I’m a financial planner — here’s what I tell my 30-something clients who are debating moving out of the city

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City vs suburbs
  • The cost of living in expensive cities causes some young adults to consider moving to the suburbs.
  • Although I work with clients weighing this decision in New York, the advice applies to urbanites anywhere.
  • Before trading your apartment for a home, carefully evaluate the costs associated with each option.

Just because the city is expensive doesn’t mean it’s cheaper to live in the suburbs.

As a financial planner in New York City, the debate over whether to move out of the city is common during client meetings – especially with clients who are newly married 30-somethings planning to start a family.

Perhaps you’ve had a similar conversation with your significant other, or discussed it with friends over brunch. The costs associated with living in the city can be stifling: Rents are high, drinks are overpriced, and groceries seem just as expensive as delivery food.

It’s easy to focus on the high expenses, but living in the city also helps your finances in other areas: There are jobs nearby, transportation is easy and cheap, and lawn care is a non-issue. Depending on where you live, suburban property taxes can be a budget drain as well.

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Still, you may reach a point where you need more space – or want more peace and quiet. For some, moving out of the city is unavoidable – buying a home in Manhattan, for example, is out of reach for most people.

But before making the decision to trade a tiny apartment for a two-story home, it’s important to carefully weigh your options. Simply moving out of the city does not guarantee your expenses will drop. In some cases, you could end up spending even more, while commuting farther, and having more responsibility as a homeowner.

Below are examples of expenses that will change when you move out of the city. Ask yourself the following questions, and compare your answers closely to your budget today.

  • Homeownership: How much can you put toward a down payment while maintaining an emergency fund as well? Can you afford the mortgage payments, utilities, insurance, and homeowners association fees?
  • Transportation: Will you need to a buy a car (or two)? Will you have a car payment? How much will insurance and monthly gas cost? What about parking, tolls, and maintenance?
  • Taxes: What are the property taxes in the area? What about city and state income tax and local sales tax?
  • Childcare/Education: Do affordable childcare options exist in your area? Does the cost of sending your child(ren) to school change?
  • Furnishings: How much will you have to spend on furniture? Do you have enough cash in your bank account to cover the cost upfront?
  • Recreation/Entertainment: Will you have enough free or cheap activities to keep you and your family busy? Are there costs associated with local clubs you may want to join?
  • Income/Career: How will the move affect your commute? Is your job stable, and if not, will there be other opportunities closer to home once you move?

You might be surprised at the answers. Sometimes one option is clearly better – whether it’s the city or the suburbs. Occasionally, both options are more or less equal financially. At that point, the decision becomes about prioritising what’s most important to you, and the type of lifestyle you envision building for yourself and your family.

Regardless of the option you choose, keeping housing costs low is one of the smartest ways to manage your expenses. Most Americans spend 37% of their budget on housing, but cutting back could be the difference between maxing out your retirement accounts – or not.

Sometimes, choosing another part of the city could be cheaper than moving to the suburbs, especially if it means you can commute easily without buying a car. The map below shows how much people who work in Manhattan pay to live in the vicinity and commute via underground train. Moving to a cheaper neighbourhood within the city could end up being the best way to reduce your expenses.

How much it costs to live in New Jersey versus New York City

Ultimately, as with most financial planning decisions, there are no right answers. But, moving out of the city because you assume the suburbs will be cheaper isn’t as smart as moving out (or staying put) because you know it is cheaper. The best thing you can do is arm yourself with as much information as possible.

Need some help with the big money decisions in your life?SmartAsset’s free tool can help you find a financial advisor near you »

Lauren Lyons Cole is director of personal finance at Business Insider. She is also a certified financial planner.