For six years, my husband and I lived in Washington, D.C. — one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. We had moved there so my husband could attend graduate school at Georgetown University. However, when he was finishing his Ph.D., we knew we couldn’t afford to stay.
We wanted to start a family and realized it would’ve been a financial stretch to do that in Washington. So, my husband took a teaching job at Western Kentucky University in my hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Now that we have three children, I’m glad we decided to move to one of the least expensive states to raise kids.
A study by GOBankingRates found that the average cost of raising a child in Kentucky is the fourth lowest in the U.S. Washington, D.C., wasn’t included in the study, but neighboring Maryland was ranked No. 15 among the most expensive states to raise a child. If we had stayed in the Washington area, there’s a good chance we would have settled in Maryland to get access to good public schools — as one of my best friends from college did.
She lives with her husband and three children in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, which is a suburb of both Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. I know from talking to her that the results of GOBankingRates’ study are correct: Raising kids in Maryland is more expensive than in Kentucky.
The difference in cost of living between my home state and New York is even greater. My best friend from childhood currently lives in New York, and my husband and I have considered moving there for our careers. New York ranked as the fifth-most expensive place to raise a child in the GOBankingRates study. Every time I talk with my friend about how much it costs for her family of four to live in Manhattan, I question why I’d even consider leaving Kentucky to live there.
Yes, New York has a lot to offer — as does the Washington, D.C., area — and median incomes are much higher in those places than in my home state. But, financially, my family is much better off in Kentucky — here’s why.
The Biggest Benefit of Moving: Affordable Housing
Before my husband and I left our Washington, D.C., apartment in 2003, houses in the neighborhood were $500,000 and up. We bought our first home in Kentucky that year for less than $200,000.
We’re now in our third home — a five-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot house on 5 acres with a river running through the back of our property. We bought it for $390,000, and our monthly mortgage payment — which includes property taxes and homeowners insurance — is about $1,700.
As you can probably guess, we paid more for our house than the median home value in Kentucky, which is $145,100, according to Zillow’s home value index. But our monthly mortgage payment pales in comparison with what my friends pay in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and New York.
My friend in Maryland has a monthly mortgage payment of $4,860 for her 3,000-square-foot house. My friend in New York pays $4,000 in rent for her two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot apartment. The latter said she recently shopped around for cheaper rent. However, my friend realized she had a good deal when she discovered that the median rent for similar apartments was $5,500 a month.
Child Care Is a Lot Cheaper
When my daughters were younger, I paid baby sitters about $8 an hour to watch them while my husband and I worked. I put my son in day care before placing him in a Montessori preschool, which cost $650 a month. All of my children are now in public schools.
Compare this to my friend in Maryland, who paid $1,100 a month for full-day preschool. My friend in New York pays nearly $1,600 a month for her daughter to attend a half-day preschool. She then pays an additional $500 to $600 a week for a baby sitter to watch her daughter and her son — who is in kindergarten at a public school — in the afternoons.
We Spend Less Feeding Our Family
There isn’t a big difference between what I spend to feed my family of five each week versus what my friends spend. They both spend about $200 a week on groceries, they said. I spend about $125 to $150 a week to feed my family well. However, that can add up to a big difference in grocery spending over a year. My $150-a-week grocery trips total $7,800 a year compared with the $10,400 that my friends spend annually in the big cities where they live.
Some of my savings, though, might be from the cost-cutting strategies I use. I stockpile items when they’re on sale, buy cheap seasonal produce, take advantage of digital coupons and use meal planning to keep grocery costs low.
Extracurricular Activities Don’t Break Our Budget
Regardless of where you live, extracurricular activities for kids can break the family budget. But living in Kentucky helps keep my kids’ activities more affordable. For example, we paid about $75 per season for my son to play recreational soccer. My friend in Maryland pays about $120, plus another $50 for the uniform. My friend in New York paid $45 for a 45-minute soccer lesson.
I take other steps, though, to keep down the cost of extracurricular activities. Because I’m paying for my kids to be involved in some school-sponsored activities, I only let them participate in one after-school activity at a time. Not only does this save me money, but it also helps cut down on the amount of time I have to spend driving them to activities.
Because we live in a small city, it takes about 15 minutes to get our kids to school and to their preferred activities. Honestly, avoiding traffic and hours spent shuttling my kids around every day is one of the biggest reasons why I don’t ever want to move back to a big city. For now, we’ll stay where we are and keep saving time and money.
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