Because of where I grew up (Silicon Valley) and where I went to school (Penn), I know a lot of people who live in the most expensive parts of the country (Bay Area, Seattle, SoCal, Boston, NYC, DC). I left home to come to Philly for undergrad in the early 1990’s, and most of the people I went to school with didn’t stay in Philly after graduation, so I have a lot of high school and college friends whose impressions of Philly are about 25 years out of date. The ascendance of Philadelphia and especially of my neighborhood is no longer a secret, but up until just a few years ago I got a lot of inquisitive (and sometimes patronizing) remarks about maybe someday I’ll be successful enough to move up in the world and live somewhere else nice.
Philly in general and University City in specific was quite nice even in the early 1990’s, and has gotten even better, even and especially for families with young kids like us. The secret is out, and accordingly things have gotten more expensive, especially in hot neighborhoods like University City.
But, because of when we bought (2000, baby!) and because of life choices (i.e. we have no life!), we pay very little for this incredibly stacked quality of life package. And let me remind you what is in this package (which, again, by the way, most of this was already in place 20+ years ago). A huge, turn-of-the-century house in a historic and diverse neighborhood, well-served by transit, great K-8 neighborhood public schools, parks and playgrounds everywhere, and lots of great retail and restaurants to choose from. World-class institutions nearby to provide job opportunities, medical resources, and public amenities. (I love that I walked to the hospital the morning of my heart surgery 2 years ago, and that teaching my class at Penn involves walking down the street. If God forbid any of my kids were to require really complicated surgery, even in a snowstorm I could schlep them about a mile away to one of the best children’s hospitals in the world.)
Here’s a math exercise for you. Take your monthly mortgage. Add in HOI and property tax. Factor in all house and telecom utilities (i.e. water, electric, gas, phone, Internet, cable). Throw in transportation costs: car payment, gas, insurance, maintenance. Divide all of that by your household income. For most of America, that works out to about 40 percent, although I suspect that in more expensive parts of the country where many of my friends and family live, it is 50 or even 60 percent.
I recently calculated this for our household and it is 9.9 percent.
Now, we probably spend a lot more than others on child care and health care, given the extra needs of our kids. Still, all of that savings on housing, utilities, and transportation means we can either save more (which we do), spend more (which we don’t), or give more (which we do but we ought to do much more of).
In other words, I’m not slumming it at all. I’m living large, and loving it. Life’s good here in Philly.