Suburban living for the single guy?
May 25, 2014 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Please help me decide whether I should ditch the suburbs and move to the city.

I moved from downtown Seattle to MA in January of this year and currently live in one of the many suburbs to the west of Boston (Marlborough to be precise). I work out further west (Worcester) from where I live and it's a decent ride that currently takes me 30 minutes to work.

I am deciding to move to the Somerville/Cambridge area in July and I've already put down a deposit for an apartment, but I am conflicted.

Moving to Somerville would mean the following:
1) Much higher rents - I currently pay $1600 for a 1 bedroom in Marlborough. The place I will be renting there will be $2600
2) Much longer commute - almost an hour each way, ~50 miles door to door
3) I'll end up saving a lot less of my take home pay - I am looking at ~20% but that could fluctuate depending on my expenses, but that is my target
4) A lot more things to do and hopefully a lot more people to meet - I don't know if the benefits outweigh the costs in points 1, 2 and 3 above and I can't seem to put a price on that experience. I've always been a city guy and I love being able to walk everywhere.

The primary reason for me wanting to move to Cambridge/Somerville was the fact that I think I'll meet a lot more people and will be getting out of the apartment that much more, given that there are things going on, in and around Boston/Cambridge. Also, I'm currently single and have not really met people in the suburbs.

Currently, I don't do much - the only things that keep me occupied on the weekdays are my 5 days a week crossfit class that I go to after work. Given that there is nothing to do on the weekends, I usually take the train into Boston/Cambridge.

Given the insane rents in Boston, how much is a reasonable amount people spend on living expenses?

What would you do if you were in my situation?

Any thoughts or suggestions on how to objectively think about this would be much appreciated.
posted by rippersid to Work & Money (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A commute that long can be soul-destroying -- and it might leave you without much energy for taking advantage of being in-town.

Have you thought about getting a less expensive place in Worcester and going into Boston on the weekends? Find the right neighborhood in Worcester to ideally 1) have a short commute to work (maybe even by foot or bike) and 2) live in a less suburban-feeling neighborhood so you're around more younger folks.

That'd have most of your life in one place, but you can still get into Boston easily -- and certainly the people you meet in Worcester will be used to heading into Boston on the weekends already, right?
posted by bluedaisy at 10:13 AM on May 25, 2014

Best answer: What's the point of money and a job if you're unfulfilled in your everyday life?

Live in the city. Try to find a cheaper place if possible, but live in the city. 1 hour commute time is very common and not a deal breaker at all. The stage of life you're in asks for that. The need to be a part of an active social life bleeds noticeably from your post.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:22 AM on May 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Worcester is not really the best of places to live as I've seen and been told on numerous occasions. So unfortunately Wprcester or areas around it are out of consideration.
posted by rippersid at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2014

I suspect 50 miles in Boston traffic, even with a reverse commute, is going to be more like 90 minutes each way most of the time. I live 50 miles from DC, and 90 minutes is a good day for me, although I'm commuting with traffic, not against it. Also, living 50 miles from the city, my experience is that you will not want to haul your ass into Boston on the weekends. Living in Worchester might be a great idea, just don't do it with the assumption you'll be spending most of your weekends in Boston.
posted by COD at 10:26 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have a colleague who lives in Somerville and takes the back roads to work. It takes him an hour each way.

I plan on car-pooling with him most of the days if that helps.

I've been told Worcester is not the best and safest of cities, so that I out of the question. I don't really feel like getting to the city most of the weekends since it is such a big pain to get there.
posted by rippersid at 10:29 AM on May 25, 2014

In/Near the city also means your social budget goes up, so don't forget to budget for that. Im not familiar with somerdale/cambridge, but if you can walk/mass transit quickly to interesting bars/restaurants/etc you are more likely to do that more often than you would have out in the burbs.
posted by TheAdamist at 10:38 AM on May 25, 2014

I know nothing about Boston, but you have so many cons it's hard to say which option is better. Money isn't everything, but being able to save less could be a big stressor. Is there a way you could schedule more activities or go into boston more frequently on the weekends? Is there really nowhere else to live where you could at least tip the scales a little more?
posted by Aranquis at 10:39 AM on May 25, 2014

Instead of moving house, would it be feasible to rent a room in a shared apartment with roommates in the city for significantly under $1000? Then you could stay in your home in the burbs, spend the weekends at the place in the city and see how having less spending money/more social activities works for you.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:57 AM on May 25, 2014

Currently, I don't do much - the only things that keep me occupied on the weekdays are my 5 days a week crossfit class that I go to after work. Given that there is nothing to do on the weekends, I usually take the train into Boston/Cambridge.

I would work on this part of it, rather than move. You know the saying, "No matter where you go, there you are?" That's what needs to be addressed. Worcester isn't really a bad city, and there are many things to do there.

If you really want the Cambridge/Somerville experience, concentrate on finding a job there, because commuting ~90 minutes each way to Worcester (don't be fooled into thinking it'll be less) is going to kill your social life on weekdays much more than living in Marlborough will.
posted by xingcat at 10:58 AM on May 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

You've already paid the deposit. You've already decided you want to do this. Don't get cold feet now :)
posted by samthemander at 11:10 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

How specialized is your job? Could you start looking for a new position in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville as well?
posted by telegraph at 11:23 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Unfortunately changing jobs is not something I am willing to do at the moment since I moved cross country for this job in particular and I've been with the company for only 6 months.
posted by rippersid at 11:46 AM on May 25, 2014

Best answer: I think you've identified the pluses and minuses of city living. If you live in the city, you pay a huge amount for rent. For me, it's worth it. No question. City living is stimulating and helps keep depression at bay. You just need to answer that question for yourself.

FWIW, my reaction to your question is that you should do it, you should move. You feel isolated, you've found an apartment, you have carpooling set up. I would do it.

Re social spending -- that's not necessarily the case. For me, a lot of the city experience is not going out to bars and restaurants spending $$, but walking by storefronts, stopping by the bakery, running into people I know out walking, seeing the buildings and people, etc.

Re saving for retirement -- it sounds like you've been doing a good job. You may need to decrease your savings for a while. But hopeful over time your earnings will go up and you can increase again. And a happier person will likely be a better employee. Will your apartment have rent control? If not, your long-term goal might be a condo.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:07 PM on May 25, 2014

Factor the (rising) cost of gas into your calculations.

I think this really depends on what you want. I might've been willing to pay more to live in a city ten years ago. Now that I'm a huge homebody, I would find a city or town or neighborhood that intrigued me much closer to work.
posted by salvia at 12:15 PM on May 25, 2014

The commute sucks, but apart from that, you'll never go wrong living in the cheapest place you can stand in the best location you can afford. Doubly for young single folks.
posted by kcm at 12:54 PM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I can see why living in Marlborough would be a bummer for a young single person. But the commute from Somerville, while an opposite commute, is still going to suck. I think getting back home from work from Worcester is going to be pretty bad.

Did you consider Providence, RI as an option? The commute would be a little bit less and your cost of living will be lower. There are plenty of things to do and a ton of young singles there. I've lived in Somerville and it does have a lot to offer, but the cost really didn't seem worth it to me.
posted by Sal and Richard at 1:15 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When my ex-husband and I moved from Boston to Marlborough twenty years ago, I told him not to bother unpacking because I wasn't going to stay there, so I feel ya.

I think this is a really hard choice to make. The commute is going to be a hassle. At best it will be two hours daily; at worse you're looking at 3 hours commuting.

Considerably higher rent in Somerville but you've got Diesel Cafe, Sound Bites, Johnny D's, Davis Square Goodwill, Redbones (seriously, I did all of those things yesterday) ...a million things to do when compared to Marlborough.

If it were me, I'd move to Somerville and see how it goes. You won't know for sure until you do it, right? You may hate Somerville. Maybe you won't even notice the commute; maybe it will become the bane of your existence.

Who knows? You may get a job in the Boston area. You may decide you're paying too damn much for rent.

But you won't know any of this unless you move. So I say do it. You can always move closer to Worcester. We only live once, my friend.
posted by kinetic at 1:32 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Long commutes appear an unusually robust predictor of various soul-sucking things, including social isolation.

Then again, your new neighbors will presumably be on average less socially isolated than your current neighbors. So there's that.

It's really too bad Worcester isn't an option. (If it were me, I would put that back on the table, what with the low crime rate plus the reputation for relative cultural/racial diversity/tolerance and Worcester's well stocked public libraries ... thrift, ingenuity ... a populace invested in the commons, not to mention the no-frills industrial wasteland, very Lovecraftian in parts. Famed for its diners, punk scene and attitude. Nobody here wants to hear any crap from YOU, understand? good. Dollah-fifty, and of course the museums and galleries and theaters and all the nifty venues to meet the sort of people who make cities cool in the first place. But that's just me.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:40 PM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would move now and suck it up for another six months, and then start looking for a job.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:10 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't let the sunk cost fallacy trick you into staying in a relatively crappy life situation. So you moved cross country for this job already? Fine, now you're in the Greater Boston area. That doesn't mean there aren't other jobs for you in the city. Leaving a job after six months isn't ideal but it's pretty common nowadays. If you start looking now and set the bar really high (only a job in the right location that is really right for you), you might have something better and local around the time you hit your one year mark.
posted by telegraph at 3:20 PM on May 25, 2014

Response by poster: Unfortunately changing jobs isn't possible. I like the company I work for.
posted by rippersid at 4:11 PM on May 25, 2014

Best answer: Move to the city. If it's too expensive and the commute is too much after a year (which I am assuming is the length of your lease), you can always move back to the burbs. This is a temporary decision, not the rest of your whole life.
If you don't move to the city you'll always regret not doing it, trust me.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:20 PM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you thought about moving west instead, to Northampton or Amherst? Still about an hour to Worcester, MUCH cheaper cost of living than Boston, and plenty of social and walkable stuff to do when you're not at work.
posted by southern_sky at 4:43 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm in a similar situation. I've chosen to commute further to work (I also carpool), and live within easy cycling distance of my friends. I've tried living in the very centre of things, but I don't find it to be worth the extra 15 minute drive and parking hell, so I'm moving back to a bit further out in a few weeks.

Give it a go. It's a very personal choice. It might take you a bit of time to find the sweet spot between a reasonable commute and a fun place to live. I hate the commute, but I love the $10 taxi ride home at the end of a big night!
posted by kjs4 at 4:50 PM on May 25, 2014

Best answer: I would wither and die all the way out in the suburbs of MA. I actually just moved to Seattle from Boston and considering how lively and fantastic downtown Seattle is, I can only imagine how isolated you're feeling! Commuting to Worcester from Boston isn't great, but I've had friends who commuted from much farther (Rhode Island and New Hampshire) for work, so I would not at all say that it's off limits for you. In fact, you would be doing the reverse commute, which isn't that much better, but I did it (admittedly not as far as Worcester) for 2+ years and it was really not that bad.

There's a commuter line to Worcester. It would be pretty expensive, but if you're willing to pay up to $2600 for an apartment, you could likely find something in Fort Point (walking distance to South Station so it's only one train, not very good night life, but the red line that takes you straight to cambridge and somerville is right there). Or The South End (kind of like Capitol Hill without the punks) - close to Back Bay station which will also take you Worcester. Is your company close to a commuter rail station? Then this could be an expensive, but lovely option. You'd be paying a lot for rent and then yet more for your commuter rail pass, BUT - your quality of life? Possibly worth it.

You're right that the rents are insane in Boston. Somerville is, I think, much more livable for the price than Cambridge is. If you're driving into work every day, you could live somewhere off of Union Square for relatively cheaper than if you were right off of the red line. Somerville is great. Lots of bars, restaurants, and professionals. Lots of good music. Davis is my favorite, if you can afford living near there, just live there. You also could do red line -> south station -> worcester commuter line. Longish commute, but you can read/work the whole time.

You might also consider Lower Allston if you're looking to save money on rent. It's close to Somerville and Cambridge, but the rents are slightly more reasonable. You'd have to drive to work, but the entrance to the mass pike is right there, so... all in all, not so bad. Allston and Brighton are also alright, but you don't actually want to be too close to the green line, because it's BU party house central and you'll want to punch everybody in the neck all the time (at least I did).

Avoid Brookline, it's pretty, but the rents are outrageous and it's relatively sleepy, you'd rather you had stayed close to work.

Good luck!
posted by pazazygeek at 5:04 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

One other thing I want to add - while rents are insane in Boston, you certainly can find a one bedroom in a livable part of town for $1600. Not Cambridge, but possibly Somerville. Almost definitely Allston, Brighton, or JP. It might be run down but it exists. Is there a certain square footage/quality of building scenario that you're trying to maintain that's making your in-Boston apartment search look so expensive? There's no question that a nice 1BR in Cambridge or Somverville might rent for that much, but it sounds like you're looking at the very highest end. It shouldn't look quite so bleak, unless I am missing some requirement you did not list.
posted by pazazygeek at 5:06 PM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I personally would find that daily commute soul-sucking and hand wouldn't have the energy to go out after work because of it. I think you're rejecting the option of living in Worcester and "commuting" for your social life instead too quickly. But you're not me.
posted by metasarah at 6:05 PM on May 25, 2014

Yeah I don't know why it's necessary to pay $2600/month to live in Somerville, especially if you don't need to be right on the T (I pay significantly less and I LOVE my apartment). But if you're commuting to Worcester, somewhere closer to the Mass Pike would seem to make more sense.
posted by mskyle at 6:48 PM on May 25, 2014

Best answer: Maybe you've made your mind up already, but one more opinion cannot hurt. As a former reverse-commuter in Boston, I say DO IT DO IT DO IT. I lived in Kendall Square and commuted to Norwood every day. Getting to Norwood required the T to South Station, the Commuter Rail, and then a not-insignificant walk (20-30 minutes) from the station. My life in the city was AWESOME and I would not have traded it for anything.

The commute was long, but it was the perfect time for breakfast, reading, and any other self-guided meditation. The car would have been less fun for me, but if you like driving or singing along to the radio... Whether that trip would be soul-sucking for you is linked to your own predilections. Like another commenter, I would have withered up and died if I had to live in Norwood.

FWIW, another friend of mine does Cambridge to Framingham in a car in 50-60 minutes.
posted by whatzit at 3:54 AM on May 26, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all for the wonderful comments and suggestions.

I am now thinking of moving to the city to see how the whole situation works out. I feel a little more comfortable knowing that the rents in this part of the country are insane, that I won't be able to save that much (at least for a year or so), and that this is not a decision that I am stuck with for the rest of my life!

This makes me feel much better. And given how helpful everyone's been, I did my part and donated to MeFi ;)

Thank you for making this place what it is!
posted by rippersid at 7:19 AM on May 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know this was said before, but: you can almost certainly find a decent one-bedroom or studio in the Boston area for considerably less than $2600 per month. I know Boston is expensive, but put it this way: I live in NYC, which is even more expensive, and $2600/month for a one-bedroom would be getting you into the higher end of the market in all but the priciest neighborhoods. You could probably find a place for $1600, but if you don't like what's available in that range, maybe try somewhere in the middle.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:27 AM on May 27, 2014

I recently made the move from the burbs back to the city (Seattle). I moved for mostly the same reason(s) as you too. And I have NO regrets. Even though my rent is higher (by about $200), overall it ended up being cheaper to move back to the city.

I'd see if you couldn't find a roommate situation though - a 1k jump in rent would probably make me reconsider.

BUT, if I could still swing it in my budget (without impacting what I currently enjoy too much), I'd definitely move if I were you. FWIW, my quality of life has increased pretty noticeably since moving back to the city. There's SO much more to do/see and people to watch/interact with - I feel much more at ease/happy in this environment - that might be the case for you as well.

Good luck!
posted by stubbehtail at 11:54 AM on May 27, 2014

« Older Drycleaning and menswear in Amsterdam   |   Stock investment for greenhorns Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.