What does “cost of living” really mean?

Marjorie on

When it comes to making a move to a new city, three main categories of expenses exist: the cost of the move itself, the cost of a new mortgage or lease, and the cost of living in a new community with different prices than you’re used to on the stuff of day-to-day life. Thanks to Moveline, the first part is easy to figure out: our app can help you manage the costs of packing, loading and transporting your possessions.

The second part is a little trickier, but still fairly easy to research, and as for the third, we’ve got a list of secret (until now, anyway) resources to help you figure out what your wallet’s really going to look like on the other side of a move.

Real estate calculators

Researching the price of real estate in your new destination is easy enough online. If you’re moving within the U.S., take a look at Trulia, Zillow, Hotpads and Streeteasy (for New York, Florida, and the D.C. area).

Craigslist is always a useful source as well (just beware of scams).

If you’re moving abroad, check out the cost of living index on Expatistan, where they’ve listed rent prices, home purchase costs, and other living expenses for 800 cities around the world. According to the site’s formula, the most expensive city to live is Oslo, Norway; for reference, New York City comes in 8th. Then again, a dollar today isn’t always the same dollar tomorrow.

To check out predictions for the real estate market in your new city, take a look at CNN Money’s home price data with forecasts for 384 markets around the country.

Cost of living calculators

Although real estate will likely be your biggest expense, to understand what you should budget for life in your new home you need to know how much the basics of daily life will cost you -- like public transportation, a typical lunch or night out, a pizza delivery, a movie, and a doctor’s visit.

For a report on the cost of living compiled by the Council for Community and Economic Research, go to coli.org. For $7.95 you’ll get a detailed comparison of the city you’re moving to with the one you live in now. How detailed? They include things like the cost of parmesan cheese, a night of bowling and a trip to the vet.

Bestplaces and CNN Money have calculators that give you an idea of how the cost of living in your present home compares to your soon-to-be home using the costs of food, housing, utilities, transportation and health care.

Nerdwallet, a San Francisco based site committed to giving “consumer-friendly, jargon- free information” about finances, has a cost of living calculator that includes the biggies -- housing and transportation costs -- as well as the soft costs: a 12-inch pizza, a six-pack of beer, a loaf of bread, a movie and more. According to Nerdwallet, a move from San Francisco to New York -- the city they say is the most expensive in the U.S. -- will mean a 36 percent rise in cost of living.

And don’t forget the IRS. For an idea of what taxes will be like in your new home, check out taxfoundation.org’s state-by-state listing of taxes, from income, corporate to sales and property.

Budgeting the trip to your new home

No matter how meticulously you plan, you can’t predict exactly how long you’ll be en route; if there’s a delay getting your stuff moved, for example, you may have to add a few days on to your trip. Erik Christensen, a Moveline Move Captain cautions, “be both mentally and financially prepared for Plan B: a longer stay in a hotel, an extended car rental, more restaurant meals.”

Kristina Kurdya, who moved from New Jersey to Virginia to California and made the trip by car, says, “Gas was the most surprising cost of all. You know it’s expensive but you don’t seem to realize it until you notice the stack of gas receipts piling up. With each of my moves, this was the shock factor. Everything else seemed insignificant.”

You can avoid that kind of shock, quite simply, by checking with AAA. Go to its fuel cost calculator online to enter your starting and ending point; then, you’ll be better able to predict how many miles you’ll drive, how many gallons of gas you’ll need and how much it will cost overall. (For example, we calculated a hypothetical trip from San Francisco to New York City in a 2012 Acura. What came up: we’d be driving 2873 miles, using 178 gallons of gas and spending just under $700.)

All in all, a bit of pre-planning can ultimately save you lots of money, whether it’s by opening your eyes to the cost of living in a new town and helping you negotiate the difference into a salary at a new job, or even by showing you more affordable alternatives in other cities. And if you need help planning your move once you’ve settled on the destination, let Moveline help. We demystify the inventory process, get you fair moving quotes from reputable companies, and oversee your move from start to finish. The best part: our services don’t cost you a dime. So, don’t go it alone. Let us help.