costs-of-living (and how to determine it)
Depending on your perspective, Mark Keyser's essay (as published in the Indiana Gazette; hat tip: C-J) is either a nerdy economics article or a set of important concepts and resources in considering a move to another city.
You're contemplating a job offer in an unfamiliar city, or you're thinking about moving closer to your children or maybe even retiring. How can you get an idea of what it costs to live in another city compared to what it costs where you live now? You can start by sitting down at your computer. But as always when you embark upon a computer search, proceed with caution. All that you'll find won't necessarily be true.
More sites than you'll ever want to check appear on your screen when you search for "cost of living comparison," "relocation calculator," "salary comparison" or "salary calculator." They'll let you compare the price of houses and even corn flakes or compute the salary you'll need in another city to maintain your standard of living.
"These kind of Web sites can be a good starting point," says Greg Daugherty, executive editor of Consumer Reports. "They're easy to use and don't take a lot of time. But it's a very complicated business deciding where you want to move. Don't let this be the end of the decision process for you."
Daugherty and others familiar with the sites say they're not all reliable. (See box for sites they recommend.) The data some sites use are incomplete, outdated or manipulated to favor areas supported by advertisers, the experts say....
Most if not all of the data comes from the Council for Community and Economic Research in Arlington, Va. Formerly the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Association, the organization has collected cost-of-living information since 1968. It monitors Web sites - some good, some bad - that provide the same kind of information....
You can find some of that information for free on various Web sites, but if you're willing to pay $4.95 for multiple comparisons from the same city you can get it all at the council's Web site at www.coli.org/compare.asp.
You can see, for instance, what lettuce costs in Glens Falls, N.Y. ($1.45), Anchorage, Alaska ($1.46), Des Moines, Iowa (94 cents), Charlotte, N.C. ($1.35), Manhattan ($2.09) and many other cities.
But you'll find on the council's Web site that if you bring home $50,000 in Glens Falls, you'll need to bring home $56,543 in Anchorage to maintain your lifestyle - or $41,981 in Des Moines and $96,774 in Manhattan....
Other sites provide similar information, perhaps calculated in a slightly different way, McNamara says. For instance, CNNMoney.com tells $50,000 earners that they'll need $55,600.99 in Anchorage, $42,253.26 in Des Moines and $95,258.22 in Manhattan.
But you get the idea. And that's what these sites are good for, the experts say. Let them be a beginning.
Visit the city you're thinking about moving to as often as you can. Drive around, buy a newspaper and look at house prices, connect with a real-estate agent you can call later with questions, says Daugherty of Consumer Reports.
"There's really no substitute for going to a place and getting a feel for it," he says. "Ask other people. If you're interviewing for a job, ask a bunch there how they like it, what neighborhood you might be happy in. Word-of-mouth for this kind of thing is still the best tool of all."