Cost of living in Portland vs. Seattle
January 29, 2008 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Living on a modest income in Seattle vs. in Portland, OR -- your thoughts, opinions, experiences?

I'm temporarily living with friends in Seattle (recently moved here from Minneapolis), and am job-hunting in both cities. Recently I had an interview in Portland that went very well, at a place I think I'd really like working. The downside: the salary would be $37,000 (non-negotiable)--which is certainly not poverty by any means, but is significantly less than I made in my last job, and less than I'd like to be making.

Positions in my field in Seattle tend to pay better (usually in the $40s). On the other hand, if the figures I've found on line are accurate, the overall cost of living in Portland is ~10% less than in Seattle, which would offset a good part of that differential.

Here's my question, though: I have a sort of subjective feeling that Portland is an easier city to live in without a whole lot of financial cushion than Seattle is. I have a hard time putting my finger on why, exactly--it just feels more, I dunno, low-key, non-driven, middle-class, whereas Seattle has that whole Glitz! Million-Dollar-Condos! World-Class-City! vibe going on.

What I'm wondering (and I'm sorry this question is so vague) is whether others who have experience with both cities, or just with Portland, can give me perspective, or suggest aspects to this that I should be considering. I do know rentals are cheaper on average in Portland at this point, but do you think that's likely to change drastically near-term? Are affordable rentals (say, $800/mo or less) likely to be good, or to be rundown/in sketchy neighborhoods/otherwise undesirable? Oregon has the income tax, but doesn't have sales tax--does the one wash out the other, or does it significantly affect one's disposable income? What's it like living in Portland without a whole lot of money?

(Oh, and possibly relevant variables: single, no kids, no debt, generally frugal and not much interested in consumer culture.)
posted by Kat Allison to Work & Money (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'd have to agree - grew up in Seattle, moved to Portland about 5 years ago. If you're going to be making $37K a year here, you're certainly never going to live in the posh neighborhoods, but you'll do all right. You nailed Seattle's recent vibe pretty perfectly - Portland has a few million-dollar condos and stuff, but they're mostly concentrated in the Pearl District, so if you look to live here, live in NE or SE (Portland 'hoods are generally identified by region rather than by catchy names), and you'll probably find a place in your $800 range a pretty decent place to live.

One caveat: I haven't been in the rental market here for about two years, so I'm no expert.

But yeah, on the whole, Portland's an easier city to do OK on less money in than Seattle. It is much more low-key than Seattle is, and there are still in-city neighborhoods here where you can actually buy a house for less than $300K that doesn't require another $250K worth of work, if you ever find yourself in a home-buying place.

As for the income/sales tax thing, I'm not sure I'd say it's a wash, but it's definitely nice not having to pay sales tax; I typically get money back from the state on my taxes, as well, so there's that.

Email's in my profile if you want more specific information.
posted by pdb at 1:00 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Beaverton, within walking distance of the Beaverton transit mall (and Max station). I pay $600 per month.

Beaverton is no slum, but Center Street (on which I live) is lined with apartments that are nice but not lavish, which are reasonably inexpensive -- as long as you don't mind living around lots of Mexicans and Koreans. (Which I don't, even slightly. They're good neighbors.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:11 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who used to live in Portland. She described the town as being run entirely by 22 year olds. Lots of drinking, drugs, hippies, sex, etc.

I would recommend trying Seattle if your career is the most important thing to you. If fun is more important, then go with Portland.
posted by kpmcguire at 1:14 PM on January 29, 2008

Oh my god, I could walk to Steven's house right now. Kat, could you let us know whether you are in fact open to suburbs, or are you pretty firm that you would want to live in a PORTLAND zip code? I've lived in Gresham, Tigard, and now Beaverton and I could give you some insight about rentals in those areas.
posted by peep at 1:40 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can find a good 1 or 2 bedroom apartment in inner NE or SE Portland, or N Portland for $800 or less though it might take some serious trawling of craigslist. If you don't mind living with roommates in a shared-house situation, you can pay quite a bit less. I'm renting a 2-BR house in NE for $950. (Granted, it's a little hobbit house.) There aren't really "sketchy" neighborhoods in the inner part of Portland, but I'm from Philly so I have a whole other idea of what sketchy is. If you go further south or east you'll have more crime due to meth activity.

Portland definitely has an artier, scruffier vibe than Seattle. It also feels like a large town, whereas Seattle feels like a true city (to me, anyway).
posted by medeine at 1:46 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I moved from Portland to Seattle (well, Bellevue) and i must say I'm missing Portland a lot!

It's more expensive up north (example - a crate of 18 eggs at Safeway in Bellvue costs $4.99 and the same crate of eggs cost $1.99 in Beaverton!) So even though you're getting a pay cut, you wont feel it as much because the cost of living is lower, plus no sales tax!

People are less friendlier up north than in Portland (i'd be at the grocery store in beaverton and total strangers would walk up to me and strike up a conversation, both male and female...Seattle? Not once ever!)

They pump your gas for you in Portland! (in winter that's a godsend!!)

Portland is a big city with a small town feel; Seattle is just BIG

I loved living in the NE and in Beaverton; Bellevue, not so much...bunch of pretentious wankers!

However if your career is your main focus, i'd recommend staying in Seattle because there are far better opportunities here.
posted by ramix at 2:13 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've lived in the Portland area and Seattle both and think Portland is definitely more affordable. Rents are lower, there are more *good* cheap restaurants, and the public transit works better.
posted by kbuxton at 2:47 PM on January 29, 2008

Out of the 7 years I've lived in Seattle, only 2 of them brought me an income over $37K. As long as you have a roommate it's REALLY cheap, and you will probably very soon be making enough to live alone if you want. $900/month, for the popular neighborhood studios. I pay less than $800 for a 1BR in Ballard, though.

Most people I know who moved to Portland make a lot less money than they did in Seattle, but are not really concerned about it. They were always kind of scruffy hippies and they are much happier being even scruffier in Portland. I personally am enjoying being upwardly mobile. You can afford more drugs, too!

(I also would die if someone started talking to me while I was shopping for groceries.)
posted by herbaliser at 2:49 PM on January 29, 2008

Median house prices in Seattle are some of the highest in the nation and apartment rents have gotten pretty high after a recent binge of condo conversions. Ditto other cost-of-living expenses. Also, Seattle's public transit is well and truly awful. Unless you are lucky enough to live near work and near essential services like a grocery store, you'll end up wanting to own a car. The cost of living in Portland is a lot lower than in Seattle, and the difference is larger than the gap in salaries you'd be making in each respective city. So, your money will take you further in Portland.

That being said, I like to visit Portland but I think I'd get bored living there. Seattle has a lot more going on in various non-work activities I love: dance, art, etc. Those things exist in Portland, too, but the variety more limited and there are fewer new people to meet and learn from.
posted by rhiannon at 4:04 PM on January 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

ramix - Everyone knows the Eastside is no damn fun.

I believe Seattle's a bit better equipped to handle an economic downturn than Portland. We had our meltdown in the early 70's and we ain't goin' back.
posted by black8 at 4:13 PM on January 29, 2008

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