The Real Cost of Living
As a veterinarian who has moved many times during my career, something that never crossed my mind was the difference in cost of living in each state until I moved to California.
After graduating vet school in Alabama, I went to South Florida for an internship. The intern salary was low, and I was happy with matching to an internship, but it did not faze me that I would be moving to a much higher cost of living area.
The rent in Hollywood, FL was 3 times what I was paying in Alabama, but I was excited to live near the beach and closer to friends who lived there. During my internship year, I was not thinking about saving money, and it seemed like many of my vet school friends were on the same boat.
No one really talked about savings or long-term financial responsibilities.
Then I moved to Missouri for residency, where my rent was half of what I paid in Florida and I was making a similar salary as in Florida. At that point in my life, money seemed to be enough and I was able to save.
After residency, I finally got a “real job” and moved to central Florida. Money was good, and life seemed to be more affordable compared to all my previous years.
It was not until I moved to California that I realized “cost of living” is a real thing. When I was looking for jobs in Southern California, I was aware that the cost of living there was going to be higher. For that reason, I was hoping to get at least a 20% increase in my yearly salary. I was offered what I thought was fair for the move and accepted it.
Nothing against the offer, but once I moved, I realized it was not enough. Rent was 140% more than what I was paying in central Florida. Gas was 40% higher, and the utilities bill was also significantly higher. Suddenly, the 20% bump in salary was not enough to keep the lifestyle I had in central Florida.
Even though I knew from experience that moving was expensive, I always saw it as a short-term financial hit. Living in a high-cost-of-living area for a few years made me realize that moving can be expensive in the short and long term.
The cost of living in Hollywood, FL versus Hollywood, CA can be very different. If you consider moving to a place with a higher cost of living (i.e. 30% higher), make sure that your compensation package also gets a 30% bump in addition to the salary increase.
There are many calculators (NerdWallet, Bankrate) that can help you with estimating the cost of living between two cities. However, in my case, it completely underestimated the cost-of-living difference. My suggestion is to visit and explore the potential new location to learn about the differences in the big spending categories (such as rent, utilities, gas, food, etc.).
If you are moving, you should be empowered to ask for the salary that you deserve. Living in a new place can be expensive.
Willie Bidot, DVM, DACLAM