How comfortably can a family of four live in silicon valley on a single income of $150-160k/year?
May 10, 2012 5:13 PM   Subscribe

How comfortably can a family of four live in Silicon Valley on a single income of $150-160k/year?

40/married/2 kids

I'm being recruited by a Palo Alto company. While I'm excited for the potential of working for this company, and the other intangibles that exist by living in the valley, I'm intimidated by what I hear about the cost of living.

I currently live in the Southeast US and do pretty well considering the local market. I also own my (modest) home outright. If I had to sell my curent home, to move, I dont think I would get more than $175k for it considering the local housing market.

I made a commitment to my family that we would live within our means so that my wife would never have to work unless she truly wanted to (she doesn't and I'm OK with that).

Before I expend the company's(as well as my own) time and money to fly out and interview for this position, I need to consider whether or not this relocation is worth it. I'm currently working for a great company with terrific pay and awesome benefits and am not actively looking for new work. The only reason I would consider this company is #1 they're amazing and #2 they would relocate my family.

The allure of the valley is very, very enticing considering I don't live in an area with a strong tech scene. Additionally, considering my background and my skillset, finding work has never really be an issue - I'm fortunate that what I do is currently in very high demand. However, I don't want to turn down what could be an amazing opportunity.

I question how sustainable living in the area is on a single income of about $150k. I'd like to understand more about home ownership, schools, etc. I'm unfamiliar with the area. Is it ethical to be flown to the interview knowing I have doubts about comfortably living there?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (43 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer the rest of the question, but I can answer this part with certainty: Is it ethical to be flown to the interview knowing I have doubts about comfortably living there?

Yes. Absolutely.
posted by hot soup at 5:23 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

You will not be comfortable on $150K with four kids.

Even if you live in San Jose, a 4 bedroom house starts around 800K, and goes up steeply from there if you want a good school district. 4 bedrooms in Palo Alto start at around 1.4 million.

The Silicon Valley economy has regular injections of IPO money, which inflate prices of real estate to levels unattainable by regular old wage earning.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:25 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Definitely ethical to go to the interview. It's you checking them and the location out as much as them deciding about you.

Re: Sustainability, since this in anonymous you might as well let us know what you are making now. Sure it'll be possible to live comfortably on 150k a year, whether it will be a step down from your current conditions is hard to say without knowing what you are making and (roughly) where you are making it.
posted by pseudonick at 5:26 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ethical to go on the interview.

But, no. You cannot live on $150k in that area of the country without being exceptionally frugal and making sacrifices about school district.
posted by k8t at 5:28 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Part of the reason for the interview is to figure out whether you would like to work there, which definitely includes living in the area. If you're considering a major relocation, it is not uncommon for a company to hook you up with a realtor for the afternoon to learn about the area and look at houses for sale. When my husband was looking for work a few years ago a couple of the places he was looking even flew me (the wife) and our daughter out with him so we could check the area out.
posted by jeoc at 5:29 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

(And you do need to pay attention to the school district - a friend of mine moved to San Jose enticed by the cheap(er) real estate, didn't vet the school carefully, and wound up having to homeschool because the kid didn't feel safe there and she couldn't afford a private school.) But the good school districts are in such high demand that they push the home prices way higher than comparable homes in crummy districts.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:29 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

You will not be comfortable on $150K with four kids.

He or she has 2 kids, not 4.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 5:30 PM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Sorry, I misread. If you are ok with a 3 bedroom, they start in Palo Alto at about 1.1 million. In San Jose you could maybe find something acceptable around the 600K mark, but not in a good school district. Your commute would be between 45 mins to an hour+.

The Facebook IPO is going to make it worse, certainly for Palo Alto and the surrounding area; the effect might not go as far south as San Jose.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:34 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Plan to rent, not buy. Seconding what others have said about school districts. Bad CA schools are REALLY bad, but there are good ones to be found. Private school is a nonstarter at that pay grade.
posted by libraryhead at 5:36 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

How far are you willing to commute?
posted by salvia at 5:36 PM on May 10, 2012

How okay are you with commutes and rural mountain or rural coastal living? Because if you were willing to do up to an hour's commute, you could live in the Santa Cruz mountains or somewhere along the coast like Half Moon Bay, get a quite nice amount of property, and send your kids to the rural schools. Which, while they're not feeders into Stanford like Palo Alto High is, are usually perfectly decent and safe.
posted by cairdeas at 5:38 PM on May 10, 2012

I think it's doable for our family of 5, however we rent a house instead of own one. MeMail me if you want more details.
posted by zsazsa at 5:41 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

The house price comments, to me, are not the point. You probably want to rent at that level, which is much cheaper.

And you don't want to live in Palo Alto, most likely. Sunnyvale / Santa Clara area would be (to me) a quite reasonable commute and a lot cheaper.

I know nothing about school districts, though. But if you live a little ways away and rent, it seems plausible to me.

Palo Alto / Atherton is way more expensive than the surrounding area.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:42 PM on May 10, 2012

Renting a 3 bedroom place in any of the towns near Palo Alto starts at around $3k/month. For nice places, around $5k/month. You can lower this by commuting from further away. Check Craigslist to get an idea.

Re property on the coast as suggested above, no, you cannot buy livable property on the coast for the $175k you said you'd get for selling your house.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:47 PM on May 10, 2012

Re property on the coast as suggested above, no, you cannot buy livable property on the coast for the $175k you said you'd get for selling your house.

No, just to be clear, this is true. I am just saying you get way, way, way more for your money propertywise in many places on the coastal side of the mountains than you would in Silicon Valley, and especially in Palo Alto.
posted by cairdeas at 5:50 PM on May 10, 2012

> And you don't want to live in Palo Alto, most likely. Sunnyvale / Santa Clara area would be (to me) a quite reasonable commute and a lot cheaper.

wildcrdj is right about palo alto/atherton: they are crazy expensive. for renting, you might want to look in the redwood city/san carlos/burlingame area, as going from santa clara/san jose on 101N in the morning is kind of insane. 280 is better, but it might not be by much, and depending on which side of whatever town you live on, it can be a pain to get to either freeway. (i, for instance, live much closer to the 101 onramp than the 280 onramp - plus, taking 280 adds about 5-7 miles to my commute. but if you have to be somewhere south of the peninsula before 10, it's worth it).

i go on 101S every morning from my home to my job. i go against traffic, which is better, but not completely awesome, but 101N (between santa clara/sunnyvaleish and rwc/san carlos, anyway) is a parking lot every damn morning until probably 1030 or later. i would definitely do south commuting rather than north, if that's an option. you can always take ECR, but the lights and timings make it not at all worth it. it depends on when you would need to be at the office, as well.

there are always cheap (comparatively, anyway) rentals in places like half moon bay and pacifica, mostly because it's kind of a pain in the ass to get anywhere outside of those enclaves. daly city seems to be a little cheaper than the surrounding areas, but i have no clue why.

i am sadly the wrong person to talk to about schools, not having kids and all. i would do the interview anyway, though. despite its many faults and expenses, i think the bay area is a good place to live, and hey, one can always do with more interview experience, imho.
posted by koroshiya at 6:06 PM on May 10, 2012

Is the company's office close to Caltrain? If so, you could live in San Francisco, leave the station at 7:14, and get off the train in Palo Alto at 7:51 (the baby bullet).

How old are the kids? If they're, say, ten-ish, and will be out of the house in 8 years or so, it might be more palatable to rent.

You know how to use zillow, right?
posted by at at 6:23 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Daly City is cheaper because it's probably the sketchiest city on the peninsula saving East Palo Alto; when I lived there, I had my apartment cleaned out by robbers...granted, I lived in the worst part of DC at the time. The parts bordering western SF aren't bad, nor is the western bit bordering South San Francisco (which is a different city than Sf).

You could do two people on that income, renting a 1-bedroom apartment, comfortably. With two kids in the mix? I'm doubtful. SF Bay's seeing another tech bubble and rent prices in SF at least are even more ridiculous than normally; recent Craigslist searchings on my part are revealing vastly inflated prices up and down the Peninsula. I went away for a year of grad school, and now am wondering if I'm finally going to have to go to the East Bay or move away altogether; I'm in education and I'll never see the kind of money tech places pay. Losing a year of wages wasn't so bad, but losing my rent-controlled apartment in SF might end up costing me more.
posted by smirkette at 6:24 PM on May 10, 2012

When I lived in the Valley, I found Mountain View and Sunnyvale to be quite livable.
You might want to find out how far away the work is from light rail or bus lines.

Most things in your price range will be condos or broken down WWII tract homes unless you want to use your entire home sale for a down payment.

I would advise that you talk to a financial planner first.
posted by plinth at 6:32 PM on May 10, 2012

Consider living in the East Bay. It will increase your commute time but I'm under the impression from friends who grew up in areas like Pleasanton that the school districts are reasonable.
posted by kdar at 6:33 PM on May 10, 2012

I make in the $75-100k range and it's just me and my wife and we live fairly frugally, and we're completely comfortable in Redwood City. The SFBA is a huge mixture of high and low income areas that aren't obvious. Oh, and don't listen to people about "dangerous" neighborhoods, except insofar as you need to care about schools. I personally could not imagine the horror of commuting from the east bay or down 17 every day, but maybe your tolerance for such things is higher than mine (and I lived in ATL for 4 years). Commuting on I-280 is a snooze, and traffic rarely backs up except near Cupertino. Embrace living in places with significant ethnic flavor! It really is better.

Can you live on $150k with two kids? Things might be tight, but of course you can.

Can you buy a house? Hell no. Don't even bother trying.

Will this move require a huge readjustment in your values and standards to be successful? Definitely.

Your dollar will not go as far in immediate terms, but life in the SFBA is far richer in many ways. At the very least, do the interview. "It's too expensive to live there" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say if you decline the offer, and at least then you've gotten a bit more experience interviewing, which is always a skill to keep sharp. But when you're here, go on a hike and visit some parks and watch the fog roll in.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:43 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

The rental market around Palo Alto is super super competitive. It may be cheaper than buying, but that may not matter because you can't find anyplace you'd actually want to live. Consider looking at places in the East Bay as well, if you can handle the commute (you'd still be in the hour plus range with traffic).

Some things beyond housing prices:

State income taxes in California in that income range are 9%. Standard grade unleaded gasoline is $4.25/gallon right now if you hunt for a bit on the peninsula. Auto insurance can be higher here than in most areas of the country, and homeowner's/rental insurance obviously so because of earthquakes (although if you live in a hurricane zone now, or a flood plain, maybe it's equivalent?). Movie tickets are around $11 now. I guess only San Francisco proper has a minimum wage override (could have sworn other cities did too, but I guess San Jose is the only one considering it right now) but wage pressures push the cost of most service-oriented things higher (fast food, restaurant food, groceries...), but I can't offer good statistics there.

School districts here really are crazy hit and miss. The only thing I can offer is the state board of education standardized test data and a disclaimer that I treat standardized testing statistics in the same way that I treat statistics quoted by politicians.

If you do computer geek stuff in the valley, and somebody is willing to move you here, you're playing in the big leagues. The funny thing about it: everyone else is, too. I was considered one of the smartest people my colleagues in Colorado had ever worked with. Here, all the children really are above average, so I'm just a regular sized fish in a much bigger pond. Lots more opportunity to do interesting things out here, though. When I was searching for apartments, I often ended up not finding horror stories about the neighborhood and instead patent applications from residents.

If I were to stereotype people here in the style of other regions of the country, I'd say the Bay Area population is indifferent. We'll go out of our way to see our friends, but people are pretty disinterested in strangers. Politeness here means not making eye contact and wrapping everything in a somebody else's problem field. Some miss the outward friendliness that is found other places.

The silly valley is still very much in a bubble. Unless you are massively underpaid and living in an incredibly expensive city in the south, your standard of living here will be dramatically lower.

All that said, I chose to live here. I like the weather, I like that there's some amount of diversity, I like that there's lots of stuff to do should I ever have enough time away from work or energy left to do it. But I don't have kids and I don't know that I believe it's possible to raise a family here and have some disposable income without winning the lottery, startup or otherwise.

Take the interview, though. None of us can do the intangibles that come from living here any justice in a thread that is talking about cost of living.
posted by jaredg at 6:48 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do NOT live in the east bay and work in silicon valley if you ever want to spend time with your wife and family. The commute sucks and will drain your soul.

You can live more than okay on 160k a year here, though you may end up renting instead of owning. The equivalent house will be smaller and maybe a little further away.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:48 PM on May 10, 2012

It's doable. Heck my 3 person family does it and we don't feel like we are hurting. But we aren't trying to live in Palo Alto, either.

So, some practical tips for you to research that you can look into right now so you're armed with some data when you get here.

How far from the CalTrain station is this company? There's 3 of them located in or near PA: one off California in the southern part of the city, one in the middle off University Ave and one north of PA in Menlo Park. Is the station walkable to the company? If not, does the company offer a shuttle to/from the train station? (This later perk is relatively common, but ask).

If commuting by train looks doable, look at the other cities served by CalTrain. The train runs north into San Francisco and south all the way into Gilroy so there's quite a range of affordability there. As a very general rule of thumb (and with notable exceptions here and there), the further south or east you go, the less expensive the houses are, whether you are renting or buying.

Plug the city zip codes into Greatschools to get a view of what the schools are like. I personally am not 100% on board with their assessments as they tie much of their scoring into state test score results and as all parents know, not all kids test well. Look at schools on a school-by-school basis rather than by district as there are many good schools succeeding despite being in crappy districts and especially in the low-performing districts there's a lot of interesting, innovative stuff going on like public charters and small schools.
posted by jamaro at 6:50 PM on May 10, 2012

I'll add that there's a huge amount of variation in your options depending on where your priorities lie. Do you want a yard and quiet streets and low prices? You're going to have to suffer through very hot summers and learn a little Spanish. Do you value walkability and good weather? Prices are going to be higher, or the schools worse, or both. Do you want to live next door to work? Depending on where the office is, you could be renting a shoebox in a corporate apartment complex in an office park.

To call the SFBA "complex" doesn't do it justice.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:51 PM on May 10, 2012

Definitely go to the interview.

But don't worry about it too much yet. You don't have an offer, and every company will (should) make themselves look amazing to candidates.

Also, I don't know what you're looking for regarding the tech scene, but I personally find it tiring to hear so much talk about technology after spending 8 hours a day working a tech job.

That said, definitely see if you're close to the Caltrain and if the employer gives a pass. It's an easy commute and saves on gas money. And what everyone else has said: rent and be more frugal and you'll probably be okay.
posted by aloysius on the mixing boards at 6:52 PM on May 10, 2012

I would have MeMailed this for fear of it being derailing, but since this is an anon thread:

As a former public school teacher who grew up on the peninsula and so knows the local contexts, and as someone who's been crunching a fair bit of longitudinal nationwide data using multilevel modeling--that is, controlling for school and teacher level effects v. student-level effects--home makes the biggest difference by far in a kid's academic achievement. Unless you want some sort of prep-school experience where your kids will be hobnobbing with the swells, I feel very comfortable as an education researcher saying that on average, in the population, having well-educated parents will make more of an impact on a child's educational performance as measured by standardized tests than going to a chi-chi public school, provided the child has no special emotional or learning needs (which is completely outside the scope of my study). And taking off the researcher hat, speaking as a former teacher, parents who have the time and energy to really care about their kids--i.e. the sort of thing that having a stay-at-home-parent makes much easier--and spending time with their child (and encourage reading!) makes ALL the difference. And yes, the multiculturalism your kids will get here will enrich their lives forever.

(Also: Private elementary & high schools can cost as much as private colleges in SF Bay.)

This is long answer saying I wouldn't sweat the school district issue too much. Ask to sit in on a few classes for each school your kids might attend. You'll learn everything by watching and seeing what kind of pedagogies they employ and see if the kids who need extra support for whatever reason are getting it.
posted by smirkette at 7:05 PM on May 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

Private mail if you want to talk specifics.

150k I would pass on absolutely. You would be under constant pressure from couples each making at least that.

If this is for Facebook, amzn, etc. or a startup drop a line.
posted by rr at 7:13 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

You would be under constant pressure from couples each making at least that.

This would be a good time to mention that the only way you and your wife can define "comfortably" is by being honest with each other about your inner need to keep up with the Joneses. Because if that is something that matters to you or your children, you're not going to be happy in many parts of the SFBA as the Joneses here can be ridiculously well off.
posted by jamaro at 7:23 PM on May 10, 2012

Besides Caltrain, there is also the ACE train that heads into and out of the Central Valley that you may want to consider. It has a quiet car and wi-fi and when I have taken it, there seems to be a lot of tech head heading to Silicon Valley.
posted by Duffington at 9:11 PM on May 10, 2012

Would you really want to buy a house within a couple years of moving? The Bay Area is a big place, and you might find that the peninsula, or Fremont, or somewhere else is more to your liking. Job hopping is expected, even for companies that have paid moving costs, so you might find a position somewhere else that you like better. I wouldn't choose to do it, but I know a number of people who make a 1 hour+ each way drive to the Palo Alto area. Or the above-mentioned ACE train, especially if you're the type to sleep or can get work done remotely. One family I'm thinking of in particular lives in Tracy, a Central Valley bedroom community, with 4 kids on that income or maybe a little less.

It is true that a lot of people live in homes that cost more than you'll make in a decade, and the number of luxury cars is truly astonishing. However, the median household income in Santa Clara County (which includes Palo Alto as well as San Jose, and as far south as Gilroy, so it's a big area) is less than $90K a year. For anyone to say that you wouldn't be "comfortable" on $150K a year, is, frankly, laughable, and kind of insulting to the many middle class people in this country who manage to be comfortable on much, much less. Does "comfortable" mean owning your own spacious home, replacing your car every three years, and traveling extensively? To me that sounds upper class.

On top of that, if you've really got an in-demand skill, the Bay Area is a good place to get paid for it. The technology sector is not like the theatre scene in New York, luring impressionable youngsters in droves to work for a pittance, only to send them back home, penniless when the dream dies. There's a lot of work here for people with skills and experience.
posted by wnissen at 9:36 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Note: Don't listen to anyone who went house-shopping more than 1 or 2 years ago. (I don't mean just on AskMeFi.) Also, I see more listings on Redfin than Zillow, but I haven't actually bought, so don't listen to me. I live across the bridge in the Fremont/Milpitas/Newark area, by the way, and lots of people live here and drive to work, take a bus, carpool, or have a bus/shuttle provided by their companies. Some people claim the area is uncool, but I guess they're not into hiking and killer regional Chinese and Indian food. Whatever.

Also, I think cost of living is exaggerated by people on other issues (besides gas). Every time I go visit family in the south central US, I'm surprised by how expensive certain things are--mostly "exotic" food items and "luxury" household items for which there's a lot more variety and competition here, or for which I can go buy the cheap, no-frills, local market version instead of the chichi yuppie version.
posted by wintersweet at 9:57 PM on May 10, 2012

I work in Mountain View and own a (2400sq ft, 4 bdrm) house in Santa Cruz county and make about that much. My wife doesn't work and stays home with our daughter. I never hurt for money at all and generally have it piling up in my checking account faster than I can think of things to do with it. I am not particularly frugal - I drive a 2007 model year car, my wife's is a 2012. Last year we went sailing in Greece for two weeks. I carry no debt other than my mortgage and a car loan for my wife's car (which I'm paying off at 5x the required rate). I have a retirement account with about $60k in it (at age 31) and $20k cash in the bank.

From my perspective, all the people saying it can't be done are completely out of their minds or have no idea what they're talking about. Or maybe they just *need* to be driving new BMWs and their kids are all in private schools.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:14 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I just think they might not be familiar with the coast side of the mountains. That said though, it sounds like your commute must be 1.5h each way.
posted by cairdeas at 10:26 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just recently spent a year in the Bay Area working near Palo Alto for a similar salary.

The answer to your question about whether its do-able is "it depends." You should do some math, I'll give you all the math I encountered. I'm going to get as full-disclosure as I can so you can make informed decisions. (And yes, take the interview. The company knows you might not accept the job. That risk is baked into the process.)

So, first things first. I went from Seattle (no state income tax) to CA for all of 2011. I own a home in Seattle and found a renter for the year. The house I rented in the Bay Area was $3200 a month... and it was small, though it was at the edge of SF, so you could find a cheaper neighborhood.

There's also a lot of driving and traffic involved in the Bay Area that I didn't have to do in Seattle, as well as income tax. All told, the cost of living difference between Seattle and SF, including taxes, gas, and rent was just shy of $40,000 a year. So, if you're in an area where your home will sell for 175k, subtract 40k to 50k of your salary right off the bat.

That 175k from your home sale could provide a down payment on a home. But it depends on what you want to spend each month on a mortgage. I wouldn't buy in the Bay Area. I actually know a few real estate agents in Palo Alto that WILL NOT ACCEPT CLIENTS WHO CAN'T PAY WITH CASH. Process that for a minute. If you dumped that 175k into a 725k mortgage (which doesn't get you much in the Bay Area) you'd still be paying close to (or more than) 3k a month.

The Bay Area is mind-bogglingly expensive. And I don't even have kids. All I know is I made a shitload of money, about 40% of it went to taxes, another 30% went to rent, and once that was done I had about 3k-ish a month to divide between savings, investments, groceries, gas, vacation, and a bicycle habit. If you have kids, I'm guessing they get the 3k.

However, if you are a coder or designer or PM in the tech industry, there is no better place to find good-paying work than the bay area. As much as I've just made it sound like a huge money-suck, you could end up working for the next Big Thing and become pretty well-off by luck. That sort of thing happens in the Bay Area. It doesn't happen too many other places.
posted by braksandwich at 10:29 PM on May 10, 2012

Guh, no edit on post, amount to rent was 26%, not 30%
posted by braksandwich at 10:32 PM on May 10, 2012

I just think they might not be familiar with the coast side of the mountains. That said though, it sounds like your commute must be 1.5h each way.
posted by cairdeas at 10:26 PM on May 10 [+] [!]

It's usually about an hour and 10 minutes (my fastest ever time was 51m), but I only do it three days a week and telecommute the other two days. Lots of people telecommute for various tech companies, though, and the commute into the city from the penninsula can be almost as long depending on what part of the city you're going to. Unless you specifically go out of your way to locate your home near your office, you're going to end up with at least a 30 minute commute each direction, even if you take the train. I used to live in alameda and it was only a few minutes closer and the drive was much less scenic. It took me 25 minutes to get from my apartment in the city to my office in the city when I lived and worked there. So yeah, I've sacrificed 3 or 4 hours a week to live where I do, but I figure I make it up in other ways.

I have co-workers renting a three bedroom place in Redwood City for about the same I pay for my mortgage, and someone else could do similarly if they really needed to be closer to work. And of course everyone's sitting on unvested stock. Maybe in three years I can pay off my house, and then I'd have plenty of options available.

Sure, there's lots of money floating around this area, but Wikipedia reports a median income for California's 14th congressional district (which includes much of the penninsula and the south bay) of $77k. Don't be fooled into thinking that no one can live here on less than a quarter million dollars a year.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:58 PM on May 10, 2012

Just one data point: We rented a decent-but-not-fancy 4 br home in Sunnyvale with a good elementary school for about $2700/mo (this was 3 years ago, but I wouldn't expect it to have gone up that much). The high school was bad, though. Owning a home anywhere near Palo Alto would be right out since you care about school districts. Home values are very strongly tied to school district quality. House-wise, anything that seems like a good deal is almost certainly a bad idea. You probably don't want a very long commute, so focus on renting and if you get lucky then you can buy later on.

Will you get equity with this possible position? That at least gives you a hope of a better financial picture a few years out, though it's not something to rely on.

The positive side of living here is that you have great potential to find a more lucrative position, get lucky on a stock grant, make the right connections, etc. The down side is that your day-to-day material quality of life will go down for the near future. When I lived in Virginia I had constant anxiety about not being able to find an adequate job. That isn't a problem here, and I was wiling to trade off living in a smaller place. I'm glad I moved, but I was lucky to find a job at a very good place--things might have not gone as well as they did.

Feel free to shoot me a mefi mail if you want to talk more. I've worked and lived in a few places here and have fresh memories of how crazy making the decision to move was.
posted by jewzilla at 11:30 PM on May 10, 2012

You're asking a couple of different questions. That level of compensation is pretty typical for someone in senior or lead technical positions at typical companies (in other words, not swimming in cash like facebook/google/etc.). If you're being recruited cross country, I wouldn't hesitate to demand more given how much talent is available locally. Think of it another way: it's actually cheaper for your prospective employer to fly/move you and your family then to compensate equivalent talent that's already acclimated to the local economic environment. So, one: ask for more.

Now - how comfortable would you be as a single household at 150k, 175k, or 200k? The answer is not very. It's not uncommon to hear of families out here paying less for tuition once their kid goes off to an Ivy vs. their private high school tuition. Stay at home moms are often seen dropping off their kids at ritzy preschools in topline luxury SUVs. So, two: it's hella expensive out here. Yes, that's a lot of money, and yes you can get by - but the bay area is filled with scary smart strivers - merely coasting is both uncommon and viewed poorly.

Finally - there's an unasked question on comfort vs. whatever it is the Valley offers. Ultimately, that's for you to decide. For me personally, I needed to come out here to see with my own eyes. Speaking from the other side, I don't know that I'm likely to stay out here forever given the costs and the tiresomeness drumbeat of materialism and desire to monetize - but I'm absolutely glad to have come out, and haven't left yet.

Brass tacks: coming out here will test you, and test your family. Some people come out and thrive beyond their expectations. Some people come out and have a hard time dealing with not being the smartest kid in class any more. Some people come out and prove something to themselves, and some people wind up really unhappy and bitter because they didn't. I'm absolutely glad I came out - but I passed my own tests. I know more than a few people that wish they never moved here. I don't know anyone who hasn't had to up their game just by virtue of the surrounding talent.

Don't think of this in terms of the money. Think about it in terms of the life you want. Definitely come out for the interview.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:33 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not everyone here is out to prove something, or subject to the "drumbeat of materialism." Here, as everywhere, you can choose your friends.

It is expensive to rent a place within reasonable commuting distance of Palo Alto, but it isn't impossible. If you enjoy your job, and if you and your family can rent (or if you must buy, choose Fremont or RWC), live simply, and not let the preposterous wealth on display distract or dismay you, then this place offers plenty to make you "comfortable" without spending a nickel. Evenings are cool with scents of cedar and eucalyptus; mosquitos are rare. Just about anything you want to plant will grow. Even if you don't want to plant anything, neighbors will give you lemons whenever you want them, and keep you supplied with other produce in season. (Right now it's artichokes.) There's a general level of competence and optimism that can be contagious and invigorating. Kepler's brings in three or four writers every week; Stanford is a superb community resource.

Absolutely come out for the interview and see what you think. Call a meetup if you have time.
posted by tangerine at 2:31 AM on May 11, 2012

I was about to do a complicated breakdown of the experiences my husband and I had here, but turns out it was pretty close to what braksandwich broke out. Figure on spending at least $3k a month for housing in a decent but not crazy good school district; $4k if you buy, as property taxes will run you another $10k or so a year. You and your wife can determine if you're comfortable living on the remaining funds - that depends, of course, a lot on what you both consider to be comfortable.

That said, in the long run, I plan to settle down here. It's just a combination of culture, weather, and personal circumstances that works for me and my family. I like being a small fish in a big pond of smarter, more interesting and more motivated fish, and being a short drive from cool stuff in the city. You should absolutely take the interview - you're considering the company and the job, and part of that is assessing the location and whether it works for you and your family. You can't do that without physically being here.

Side note: people do make a huge stink about being in the Palo Alto or Cupertino school districts here. We ended up buying in Mountain View (a single-family, 3-bedroom home), and we love our house and neighborhood, but were a little worried about the schools because they didn't all have like, 900+ API scores. We looked them up and turns out they're still way better than any schools I went to growing up elsewhere. I was raised in a normal, middle-class family and ended up going to a ridiculously prestigious and competitive school for university; to be honest, I don't think I'd have gotten in if I was jockeying with a lot of other kids in an uber-competitive high school for valedictorian. And everything so far has turned out okay. Incredibly talented high school kids in this region have the inverse problem. You don't have to get caught up in being in the absolute best school district - our lives have still been really great.
posted by zamboom! at 4:49 AM on May 11, 2012

Elaborating a bit on my previous post: we only pay $2k in rent for our small, well-maintained 3BR California Rancho style house with a fantastic yard and patio in the Rancho Rinconada area of Cupertino. So deals are to be had if you're resolute. Maybe not so much these days since there's both a tech bubble brewing and more people wanting to rent. I do realize that we're lucky in that respect. There are some downsides (lack of storage, no air conditioning, etc), though.

That being said, though, my wife knows many families with stay-at-home moms and dads through the parents of multiples club that we're members of (we have twins). There are lots of people, both long-time residents and new transplants, doing fine on one income.
posted by zsazsa at 8:25 AM on May 11, 2012

This would be a good time to mention that the only way you and your wife can define "comfortably" is by being honest with each other about your inner need to keep up with the Joneses. Because if that is something that matters to you or your children, you're not going to be happy in many parts of the SFBA as the Joneses here can be ridiculously well off.

The issue is not keeping up, it's that the double income crowd pushes the rent for a 2br place in mountain view to $2800 per month. The poster is not going to buy a house anywhere north of Morgan Hill on a single income of 150k without a windfall of some kind.

If you plan to work in PA your options are live north of menlo or south of PA. For every 5 miles of 101 or 237 (god forbid central) you are trading significant life hours commuting. Commuting from the East bay is far worse unless the company is situated like the Facebook campus.

Getting anywhere near university ave (and the dozens of startups who chose to locate there for dubious reasons) is painful.
posted by rr at 9:24 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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