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.
THE TOP 5 CITIES IN AMERICA TO LIVE A WONDERFUL LIFE
#5) West Los Angeles down to Newport Beach, California
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
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
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
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
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.
CHOOSE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE WITH YOUR ONE LIFE
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!
Recommendation To Build Wealth
Manage Your Money In One Place: Sign up for Personal Capital, the web’s #1 free wealth management tool to get a better handle on your finances. In addition to better money oversight, run your investments through their award-winning Investment Checkup tool to see exactly how much you are paying in fees. I was paying $1,700 a year in fees I had no idea I was paying.
After you link all your accounts, use their Retirement Planning calculator that pulls your real data to give you as pure an estimation of your financial future as possible using Monte Carlo simulation algorithms. Definitely run your numbers to see how you’re doing. I’ve been using Personal Capital since 2012 and have seen my net worth skyrocket during this time thanks to better money management.
Updated for 2019 and beyond.