Sunday, October 04, 2009

Is It Really Cheaper To Live In Cleveland?

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

Posted using ShareThis

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 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, 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!


drwende said...

This is essentially the methodology I've used on various cross-country moves.

Climate and cultural differences tend to make a hash of finding truly equivalent properties, but you've recognized that.

lauralynne said...

I think that the equivalent lifestyle question gets forgotten so often when I see cost of living comparisons. When I first moved to Jacksonville, I was so frustrated because it wasn't anything like Pittsburgh, or like what I was used to in Pittsburgh, as far as apartment hunting and neighborhoods are concerned. There are very few walkable neighborhoods in this city. That's a negative for me. But the plus is that most apartments are in managed buildings. They're cheaper than the equivalent w/in Pgh city limits and better overall. They don't have the charm of a turn of the century home that has been partitioned into 3 or 4 apartments, but they also don't have the maintenance issues and they do have closets.There are hardly any taxes down here, and as a renter I truly see very little of my income leaving as tax. There are downsides to that as well (witness our school system!). Anyway, I think that a simple cost of living comparison is just a baseline, you need to do the more complex kind of run through that you've done to know what you are truly paying for or not and where it falls on your personal care-o-meter.

Bottom line, though, if you don't like living somewhere, it will never be cheap enough.

thelady said...

the tax burden is probably the main reason the rust belt is losing manufacturing jobs and population

travel cost is another consideration, I moved to a place where I knew no one so every holiday I want to leave town. Flying is expensive and I live almost 2 hours from the airport. This makes travel both expensive and exhausting. I'm looking to move on now that I have more work experience.

quality of life is more important than cost of living, there is a reason certain cities cost more: they have more jobs or better climates or access to the ocean/mountains

I'm not one of those people who complains about a job or city for years yet never makes the effort to leave.