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Where Should We Live? – 15 Factors with Resources to Help Newlyweds Decide Where to Live

Updated: Feb 8


One of the most significant decisions of our lives is choosing where to live after marriage. For young married couples, the search for where to begin a new chapter in life that seamlessly blends vibrant opportunities with reasonable living expenses can be daunting.


This comprehensive post is the go-to guide for newly married couples to make an informed decision. Included are data-rich interactives that allow couples to dive deeply into the specifics of different choices.


Table of contents


Be flexible

Use the right data to decide


We took significant time to pull together the resources couples need for each primary factor in deciding where to live because most articles are clickbait for readers, with headlines about the cost of living from one state to another not uncommon. But this information is useless. You need much more information.


A good place to start is using the DataUSA tool.


There is no better place to explore detailed public data. Within seconds, you can dive into the finer details of nearly any community in the United States to decide whether you want to invest the time to look more closely at living there. Below is a brief screen recording of what the data looks like.



1. Career advancement opportunities


Cities across the United States host a myriad of specialized careers, with professionals gravitating towards specific urban hubs for optimal industry engagement.

Economic factors, such as access to essential infrastructure and financial resources, drive the concentration of finance and technology careers in cities like New York and San Francisco. The prevalence of research institutions and healthcare facilities in cities like Boston and Houston aligns with the clustering of medical and scientific professions.


These are only two examples of career fields geographically clustered, making it easier for folks in these career fields to have more opportunities by living in these areas. You can see this trend by peaking at this interactive map, which illustrates the most disproportionately popular job by metro area.


The point is that it’s worth taking the time to understand if there is an area of the country to live where your career is best suited.


2. Commute / Public transportation


Several cities in the United States are known for having robust and efficient public transportation systems. Cities like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., consistently rank among the top in terms of their comprehensive transit networks.

We hosted Rudy Salo on the Modern Husbands Podcast, the Transportation writer at Forbes. He dives into the details of the topic.



Resources to help newlyweds decide where to live

Comparing public transportation costs and owning a car involves various factors, including location, usage, and individual preferences. The upshot of living in an urban area with robust public transportation is avoiding the significant expense of owning a car.


Public transportation


Public transportation costs vary by city and usage but typically include fares for buses, trains, subways, and other transit modes.

An individual might spend around $2 to $3 per one-way trip using public transportation. Depending on the city, Monthly passes can range from $70 to $120. Annual costs could total around $800 to $1,500, accounting for occasional trips.


Vehicle ownership


Owning a car encompasses multiple expenses beyond the vehicle's purchase price. These include insurance, fuel, maintenance, parking fees, and depreciation.

According to AAA's annual "Your Driving Costs" study, the average annual cost of owning a new car in 2021 was around $9,666. This includes costs like insurance ($1,202), fuel ($1,250), maintenance and repairs ($918), and depreciation ($3,451).

The True Cost of Ownership Calculator can provide vehicle-specific comprehensive expense information.


 


 

3. Climate


The United States offers diverse climates, and what constitutes a "favorable" living climate can vary based on individual preferences. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) interactive climate map allows you to see in detail the weather conditions throughout any area of the United States at any time in the year.



4. Crime and safety


Crime tends to concentrate within specific pockets of cities, as observed through analyses conducted by law enforcement agencies and criminology researchers. These pockets, commonly called "crime hotspots," are characterized by higher incidences of criminal activities compared to surrounding areas.


The interactive below allows you to dive into the safety of specific areas.



5. Culture


The United States is a melting pot of diverse cultures, each contributing to the nation's vibrant social fabric. American culture varies widely across regions, from the bustling streets of New York City to the tranquil landscapes of the Midwest.


On the East Coast, particularly in cities like New York and Boston, there's a fast-paced, cosmopolitan lifestyle influenced by historical immigration patterns.


The West Coast, epitomized by cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, embraces a more laid-back and diverse atmosphere fueled by its proximity to the Pacific and the entertainment industry.


In the South, states such as Texas and Louisiana embody a rich blend of Southern hospitality, culinary traditions, and cultural heritage.


The Midwest emphasizes strong community bonds, with cities like Chicago and Minneapolis known for their industrial history and friendly inhabitants.


You do not need to leave the United States to experience different cultures. The best way to understand whether a different culture fits you is to visit the area.


6. Education


I spent 15 years in the classroom. If you plan to have children, where you send them to school is consequential.


America loves to use numbers and scores, but education is messy. It's much harder to quantify. There are "highly ranked" schools that do a mediocre job, and there are "poorly ranked" schools that do a good job. How and what is measured often misses the mark, and the education inequities in the United States are significant because of how we fund and measure schools.


Ironically, when schools in the United States are ranked against other nations, we do not score well on the aggregate. The results are skewed because the Chinese are selective in who is assessed; the remainder of the rankings are more valid. Over the past 30 years, Finland has always been at the top.

As a former Milken National Educator of the Year, I was invited to attend a policy event where, among many presentations, one group shared the systemic differences between the United States and other countries. What stood out to me was the strikingly different approach between Finland and the United States. And Finland's approach is the preferred approach among most educators in the classroom.

As you review what sets them apart, remember that you can look for these traits in the public schools you are considering for your children.

Finland


Teacher Quality and Training: Finland places a strong emphasis on teacher quality. Teachers are required to have master's degrees and undergo rigorous training. This investment in teacher preparation ensures that educators are highly qualified and committed to their profession.


Focus on Equity: Finland is committed to providing an equitable education for all students. Schools receive equitable funding, and there is minimal disparity in resource allocation among schools. This focus on equity helps reduce the achievement gap and ensures that all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, have access to high-quality education.


Minimal Standardized Testing: Finland has significantly fewer standardized tests than many other countries. Instead, they prioritize a holistic approach to assessment, including teacher evaluations and a focus on individualized learning and student well-being. This approach reduces stress and encourages a more relaxed learning environment.

Play-Based Learning: Finnish education values play and student well-being. Young students are given ample time for unstructured play, which is believed to foster creativity and social skills. This approach helps create a positive and engaging learning environment.

Emphasis on Teacher Autonomy: Finnish teachers have more autonomy in designing their curriculum and teaching methods. This autonomy allows them to tailor their instruction to the needs of their students and fosters innovation in the classroom.

Shorter School Days and Less Homework: Finnish students have shorter school days and less homework than other countries. This approach aims to balance learning and personal time, reducing student stress and burnout.


High Social Status of Teachers: Teaching is highly respected in Finland, and teachers enjoy a strong social status. This respect for educators helps attract top talent to the profession and motivates teachers to excel in their roles.


Resources and ideas to help you find the best school for your children

First, put very little weight on the rankings awarded by most sites you run into when doing a Google search. It's a scam. Many of those sites are owned directly or have data reported by real estate companies. Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post did a very good job covering the sham in her article What to know before using school ratings tools from real estate companies.

Second, affluent areas will have the highest-rated schools, but that does not mean they are the best schools. It's no secret that SAT scores, a standardized test, correlate with socioeconomic status. After all, most criteria used to rank schools are based on a series of standardized tests.


As parents, you should dig deeper than the ranking on a website. This is the criteria I used to evaluate schools for my own children.


District wide criteria

Funding

Money does not solve every problem, but let's not pretend as if it doesn't make a substantial difference. Well-funded schools have a competitive advantage in hiring top teachers, continually updating the campus, and providing the best support resources.

Below is the U.S. Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education funding data in an interactive map. You can quickly search for the per-pupil funding of any public school in the United States.



School leadership (administration/school board)


  • Evident by low teacher turnover

  • Highly educated

  • Strong roots in the school or community

  • Stands up to political nonsense and conspiracy theories

District Wide Criteria


  • Appropriate student-to-teacher ratio (class size)

    • Grades K-4: 10:1 or lower

    • Grades 5-8: 15:1 or lower

    • Grades 9-12: 25:1 or lower

  • High educated staff: 50% or greater with an M.Ed.

  • An inclusive, safe, and welcoming environment for all students

  • Ethnic and racial diversity

  • Positive school climate

  • Foreign language classes beginning in Kindergarten

  • Social and emotional learning programs

  • Dedicated support for low, moderate-income students

  • A vehicle for student input into their own education

  • Competitive athletics programs

  • Robust K-12 arts and music program

  • Gifted programs and opportunities

  • Well-staffed special education program

  • Personal Finance high school class requirement

  • No or minimal homework in grades K-6

  • Evidence of interdisciplinary activities/lessons

  • Global engagement programs

  • Evidence of dedicated programming highlighting respect for Veterans

  • Effective parent communication

  • ACT/SAT median scores aligned with expectations based on socioeconomics

Upper School / High School


  • Course offerings

    • AP classes

    • IB program

    • Wide variety of electives

  • College and trade school matriculation rates

    • Note of consideration: four year college is not for every child. Some "highly ranked" schools neglect to provide pathways to students who want to pursue a trade or employment immediately after graduating.

  • After school club and activities

  • Low student to guidance counselor ratio

  • Dedicated college counseling program or counselors

  • Job shadowing and career mentoring program

  • 1:1 program with quality tech and intentional classroom instruction integration


7. Housing affordability


Living in an area with affordable housing is paramount for numerous reasons. Affordable housing promotes economic stability and social well-being, allowing individuals and families to allocate a reasonable portion of their income to housing expenses, leaving more room for savings investment in education, healthcare, and other essential needs.

Do not assume that purchasing a home is a better financial decision than renting. There are several factors to consider. Read our previous article Should I Buy or Rent a House? If you cannot decide between buying or renting a home.

Financial experts recommend spending less than a third of your net pay on your monthly rent or mortgage payments. The less you commit monthly, the more financial flexibility you will have to manage problems or seize on opportunities.


 


Avoid a scary start to your marriage by talking about these 14 marriage topics. How many have you discussed?

 

The cost of renting

Before looking for a place to rent, look at what you should expect to pay in the area where you are considering living.



The cost of buying

The interactive below can provide a quick overview of the salary needed to purchase the median home in cities across the country. The tool is intended only as a rule of thumb. Establish a budget and explore specific areas to better understand what you can afford.



For more information, read our previous post, Choosing where to live with your spouse.


8. Political stability and safety


I'm hopeful that the uptick in the political weaponization of minority groups comes to an end, and fast. Sadly, some LGBTQ families no longer feel safe or welcomed in states that have passed laws targeting their community. Many have or are contemplating moving.


Fiscally sound state governments should also be a consideration. I have found that the media seems to distort the truth of certain states to pacify the confirmation biases of their viewership. When deciding where to live you need to cut through the noise to understand what you are getting into.


Click here for the 2023 Fiscal Survey of the States, which includes projections in years ahead.



9. Proximity to a major airport


Living near a major airport increases the number of direct flight opportunities. You realize how important this is if you frequently travel. What you pay to fly is also important. Here is a list of the most expensive and cheapest airports in the United States in 2023, according to CNBC.


The most expensive airports in the U.S.


Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC)

Dane County Regional Airport (MSN)

Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)

Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP)

Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM)

Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO)

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

Pensacola International Airport (PNS)

Portland International Airport (PDX)


The cheapest airports in the U.S.


Metro Oakland International Airport (OAK)

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)

Bob Hope Airport (BUR)

Orlando International Airport (MCO)

Kahului Airport (OGG)

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA)

Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)

Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR)

Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB)

St. Pete Clearwater International Airport (PIE)


10. Proximity to friends and family


Robert Waldinger is an American psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. He gained significant recognition as the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. Waldinger and his team have studied hundreds of men for over 80 years to understand what leads to a fulfilling and meaningful existence.


What did they find?


Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. If you're surrounded by many happy people who are close friends, you're more likely to become happy in the future. But with a twist.


A friend who lives within a mile and who becomes happy increases the probability that you will be happy by 25 percent. And ...


The farther away the friend lives, and the more that time passes during which they live farther away, the less happy you will be as a result of their happiness.


So if you're deciding where to live after marriage, the lesson is this:


Happiness is directly related to the strength of your friendships and hows close you live to them.

 


 

11. Proximity to your favorite activities


Living near activities you and your partner enjoy offers many advantages that significantly enhance your quality of life.


Research has found that living near your favorite activities promotes a healthier and more active lifestyle, as it encourages regular engagement in recreational activities, be it sports, the arts, cultural events, or hobbies.


It fosters a strong sense of community and social connection, as you will likely meet like-minded individuals who share your interests. And, of course, it allows for convenience and time savings, as you can easily partake in your preferred pastimes without long commutes or logistical hassles.


Some activities that give us joy aren't as apparent as others. The interactive below can serve as a great conversation starter with your partner and generate new ideas.


12. State and local taxes


State and local governments in the United States collect taxes through various means, including sales, property, and income taxes. How states tax can create a sneaky hole in your budget and disproportionately make living more expensive.


States with no or low-income taxes tend to benefit high-income earners more than low-income earners, who benefit from regressive taxes, such as a sales tax. That is because regressive taxes, such as flat or sales taxes, decrease tax rates as the taxable base (such as income or consumption) increases. Here is an example.


John and Jackie earned $100,000 last year. They spent $10,000 in the state on items such as food, and the sales tax is 10%. They paid $1,000 in sales tax. That is 1% of their income.


Matt and Tami earned $1,000,000 last year. They spent $10,000 in the state on items such as food, and the sales tax is 10%. They paid $1,000 in sales tax. That is only .001% of their income.


Click the map below for an interactive that illustrates all of the different tax types and rates (minus state income taxes) for each state in the United States.



On the other hand, progressive income taxes can place a greater tax burden on higher-income individuals. These taxes are intended to ensure that those with higher incomes pay a larger share of their income in taxes.


Misunderstandings about how progressive income taxes work are common. As an example, if you live in California where the top marginal state tax rate is 13.3%, you are not paying 13.3% of your income in state income taxes. Middle income earners who take the standard deduction are only paying a fraction of that amount.


 


 

Click the maps below for interactives that illustrate all of the different tax types and rates for each state in the United States.



 

Related reading: How marriage affects taxes


 

13. Urban, suburban, or rural


I grew up in small rural Ohio. I loved it and consider myself blessed. We started raising our family in Cincinnati, Ohio, and recently moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Both cities we enjoyed. From experience, there are advantages and disadvantages to rural, urban, and suburban America.


Those living in densely populated urban centers can access various cultural and entertainment options, diverse cuisines, and an active social life. Due to the concentration of businesses and industries, job opportunities are often more abundant, and public transportation systems are generally more developed.


Rural areas offer peace and quiet. Along with a slower lifestyle, living costs are often much lower, and simple living is less stressful. You're typically giving up in-person job opportunities, public transportation systems, and various schools to choose from.


While access to certain amenities, healthcare facilities, and job opportunities may be limited compared to urban areas, rural residents often benefit from a slower pace. Further, those who enjoy the excitement and energy of a busy city may not enjoy the rural lifestyle.


 


Avoid a scary start to your marriage by talking about these 15 money and marriage topics. How many have you discussed?


 

14. Traffic


Traffic is the opposite of fun.

Lots of traffic leads to scheduling chaos, more challenges meeting commitments away from work, wasted time, and the added cost of travel. For those considering a larger home for a longer drive in a metropolitan area, do not underestimate the value of your time.

Research has found that the farther you travel during your commute, the more adversely your heart health, weight, and blood pressure will be affected. And every hour you spend in the car increases the risk of cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity.

Click the interactive map below to access a city ranking list with details of traffic congestion. Most importantly, use mobile traffic maps to fully understand the commute from locations you are seriously considering.



15. Travel


Some save for a lifetime to retire and travel, but why wait?


The science is clear, experiences make us happier than possessions. Do not feel compelled to settle down before you have to.


The new world of remote work opens the opportunity for many of us to live anywhere in the world. And if you don't have kids, you can travel the world while you work!


Be flexible


Always be open to pivoting. Career opportunities may arise in a city that you don't necessarily love.


If that happens, create a game plan on how long you will stay there for work and try to follow it. If your spouse has an excellent opportunity in another city, the plan should include strategies that will allow both to continue fostering their marriage while building their professional careers.


Zo and Aliyha Amani faced similar circumstances, which Aliyha spoke about in our popular Modern Husbands Podcast episode Supporting Your Spouse: Part 1.



 

Learn More


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