If you've ever moved from the Midwest or the South to either coast, you realize just how different the costs of day-to-day living can vary among various U.S. cities. Many transplanted families pursue cross-country moves with the knowledge that their new hometowns will be more expensive. And many employers recognize that impending cost-of-living increase with a "cost-of-living allowance" -- a slight raise in salary so that an employee may maintain his or her current standard of living without having to tighten the purse strings upon arrival.
Nevertheless, no matter how prepared you think you are, you are in for sticker shock, Your grocery bill suddenly increases dramatically ... and yet you haven't bought anything out of the ordinary from your usual fare. You can spot disparities in the simplest of items. A six-pack of soda, for example, might cost $1.50 in the South, or perhaps $.99 during an occasional sale. That same six-pack can cost you as much as $3.50 or more in major East Coast cities such as New York or Boston. Your favorite fast-food haunt in Chicago might charge you $3.59 for a burger that costs you $4.59 in Seattle. If you're moving to a major metropolitan area, you could face steep parking fees, higher rent, an increase in taxes or other penalties. So many individuals and families on the move never stop to consider what the cumulative effect of these cost-of-living increases will be on their overall standard of living.
You can, however, do a little preliminary homework and determine what your living expenses are likely to be in your new hometown -- and how much higher or lower they'll be than your current ones. Of course, you can head to the library or bookstore and explore titles on the subject, but the Web is probably your fastest and most convenient resource. Many sites are dedicated in part or in full to this subject.
It hardly bears repeating, but the cities of San Francisco and New York take the cake for ranking among the country's most expensive. Ever talked to a friend who lives in one of these cities? Guaranteed, you'll feel better about your own increasing rent. Countless apartment-renters in these cities and others pay exorbitant rents and yet still continue to haul their laundry to a local Laundromat because they either aren't provided with laundry machines in their units or even in their buildings. Such inconveniences make it imperative that you determine to the best of your ability how much money you'll need in your new hometown to maintain your current standard of living -- whatever that might be. That preparatory work will go a long way toward decreasing the stress surrounding your move. And if you're negotiating a cost-of-living increase with your employer prior to a transfer, doing your research is worth the effort.
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While cost-of-living Web sites are many, they're not all created equal. Many cost-of-living comparisons fail to take into consideration the effect that changes in income, housing quality and/or size of household will have upon the availability of disposable income. An organization called Runzheimer International, which specializes in this very subject, recommends that consumers take into account four primary factors when considering cost-of-living changes: housing, transportation, goods and services, and taxes.
Each one of these factors contains subcategories. For example, housing includes rent or mortgage payment and interest, as well as real estate taxes, home insurance and maintenance. Goods and services is inclusive of a near-limitless array of subcategories, including clothing, medical care, recreation, restaurants, groceries and more. Transportation includes not only the expenses involved in owning one or more cars; it also includes your car insurance and registration fees, taxes, gas, maintenance, tires and more. Transportation also might include bus fees, subway token fees, toll charges, ferry charges or other related costs. And your taxes could include a myriad of charges: sales tax, property taxes, state income tax, local taxes, Social Security, and more.
A cost-of-living analysis can certainly be an eye-opener for any prospective transferee. And the reality of how much bite it's going to take out of the budget causes many employees to decline the offer of a transfer (if, indeed, it is an offer as opposed to a command). Aside from cost-of-living concerns, other reasons why prospective transferees decline a move include top nine reasons offers are refused. Children, and the emotional impact that a move could have upon them, are a common reason for declines, followed by disinterest in moving to a new location (and loyalty to one's current hometown), a conflict with one's spouse or partner over employment issues and concern about the effect that the transfer could have upon one's career in the long term.
Runzheimer International conducted a 1998 study with some fascinating results. The organization found that married employees refuse transfer offers more often, as do employees with children, females, employees who are homeowners, employees over the age of 40, single parents and/or primary caregivers, and employees who have spent less than seven years at the corporation at which they are employed. Approximately 83 percent of the employers analyzed in the study claimed that they selected transfer candidates based solely upon their job performance and not on their "demographics" -- in other words, the above-listed personal characteristics and family structures. Seventeen percent of employers said that they did, indeed, take demographics into consideration when selecting candidates for a transfer. Such personal considerations, of course, are much easier to account for when one is employed by a smaller, more tight-knit organization. While larger corporations certainly maintain files on their associates to which human resources representatives may refer during any transfer candidate selection, if an organization is closer-knit, allowing employer and employees frequent interaction (social as well as professional), it's more likely that an employer will take demographic characteristics under consideration when it's time to select transfer candidates.
After doing your homework, you've determined that your salary (see The Salary Calculator) won't allow you to maintain your current standard of living in your new hometown (even if you were offered an increase), you can certainly negotiate for a raise. Many employers will value open communication during this process. Your honesty will help them with the transfers they try to negotiate in the future with other employees. As we enter the year 2000 and head into a new century, employers are realizing they're going to have to sweeten the pot, so to speak, more than ever before in order to warm their employees up to the idea of a transfer. Family-friendly policies being instituted in workplaces nationwide are representative of a growing national shift in priorities -- the recognition that life has to find a careful balance between work and home. Employers increasingly are providing financial compensation, as well as job-finding assistance, for spouses who may have a gap between the time they sever current job ties and attempt to establish new ones in their new hometown; financial bonuses and other compensation (for example, a certain amount of free trips back to their hometown each year at the expense of the company, which is particularly common in the event of an international transfer); and a broadening of the definition of who is eligible for transfer compensation packages (for example, same-sex partners). Employers also are increasingly turning to consulting organizations to help determine how to best compensate their transfer candidates.
But while many employers are doing their homework, you can't always count on it. So do yours; it's a good insurance policy for you and your family. After all, it's much easier to negotiate additional assistance, financial or otherwise, prior to a transfer instead of after a transfer. Get on the Web, do a search on the subject, and head to your library, as well. Talk to your friends and fellow associates who have experienced transfers. Lay your cards out on the table, and be honest with your employer. It can make the difference for both of you.