Living in Someone Else’s Awesome

Last year I posted an explanation of why high cost-of-living cities are so expensive: a lot of people think they are awesome and want to live there. At that time, Kyle and I were living in a medium cost-of-living city that we thought was great but not ideal. Now, we have moved to not only a high cost-of-living city but a city that is rapidly expanding both in population and cost (Seattle). And for us, it’s pretty far from ideal.




Cities naturally have different attributes from one another: industry, culture, climate, geography, etc. I grew up outside of Washington, DC, and obviously the main draw in that area is the proximity to the federal government. Kyle grew up outside of Los Angeles, which has many attractive industries, sunny weather, Disneyland, beaches, etc.


People are moving to Seattle in droves for the burgeoning tech industry. Nearly everyone we meet is a recent transplant, and most of them work for Amazon, Microsoft, or Boeing. The main feature aside from that particular industry seems to be the weather. People who are lifers love it. (They wax poetic about fog. They are impervious to rain. They complain about too many sunny days in a row.) Everyone else repeats, “It’s not as bad as people say.” Also, based on the level of fanaticism, you would think that coffee and football were invented or (at least perfected!) here.


I’m excited for the people I know here who really want to live here. Two of my friends from college grew up in Seattle but lived in southern California for over a decade; they were chomping at the bit to return as soon as they were finished with grad school. One of my friends from high school had wanted to move to Seattle for about a decade before his career finally aligned to allow him. They have made their way to their forever city and they couldn’t be happier. I would imagine that the high cost of living in Seattle is well worth it for them because the city is such a good fit.


We however, seem to be living (and paying for) someone else’s dream. We are misfits in Seattle: non-coffee-drinking, non-tattoo-sporting, and non-Seahawks-rooting outsiders.


While we did move here for a job, it wasn’t a job that is typical for or unique to this city. Kyle’s job is here because the lab the company spun out of is here. If this company folds and Kyle doesn’t want to or can’t get another job generated by this particular lab, we’ll leave the city. There just isn’t an industry or market here for him the way there is in biotech hub cities like San Diego or Boston. So the premium we’re paying to live here is not going toward local networking opportunities or anything.


While the native Seattlites seem to be almost vampiric in their light and temperature preferences, Kyle and I prefer a sunny, warm, and dry climate. In the past two weeks I’ve taken two short trips to California and was delighted to my core by the blast of sunshine and warm air I experienced. I spent as much time as I reasonably could soaking it up (considering they were still workdays). There is no doubt for us that southern California will be our next and (we hope) last move.


Unfortunately, your cost of living does not scale by the personal value you receive from your location but rather what the collective population determines it will be through the market. The tech industry overall’s (and Amazon in particular’s) aggressive hiring in recent years has driven up the cost of housing precipitously in Seattle, to the chagrin of renters and people trying to buy homes. Seattle is now a destination city (even if it’s not our destination), and we have to pay for it as such.




This is a bigger pill to swallow than living in Durham was, because even though Durham wasn’t our ideal city at least the cost of living was moderate. We could easily keep our expenses low and save a lot of money. Now, in Seattle, we’re struggling to see how we can build up a down payment for a house in a city we really want to live in.


Does it sound like I’m struggling to adjust to living in Seattle? Maybe I am a bit! Self employment sure isn’t helping. But I don’t hate the city or anything. I really like that there is water everywhere and that it’s walkable/bikeable. I’m going to put in serious effort to finding places and (more) people that I really enjoy during the time that we’re here, and I hope I can edge the satisfaction I experience in living here a bit higher.


Have you ever lived a life that was someone else’s dream (city, job, school, etc.) but it really wasn’t yours? Where do you fall on the cost of living/satisfaction grid?


photo by Anupam_ts and used under CC by-SA 2.0


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31 Responses to "Living in Someone Else’s Awesome"

  1. Emily too says:

    I thought my current city was my dream city – it was for the year I lived here before grad school – but rent prices have also shot up massively, to the point that renting a room in a shared apartment now costs TWICE what I paid six years ago, and I can no longer afford to live in my old neighborhood near a public transit hub. It’s really a massive trade off, in that for a two career couple there are more job options than in smaller cities, but we also don’t make the kind of salaries (*cough* biotech *cough*) that would allow us to have shorter commutes, afford day care for a second child, or ever buy a house. Those last two are the sticking points for me – I really want another kid, and while buying a house has never been a goal of mine, I know that our salaries can’t keep up with rents at the rate they are rising.

    So I sympathize. It’s hard to work on making friends and making a life for yourself, while knowing it’s not someplace you can stay forever. On the other hand, what other choice do we have? 😉

    Now my dream city is Pittsburgh. Not kidding, I applied for a job I’m not quite qualified for there last week, just to dream.

    1. Emily says:

      I’m really sorry you’ve been priced out of the lifestyle you desire in that particular city. I feel the same way about home ownership – more motivated by the downsides of not buying than by buying itself.

      I totally did NOT think you were kidding about Pittsburgh! I’ve never been (yet – I’m speaking there in a couple weeks) but Kyle really got a good feeling about the city from his grad visit to CMU/Pitt. Good luck landing a position there!

  2. Jenna says:

    Hopefully you both can find a way to be happy there!

    So far, we’re enjoying our new city. It’s a bit more expensive than where we lived before, but still cheap for a big city. And it has big city stuff like cool meet-ups, a co-working space, and awesome museums. I don’t mind the weather either. I’ll take hot over cold any day.

    1. Emily says:

      Those sound like great features to me! There is a lot of MeetUp activity in Seattle, too. I’ve tried one so far and wasn’t WOWed so I’ll try a different group next. How are you doing with making friends/networking? It’s pretty challenging for us with Kyle having such a small number of co-workers and me (the one more willing to try to make friends) having none.

      1. Jenna says:

        Making friends/ networking is progressing. I’ve joined one meet up group, there’s the co-working space, about 50 people at B’s office, and 15 people in a class I’m taking. I feel like it’s still a matter of getting to know people so strangers become friends.

        Honestly, the coworking space helps a lot. I’m pretty extroverted, so I’m not happy at home all day. I’m more productive at the coworking space too.

        1. Emily says:

          Yeah working from home is a big hinderance for me in this regard, but I am so so happy with it otherwise. I’m highly productive and comfortable and time-efficient. I liked having coworkers, but I like not having them, too. I just need to push myself to get out of the house when there is a good reason to!

  3. Oh no! It’s too bad that you aren’t enjoying your city. I hope the opportunity arises that you’ll be able to move somewhere ideal for both of you. I imagine it’s difficult when you don’t enjoy where you live.

    1. Emily says:

      I shouldn’t leave you with the impression that it’s all bad. We just have a firm idea of what we want!

      How are you doing with all your moving? Are you happy to follow your husband’s positions? I feel a little silly being location independent but living in a high cost-of-living city I’m not crazy about. :/

  4. This post totally resonated with me! I can’t stand living in LA for all the reasons that people like living here. I’ll tolerate it for the rest of the time that I’m in grad school, but once I’m out, I’m gone, to a place in the “it’s worth it” quadrant.

    1. Emily says:

      I guess it’s a good thing that people have different preferences or we’d all end up living in the same city. 🙂

  5. Alice says:

    That’s how we feel too! It’s nice here, but the cost of living is just outrageous. It’s been two years and I still haven’t fully adjusted to the fact that the total cost of a nice house in NC is the down payment for an equivalent home (without a yard) here. We both love our jobs and have lots of room for advancement, so that is the redeeming factor to living in the Bay Area for now. I’m wondering at what point love of our jobs will be outweighed by the fact that this area is just not worth what it costs to live here (for us). No family within 2700 miles, very few friends in the area and very little time to meet anyone as we spend 2 hours in traffic every day and have a young child, ridiculously long commutes, $3200/month rent, child care per year costs (for just one kid!) more than two years of my undergrad degree, etc. And I actually want more rain! I can count on my fingers how many times its rained since I moved here, and it would be nice to see something green 😛

    1. Emily says:

      I think it’s really tough moving high-cost when you grow up in low-cost or mid-cost. The housing prices in high cost areas don’t really faze Kyle and me because of where we grew up – although SF prices are of course becoming otherwordly! It’s not like the money you spend on a home is lost, it’s just locked up. 🙂

      At least you do love your work and it’s a big component of your life right now. The career trajectory for you guys is good there, but can it be good elsewhere too? Or do you want to get to a certain stage there and then you’ll have more opportunities?

      1. Alice says:

        I’m sure it could be good elsewhere too! We love our companies, which both happen to be in the Bay Area. Maybe someday we could move again, but it would probably be after the baby-having, college savings potion of our lives (which may be when it would be most beneficial to live in a lower cost of living place!)

  6. Ugh, I hope that you find and finally settle in a good city soon, Emily. It is really hard and a hassle to transfer from one place to another because of its hidden costs. Good luck.

    1. Emily says:

      Yes, even with employers paying for the direct costs there is a lot of lost time and energy, plus time away from work.

  7. SarahN says:

    I have a few thoughts on your situation

    Your self employment isn’t covering your costs (ie life + savings needed for life you want in the future). You need to earn more, and this is a decision between more of what you’re doing, a different form of employment or moving (the latter not great cause of Kyle)

    Does this impact your ‘grad school finance’ talks? I’m sure you’ve had readers who read your blog and went ‘that’s fine, if you live in cheap Druham, but I live in Seattle’ (there’s students in every city) Essentially it’s about managing inputs (stipend, self employment money or paid 40hr week job) to desired output (rent, food and future savings).

    I’m sorry this city isn’t for you. That the weather and the cultural ‘big things’ aren’t yours. I’m glad you took the time to mention some of the good things in Seattle at the end too.

    1. Emily says:

      I’m not sure why you came to the conclusion you have because I haven’t shared my business income here yet. I decided not to pay myself until the end of the year, and our objective is to live on Kyle’s income alone. Sure, I’d like to be earning more, and if my income never improves I will get a job, but my business is growing month by month and I’m getting frequent positive reinforcement from (potential) clients.

      This post isn’t really about our income vs. our expenses or our bottom line; we’re doing fine with Kyle’s income. Seattle is a high cost-of-living city irrespective of an person’s income. This post is about value and preferences.

      I’m not sure why our move would change the content and message that I convey to graduate students. I don’t talk much about my personal situation. I totally agree that it’s up to each individual to manage her income vs. expenses, and both of those can vary widely among grad students. My objective is to meet students where they are with good information, frameworks, and motivation, not to tell them they can or should do exactly what I did during grad school financially.

      Yeah, I don’t want to give the impression that I think Seattle is terrible. (My comments about the native Seattlites were tongue-in-cheek!) We’ve had a good time so far. It’s just not what we’re looking for long-term. What I meant by saying that self-employment isn’t helping is really that working from home is keeping me a bit isolated from the city and I need to be more proactive about getting out into it. We are going to be here for a couple years (give or take), so I need to be better about finding ways to enjoy this time!

  8. Sara says:

    I can totally relate to not fitting in to your city. We’ve moved to the largest city near where L’s from and while lots of people absolutely love it here, it will never be better than “okay, I guess” for me. I’m comforted by the fact it isn’t a permanent move (till his mother retires?) and that we’ve both found positions that are marketable in the national economy rather than just regionally.

    I will say that my biggest current complaint is that the city (“city” if you ask me) amenities don’t match the current rental markets because people are snapping up summer residences rather than primary ones. Making acquaintances is easy here, but friends are tougher. I have a lot of really chummy co-workers who have become happy-hour friends, but not many that I would invite home or even call upon for a favor.

    I actually second PGH as a pretty ideal spot! I’d be happy in any bigger city in or east of Illinois – except Atlanta. That place needs to figure out its congestion issues!!

    1. Emily says:

      Hm, that stinks about the skewed housing market! But I guess that means there is something attractive about the city if it is a vacation destination? It’s great that you’re setting yourself up for your next move even now.

      I think Atlanta would be one of my preferred cities on the East Coast, actually… but only if I could still work from home!

  9. We went the other direction– expensive city we weren’t crazy about for grad school. Meh but inexpensive place for work.

    1. Emily says:

      I think there are real advantages to challenging yourself financially early like that! It makes the rest of your life seem like a cakewalk and you were already forced to develop great financial habits.

  10. SP says:

    I’ve moved from inexpensive+”meh”, to expensive+love to even-more-expensive+love. The first move was a shock to the budget, but I am glad I made it.

    The nice thing (for me) to think about is that if we are “making it” in an expensive city, we could always move and easily scale back costs. Although, maybe we never will. I don’t know. the point is to keep the margin between income and expenses as wide as possible.

    Moving in general was hard for me – adjusting takes time.

    1. Emily says:

      That’s true that no one is stuck in a high cost of living city! Whenever I meet people who used to live in San Diego I ask them why they left, and almost all the time it was because the cost of living was too high. I think I want to not give ourselves the option to move away, though, unless it really isn’t as good as we think it will be.

  11. I really miss Seattle. We didn’t really settle in with a group of friends here in Phoenix — at least, not once we stopped playing Magic. And I miss the abundant Asian food options. And the fact that everything isn’t spread out.

    And I didn’t mind the rain much. Yep, I was one of those people who got unnerved by too many sunny days.

    By the way, people like me say it’s not so bad because plenty of the days it rains, it’s still clear for a good chunk of the day.

    But we moved down here for my husband’s health. And it’s definitely been good for us. The sunshine and dry air is better for his skin and joints. It’s probably good for my depression, though I don’t go outside much since I work from home.

    We also wouldn’t be able to afford a house up there. Here we got a three bedroom plus guest house rambler — not huge but not bad — right before the housing market picked back up. Utilities are a bear, but all told we still only pay maybe $800 a month. Plus endless home repairs, of course.

    So it’s better for us here, but I’d love to live back up there again. My husband’s health just can’t handle it though. Nor, probably, could our budget.

    1. Emily says:

      There are pluses and minuses everywhere, for everyone, I guess! Is your husband able to visit Seattle in the summer?

      Yeah, the housing market here is pretty rough for buyers. I think we should get serious about starting to save for a down payment, even if we don’t try to buy for several years.

  12. NZ Muse says:

    I used to sometimes feel like it was a waste me living in NZ as I’m not a super outdoorsy person, and the environment is the best thing about living here.

    But the older I get the more I appreciate and crave nature! I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

    1. Emily says:

      I hope that I’ll grow into loving that aspect of the Seattle lifestyle as well! I already feel that way about water (L.A. is creepy to me in that respect!) and I hope that mountains will come next.

  13. Leah says:

    Football (and soccer) are recent cultural things in Seattle. I grew up there, but my family is from the midwest, so I’m not a lifer. I did find that many of my friends were completely rabid about Seattle, and they have refused to consider living anywhere else.

    For me, I did love living there. I like rain and wet weather. I love kayaking and hiking. I don’t mind the grey days. But other places fit the bill as well, which is how I found my way out to Minnesota. It’s got some Seattle-like days and is quite a bit colder but is nice and WAY cheaper.

    I do still miss Seattle. Right now, my husband and I visit once or twice a year; my parents live in Portland, so it’s not too terribly expensive to combine visits. But once they retire and move back to the midwest, I’ll likely go a long time between visits. I will be sad; Seattle really is a lovely city. But I too don’t want to live there permanently.

    I will say that there are four million things to do in Seattle, so you should find something to do that floats your boat. I only lived there for a year post-college so actually know very little about adult life there. I spent time in Phinney Ridge doing contra dancing, and that was my favorite thing during that year at home. Good luck!

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