Keep in mind that I don't love Phoenix, but I do feel towards it as one does an attentive and skilled lover who goes home at midnight. You know the limits of the relationship, you're grateful, and if it doesn't work out you had some fun times and can move on. My relationship with Cleveland was more like an abused wife with a ham-fisted husband. I don't love either of them, because places don't love you back. But I do realize that I'm better off here in Phoenix.
So upon reading this description and assertion, "Phoenix AZ, meth capital of the world and generally nasty place. Cleveland is cheaper and less demanding of my constant attention, plus the seasons change" I asked myself, "Was it really cheaper in Cleveland?"
I don't have great cost comparison data, and certainly my finances have changed since I've been out here. For instance I have a full time job with benefits, no house, and a lot less in the way of expenses. But let's play around with the aggregate numbers, shall we?
I found this:
Cost of Living Comparison: compare Phoenix, Arizona to Cleveland, Ohio
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The only field that Cleveland really beats Phoenix in is housing costs. But wait! That's an imprecise category. Do you own, do you rent, what kind of place do you rent? So I went looking for apartments in Cleveland (since there is tax associated with living outside the city but working within the limits that people are very eager to avoid--plus I both live and work in Phoenix which has no such tax) that match up with the amenities I have here. For $673.20 (which includes 2% sales tax and $10 cat rent) I live in a not charming but not bad urban environment noted for its walkability, access to public transit and the fact that utilities are included except for electric and hot water. It's a 1 bedroom apartment. I played with the apartment finder at Apartments.com to see what within Cleveland I could rent in a professionally managed building, with a/c, a balcony (the cat likes it), a dishwasher, laundry on-site, and parking. My complex has a pool, but I think it is unfair to expect one in Cleveland. After I excluded the places that would want me to declaw the cat (not happening!), I was left with surprisingly few places that met my requirements. 4 out of 5 was the best I could hope for, as balconies are not common in the CLE. And these building tended to be newer construction/rehab like the National Terminal Warehouse in downtown Cleveland. I am not sure how I would feel about living next to the Shoreway.
But wait--these buildings also tended to charge for parking. I get that for free here. And no, I don't think you can live without a car in Cleveland--it's too damn cold, plus these apartment place were not within my 1 mile radius by which I could get groceries, dry cleaning, cheap dinner and fun the way I can here. And utilities were not included.
Additional data points--my salary of $47,900 and ability to secure an apartment for under $700 is in not proportionate to salary in CLE. According to Salary.com, the equivalent salary is a little under $37,000. The $8400 I'd pay in rent is 17.5% of my salary out here, but 22.5% of the lower salary in CLE. And the tax burden is actually much higher in Ohio.
So my conclusion is that it's NOT cheaper to live in Cleveland necessarily. If you do so, it's not an equivalent lifestyle to what you get out here.
Criticism of methods, things I've forgotten? Put it in the comments!