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BLOG: Does Living ‘Out of Town’ Really Save Money?

November 16, 2013, 3:44 PM HST
* Updated November 18, 8:33 AM
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If none of us ever had to commute, we’d probably be better lovers.

Just ponder that for a moment. Many of us spend an hour every morning sitting in traffic, work a full day, then once again spend all too much quality time staring at our dashboards instead of our partners.

Yes, kids and pets suffer too, but come hell or highway, they still need to be fed. Your love life will likely be the first thing to face starvation.

Given all the sacrifices, it’s worth asking the question, “Does living out of town really save money?”

Thanks to a new online tool, that question just became much easier to answer.

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A joint project between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the “Location Affordability Portal” gives consumers an easy way to calculate the cost of housing and transportation, no matter your location.

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In contrast to the perpetually-ill websites birthed by Obamacare, the Affordability Portal is refreshingly simple to use, and the results are easy to understand.

Users can enter in multiple addresses to compare their potential cost of living at various locations simultaneously.

There is a little homework to be done on your part first, though:

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1) Make sure you know the number of miles you intend to travel each month from each location (we recommend using Google Maps to calculate distances. Just enter the address of your potential residence, then click on “directions” to enter the address of your workplace. The result will be details on your commute).

2) Look up the rental (or mortgage) rates of the respective areas you wish to live in, and add in your typical utility bill. The “housing cost” number the website asks for includes your utility expenses.

3) Know your vehicle mileage, and the cost of gas in each area you will be filling your tank.

You will be asked for other information, like household size and number of vehicles.

Once you enter in all your data, a comparison sheet will come up for each location explaining your total yearly costs. There is also a comparison provided for “Similar Households” but we found this aspect of the site to be a little unrealistic at times, and are unsure how that number is being calculated for you.

Is commuting worth the time behind the wheel? Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Is commuting worth the time behind the wheel? Photo by Nate Gaddis.

We played around with the tool, using three locations in East Hawai`i for comparison (we assumed in all three scenarios people would be commuting to Hilo for work), and the results surprised us.

We found that a single person living in Volcano, Hawai`i could expect to face around $21,000 in housing and transportation costs (using rental rates for one bedroom houses), almost exactly the same costs they would face living in Hilo itself. The cost of transportation erased nearly all of the savings they enjoyed paying cheaper rent in Volcano.

A single person living near Pahoa, by contrast (on Maku`u Drive), would face no more than $14,000 per year in housing and transportation costs. A substantial savings.

An important note: these estimates are very dependent on your choice of housing, and the mileage of your vehicle, which is why the web portal is so handy.

If you’ve ever wondered what life would be like if you moved to another location, we encourage you to dabble with the Affordability Portal.

Your partner (and your critters) may thank you for it.

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