Ask the grumpies: To move or not to move?

To move or not to move asks:

My husband and I have been talking about moving from the city where I did my PhD to my hometown. This move would result in us going more than halfway across the country.

We have two kids (baby and toddler).

Here are the factors we’re considering:


–          My husband has a very well paying, fairly secure job that he enjoys for the most part.

–          I am currently on maternity leave, but the position was a contract position and it ends before my maternity leave ends.  I do not have a job to go back to, and am looking at a career change.  My latest position was not a post-doc, but it was related to my PhD field.  Unfortunately, my PhD field is one in which there are not that many obvious direct paths from academia to industry, but it’s also freeing in that there’s no just one part of the country that has all the jobs related to my PhD.

–          Neither of us has job prospects in hometown at the moment (though we’re always looking).


–          We don’t have family or many close friends in PhD city. In hometown, we’d automatically have family (my parents, brother/his wife, aunt/uncle, cousin, grandmother) and close friends nearby – it would be an instant support system that we don’t have here.

–          Hometown is also closer to husband’s family (next state over instead of across the country) – makes for easier and less expensive visits.


–          We love our house and neighborhood in PhD city. We don’t love PhD city or the area of the country, but it’s okay. It seems to be a good place to raise a young family.

–          Hometown is an amazing city with lots to do in and nearby.

–          Weather in PhD city is better overall – milder/shorter winters, warmer/long spring/summer/falls (winters in  hometown is what bothers husband the most).

Cost of living

–          So much more reasonable in PhD city. We bought our house in PhD city for $250K, and the equivalent in an equivalent neighborhood in hometown would be about $700K-$1M.

So, my questions are:

–          How in the world do we make this decision?

–          What factors are the most important? Are we missing any?

–          If we do decide to move, what factors needs to be taken care of beforehand?

Wow, that’s a lot of discussion.  It’s hard for us to advise you on this decision because we have always moved for the job.  That’s why we’re both living in red states where we get to choose between the libertarian candidate and the tea-party Republican.  Fun times.  But most people stay close to home and family and support networks, so it’s not like you’re talking crazy talk.

Ultimately this is a very personal decision.  We’d advise you to make a list of pros and cons like you’ve done, but only you can weigh the job uncertainty vs. the desire to move back near family vs. the weather, etc.

Just straight off, it’s hard to see a good reason to move to PhD city without employment in place.  Your DH likes his job and doesn’t have a new one lined up and the new city is really expensive.  Unless you’re independently wealthy, there could be some pretty strong risks to moving without a job.  Even though it’s usually easier to find a new job in a city after you’ve moved there.  But you two should definitely both keep seeking out employment opportunities in Hometown– once there’s an actual job you’ll be able to do actual salary vs. cost of living vs. happiness calculations.  If your DH hated his job, then there would be more reason to jump ship without a backup plan in place, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.  Still, you may weigh other factors (like family) heavier in your decision and be less risk averse than we are.  Also #1 hates winters too.

#2 adds:  If you don’t hate PhDCity and are just homesick, then stay put.  If you hate PhDCity, which it doesn’t sound like you do, it might be worth moving anyway.  Really though the two of you need to do more research about job options before we can give more solid advice– the job is a big missing piece, especially if PhDCity is the cheap place to live.  You would have to get HELLA free childcare and HELLA cheaper travel to family to make up for the COL increase.

Factors:  Get jobs.  Get a decent rental you can stand.  Childcare.  Vaccinations.  Find schools.  Find a new pediatrician.  Consider your cars/pets.  Moving is the very very worst.  You may find cheaper rates in the off-season (not summer).  Moving across the country will make you nuts.

Grumpy Nation, surely you can give a better response here than we did.  Help 2mon2m out!

20 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: To move or not to move?”

  1. amandacaves Says:

    Sounds to me like they own a house in Ph.D. City. I would not sell a house and move to a more expensive area without a job lined up, however fabulous the family and friend network. I’d be too worried about things going sideways financially.

  2. Perpetua Says:

    I wouldn’t even move from a more expensive city to a cheaper one without at least one job lined up. so, yes, job is #1. After that (assuming job offer is at a job that looks great, good pay to make up for some of the COL increases, moving expense support) then the rest is easier to deal with. Personally, I’ve always preferred living in places with a lower COL – for me that equals an increase in quality of life, even if the place is less dynamic than a big expensive city. But being near family is very important, especially with kids in the mix. My advice would be to start applying for jobs like crazy in the hometown city and see what happens. I’ve moved a *lot* so I don’t think moving sucks. It takes energy and organization, but it’s manageable, as a process, as long as the financial part is sorted.

  3. Linda Says:

    Cities with higher COL usually provide higher pay to balance that out. Usually. Of course you just won’t know until DH actually gets some job offers, though. Keep looking and applying.

    • jlp Says:

      I agree that cities with higher COL usually provide higher pay; however, I would be careful about saying that it necessarily balances out.

      My family is also considering a move, and (as an example) I have recently discovered that the pay for jobs in my field in Cold Midwestern City (CMC) = X and the pay for jobs in my field in the SFBA ~= 1.2X, which is not even close to covering the difference in COL. (As one example, I know of a 2bed/1ba ~1000 sqft house in Berkeley that recently sold for around $800k; looks like something similar in CMC would be around $60k.) My husband and I recently did the math, and it looks like I would have to be paid at least 2X for it to be equivalent to live in the bay area. (Just in terms of COL – obviously, there are other potential issues.)

      If you look at (or similar), you should be able to get at least a general idea of salary options for hometown, and see how that compares to your current salary and the COL difference. Then you can decide if it is worth paying that much for additional contact with family, etc.

      Here is one factor I do not see you mention (but perhaps that’s because you know it is equivalent between PhD city and hometown), and that is the cost of schools for your kids. If we were in the bay area, we would feel it was necessary to send our (outlier) kids to private school. In contrast, in CMC there are multiple (!) appropriate schools (at least, on paper – we’re going to visit soon to see what they look like in person).

      One other thought: when I had a baby and a toddler, I had family support, and it was fantastic, so I can understand why you want that. It was so hard to get out of the house to meet people and develop a support network at that time. However, both kids are now in preschool, and a short three years later, the family support – while wonderful – is not nearly as logistically important as it was the previous three years. (Of course, for emotional/social reasons, it is still great to be near family.) Plus, it is easier to meet and make friends. Just one other thing to consider.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Agree with the now the kids are older thing–we have so many activities (with DC1’s classmate’s parents) that I wonder why we were so desperate for play dates when ze was DC2’s age.

        Still, we do visit DH’s family a lot. Of course, usually I end up doing all the childcare for DC2 on these visits because DC1 is so much more interesting (by virtue of being 5 years older). So my net gain is negative in terms of childcare (usually DH and DC1 shoulder some of the care at home).

  4. Leah Says:

    I’m in the same camp. I don’t move without a job. Maybe if they could move in with family to save on living expenses while they look for a job, but I wouldn’t buy a house or anything without a job possibility. I am pretty risk-averse.

    One of my friends loves to just take a leap, and it has always worked out for her and her husband. She usually gets a job pretty quick after moving. But they are also great go-getters. They’re also both semi-pro photographers who have done lots of weddings, so they know they have a fall-back option if the jobs don’t come soon enough.

  5. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I just heard from a reader who moved closer to friends/family. They decided they really wanted to move and were going to make it happen BUT they both still did a very intense job search in the new location before they moved. If you’re flexible on what you’ll do for a living generally it’s possible to find something. If you’re really desperate to move, as long as one of you finds something decent, the other will likely land something within a reasonable time frame (and the hunt might be easier from the new locale).

  6. First Gen American Says:

    Yes…job first, plus some companies offer relocation expenses.

    I had a close friend move back to this area without the financial stuff in place and it was extremely stressful for them. It took a year to get a job and they wiped out their savings in the process. It put a lot of stress on them that could have been avoided if they pursued the job first. They also didn’t sell their house before moving so they were also paying double housing expenses. It was purely an emotional decision to pick up and move and once the dust settled, they realized what a mistake it was to go in head first without having their ducks in a row.

    Family is important and being close to them is a priority for us but we wouldn’t do it until jobs were in place first.

    I would think the high COL city would have lots of jobs. That’s usually the main reason they are expensive.

  7. chacha1 Says:

    Job trumps family ties, IMO. There are two kids to consider. Giving up a steady income because people want to see the baby more often, or for “free” babysitting (it’s never free) would be nuts.

    Sounds to me like Mom is just feeling insecure and not knowing what she wants to do next (which I can certainly understand) but Dad is relatively content where he is. You like the house, the neighborhood, and the weather? I would stay put and save money in the lower-COL locale while figuring out the Next.

    And find some other things to love about PhD city or the nearest bigger city. It’s easy to remember just the good stuff about Hometown because hey, it’s Hometown. But a 300% increase in COH (cost of housing) is highly unlikely to be accompanied by a 300% increase in QOL (quality of life).

  8. Debbie M Says:

    Yep, pricier, colder, and no job lined up sounds scary to me.

    Maybe it makes more sense to focus on making more friends in PhD city. Of course it’s not as easy once you’re a grown-up and out of school, but there are meet ups, mom’s-day-out things, church groups, book clubs, informal classes, bowling leagues, etc. And once your kids are in school, you might find yourself making friends with the parents of some of their new friends.

    Also, it’s fun to try to get your friends and family to move to your new town. Also, host them on visits–just make up occasions to celebrate like birthdays, first days of school, and Friday the 13th. If it’s not easy for others to stay with you and your small kids, scout out the nearest good hotels or bed-and-breakfasts or whatever they might like. And even though you’re not a big fan of your current city in general, seek out the cool touristy stuff. (My sister lives near one of the best children’s museums in the country; even my parents have some good disc golf courses nearby–built in the flood plains, but good when it’s not been raining.) Meanwhile, it’s a lot easier to stay in touch nowadays with things like Skype and Facebook and e-mails.

  9. anon - this time! Says:

    ooh – I could have almost written this except for the following differences – we are currently expecting child #1 & one of us has a TT job, otherwise everything is pretty much the same.

    We just moved back to hometown from TT City and couldn’t be happier. For us, the quality of life and proximity to beloved family was more than worth the painful COL increase. Free baby sitting and cheap travel was much less of a factor than being able to have quality time with family.

    It took about 2.5 years of steady job searching, networking and even turning down a hometown TT job with a too-low salary for us to finally land on one satisfactory job in Hometown. Once we had the first job lined up, we sold our (very large, very lovely) house and made the move. And yes moving cross country is the worst.

    We had a couple of things lined up that made us feel more comfortable making this move – One of us already had a job in hometown, we had about 5 months living expenses in cash saved up, and we have enough for a down payment (and can afford the mortgage) on one of these extremely overpriced homes in hometown.

    If both you and your husband are committed, I would encourage you to start job searching and networking in hometown – its not for everyone, but we are very happy with our choice.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Wow! A lot of our readers are currently expecting! (I think you’re #3, and your story doesn’t match the other two, to my knowledge). Congratulations whoever you are!

      • Leah Says:

        I’m expecting, but that’s not me :-) I am currently waging the campaign to get my parents to move closer to us. They grew up in the midwest, so there’s more other family within a day’s drive of us than of my parents in their current location. No luck yet, but maybe once the kid pops out. My campaign is really just to get them to retire near us, as we are lower CO than where they currently live.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I was counting you! And Cheese and Responsibility. :)

      • Leah Says:

        yay for being counted!

    • Rented life Says:

      That’s how we moved! Husband had job lined up, and I saved like mad to help offset while I looked. We rented though-super crappy first year until we could afford an upgrade.

  10. Rented life Says:

    We’ve done every version of this–move for jobs, move without jobs, move when one has a job and other doesn’t, move to/from family/more expensive area, etc. The biggest thing is don’t move without at least one of you having a job lined up. It’s not always feasible for both of you to have jobs lined up but it’s hell when both of you don’t have jobs in place. That was the worst move to date for us.

    Our last move was made to be closer to friends/family. Sad reality, after having been away, even for a short while, it was harder to rekindle some of that support system to the degree we had originally expected. So I suggest being realistic. Support is nice, but people change over time, have other commitments, and so on, so what you imagine you might have and it’s reality could be two different things. I have support from my family, but it’s not of the same nature as it would have been if we hadn’t moved away and back. Not bad, just different. It’s good to be near them again (I have my shopping buddy back-mom!) but there were also advantages to my husband and I having to be our own support system.

    I’d say do lots of research–what do you NEED to make, where can you afford to live in hometown to start, what will your new budget be like, etc.

    • anon - this time! Says:

      This last part was big for us – we did lots of research on what salaries we needed to make, what type of house we would be able to afford and where, etc etc.

  11. Anon3 Says:

    We live far from our families and often wonder whether we would be better off closer, the help we’d have etc…but even if it sounds selfish, we are away from family dramas, free to rise our kids as we want, and other issues that may arise if living in closer proximity. My family also say “oh if you were closer we would see you more”, but in reality that may not be the case. If moving for childcare, will your family really be willing to commit to that, will your friends/family still be wanting to meet up once the sheen of you moving back has worn off – after all they all have their own lives without you right now – will you just slot in?
    I have 3 kids under 3, and like you am unemployed with contract ending with end of mat leave, and needing to change career direction, without family support, but there’s no way I’d consider moving from where I am now (and we don’t even need to consider selling a house!) as my DH has a stable job he enjoys and the quality of life is better here.

    • Rosa Says:

      Yeah, I used to be envious of people whose parents/siblings were geographically closer, for the helpfulness…and then some friends who are geographically close to their family (many of my husband’s high school friends live within a few miles of their whole families of origin – parents, siblings, & in-laws) but have unhelpful or even anti-helpful families had kids.

      Sometimes grandma likes the idea of having grandchildren around all the time but in the actual instance she has a very busy life and not any time for the grandkids. Or she becomes too frail to actually do any childcare, and then you’re the closest/most responsible kid to take care of her on top of your kids. Or, worse, she’s the kind of mom who randomly drops by to cause chaos and load all her woes on you and promises to reciprocate with childcare but then flakes out so much you can’t actually depend on it.

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