Building a family is a rewarding endeavor for many parents, but it requires some financial savvy, even for dual-income households earning average wages. The combination of housing prices, property taxes and child care make city living a costlier lifestyle choice in most metros around the country, but not all. First-time parents and growing families have several budgeting factors to weigh before making their decisions to settle in the concrete jungle or quiet burbs, such as plans for child care (pay for care or stay at home?), housing costs (rent or buy?), and transportation (commute times, public transit and vehicle expenses).
Here are some factors to consider before getting too serious about house hunting.
Families Often Require Two Incomes
In the 1970s, about 50 percent of American children had at least one stay-at-home parent, but by 2016 that number dropped to just 22 percent. Data suggests stay-at-home parenting is now a luxury rather than the norm, and two working parents is often a financial necessity. With so few parents at home, child care is now a fundamental cost for families. In fact, housing and child care are typically the two most expensive budget items for young families.
For parents-to-be, moving to the suburbs — where property taxes and home prices are often more affordable and homes are typically much larger — can be the best financial and lifestyle choice.
Zillow and Care.com teamed up to calculate how much the urban-suburban parenting cost disparity affects families nationwide. For a family with two children, the average housing and child care costs add up to $9,073 more in the city. There are exceptions, however: In some metros, living near the city center actually costs less, leaving wiggle room for college savings, family vacations and additional investments.
Locations Where Living in The Suburbs Saves
New York City
Parents in the New York City suburbs save $71,237 per year, on average. As one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation, the median annual mortgage payment and property taxes add up to $101,590 in the urban core. Meanwhile, suburban homeowners spend less than a third of that cost on housing, at $28,668 annually.
On the other hand, families in the Big Apple often spend less on child care. Urban child care centers charge an average of $21,568 annually for two kids, saving city dwellers $1,685 compared to the suburbs. Nevertheless, the difference in child care costs doesn’t come close to making the city budget-friendly for families overall. When combining mortgage, property tax and child care expenses, the annual median cost for suburban families in the New York City area is $51,921, compared to $123,158 for urban families. And if commute time is an important factor, New Yorkers report less than a three-minute commute difference, favoring suburban dwellers.
In Chicago, raising kids in the suburbs can save families $18,472 per year. Unlike New York, both housing costs and child care are more expensive in the urban core of the Windy City. Urban mortgage and tax payments average $45,335, compared to $28,408 in the burbs. Child care alone saves suburban families with two children an average of $1,545 annually. The median cost of raising two kids in the suburbs is $48,794 per year compared to $67,266 in the city. And to top it off, families living in the suburbs of Chicago save about two minutes on their daily commutes.
Locations Where Living in The City Saves
In contrast, households in the Philadelphia metro area can save $13,859 each year by living downtown. The median annual mortgage and property taxes cost $19,439 per year for suburban homes, while city properties cost less than half the bill at $7,402. Child care for two kids in the city saves parents $1,822 annually. When housing and child care costs are combined, raising kids in the suburbs costs a median of $39,014 versus $25,155 per year in the city. City dwellers win on these major expenses, but their commute times are a couple minutes longer compared to parents living in the suburbs.
If city living suits a family’s lifestyle, living in Baltimore’s urban core leads to an annual average savings of $10,790 compared to living in the suburbs. Housing expenses are about $10,000 higher in the suburbs, with mortgages and taxes adding up to $5,904 in the city and $15,568 in the burbs. In addition to the steep premium paid in the suburbs for housing, expect to shell out another $19,493 per year for child care for two children, $1,126 more than families in the city. And in Baltimore, commute times are identical.
Before starting a home search, work out a realistic mortgage budget, calculate other expected homeownership costs, and determine potential expenses like child care and transportation to identify an ideal locale for a career, kids and overall quality of life. The urban-suburban disparity varies by location, so consider household needs and priorities to determine the most cost-efficient and satisfactory choice.