The Top 5 Cities In America To Get Rich And Enjoy Life!

Polar Vortex
Polar Vortex Coming For You Again in 2015

Given day job income is the number one source of income for the majority of the population, it behooves us all to go where there's robust employment. But wouldn't it be ideal to not only find a lucrative job, but also live in a great environment at the same time?

After reading one too many “best places to live, retire, work” articles that left me scratching my head in disbelief, I decided to create my own list based on the following criteria:

* Experience. There's no voodoo journalism where the author writes about places he's never been to. I've lived in all of these places for years except for one.

* Wealth. Wealthy people can live anywhere in the world. So it's logical to follow their money to see where they reside.

* Weather. “Go West young man!” said one of our first settlers. No rational person would choose living in freezing cold weather for half the year when they could live in temperate or warm weather all year around. Polar Vortex be damned!

* Diversity. The world is global. Life is much better when you speak a second language, experience different cultures, and eat all sorts of food. If you only speak one language, have never traveled internationally, and eat chicken every day, this list is not for you.

* Employment. All five cities on my list have unemployment levels below the nation's unemployment level of ~6.7%. Go where the jobs are.


#5) West Los Angeles down to Newport Beach, California

Pepperdine University Malibu, California
Pepperdine University in Malibu

Pros: With the average temperature of 71 degrees Fahrenheit year around, LA along with San Diego have the best weather on the mainland. I make a distinction between West Los Angeles and Los Angeles because LA is huge with a roughly 3.9 million population, and a 13 million greater LA population. It's all about living along the coast down to Newport Beach. LA is the mecca of the TV, movie, and music industry. Las Vegas is 3.5 hours away by car for some debauchery. There's a great amount of diversity. Finally, there are plenty of international flights and ports out of LAX.

Cons: Traffic and pollution. If you can live in West LA and work in West LA, you're fine. But if you've got to commute to downtown LA from West LA during rush hour then problems arise. With such an enormous population, it can be maddeningly frustrating to get things done. Smog is a mainstay problem in the area. The median home sales price in LA is roughly $519,000.

Recommended minimum income per person: $75,000. Commuting costs are terrible and home prices have rebounded quite rapidly over the past two years.

#4) Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, HI
Kids body boarding with no care in the world

Pros: What's there not to love about living in paradise where the average temperature is 77.2 degrees Fahrenheit? The waves, mountains, and sunshine are free. There's a fantastic mix of Korean, Chinese, Hawaiian, Italian, Filipino, Japanese, and American food. Locals get discounts to play one of the several dozen public golf courses on the island. Pensions are not taxed and the sales tax is only 4.8% as opposed to 8%+ in many other states. Unemployment is a nation leading low 4.5%. The rise of the Chinese consumer is energizing the tourism industry like the Japanese consumer did in the 1980's. Honolulu would rank higher on the list if it had a larger and more diverse commercial industry.

Cons: The median housing cost is roughly $570,000. Milk can cost $5 a gallon and gasoline is regularly always the highest in the nation as everything is imported. It can sometimes take an hour to go 15 miles in rush hour traffic. If you do not have an internet business or are not interested in the hospitality business, then options are limited. But there is a burgeoning financial wealth management business due to the influx of wealthy Chinese and retirees from the mainland. Hawaii life is so nice that you might never maximize your potential. Read: If You Can Make It In Hawaii, You Can Make It Anywhere

Recommended minimum household income: $90,000+. A good portion of Hawaiian households have multiple generations under one roof to keep costs down. Minimum individual income: $45,000. 7.2% of the number of households in Hawaii are millionaires, #2 in the country.

#3) Washington DC and Surrounding Area

Washington DC Cherry Blossoms
Cherry blossoms blooming in DC

Pros: Thanks to fat government contracts, roughly 6% of the total 266,000 households are millionaires. Northern Virginia (suburbs of DC) is right up there with some 6.5% of households as millionaires. Maryland is #1 in the country at 7.2% of households as millionaires. DC and its suburbs provide access to great museums and year around festivities. Home of the “power lunch,” roughly a half million federal government workers with pensions are able to enjoy a lifestyle supported by US taxpayers. Flights are plentiful to Europe from Dulles International Airport. There's also a great cluster of world class universities including: Georgetown, UVA, and William & Mary within 2.5 hours away. The public high school system is also one of the nation's best.

Cons: Summers get extremely humid and winters can go below freezing. Those who have allergies will suffer given the area produces some of the highest allergen counts in the country. Average listing price for Fairfax, Virginia homes is roughly $564,000 according to Trulia.

Recommended minimum household income: $100,000+. The DC area is immense. You can find plenty of cheaper areas to live if you are willing to commute from places such as Herndon or Chantilly. Areas such as Langley, McLean, Vienna, and Chevy Chase are some of the most expensive neighborhoods that require $150,000+ household income levels to be able to afford a place.

#2) New York, New York

US Open Arthur Ashe Stadium
Ashe Stadium after the rain at the US Open

Pros: Every time I left NYC for business I was so glad to return because NYC is the most vibrant city in America. Where else can you go eat Korean BBQ at 4am after hitting one of the clubs? Where else can you go to Carnegie Hall to listen to Yo Yo Ma play his cello and hit a rooftop pool party at The Standard Hotel? If you want to be in finance, publishing, art, media, and entertainment there's no better place to be. NYC has the best variety and quality of food hands down. It's easy to meet new people given the incredibly efficient and affordable subway system.

Cons: Cost is the biggest issue. Even if you are making $100,000 living in Manhattan, it's very difficult to save. The noise and pollution can get to the average person if s/he is not used to all the hustle and bustle. Given the 8.4 million population, your patience might wear thin as you're always standing in long lines for food, shows, and transportation.

The average housing list price is $2.6 million and the median sales price is $1,055,000 according to Trulia if you want to live in Manhattan. Luckily, there are more affordable boroughs such as Queens where the average list and median price is around $450,000. Taxes are high thanks to a city tax on top of state and federal taxes. Finally, the winter months can be very harsh. Read: How Do People Live Comfortably In NYC On Less Than $100,000 A Year? This article will show you how people who don't make my recommended minimum household income make it!

Recommended minimum household income: $250,000+ in Manhattan depending on the number of children you have given private school costs $40,000+ a year and rent for a three bedroom apartment can easily go for over $6,500 a month in a decent neighborhood. If you avoid Brooklyn, you can comfortably live off $60,000 a year as an individual.

#1) San Francisco Bay Area, California

San Francisco Skyline
SF skyline with TransAmerica building from my old office

Pros: What can I say about my favorite city in the world. I've lived in six countries and have visited hundreds of cities so far, and hands down San Francisco is the #1 city in America to make money and live a balanced life. The job market is booming because of the strength of the tech / internet sector. The weather averages a temperate 61 degrees fahrenheit. San Francisco has a minority majority population promising a huge diversity of food and culture for everyone to enjoy. Close by are world class destinations in Napa/Sonoma Valley, Lake Tahoe, Half Moon Bay, and Carmel By The Sea. The Bay Area is home to tech giants such as Apple, Google, Yahoo, eBay, Twitter, and Intel. The unemployment rate of 5% is one of the lowest in the nation and opportunities are endless.

I don't know any other city in the world that is churning out as many millionaires as San Francisco. Millionaires are a dime a dozen here. When you retire, you can easily go anywhere else in the world to live an even more comfortable life. Berkeley and Stanford are two great universities that help produce a good amount of research and innovation as well.

If you think I'm biased, Travel+Leisure Magazine recently ranked San Francisco as the #1 city for intelligence, attractive people, sexual acceptance, tech-saviness, fine dining, and wine bars. NYC is #1 for luxury stores, performing arts, historical sites, diverse foods, and sandwiches. I'd take attractive people to drink and fine dine with over checking out historical sites any day!

Cons: The median housing price in San Francisco is roughly $840,000, the nation's highest compared the the median household income of roughly $73,000. As a result, 60%+ of residents rent. The average rent for a 1,000 sqft 2/2 is around $3,200/month. Social unrest due to increased evictions and rising rents have caused demonstrators to block Google buses in the Mission District on a monthly basis. State income taxes can run up to 13% but averages around 8% for the median household earner.

Recommended minimum household income: $150,000+. There's sadly no way to comfortably buy a median priced house that costs $840,000 on less than $150,000 unless you have a huge downpayment. A single person without dependents can comfortably live off $60,000 a year, but savings will be limited to at most $20,000 a year. On the bright side, San Francisco properties are about 30% cheaper than Manhattan properties on a like for like basis.

See: Why Earning $300,000 Is A Middle Class Income Today


I grew up in a real small town in upstate New York. The very first thing I did after graduating college is I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area because I knew the odds there were just going to be better…Second thing I did was…[say] to myself ‘I'm going to try a number of things which are high risk but possibly high reward. Try as many of them as I can until one of them gets lucky.' Sooner or later luck is going to find you. You just have to stay in the game. – Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert

If you enjoy city life, these are my top 5 cities to live in America. If you don't enjoy city life, not to worry because each one of these cities have terrific suburbs close by. There's Malibu for Los Angeles, Hillsborough for San Francisco, Kahala for Honolulu, Great Falls for Washington DC, and Westchester for NYC to name a few more idyllic spots on the top 5 list.

For those of you who are graduating college or looking to find better job opportunities, all of these places give you the best chance for a thriving career. Perhaps you'll have to slum it for a bit due to the high cost of living, but that's what we do when we're paying our dues. It's absolutely worth going to where the action is. Mindshare is a very powerful phenomenon that keeps on enriching everyone around.

Some of you will never leave your current residence due to family. Change is hard and being away from loved ones can be especially difficult for those who've never traveled. But in the age of Skype, Facetime, and quick transportation, give your dreams a chance! Once you've made your money, you can afford to fly your family out to be with you, or you can always return. The farthest flight in America is 9.5 hours from NYC to Honolulu. That's nothing compared to the three months early settlers took to cross the continent.

Honorable Mention: Seattle, Washington. No state income tax. Strong employers in Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks. Median home price of $420,000 half that of San Francisco. Only con is that it's kind of gloomy more days than desired.

Recommendation: If you want to be completely mobile in order to experience all the great cities in America and around the world, I highly suggest starting your own site to at least brand yourself online. I started Financial Samurai in 2009, and have been working all over the world since I left my day job in 2012. There are 3 billion people online. Take advantage!

Readers, what are your top five locations in America or the world to make your fortune and live a great life? Why don't more people move away from slow growth areas to high growth areas if they want more opportunities? Why isn't there more of a migration to nicer weather locations? If you believe a city should be on the list but isn't, please let me know and explain why!

Related articles:

Easy Coast Living – Is It Really That Bad?

West Coast Living – Yes It Really Is That Much Better

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147 thoughts on “The Top 5 Cities In America To Get Rich And Enjoy Life!”

  1. Coming from FS, I’m not surprised San Francisco is first :p

    Would be interesting to see a worldwide version of this list.

  2. Pingback: Living In An Expensive City Can Make You Richer, Happier, And More Diplomatic | Financial Samurai

  3. Greenville, South Carolina….give it a look. $400k or less for a 3,500 sq. ft. Southern colonial on a wooded acre, cul de sac, twenty minutes to downtown. R/E taxes under $2K. GE Energy Plant, BMW Plant, Michelin US HQ, Clemson U, Bob Jones U (for the Christian Right oriented). Great airport under current renovation feels like a private facility, with Southwest on board. Totally awesome downtown….on everyone’s top five places to live/work/retire. Only downside is K-12 systems…some are rather weak.. Absolute heaven for engineers and the CNC-capable.

  4. Good post. A couple more notes about DC…

    Cons: The traffic and the significant income inequality. Although there are many millionaires, there is also a lot of poverty within the city.

    Pros: In addition to the federal government, there are several other major industries in DC. Medical research is big in the area because there are businesses like John’s Hopkins (which is only about an hour away in Baltimore), NIH, ect. Also, businesses seem to like to locate themselves in DC to take advantage of the skilled labor force. For example, there are actually a couple companies that build computer games in the area. Some of them got a start building simulations for the government and have since branched out.

  5. Sam,

    You know what’s great about New York City?

    New Yorkers! I work with many folks from New York City. They’re fun!
    They’re friendly! And…… They are very direct! I like direct.

    I think that translates throughout a good chunk of the east coast. You should put New York City as number one. I think the culture is so much better.

    1. Ace,

      i’ve definitely considered east coast, in particular philly considering its low col compared to nyc/bos/nova. i’ve lived in seattle for over a decade and the culture is very different for sure.

      right now, it’s a toss between oakland/sacramento in the west coast and philly in the east coast. i’ve heard that the east coast is much more fast-paced than other parts of the country, i don’t know if i can handle that, although i can adjust in time.

      you seemed to have lived/traveled to many parts of the country, may i ask where you are currently based out of?

      1. Pisces1,

        I’m currently residing in the Chicago area, but I do travel around the country frequently. At some point, I’ll relocate again. Kind of like the Austin area, though the traffic seemed kind of crazy for a mid-sized city.

        I’ll probably wind up back on the east coast. I’m really pretty happy anywhere.

    1. Lisa,

      I certainly enjoyed my time there back in around 1980 to 1985. But, I’m happier not living there.

      I actually work with so many people whom have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area at one time or another. It’s very rare to find anyone wanting to move back.

      I think I only know of two (and one of them had family connections there). But, I do run into people with an interest in moving to Southern California.

  6. You are only focusing on single people, let me remind you there are 51% households with children under 18, who care more about School Districts than Broadway shows.

    So try thinking outside the box and don’t just focus on dating, clubbing and drinking. We need parks, child care, best elementary, high-schools etc. For all that you need to stay away from lists of mega-cities you mentioned above or else even with 200K+ you will still be broke and most probably your kids will be potheads by the time they graduate high school, if they ever did.

    So best places to live and make money are, where you can find good balance of jobs and family life. I would say mid-size cities like, Pittsburgh; Raleigh,NC ; Columbus, OH; St. Luis; Austin,TX, Milwaukee,WI are best value for your money.

    1. Are you saying that these cities and the surrounding areas are not inhabited by families who care about education?

      You do know that the best public high schools in America surround these cities right? Langley and McLean in Northern Virginia, Marin/Hilsborough/Atherton in the SF Bay Area etc.

      This is not a list for best value for your money to be miserable. This is a list to live a great life and make a lot of money. Is this not clear in the title and the body of my post?

  7. Another “gedunke”:

    If your goal is to be financially independent…… That means that your passive income will support or exceed your normal expenses.

    If….you can accomplish this in a low cost/lower cost city (maybe a Cleveland, or a St. Louis, or a Fort Worth), you have a comfortable family lifestyle, a relatively short/low cost commute, aren’t you rich?

  8. As I face a move in the next few years, it is interesting to me to see how different my list is from yours. With kids, we have to consider the quality of schools, but also probably rate quality of life a little differently– I wouldn’t want to raise them in NYC, for instance.

    Weather is certainly a factor for us (more so for my wife who prefers the warm– I like to ski and enjoy different seasons).

    Cost of living is a big factor, including tax rates. We also want to get as much home as we can get (not in terms of square feet, but one that meets our conception of quality) with cash and no mortgage.

    Politics matters to me as well. As a swag, a good mix for us is red state economics, blue state culture, and libertarian live and let live.

    I complete agree with the idea of going where the money is, which obviously doesn’t always square with the rest of our criteria.

    Right now, we’re favoring Texas (Austin, specifically), Florida, and South Carolina. Having spent some time in California, I’d love to live there– it is a natural wonder– but it just seems too expensive and too taxed. If we could make it work, we would undoubtedly enjoy ourselves.

    All that said, we’ll probably just go where I can find the best gig, wherever and whatever that ends up being.

  9. Glad to see DC and Northern Virginia represented on this list! For anyone thinking of relocating to the area, might I recommend:

    Arlington, VA – Especially the neighborhoods along the metro, like Clarendon. Great for a younger crowd, tons of good restaurants and bars, very walkable community, easy access to DC.

    Reston, VA – Pretty much the best the suburbs have to offer; lots of green space, miles of trails for running/biking, 15 public swimming pools, a great “downtown” area (Reston Town Center), and good commuter access as well, with a metro station opening later this year.

  10. As a new resident of the Peninsula (SF Bay Area) I’d have to say that the wealth here is absolutely insane. The hubby and I attended a lovely party the other night where–it’d be safe to assume–at least 95% of the attendees were millionaires. The other 5%, you ask? Billionaires. ; ) In general, the people here are fabulous, quite welcoming, and very down to earth. And whether you’re a city slicker or the outdoorsy type, you’ll never run out of things to do. The only con in my opinion (and it’s a big one) is the overall cost of living. Housing (purchasing and renting, we’ve done both this past year) is extremely expensive and our dining out bills are higher than ever. Even the grocery stores seem much more expensive than those I frequented in SoCal. And on a final note, Go Niners!

  11. La Tejana @ Debt Free Tejana

    This is so perfect! I have recently been thinking of moving from Texas after paying off my student loan debt and LA is my top pick! So glad to see it posted here. :)

  12. For the sake of an interesting discussion, I’m going to throw a few more ideas out there.

    I know people scoff and laugh at this. But, what if you are a confirmed east coaster. The east coast is all about you, your family, your culture, your attitude, etc. living in NYC would be optimum, but you never got the $500,000/year investment banker job (or maybe you’re kind of an underachiever in general). So you can’t afford NYC.

    Consider: Philadelphia

    America’s fifth largest metro area (population 4 million). You get a biotech or pharmaceutical gig for $100,000/year. You buy a nice $350,000 house in the semi-rural suburbs 20 miles north of the city.

    You have some that big city stuff in downtown Philly with that east coast vibrant attitude, for a much lower cost.

    You are about an hour and half drive from the beaches in New Jersey and you have mountains to the west and north (some of them skiable).

    Life is good. Boom!

    1. Ace,

      Your comments are right on. Chicago in the Midwest and Philly in the East Coast are very good places where one can potentially make a high income without the high expenses. If you don’t mind a little warmer weather Atlanta is a good bet in the Southwest.

      1. Pisces1, I have only been to Atlanta once, on a business trip.

        It seems like a nice city, but I can’t render an opinion. I certainly wouldn’t rule out a city that has hot summers (or cold winters) as long as there are good opportunities.

        My opinion (and this is only my opinion) is that the only US city with perfect weather is San Diego.

      1. Yes…. Philly can have a rough edge, but if you are from NYC, my assumption is that you likely have pretty good streetsmarts.

        Overall, the Philly metro area is really a nice place to live. The population is very affluent (the largest mall in America is King of Prussia), the traffic is certainly much lighter compared to a Chicago or an NYC. And the food is really good. If you get the chance, check out Wegman’s.

  13. Having been to 47 states – missing Alaska, Maine, and (sadly) Hawaii – I can say that San Francisco tops my list of best cities. I have family there, have visited innumerable times, and concur with your assessment of that place as #1. Culture, positive vibe, intelligent fit people, beautiful city and surroundings….its a great place. Hard to break in there now, with prices what they are.

    Now, I do think that Chicago merits consideration in the top group. It has its flaws, such as the obvious cold winter weather (I was cursing this place last week), and the growing financial problems it has. Though that’s the case in California too, from what I understand.

    But Chicago is a place with that true big city feel, world-class dining and shopping, and some great neighborhoods. The people are down to earth compared to some other areas. It’s pricey, but not as extreme as SF or NY.

    And yes, I’m biased because I live in this area.

      1. Sam,

        People do play tennis all year round in Chicago. They play at indoor tennis clubs.
        Some of them quite fancy!

      2. People in Chicago also swim all year round (indoors), they go skiing and snowmobiling in Wisconsin (or Michigan). And they sometimes do strange activities such as ice fishing in northern Wisconsin (or photographing eagles at the Mississippi River).

  14. I love the Los Angeles area- the weather is great, lots of things to do, but like you mentioned the traffic is a nightmare and the cost of living is high! The sprawl is also just terrible.

    I haven’t lived anywhere else, so I have nothing to compare it too (I can’t count NYC since I left when I was four and visit only once a year.)

    I’ve been looking for an alternative, but can’t find anywhere I really like that’s less expensive (love Pasadena, but MORE expensive than where I currently reside). But, I just read that Claremont, CA is a great place to live with a small college town feel near the base of the San Bernadino Mtns. I’ll have to check it out.

  15. My favorite cities to get rich and enjoy life are the ones closest to my extended family.

    As the US economy becomes more info-centric, working remotely becomes more and more feasible.

    Taking my Silicon Valley salary and relocating to a lower cost area on the eastern seaboard is my goal. Perhaps the RTP area.

    1. I think your reason for favorite city is why so many don’t move, even though they realize the weather is horrible and their local industry is dying e.g. Detroit, Flint, Michigan etc.

  16. I heard a couple people say CLT- and I can honestly say that there is a lot of opportunities to create wealth there. Cost of living is VERY affordable, with low property taxes, a good job market and quite a bit of relatively inexpensive industrial and commercial space (great for entrepreneurial endeavors). BAC is located here, as well as Duke Energy- I have lived here for 11 years after grad school, and started multiple businesses in the health science field (I have sold a couple). Weather is pretty good- gets a little hot in the summer, but not that bad, and the mountains and the beach are a relatively short drive. I have been to most major cities around the world (love to travel and travel for biz), and I like Singapore probably the best, followed by Sydney. I like Cali (recently had a chance to move to SD)- but I love NC

    Love the blog- lot of like-minded people on here

  17. Working in outside sales (as I do) you can live anywhere. Salaries in my industry vary by 3-5% based on a given city’s COL. However COL can vary by as much as 200% on the outliers. Anyway I have to visit all your top 5s for work all the time (except Honolulu… unfortunately!). So I can enjoy many of the benefits… gratis!

    Spitballing: why wouldn’t one want to reverse your thinking? Meaning… get “rich” in a low cost area (basically any sizable city in the South) then move to one your Top 5s? Weather is mild 10 months per year (July/Aug can be brutal, but this year was mild). SF can get COLD, Sam!! 60s and windy (SF) generally feels colder than 50s and still (typical winter day in the South).

    Also… having lived throughout the South (as well as the NE and even the NW for a brief time) I can vouch that it’s a great place to raise a family. In the bigger cities you have moderate diversity. Just make sure you introduce your kids to it (local cultural fairs/food, international travel, etc).

    When you (later in life) move to a Top 5 you won’t have to worry about income so much because you won’t have a mortgage unless you want one. Yes food, gas, etc might be higher cost… but it’s housing and taxes that are the REAL drivers of COL. 80/20 rule strikes again! Admittedly, you tend to want to spend more money when the weather is gorgeous and you’re surrounded by world class dining… but that’s voluntary.

    Thoughts? Figure I’d play Devil’s Advocate by flipping your theory around…

    **FYI I generally agree with your salary suggestions… for a household of two or fewer**

    1. I just don’t see those six figures jobs and investment opportunities as readily available in the lower cost cities (feel free to mention specifics as I have in this post).

      There’s a reason why there’s a term in Liar’s Poker, “Equities in Dallas!”

      1. Guess I should count my blessings then…

        That said, I firmly believe there is opportunity everywhere.

        1. Also, as far as your request for specifics:

          Houston (Energy), Atlanta (Alpha City), Charlotte (Banking), Raleigh-Durham (Bio-tech)

          Maybes: Nashville (Pharma/Music), Charleston (Aerospace/Logistics), Richmond (Banking)

  18. I like to visit the cities on your list, but I wouldn’t want to live there. They are all too busy. I don’t want to live anywhere that have traffic jam all the time. Rush hour is bad enough.
    My retirement location list is very short –
    1. Santa Barbara
    2. Portland
    3. Hawaii – not Honolulu…
    Those are not great places to make money, though. I probably need to visit a few more locals.

    1. Joe, this isn’t a retirement list. This is a list where you can find high paying jobs and live a great life. Can you share what specific companies and industries there are in Portland?

      1. Oops, you’re right. I was thinking of myself when I replied.
        I wouldn’t enjoy life in the city you listed. It’s too busy. Portland is good for independent minded creative type. It will take a lot of luck to get rich in that niche though.

  19. DebtFreeinUpstateNY

    I appreciate your thoughts Sam but I believe it comes from your perspective of a single person without kids in SF. (I did that too and I loved it!) My wife and I have 4 kids, we are both doctors, and living in SF would be a terrible experience for us. In SF, there is an oversupply of MD’s, the competition is cut-throat, litigation and taxes are oppressive, cost of living is high, physicians incomes are relatively less, etc., etc. Meanwhile, our life experience here in upstate NY is minimal commutes, high income, debt freedom, kids in high quality private schools, tremendous amounts saved every year for the option of early retirement or paying 4 college tuitions, world and domestic travel at will, country club, etc. etc. Plus, kids love 4 seasons. I just wanted to give you another perspective because as much as I love visiting the places you mentioned, my Bay Area friends are jealous of our life.

    1. Definitely it comes down to perspective. If you have a family, it’s great living 30 minutes away in places like Marin, Kentfield, Hillsborough, Burlingame etc. Schools are top notch.

      Always fun to hear doctors make so much more in less populated places with less competition. Friend makes double as a anesthesiologist in NC.

      Why do you think it’s so competitive in SF and NYC? The best hospitals are there along with Boston and Johns Hopkins.

      1. DebtFreeinUpstateNY

        For physicians, I believe the laws of supply and demand hold in the major metropolitan areas such as SF, NYC, Boston, etc. There are a lot of medical schools in those regions and many of the students have family ties to those areas. Thus, many of the graduates stay, thereby driving down compensation. (For example, there are a lot of docs that will do anything to work in NYC despite making less than six figures and having enormous educational debt. Personally, I don’t get it but I respect their decision.) Their opportunity cost is multiple six figures/year! Also, many doctors are terrible with their finances, so they do not engage in data driven decision making when it comes to their careers.

        Having earned degrees at Stanford and trained at an Ivy League institution, I am familiar with these “medical Meccas.” I am not convinced the overall quality of care is substantially “better.” Health care, like politics, tend to be local. I can get my friends world class care in my region but you would be surprised some of the places include community hospitals! (It’s true but not well known.)

        If we lived in the SF burbs you mentioned, we would be sacrificing multiple six figure compensation, living in a smaller house, and spending tons of time driving. (I know those areas well.) For us, I love the fact we sit together for dinner practically every night (because we can choose not to work crazy hours and are not stuck in traffic), attend kids recitals, attend kids/professional sports events, have diverse/well educated friends (who are nice!), travel, and enjoy the other benefits I previously mentioned. For us, if the cost is 2-3 months of winter (which is fine b/c we ski), then so be it. For MD’s, the cities you mentioned may not be the best balance between compensation and lifestyle.

  20. I can’t agree about the getting rich part, but I can definitely agree with having a great life! I lived in LA and Brooklyn and loved it. Lots of jobs, culture, the arts and money. SF is one of my favorite cities as well, though I would say some of the character of it is fading due to the tech boom. Too many rich people does not equal diversity. I went there recently and though it was great, it felt different. I currently live in Portland and it feels like you could get rich here if you had a nice salary as the COL is low. However, I hate the weather and I miss LA so much for that reason.

    1. Portland really does seem to be a nice option for the low COL. But are there enough big bucks salary opps like Seattle with Amazon, MSFT, and corporate Starbucks? If so, id consider.

    2. Is Portland weather really that bad? Joe from RB40 seems to love it, but of course he’s biased, :)

      If I was rich, I wouldn’t want to live in Portland b/c gloomy weather is not fun compared to year around sunshine.

      1. I would say there are some high paying jobs, but probably not as much as Seattle. I personally don’t like the weather, but I was born and raised in LA so the constant rain is tough. It’s legitimately hard on me and I’m trying to work through it. Other people love it and have no problem with it. I also don’t have a car, so I bike year round, which is a factor. Portland is nice, but it’s not my forever place.

  21. Agreed, the Bay Area has the best weather all year around. Even though, quiet a few places in the East coast offer great salaries and great to live for ONLY 3 seasons. Dealing with snows in the winter is no fun. NJ is home to many big pharmas such as JNJ, Celgene, Bristol, Hoffman la Roche, Sanofi Aventis etc….not hard to find great paying jobs. Cons – expensive home price, outrageous property taxes and the winter. Boston is also nice except the winter. As for retirement, I think Charlotte, NC is perfect. Cost of living is reasonable, low taxes, warm, a good international airport and a huge financial industry that pay decent. Many companies are moving there in the last few years because the baby boomer managements are preparing to retire there.

  22. Bryce @ Save and Conquer

    I have not lived in as many places, but I spent 3 years in Maryland (didn’t like the weather), 4 years in Santa Barbara (wonderful place, but not much industry), and the rest of my life in San Jose. I don’t see any reason to leave San Jose. Like San Fran, it takes a pretty high salary to live here, but there are lots of opportunities with many of the tech giants and engineering firms in the area.

  23. I am interested in living in a warmer climate that still provides some changes in seasons, and outdoor activities abound. I am going to be moving after residency ends in 1.5 years, and can really choose any area in the US, and expect to make a 250K-350K/year salary from the get-go. In your travels, have you experienced any areas like this in the US?

    I’ve lived in Minneapolis and love the twin cities area, but winter is horrible. I’ve lived in central Michigan and though the western shores were nice, but the amenities a large city affords me are lacking.


    1. San Francisco hands down! You will be pretty comfortable with a $250-$300k salary from the get go.

      Once you experience SF for a while, you will likely never want to leave. Sticky out here.

  24. A good list. While I haven’t lived in any of the cities, I have spent time in each of them, on multiple occasions for most of them. After growing up in Colorado and currently living in Arizona, I am definitely a fan of the idea of settling in the West.

  25. I tend to always thing of health care jobs because that’s what I know. Unless you are world renowned, there isn’t much diversity in salary between small town America and somewhere like DC or San Francisco, but the costs are remarkably less in smaller places, and you can still get away with owning a practice in small towns if you desire, while managed care has pretty much taken over in the cities. As far as optometry jobs, California has some of the most restricted laws in the country as far as what I would be able to do medically, and that would be frustrating for me as well as a waste of training. Honestly, the best areas are where people are the most unhealthy and with a large senior population that aren’t too over saturated with providers. If you can match that with a place you enjoy living, you’re set. So far Southwest Colorado has worked for us, but I can see us heading somewhere warmer when we are done with work.

  26. Well Sam,

    I’m aquainted with all of these locations. I suppose if I had to choose out of this list it would be L.A., maybe D.C. as second choice. I actually like the Mid-Atlantic area.

    But…. I think in order to live a rich comfortable life, people need more balance.
    Housing costs and commute times are really critical family issues.

    My thinking is that you could choose a more moderately priced city in the middle of the country and have an overall better quality of life.

      1. Well…. Sam,

        I think it’s good to be open minded. I’ll throw a few ideas out there (some obvious) just for the sake of discussion.

        1. There is no perfect place to live. Every place is a compromise.

        2. There are far more millionaire plumbers than there are Google engineers.

        3. I wouldn’t dismiss America’s third largest city – Chicago (metro population of about 9.5 million), or America’s fourth largest city – Houston (metro population: 5.6 million) because they get a few months of cold (or hot) weather. Cities don’t grow to that size unless there is economic opportunity.

        4. It is much easier to become wealthy if you have low housing costs and a low priced (preferably short) commute.

        A couple months back I was talking to a young woman whom had been living in a reasonably nice appartment in the Chicago area. I forgot exactly what she did for a living; some kind of management job.

        Well anyway, she moved for a higher paying position in Cleveland. She bought a four bedroom house for $170,000 (cash) and overall, is very happy with living in Ohio.

        Think about this. The woman has no house payment. She’s 28 years old. She should have no problem maxing out her 401k plan and still live very well!

        1. I donno man. There’s a reason you can buy a 4 bedroom house in Cleveland.

          You can only cut costs so much.

          I am impressed with how cheap it is to live in Chicago too.

          1. Sam,

            I just dug up my old tax records from 1985…. Both the wife and I had jobs in San Francisco. Our household income was $71,000. Pretty good money for 1985!

            In 1986, we relocated to Chicago for about the same pay. Best move I ever made.

          2. Sam,

            In regards to Cleveland real estate…. I wouldn’t (I don’t) expect any real appreciation outside of the local inflation rate. The point of the anecdote is that this young woman, with very minimal savings discipline, should be able to achieve financial independence with ease. And, I’m sure she will likely be married in a year or two (she’s one of daughter’ old friends); and it looks like from an overall point of view…. A good thing.

            Reasonably good pay. Good lifestyle and low cost. I have been through Ohio many times in my travels. Ohio is very beautiful state. The people are good looking and friendly.

            My point is: keep an open mind and try and figure out what strategic goal you actually have in mind before selecting a place to live. Every geographic area has positives points and negative points. It’s a very big country and you don’t have to live on the west coast or the east coast in order to live a fulfilling happy life!

          3. “Why is Chicago real estate so much cheaper than San Francisco”

            Cheaper and cheap are two different things! First off, I don’t consider Chicago a cheap place to live. But jobs pay very well here and there is a broad diverse housing stock throughout the metro area. If you are a person that just has to have that “big city” experience, Chicago is the best deal in the country.

            The San Francisco Bay Area is geographically very landlocked (I know this obvious to you). Between the bay and the mountainous terrain, there basically is no build able land left (unless you wish to drive up to something like Fairfield/Vacaville, or Traci, or some more inland area).

            The Chicago metro area has plenty of open farmland available in order to build new housing. There are densely populated neighborhoods in Chicago, but also there are so many other options available at variety of price points. The metro area as whole is just not that densely populated. And you feel that.

            A family with a household income of $75,000 to $100,000 (very common in Chicago) should be able to find a single family home within a reasonable commute without too much trouble.

            At the other end….. There is an incredible amount of wealth in this city. Multi-million dollar homes are very common. Take a summer drive up North Sheridan Road and just check out all the beautiful mansions on the North Shore. It kind of has a similar feel to the Hamptons.

      2. Another thought in regards to this very “subjective” topic. If you want the New York City experience for less cost, there is “no” other city in America other than Chicago.

        Another commenter at a different blog site had a very excellent description: “Chicago is basically Queens with Mid-town Manhatten in the center.” And I concur. There are very few things which you can do in NYC, that can’t be done for far cheaper and so much less hassle.

        The urban experience in the rest of these cities on your list, are just not the same.
        And yes… Bars are open at 4:00AM.

  27. Born and raised in the north/west LA area and $519k for a house will get you either a fixer upper or an area that’s not so great. My husband and I are now in the south Ventura County area on the LA border and 510k got us a decent house in a pretty good area but it still needs work. We pay for the great weather and usually it’s worth it.

  28. I think you can make a fortune anywhere if you start your own business and don’t rely On a job. Plus the Internet has made getting rich anywhere a possibility.

    In fact you could get rich quicker in a smaller town with lower cost if living and better real estate investment opportunities.

  29. Charles@gettingarichlife

    Sam I agree with everything except Honolulu unless you’re in commission sales catering to the wealthy or Hawaiian family.(insurance, real estate, and mortgages) In all the other cities you have above average paying jobs where a dual income couple can build wealth with fast growing assets.
    In Hawaii the median income is higher because you have more working people in one household and many hold multiple jobs which skews the average. We have the highest per capita of millionaires of all the states but it’s because they make their wealth elsewhere and either retire here or use it as a second home.
    UHERO and Paul Brewbaker a top economist who called the last two real estate cycle predicts Hawaii house price to be $800,000 by 2016 and $1 million before 20.

    You won’t get rich from income but investing in assets, but that’s the catch 22 the high cost of living will eat up a lot of your income. Our top three industries, tourism, construction and government aren’t high paying although construction will pay above average.
    To grow wealth will depend on where you are in the food chain, especially with the expected increase in real estate wealth.

    1. How is housing price growth different than the other major cities in America? All the too cities are seeing growth due to employment demands.

      Hawaii makes up for it’s lack of industry diversity with quality of life. Hawaii consistently ranks as #1 in terms of happiness and lifestyle. That cannot be underestimated!

  30. I’ve been to all of those places except Newport Beach. It looks nice from that picture though! For me, NY and DC are great places to visit but I’m happy not to live there anymore. I like the West Coast or Hawaii sounds great too. I’ve been really happy living in SF for many years now. If I have to move someday, I want to stay by the coast somewhere. I love being near the ocean, I can’t be land locked.

  31. Done by Forty

    I read The New Geography of Jobs a while back and it was a gamechanger for me, in terms of understanding the best places to work. Moretti’s theory goes that there are now simply winner cities and loser cities due to the innovation economy, and the gap between them is widening. The best thing a worker can do, regardless of his field, is to move to one of the “innovation hub” cities. Workers in those innovation hub cities (e.g. – San Diego for Biotech, NY/Boston for Financial services, Bay Area for Software) earn so much more that it trickles down via their spent income: the extra expensive color and cut at the hairdresser, the more frequent and expensive dinners out, the higher tax revenue for police and teachers, etc. etc.

    I find his argument & data to be pretty convincing, but haven’t yet taken the plunge to apply it to my own working career. Part of it is just not having the guts. And another part is that it would require a total shift in lifestyle and financial philosophy: going from low cost Phoenix to the high costs of the Bay Area would necessitate huge changes to the way we approach financial independence.

    1. True, it does take a lot of guts to move. Easier younger than older.

      I’m not too familiar with Phoenix except for the heat and what I heard during the housing boom and bust.

      What are the specific industries/companies there that pay well?

  32. Well I live in Fort Worth, TX… Not the prettiest place in the world but it has a strong job market and low cost of living. I’ts a great place to grow wealth but I could see myself living out west after I’m past the wealth accumulation stage.

      1. I’m locomotive engineer for one of major railroads that service the area and my wife is a train dispatcher. Income wise my household is about $100,000 over your recommended minimum for San Francisco… But last year we lived on only $60,000 and saved everything else. That would be impossible in California. Also granted you would be stuck in Texas, $800,000 in a home would get you a mini mansion on 20 acres of land.

    1. Might be tough. Clorox and Pandora are in Oakland. Might need to live in the hills or rockridge or piedmont.

      Unfamiliar with Sac. Just know it gets damn hot in the summer, housing is cheap, and LAkers fans make fun of the Kings.

      I’m not sure other than government where big employers are hiring.

    2. Pisces1,

      For what it’s worth, I like Sacramento! It is one of my favorite cities in California.

      I’m not sure about the current employment opportunities, but it is a relatively low cost place to live. I like that it is more or less halfway between the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe/Reno.

      The city has a very sleepy feel. You would not choose Sacramento for nightlife. It seems kind of like a giant suburb. I’m not sure about the quality of schools. I would very carefully research this if you were planning on starting a family. The only real negative to me: there seems to be a very significant homeless population.

      But overall, I think Sacramento is probably a lower stress/higher quality of life/lower cost place to live in California.

      Hope this helps (as far as my opinion matters)!

      1. Ace,

        Thanks for your comment on Sacramento. I’m actually a single gay asian male, mid-thirties so not planning on starting a family and don’t require nightlife or too much cultural stimulation. A good paying job and relatively affordable housing are my two top priorities, in addition to an interesting/varied topography where I can explore with my dog. Also read/heard that the local food scene is quite good and getting better. And I guess a city where there’s diversity is important of course.

        I’m torn between Sacramento and Oakland, as I plan to relocate to one of the two in Spring.

        1. You really should visit these places if you have the opportunity. There is a much different feel between Oakland and Sacramento. Oakland is directly across the bay from San Francisco, and is very densely populated. Berkeley isn’t very far away…… If you like an overall more bustling area, then Oakland would better.

          Sacramento – I have always found Sacramento to be comfortable. But, I think this is because I grew up in the Midwest, and Sacramento just feels “Midwest”!

          Dude, the neighborhood around Land Park….. If you needed movie set for Northwest suburban Chicago, that would be it. It’s uncanny!

          Look around what locals call the midtown area. It’s a very quiet tree-lined area, close to the captital/downtown area. It’s really pretty and calm, and if you are fortunate to have one of those government jobs, a short commute.

          Keep in mind….. Sacramento is going to be a “very quiet” city. If you are not accustomed to that…. It might not be your thing.

          Hope this helps.

          1. Yes, actually I’ll be visiting Sacramento/Oakland next month and check them out. I’ve lived in Seattle for over a decade, currently living in McAllen, TX and can’t wait to get out of this area after three years.

            Considering relocating to Seattle again, but want to experience Northern CA at least for a few years before I permanently settle down. I’ve lived in Atlanta for 1.5 years and don’t care for it, although the COL is better than the rest, primarily due to very affordable housing in particular if you buy vs renting.


            1. Hmmm, I think you might enjoy Sac/Oak vs. McAllen… but I donno. Depends on what parts. Some parts can be REALLY rough. Oakland has the highest murder rate per capita in the country I believe.

  33. I think people for the most part are creatures of habit and don’t like venturing out into the unknown. That and ties to family and friends are one of the biggest ties that keep people from moving from where they currently live to where the jobs are. I know quite a few people that I went to school with are working jobs because they need income when they could simply move and find something much better. I’ve always thought you can simply come back and visit or move back when you get more experience under your belt. That’s just me though.

  34. I would place Denver and the surrounding area above DC. I have lived in both and it was a huge sacrifice to move to DC. Being able to afford a single family detached home is important to me too, and DC doesn’t provide enough to outweigh that. If I want to live in an unaffordable city with culture and things to do, NYC or San Francisco would be my top choices. I moved here for work, but don’t plan on buying a condo here and would like to go back out west in about five years.

    1. I guess it all depends on how much money you can make in these top 5 cities. If you can make some big bucks for an extended period of time, life is pretty good. I would say make the bucks and save in one of these cities and then go back.

  35. I think I am a little biased toward New York City because I was born there. Los Angeles is second because you have access to everything and it helped me reach financial independence. San Francisco has all the positives of NYC without man of the negatives. I will always like Paris and Amsterdam although I will never live there. I will probably never move from Los Angeles because of family and friends. Change is much more difficult as you get older and more set in your ways.

  36. None of these would be on my list for “getting rich” – they all have high tax rates and high costs of housing that are largely not made up by COLA adjustments. You’re much better off having a job where you’re paid roughly on par with nationwide market rates (telecommuting is an excellent option here) or even slightly below, with low taxes and low cost of housing (since housing is most people’s largest expense).
    I actually wrote a post a few months ago showing how (by comparison with our chosen state of Florida) living in DC – where I have many friends – is a choice that will eat away a significant chunk of a person’s wealth over the years.

    1. Avoiding taxes is small ball thinking IMO. What are the industries in Florida where you can earn a good amount of money?

      I do like the no state taxes, but I can’t take the humidity. There were so few employers recruiting from Florida I found. Suggestions on specific companies and industries to work for?

      1. “What are the industries in Florida where you can earn a good amount of money?”

        Probably the same industries where you can make a decent wage anywhere. Mr PoP works in tech sales, I do tech work, and have worked mostly in the finance industry. None of these jobs truly necessitated our living in a specific location. I’d wager the same is true for 90% of office workers, and I think the work trend is erring more toward having those whose presence is not needed in the office stay home or work from local telework centers. I have friends that telework for major corporations with headquarters all over the country.

        Or start your own business. Well run service industries do a lovely business around here especially for people who are only seeking to work for part of the year. Does your Yakezie business really necessitate you to be physically in SF?

        I think limiting a person limiting themselves to the physical locations of large company headquarters is operating from a more mid-twentieth century perspective where you lived in the company town and worked at the plant. Many jobs now can be done from anywhere and I think location independence for office workers is where we are headed as a society.

        1. I’d love to get some specific company examples of firms in Florida. And which city in Florida?

          For example there is Amazon and Starbucks in Seattle, Google in SF, Booz Allen in DC, KKR in NYC etc.

          I’m sure there are jobs of all types in Florida, but I’m looking for specific high grow, outsized paying firms to get rich either through high wages or stock options or both, hence the title of the post.

          Id love to now redomicile my online business in Florida now that a steady income has been established. But being in SF really helped me meet a lot of industry folks and write related posts that could not have been done elsewhere.

          1. I don’t feel like looking up the list of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in FL, but there are dozens, as well as large regional offices of same. Within three miles of my home on FL central east coast, there are large offices, employing several thousand, for Raytheon, Harris, Northrup Grumman, Rockwell Collins, IBM, as well as large hospitals, and the Kennedy Space Center. I once had a series of (ultimately unsuccessful) interviews with Microsoft for a good-paying position ($80K in 1999) in their Ft. Lauderdale office. Every city, small (40K pop.+) to large (2MM+) has a lot of good-paying employment for professional services (e.g. accounting, law, insurance, financial services); investment, commercial, & retail banking; city, county, and state government; the state university system; and health care.

            1. Not to mention if you’re a spanish or portuguese speaker, virtually any company with south american interests has a regional office focusing on business in latin/south america in south Florida.

              Personally, I think most information workers are truly location independent. All we need is a solid internet connection to get business done 99% of the time. And more and more employers are realizing that all the time.

        2. It’s very hard to get an outsized wage and equity ownership opportunity in Florida. Look at where all the top firms in the country are located. They are NOT in Florida.

          You can make the $70,000-$100,000 a year in your 30s living in Florida and live well, but it’s hard to find those $150,000 – $300,000 jobs that are very common in places like NYC.

          Florida is nice when it’s not hot and there are no hurricanes, but there’s a reason it’s a retirement state and not a young state for finding your fortune.

      2. Samurai,

        Big fan of the site, but you forget that as more business becomes mobile, if you earn money on the side or from your own business, location means nothing. While the traditional “salary” matter in different states, if you can earn NY money with FL cost of living, you are 10 steps ahead of the pack.

    2. Mrs PoP, good article. I did many of the same calculations over the years to support my return to FL. After growing up and going to college in the northeast, I decided that the winter of 1989, at the age of 26, was going to be my last winter in New England. I then subscribed to the Sunday Miami Herald in order to look for a job in the help wanted section and, by summer 1990 had a new, decent job in hand, and had relocated to a beach front apartment on Hollywood Beach.

      Laid off in 1998. MBA at the University of FL in 2000, and a new job and out of state relocation to Kansas City, MO. After two icy winters in KC, I was happy to return to the east coast of FL at a 30% pay cut. My salary still hasn’t recovered, but I bought a decent 2000 sq ft house on a golf course, two miles from the beach as a short sale at the right time in 2011 for well under $100K. My property taxes are $600/yr. Today, Jan. 11th, it was 84 degrees and I spent the day out on the water on my SeaDoo jet boat!

      1. Good stuff. I would think relocating to Florida from New England and Kansas City is a no brainer for better quality of life, especially if you found a good job. What do you do? Or are you retired?

        1. Not retired yet, but I just reduced my work schedule (and salary) by 10% by taking every other Friday off w/o pay; and I love it! This is my first step towards semi-retirement. Next year, I plan on taking every Friday off w/o pay, and if health insurance is reasonable, I plan on retiring in five years when I turn 55, w/ an estimated net worth of $1.5MM.

          After several years in commercial banking, and a few painful bank mergers, I took the easy way out and got a job as in internal auditor for a mid-size coastal Florida city. My salary has been flat for four years, but it’s OK for this area, and the benefits are pretty good. I hope to end up w/ a traditional pension of about $20K per year at age 62, w/ twenty years of service.

    3. Mrs. PoP,

      I read your very excellent post this morning. You actually quantified much of my own thinking in regards to this subject.

      If the strategic goal is to become financially independent, then people need to consider both defense and offence.

      Consider: the offence of obtaining a $100,000+ job is extremely challenging (of course). You may not like the occupation (or your boss). You may have to work excessive hours or waste a huge amount of time commuting…….. You may have to move to an unaffordable city.

      Now the probibility of finding a $68,000/year job is much higher. If you are in a position to have very low housing and commuting costs (good defense) aren’t you and your family better off?

      My thinking is that you have much more control playing defense by keeping your costs low than playing offense. Keeping costs low is the key to financial independence!

      1. Here’s a thought:

        Do people who get rich try and increase income? Or do the people who get rich try and cut costs?

        You can only cut so much in costs, but making more is unlimited. I recommend making your fortune and then moving to places like Florida and Hawaii.

        1. I’m not quite sure as to what you mean by rich?

          If your goal is to be financially independent and live a comfortable family life, I think that is much easier to achieve that, in the less glamorous cities.

          If your goal is to live in an expensive glamorous city, you will obviously have to work considerably harder (and likely longer).

          Consider: the median US household earns $52,000/year gross income. One person with a college degree can typically make upwards of $65,000/year (with little effort) in almost any American city. Let’s say you are a slightly under achieving college graduate, so you make $50,000 and you get married to someone making $45,000.

          So, now you have a family income $95,000/year, in a low cost city (maybe a Cleveland?), a short/low cost cummute, low/lower housing cost, a short/shorter work day. You’re home every day after about 8 to 9 hours, so you get see your children. This is really a much higher quality of life.

          It all depends on what your primary goal is.

        2. I’d say offense and defense together. Having a plan to make more money and a plan to save more. We’ve been poor/broke most of our life and although we never starved, that is not good. You can still be broke and poor and still hate your job and boss anyway. So why not make a plan to earn more?

          We started a few businesses to be independent but it still takes 3-5 years to see the rewards. Generally speaking, we experienced it is better to have a steady income and build your business on the side and then weigh your options. Mistake we made, go nosedive into business and we’re still paying!

          We have lived in Las Vegas, Oceanside CA, Italy and now reside in Milwaukee.

          It looks like any place could be nicer if you wouldnt have to think about money all the time and viceversa any place stinks if you do. Would rather cross off those freezing midwestern winters though and go somewhere else!


        3. I am late to this party, but there are more variations on how to get rich.

          First, it’s how much you save early on. The compounding on early savings really makes the difference to ending up rich. Also, never spending capital (of course). Also, never take on any debt other than mortgage debt.

          Second, it’s being in the real estate market all the time, using borrowed money, that catapults your net worth upward. The more expensive the real estate, the more you make. I subsidize the payments and other expenses by renting out part of the property and save a lot of money not commuting.

          In only a few years, your money is making more money (passive income and appreciation) than you do working (active income).

          I live in a very expensive Canadian city (one of the most expensive housing markets in the world). My earned income/salary has always been low to middle because I worked at a job I loved (topped out at $85,000.) rather than my profession. It’s not a city with a lot of big head offices, so the big salaries are not plentiful. But the lifestyle is amazing and these are trade-offs I do not regret.

          I am retired now, live in a lovely older home close to the beach, city centre, and the university, and don’t spend even half of my income. I do drive an oldish car but I travel overseas half the time. Certainly nothing I do without.

  37. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living

    As far as NYC goes, if your kids are pretty smart and test well, there’s no need for private schools as there are fabulous high schools like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant High Schools that are rigorous and prepare you for a top tier school. But you definitely fair better in the city if you’re debt free and career ready upon arrival. But if you can “rough it” commuting 1.5 hours each way to live in a cheap apartment in Staten Island to save up a down payment, it can be done.

    Also, pollution is actually significantly lower in NYC than in the surrounding ‘burbs: (zoom in on NYC area to see) There aren’t as many car emissions as other larger cities, although the heating oil emissions don’t help.

  38. I would say that Austin (and the Hill Country surrounding it) is comparable to what appears to appeal to you. Austin is a nice and cultured city with a comfortable climate and a strong economy. The influence and migration from SoCal is telling. While it is fairly expensive regionally, it is certainly much cheaper than the 5 listed above. I like a lot of the places that are a bit more “passed over”. Tulsa is pleasant. Denver is cool. And pretty much anywhere from Jacksonville to Alexandria, VA is nice.

    I love Southern California but I could just never see myself adjusting to the cost of living.

    1. Austin is nice, and so cheap, but I don’t know what the great money making industries are except big oil. Love the no state taxes either.

      My dislike is the weather, lack of water, and less diversity that I’m used to.

      1. Austin has a climate probably on par with SD. They go through droughts occasionally but usually average 2-4 inches per month. Austin would certainly be considered to be removed from the Oil and Gas circuit. I can only think of three oil companies there. Austin is a major tech hub outside of CA. Dell, IBM, AMD, FB, GOOG and numerous other and smaller/startup co’s. Austin is very diverse; partly because of the economic draw and partly because of the 50,000+ students at UT.

        Per Trulia, the average home price is $555,000 (YIKES!) whereas Fort Worth is $242,000. Not to say that I am negative on Fort Worth. It’s a great city.

    2. Hey for what my opinion is worth: I like Austin a lot!

      I was down there two years ago. It has kind of a California vibe to it. It’s a medium sized city with a very large university. I like the downtown area with the lake. I also like some of the wacky vendors/restaurants/bars. If you are use to big cities, Austin will seem very quiet. But, overall, I have a great impression!

      In fact, I think I’ll pop down for another look thus year.

  39. The First Million is the Hardest

    Upstate NY is the only place I’ve ever lived, so I’m far from an expert on the subject, but I think Chicago is a glaring omission from this list. It’s an absolute beautiful city, with plenty of opportunity and a lower cost of living than LA, NYC or SF.

      1. The First Million is the Hardest

        Not in the near future. Although my company is headquartered in Chicago, so you never know what’s in the cards down the line.

          1. Cheddarwurst

            You crack me up, by that measure that only leaves 2 places on your list. “The coldest winter I’d ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” – not Mark Twain but quotable for a reason

  40. DC is awesome. The metro is great — and I have to say, unlike NYC, it’s nice to see…you know, a lawn or a tree occasionally. Then again, I’m biased by history.

    I spent enough time in NYC over the New Year to know it’s not a city I’d put on top of my list just to live there. Sure, the culture is awesome, but the scenery leaves something missing. But hey, if you’re killing it, it’s a different matter entirely.

    Los Angeles…people unlike any other.

    Your minimum incomes are definitely barebones minimums. I can’t fathom living in any of these five places on even a penny less. Bigger cities have a magical way of nickel and diming you until your wallet is bare. Can’t say I envy state or local taxes in any of these 5 places, either.

    1. DC has really risen in my mind bc of big government. If you can’t beat them, join them and that is exactly what so many households have done to get rich.

      It should be telling to Americans that the wealthiest households are all clustered around DC. The government doesn’t a great job to deflect attention!

  41. Bit of a misleading title as these aren’t cities to live in and “get rich” if you’re already struggling/in debt/without a high-paying job — which I get isn’t exactly your target audience.

    NYC is a great city, I love living here, but I’d certainly be accumulating wealth faster some place else. I’m not earning a high salary and CoL is insane. Granted, there are more job opps here for me if I try to switch careers. Plus I’m young and at the beginning of my career so I’ll hopefully be seeing a steady increase in income over the next few decades.

    I’ve never noticed pollution as an issue here, but that’s probably because I lived in Shanghai.

    Of the other cities, I’d probably only pick DC. I’m not a big fan of Southern Cal/San Fran/Hawaii for long-term living. I’ll put up with a little polar vortex now and then if it means having four seasons!

    1. Getting rich isn’t a guarantee living in one of these cities but the chances are much higher than other cities.

      I’ve met some folks who don’t like living in nice climate areas before. Good there’s diversity. After all, there are people who live in Siberia and Antartica too!

  42. No love for Seattle huh : )

    Not quite as warm as SF and a bit more rain (at least that is what we tell folks).

    Pros: Headquarters for MSFT, AMZ, Nordstrom, SBUX, Boeing. Also no state income tax.
    Cons: drearly winters, not a robust transit system yet.

    Ave home cost around $450K in SEA. Less in the burbs of course.

    1. Love Seattle for the no state income taxes!

      AMZN, SBUX and MSFT are definitely powerhouses for sure.

      I don’t know why Seattle doesn’t pop up. I’ve been there a couple dozen times and it’s beautiful in the summer.

      Housing is less expensive than SF for sure. Maybe the rain is a little depressing bc I don’t think the rain is overstated.

      1. Should have said: “Boeing (BA) Commercial Airplanes (BCA) HQ is in Seattle”. The corp folks do sit in Chicago yes. However BCA HQ presence in WA + other operations is 82,000 folks. CHI is very very small as it’s the execs/legal etc.

        BA is the largest employer in WA state…

  43. I love the blog, I’ve recommended it to 5 people already…

    I’m going with Chicago, Houston, & Atlanta for many of the reasons you stated. (Minus the weather for Chicago & diversity for Houston).

    1. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country and has a lesbian, democratic mayor. The Rick Perry stereotype doesn’t really exist. Great place to make money too

      1. +1 for Houston.


        Robust Petrochemical Industry, vibrant arts scene, obscenely cheap housing compared to pretty much everywhere else, tremendous diversity, amazing restaurants, and friendly people (seriously, it feels like a small town despite its 4 million people). Also has mild winters and gorgeous spring and fall weather. Fairly close (45 minutes) to the beach and ocean fishing.


        Summer climate (not much worse than DC though, honestly… I’ve been in DC in the summer), flat topography.

        1. Will have to look more into Houston. There’s a reason why it’s growing so much right?

          What about Houston vs. Austin? I’ve been to both several times, but not enough to be able to get a feel.


            Where you live becomes personal preference, I understand that. I would prefer enduring the Houston summer to avoid, say, the short days and rain of a Seattle winter. I will accept Houston’s lack of topography for about the most tax advantageous regions in the country. But not everyone would.

            Purely economically though, Houston has to be considered near the top of any list.

            Houston v Austin? personal preference. Austin is in the Texas hill country and has more interesting topography. They also try to replicate a Portland or San Francisco attitude. So it might be considered closer to home for a California emigrant. Again, economically, Austin doesn’t hold a candle to Houston though. Not in regards to economic strength and diversity (there is more than just oil/gas, even if that is the strongest single sector) or in regards to cost of living.

          2. Austin v Houston? Austin all the way. Come back Sam. I will take you toobin down in New Braunfels. Take you for the best BBQ on the planet (Franklins). Get you to a world class college football experience (UT) and top it off with a night downtown for one of the best bar scenes I have seen outside the cities you mentioned. Cheap a$$ housing outside of the lake area and downtown. Plenty of jobs.

            1. Sounds awesome! I love me some good BBQ, football, beer, music and night time festivities! I won’t know what to do with all the extra cash saved from no state taxes.

  44. Those are nice places, but do they have robust industries for people to make their fortunes?

    I’m looking for the combination of nice place to live + strong economic growth.

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