Should I move, remote job edition
November 2, 2018 4:40 PM   Subscribe

I've fantasized for years about getting myself out of the South, where I've lived my whole life, and into the Pacific Northwest. I've finally decided to take the plunge. Yay! Good news: my job is remote-friendly and the company doesn't mind if I move. Bad news: my salary is calibrated to a relatively low cost of living area. How do I make this happen without essentially taking a huge pay cut or hamstringing my future career?

About me: I'm in my early 30s, single, queer, and have lived in $(medium-sized Southern city) for the past decade. I'm looking at moving somewhere in the PNW for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to the amazing weather (yes, I do love rain!) and proximity to both mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

I pulled off a career change from service industry cog to programmer two-ish years ago and have been at my current job ever since. I'm pretty happy with it. The work itself isn't terribly world-changing for the most part, but my manager and co-workers are fantastic and it's very remote-friendly - right now I work from home 4-5 days a week, so theoretically I could move anywhere in the US and do my job just as well as I do now.

In practice, though, there would be a couple big drawbacks. The pay is quite good for the area, but not so good that I could keep an equivalent standard of living in a higher COL city like Seattle or even Portland. I'd also be looking at paying ~$200 more per month for health insurance (local vs national network).

My options as I see them:
  1. Keep my current job and move to a small city with equivalent or lower COL like Bellingham, Olympia, or Bend.
    • limited networking prospects and queer dating pool
    • if I lose this job and can't find another remote gig I won't be conveniently located in a big city filled with other jobs

  2. Find a new job in Seattle or Portland that will pay me enough to live there.
    • job searching sucks
    • I'd hoped to stay at my current job a while longer and gain some more experience since it's my first tech job

  3. Keep my current job and don't move at all for another year or so, until I'm ready to job search.
    • ugh, another year in a red state
    • ugh, another 8-month-long summer praying that the Hurricane Gods spare us

I am rapidly approaching Chidi-choosing-a-muffin levels of indecision and could use an outside perspective. What would you do, Metafilter?
posted by Basil Stag Hare to Work & Money (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, it will be hard to swing Portland or more expensive. Maybe Tacoma or Olympia or small towns could work?

As an odd example: I have family in Shelton WA and it is a lovley town that is much nicer now than it was 15 yrs ago. Many people live there to get lower cost of living and make long commutes, but you could enjoy the less expensive living without having a long daily commute.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:06 PM on November 2, 2018

Make sure you factor in health care if you work remotely for a company in the south. If their plan places everything around you as out of network, it can get expensive.
posted by Candleman at 5:14 PM on November 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

PMed you.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 5:18 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd research how far outside of the big cities I'd need to go to hit my desired COL price point, and if it were within say an hour to an hour and a half drive from one of them, I'd consider that. Far enough people don't generally want that to be their commute, hence the lower prices, but close enough to be easy on the weekends, or days off or days on flex-time, so that when networking and dating opportunities present themselves you can take advantage of them, and also close enough that if you do find yourself without this job (or decide to start looking while you still have this job, which you should do. Do that.), you can still pursue opportunities in the big city, then move closer in once you've got the new gig secured (and commute in the meantime, which will not be ideal, but will be workable over a short timeframe).

I'd probably also research the plans at the Washington state health exchange to see if there were any available better than my employer's national plan.
posted by solotoro at 5:27 PM on November 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

How about option 1 and then 2 if necessary? Bellingham is pretty awesome, although I am surprised to hear it's COL is that much lower than the neighbouring Seattle and Vancouver, BC. But assuming it is - work in Bellingham at current job, and then if you do lose that job or feel ready to move on you can look at Seattle then. It's not that far away (not commute distance of course, but definitely drive-to-the-city-to-interview distance)
posted by cgg at 5:32 PM on November 2, 2018

I did this! I left Atlanta for Vancouver, WA and I'm so fucking happy omg! I looooove living here so so much and would be happy to answer any questions. Would your job consider giving you a raise based on your cost of living increase? Could you keep your job just until you find a higher paying remote or local job?
posted by masquesoporfavor at 5:43 PM on November 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Keep your job and move! If you like the more expensive cities, another option is to go there and reduce your standard of living until you're ready to job search. If you aren't particularly drawn to them, move somewhere you like and can easily afford, and worry about future job changes later.
posted by metasarah at 5:56 PM on November 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

When I lived in the PNW briefly individual health insurance plans were really reasonably priced; a quick search now indicates they're cheaper than my Big Company insurance plan (but I'm not in the south). The only other thing that was cheaper was certain grocery items, such as berries and wine, since they had less mileage to travel. Portland rent is cheaper than a lot of places, but the salaries are also super low. Sounds like you really want to move there and there are lots of pluses - you can probably make it work even without your current job bumping the salary if you get creative. And then theoretically it's easier to get a better paying job there - no employer would find it strange that you were "underpaid" for seattle rates while working for a company in a southern town that is far cheaper and generally pays far less.
posted by love2potato at 6:14 PM on November 2, 2018

The market for programmers is incredibly tight right now, so I’d encourage you to give the job hunt a try. Microsoft and Amazon have strong LGBT communities, so you may even be able to network your way into a great job.

Even if you don’t love big cities, a few years at a good company in Seattle or SF will dramatically increase your professional prestige and earning power. Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:27 PM on November 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

If I were in your spot, I'd go with Option 1 and try to get as close to a larger city that you can afford. But maybe on a transit line for easy access. Can you afford to live in Wilsonville, Oregon, for example, or Gresham instead of Portland? Vancouver WA might be cheaper, but it's not always easy to get to Portland due to traffic.

Can you live with roommates? That would definitely help with rent. Can you pick up a side gig for extra cash?

Keep your job until you find something else, or until you can feel out the job market.

Can you trim your current expenses and build up your emergency fund?
posted by hydra77 at 6:30 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

4. Go with the lower standard of living in the city of your choice. The money will follow or it won't, but you'll be where you want to be, doing the things you want to be doing.

Two common places to cut costs are housing and transportation. Maybe you don't have roommates where you're currently living. Roommates can be great! Maybe you feel you have to drive where you're living. But you're working remotely now, and Portland is famous for biking! Etc.
posted by aniola at 6:34 PM on November 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would possibly do some more research on your ‘small cities’ lists. All of the ones you’ve listed are, yes technically have a cheaper COL, but barely. Housing (rent or buy) costs especially are really high in all of those spots you’ve listed.

Bellingham and Bend, especially not. Both suffer from really high rents because they’re the next best options from their biggest neighbors, and are tracking with the rest of the west coast.

FWIW, Portland can be done cheap-ish, but not in he parts of the city that are historically desirable for cheap rent/nightlife/etc. but yes, this usually means roommates and not-the-best neighborhoods.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:45 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, it’s really common for people in Portland to have two jobs. Everyone I know is moonlighting as something. If you had to pick up a few bar shifts, you’d fit right in.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:52 PM on November 2, 2018

Just to point out that there are companies out there that don't do COL adjustments and are remote friendly.

And yeah, look into Vancouver, WA.
posted by rhizome at 7:12 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I lived in Vancouver, WA for a while and waking up to the mountain views, OMG. It's just the other side of Portland.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:18 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

In response to the earlier comment about traffic from Vancouver, WA into Portland being bad... it's mostly during commuting hours. I spent a year there telecommuting and going into Portland for evenings and mostly didn't have a problem.
posted by kbuxton at 7:22 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think #1 is your best bet, but do check out other cities. Bremerton might be attractive to you and is an easy ferry ride from Seattle.
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 9:33 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing I didn't include in the original question since it was already pretty long: I do live by myself at the moment. It's by far my biggest luxury, I cut back on other stuff to make it work, and it's basically the one thing I'd have the hardest time giving up... and so it's also the biggest thing holding me back from moving someplace with more expensive housing. But that's a tradeoff I'll have to decide if I'm willing to make!

Thank you all for your answers and suggestions! You've given me a lot to think over.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 11:14 AM on November 3, 2018

I'd start looking for a new job. 2 years in a tech job is long enough no one would bat an eye at it. That will give you freedom to look for a new remote job with the salary to support living anywhere OR an in-person job somewhere you want to move.

FWIW there are lots of high paying remote jobs in tech right now that don't pay you less for living in a low COL area. It's relatively easy to make north of 100k base in a junior role remotely these days.
posted by so fucking future at 11:25 AM on November 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm also Southern and gay—Florida by way of Tennessee—and now live in Seattle.  I moved out here for the same reasons 17 years ago and love it.  Since others are giving good advice on jobs and such, I'll just say that If you're like me, the first winter will be rough because of the pervasive chill, but hang in there and it gets better fast as you adapt.

Words cannot express how happy it still makes me, a Floridian, all these years later than I don't have or need air conditioning, nor screens in my windows, nor sunscreen more than a few times a year, nor have I seen a cockroach in all these years.  The locals complain about spiders, but frankly they have no idea how big they get down south.  I see the ones here and even with a streak of arachnophobia I'm more like "Hi, spider-fren!"

Come summer, it's like living in an air-conditioned world compared to the South, and that just never gets old.  Do it. You will love it.  And it's bonus points for the dating scene if you've got the accent.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:11 PM on November 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would not move to a smaller dating pool if you’re excited about building a queer community and dating. As someone who moved to the PNW from a conservative area I am so, so glad I didn’t move to a smaller city and instead went right to Seattle where I got to experience what it was like to be in a liberal area that wasn’t just liberal because it was a college town, which is for the most part what you’d find outside Seattle or Portland.

But to be more specific, I encourage everyone to move to Portland like I finally did a few years ago because it is so MUCH friendlier—do not underestimate this aspect when you’re used to living in a place like the South—and rent is cheaper and there aren’t as many tech bros and the queer community is more accessible because it’s not being driven out by the creep of Amazon workers.

And to be MORE specific, I moved to Vancouver, WA to save money last year after living in a hip neighborhood in Portland that was wonderful but too pricey for us, and I’m shockingly happy here. It’s a great place to live if you don’t have to commute (I work from home). I won’t say Vancouver is really culturally awesome but it’s so close to Portland and it does have things like farmers markets and natural food stores and more and more breweries and good restaurants and beautiful parks and access to nature very nearby. It means we can keep our standard of living high (it helps that WA has no income tax) but also I can take advantage of the amazing community I have found in Portland. I would keep your job and look into moving here!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:14 PM on November 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, to counter to TinyBungalow, please don’t move to Bremerton. I actually met my partner when she was living there and we were miserable commuting by ferry or driving around. It is expensive and it’s an hour by ferry, that is not insignficant and there’s not a lot of ferry service late at night! My partner is from there and it is conservative and not always a safe place to be visibly queer. I have experienced this firsthand.

To reiterate, if you move to the PNW for the culture, make sure to be aware that it’s not actually always liberal outside Seattle/Portland and you might end up miserable and isolated by trying to save money, so not worth it.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:23 PM on November 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

Seattle, Seattle, Seattle. I moved there at age 30 and I wish I'd done it 5 years sooner. Granted, I'm a pretty hardcore urbanist, my minimum acceptable walkscore is 93; for me, living in a tiny studio in Capitol Hill is absolutely worth the bonkers rent (but not owning a car makes up for a good chunk of that actually), and I'd be depressed if I had to move to like Shoreline or Vancouver. The career opportunities you'll find in Seattle will also be orders of magnitude greater than what you'll find in the smaller cities.
posted by hishtafel at 9:04 PM on November 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

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