The New York Times recently did the math on suburban vs urban living in the New York area. City living came out cheaper, by a pretty big margin.
For my Strollerderby colleague Helaine, the suburbs are worth the expense. My family jumped the other way: we gave up a rambling house in the suburbs to return to our favorite urban neighborhood.
The math on Boston suburbs vs. city living is going to be different than it is in New York, of course, but some things stay constant. Driving always costs more than public transit. Property taxes in the burbs are still higher, though not as different as they are in the New York example. School is still an issue in an urban district.
When my husband and I were expecting our first baby, we gave up our city apartment and hightailed it out to the suburbs, where we bought a beautiful four-bedroom house. It had a little yard, a finished attic, two bathrooms and a stunning kitchen. When my mother saw it, she clapped her hands and said, “Oh, Sierra, you’ve found your dollhouse dreamhouse.”
That’s exactly what it was. A dollhouse dreamhouse. It was the house I’d dreamed of having since I was a little girl playing with dolls. It was also a terrible choice for our family.
My husband and I each spent two hours a day commuting to our city jobs, until I quit to stay home with our baby. Then the fun really started. Baby and I rattled around in that drafty Victorian all day long, bored and lonely.
Gradually I started venturing out with her to the my old neighborhood in the city, where I could hang out at cafes with other moms, go to Mommy and Me showings of films I’d actually enjoy at the local independent cinema, or just take her to a public playground.
At home, my only options for entertainment were expensive Music Together and Mommy/Baby yoga classes, where I was often mistaken for my child’s nanny because I was ten years younger than all the other moms, and drove a beat-up old car that matched my beat-up old clothes.
I really wasn’t suburban mom material. I missed my husband, who’d be gone at work for about 14 hours a day. I missed my friends, and my active urban neighborhood. I also missed coming to the end of the month with enough money to pay all my bills. Suburban living was expensive.
So two years ago, we threw in the towel. We bought a duplex with a friend in our old neighborhood, a few blocks from the university where my husband works. I knew it would be cheaper, but I was shocked at how much money our move saved us.
That first month we shaved more than $1,000 off our regular expenses, and that number has only gotten better as I’ve figured out how to take advantage of our neighborhood. We spend only 10% of what we used to on transportation, our mortgage is a little less, our heating bills are half of what they used to be.
We’re happier, too. We can walk to friends’ houses. There’s a playground at the end of our street where we can hang out with the neighborhood kids and moms. A few blocks from our house is a bike path that takes us straight into a busy square full of music, theater, shopping, restaurants and cafes. It’s great for our whole family.