happiness.

A longer commute simply means less time spent doing anything else you’d rather do.

That includes spending time with your family, making progress on a side hustle or just spending time unwinding and taking care of yourself.

People with longer commutes experience higher stress and lower life satisfaction, Forbes reports.

I can’t put a hard number on “satisfaction,” but we can probably agree you’re better off putting your money toward the things that’ll increase it.

Studies also link this increased time in the car to more measurable physical and mental health problems — high blood pressure, obesity, decreased energy and increased illness-related work absences.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy “correct” answer in the suburbs vs. city debate.

But when you’re considering where to buy, this information should serve as a reminder to crunch the numbers and understand the full cost of your decision.

Your Turn: Do you commute from the suburbs to the city for work? How much does this cost you each month?

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more.

by Dana Sitar
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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