If you want to save money, the proper geoarbitrage strategy is not moving to a developing country. That’s too disruptive. Instead, the the better geoarbitrage strategy is to first look within you own city. You’ll be surprised how much money you can save by moving just a few short miles away.
One of the most common pushbacks I got from my post, “Why You Need To Earn $300,000 A Year To Live A Middle Class Lifestyle,” is: why the hell don’t I just leave expensive San Francisco if I’ve truly got enough passive income?
Believe me, I’ve been thinking about relocating out of San Francisco for years now. The high cost of living is high and it is getting more dense. The obsessive money culture is no longer appealing. Finally, I’d like to mix things up after living here since 2001.
My number one geoarbitrage destination is Honolulu, Hawaii, a place where stress simply melts away. My stress level averages about a 5 out of 10 in San Francisco. However, it immediately goes down to a steady state 3 when I’m in Hawaii.
Although Honolulu isn’t cheap, it’s about 20% – 30% cheaper than San Francisco in terms of housing. If you can save money and have nicer climate, that’s a win in my book.
But relocating takes time when you’ve grown accustomed to living in one place for so long. There are friends to say goodbye to and assets to unwind. Then there’s the small, but highly significant issue of raising a first child.
We figure we’d provide our daughter with a stable home environment up until she is three years old. At that time, we will then consider relocating for preschool. Our son will be five and can also apply to kindergarten.
Geoarbitrage Already Happened
What I didn’t realize until recently is that I already made a geoabitrage move back in 2014. Back in 2014, I moved from the more expensive northern part of San Francisco to the less expensive western part of San Francisco.
When people think of geoarbitrage, people tend to think in extremes. Moving to the heartland or to Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe to save big bucks on living expenses is common. The reality is, such big moves are not necessary.
One can simply geoarbitrage within one’s own town or city.
By moving out of our single-family home on the north end of San Francisco in 2014, renting it out, and buying a single family home just five miles west allowed us to save roughly $4,200 a month, or 50%.
I don’t know about you, but when you and your partner don’t have stable jobs, saving $50,000 a year after-tax sure alleviates a lot of financial pressure.
We’ve been hearing so much about a housing affordability crisis in cities like San Francisco and New York. Yet if people decided to not live in the most expensive parts of the city, their affordability would go way up!
For example, instead of paying $4,500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in Pacific Heights, you could have a nice two-bedroom apartment in the Outer Richmond district for $2,700. A $1,800 a month cost savings is significant if your goal is to be financially secure ASAP.
The Sacrifices Are Not That Big
Moving five miles west means being five miles further from downtown San Francisco, where most of the jobs are located. If we had to work downtown, the extra commute time would be 15 minutes on average each way.
15 minutes is nothing given we all have phones to nourish our minds with Financial Samurai articles. It is simply amazing how quickly we can kill time once we’re allowed to surf the web, listen to music, text with friends, play games, or watch some Netflix.
The cost to take the bus downtown from the north end where I used to live and the Muni downtown from the west side where I currently reside costs the same $2.5 each way, or $78 for a monthly commuter pass. Meanwhile, the invention of Uber pool and Lyft Line has lowered car service by 60-70%.
Further, if you move to a less densely populated area, there are benefits such as less traffic, less litter, less crime, more diversity, more parks, and cheaper goods and services.
Where I live, you can get a haircut for $12 pre-tip and eat a nice dinner for $15 a person. Where I used to live, the same haircut costs $26 pre-tip. Further, you’d never be able to escape a restaurant for under $30 a person.
Don’t Let Your Ego Get In The Way
If you want to accelerate your path to financial freedom, you’ve got to squash your ego for that big fancy house in a prime neighborhood. You might also have to even relinquish your desire to live in an international city like Washington D.C. or Los Angeles.
During my late 20s, I felt I needed to live in the best neighborhoods. After all, that’s where all my colleagues lived. It was a similar pressure to buying nicer clothes than I was accustomed to, to look the part.
But once I extricated myself from the workplace, there was no longer any peer pressure. Sure, living in a fancy neighborhood was nice, but I wanted a change of scenery 13 years later.
Lowering my housing expenses by 50% since 2014 while concurrently growing my passive income by 50% in the same time period has done wonders for our financials.
Our monthly cost to live has now plummeted to well below 5% of our gross income as a result. Growing this gap is the key to financial freedom.
We used to feel a little guilty being away from our house for more than two weeks. That meant we were paying double living costs for that particular time period. Nowadays, our housing costs can hardly be felt, so we feel much freer. When herd immunity is achieved, we plan to travel like crazy again!
No Need To Feel Embarrassed Living Farther Away
Some people used to arrogantly tell me, “Wow, you live so far away from downtown,” I think to myself: are you really justifying paying a premium in rent or purchase price just so you can live closer to work to work longer? You mindless fool!
Of course, I played dumb, nodded and told them it must be nice to live so much closer to work.
Now, there are less location snobs due to the pandemic. In fact, people who live farther away from downtown can now display reverse snobbery! I can’t believe you live downtown when downtown is dead!
The best near-term real estate opportunity is buying in the less dense parts of your city. Buying now before herd immunity is achieved will be like buying stocks in 1H2020 in my opinion.
Start Small, Work Your Geoarbitrage Way Up
It’s always good to start small when testing new things. Instead of relocating to a different country, try relocating to a different part of your city first. This is the best geoarbitrage strategy, especially if you have kids.
Once you understand the challenges and get comfortable with the new environment, then consider relocating to a cheaper part of the country. If living in a cheaper part of the country isn’t enough, then you can rip off the band-aid and go international.
The last thing you want to do is uproot your entire life in a completely new environment and feel like you made a mistake.
One family of five I know paid $200,000+ in real estate commission fees to sell their house in order to relocate to Florida where the wife’s family is from.
They ended up hating Florida because their adopted kids from Africa were being bullied and they are white. So they decided to move back to San Francisco seven months later. They then bought and remodeled a new house for multiple millions!
Try before you buy folks.
Moving Within Your City Is Great
Being able to work from home definitely helps with geoarbitrage no doubt. The global pandemic has certainly helped accelerate this trend.
But even if you had to go to an office with bright fluorescent lights that burn your skin and accelerate your aging process by 20%, having to commute an extra 10-30 minutes each way to save big bucks isn’t much of a sacrifice.
Instead, it’s a blessing to be able to enjoy your same city and breathe in the same fresh air while saving so much money every day. Once we moved to the less dense, west-side of San Francisco, we got excited again. There were new parks and museums to enjoy. New restaurants to eat at. And new types of people to meet.
If you think you deserve to live in the best area, then be happy paying higher prices. If you aren’t happy with the cost, please relocate to a different part of town.
Nobody is saying you need to move to polar vortex country to achieve financial independence! In fact, once the pandemic is over, I bet there will be a lot of people looking to reverse-geoarbitrage back to coastal cities and states like California.
After all, people go where the weather is best and the job opportunities are the greatest.
A Smart Way To Invest In Geoarbitrage
Geoarbitrage is a trend that’s going to continue for decades to come. The pandemic has ensured a permanently flexible way of working. Therefore, expect to see a continued net migration to lower cost parts of the country.
For example, huge companies like Google and Apple are spending billions buying up heartland real estate for a reason. As a result, job opportunities will follow.
The best way I know how to take advantage of the geoarbitrage trend is through real estate crowdfunding. Real estate crowdfunding is a way to invest in real estate across the country in a cost-efficient and easier manner. Instead of taking on concentration risk by buying the entire building, you can wisely own a portion of the building in a city like Austin or Charleston to diversify your portfolio.
Check out Fundrise, one of the pioneers in real estate crowdfunding today. Their comprehensive platform is free to sign up and look around. I believe Fundrise is the best platform for non-accredited investors given it has eFunds to provide investors exposure and diversification.
Also check out CrowdStreet, my favorite real estate crowdfunding platform for accredited investors. CrowdStreet’s focuses specifically on 18-hour cities, those cities that are less expensive, but faster growing. 18-hour cities should benefit most from the long-term geoarbitrage trend. CrowdStreet is also free to sign up and explore.