Author Topic: Reader Case Study - Change Job or Change City? Contemplating Chicago to SoCal  (Read 2399 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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  • Posts: 20
  • Location: Chicago, IL
Hi everyone! Iíve been struggling over this fork in the road I find myself in concerning my job and my place of living and could use some mustashian-minded help fleshing this out. Basically I am at a slow boring lonely long-commute but comfortable job thatís not engaging nor fulfilling for me.  Classic quarter-life crisis stuff. Iím trying to decide if I should keep working here for another year or two, try to find a different job in downtown Chicago (to shorten my commute) right away, or move out of state to a more desirable living area.
And now for all the detailsÖ

Current Status (Career):
I work for a giant multinational mega-corp as an engineer making $90K/year salary before taxes and no bonus. Iíve been working here for 1 year and have 7 Years of total experience. No raises this year. The worst part about the job is the location in the Chicago Suburbs and therefore the commute. Despite the flexible hours afforded to me by my manager, the 18-mile drive takes an average of 45 minutes each way. I think if my office was magically relocated to downtown Chicago I would definitely stay at my company for at least another year. The job is easy with low supervision and doesnít require 40 hours to get everything done in a week. This lack of work is mostly caused by the poor market conditions that my industry is in right now. Iím not very passionate about the work that I do so even when the industry does pick back up in a year or two I wonít be any more engaged mentally. People here are very nice but I have trouble relating to all these 40-somethings with kids. Overall itís quite unfulfilling and the commute is draining so I canít see myself working here for a long time. The thing is I still like this job much better than the last one which I had for 6 years in downtown Chicago. That job was very stressful (in terms of the pressure of deadlines, highly-regulated industry, prickly management, and perfectionism) and paid less.

Current Status (Personal):
Iím 28, living in Chicago in a neighborhood I really like. I Ďowní and live in my condo with a 30 year mortgage at 3.625%. (Bought at $320K in 2012, worth $395K now and rising due to neighborhood development.) If I move away, I will keep the condo and rent it out through a property management company and should be able to at least break even each month. I have lived in Illinois all my life (Suburbs, Central IL for college, Chicago). Iím not passionate about my career / occupation and likely never will be since I donít know what I would want to do for 40-hrs/wk, so I usually search for comfortable low-stress employment opportunities that allow me to have a good life outside of work. I think I would like the youthful optimism and flexibility of a newer, smaller company but my skills and experience typically funnel me to either 100-year old mega-corps or small consulting firms with long hours and demanding 75% travel/commuting requirements. I have a girlfriend of 9 months who is open to changing cities. I have no plans to ever have kids.

Preferences and Constraints:
Iím finding that weather is a really important factor for me since I really enjoy running, biking, hiking, and just being outside in general. Despite living in Illinois all my life the weather here still wears me down. Most of the year is either cold, rainy or hot and humid, forcing me indoors. I also donít like the traffic and car congestion in Chicago. From what Iíve experienced it is worse than LA and much much worse than SD.

In the Chicago area for my line of work, most of the jobs available are out in the suburbs, which I would hate to live in. I really like my neighborhood in Chicago so if I stay in the Chicago-area I will be living in my condo. (Iím not moving out to the suburbs.) While it would be tougher, I could find a new job in downtown (4 miles away from my home) Chicago that would be a bike-able.

For possible re-location optionsÖI actually havenít visited most of the country so I canít be sure. My preferences for weather and laid back lifestyle has led me to favor Southern California (SD/OC/LA areas). I have visited SoCal many times and tend to really enjoy the area and my time there. I like desert climates so Arizona, Nevada, or New Mexico may also work though Iíve never visited. I've been to SF and NYC and don't care for them. Too snobby and expensive.

If I move to Southern California, it is highly unlikely that I will get relocation expenses paid for. Most job postings specifically say Ďlocal candidates onlyí or Ďrelocation not includedí. It would cost me ~$3000 to move all my stuff to the other side of the country. I do have more than enough savings to afford this move. Iíve noticed that for my line of work, the pay is lower in SoCal than in Chicago by about $10K/year and CA has a higher income tax. COL in SoCal is a little higher than Chicago.

Quick financial picture: No student loans, car loans, nor credit card debt. Mortgage info mentioned above. About $90K total in my 401Ks, and I have an additional $75K in index funds in a taxable Vanguard account.

What should I do?
(1)   Stay at my current comfortable but commute-laden suburban job since I havenít even been there one year?
(2)   Man-up and make the best of the Chicago weather and look for jobs in downtown Chicago?
(3)   Take the risk of trying to ďmove to a better placeĒ across the country in search of adventure but at a somewhat lower earning potential and higher cost of living?

Your input/advice is much appreciated. Thanks!


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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  • Posts: 16
  • Location: American City
You are young and in great shape financially- only debt is a mortgage, you own a condo you can rent out (i have friends and Chi who have had to sell rather than keep when it was time to upgrade due to HOAs), great job, strong savings and investments.  Your post boils down to questions that are ultimately emotion and lifestyle-based, so no one is going to be able these questions better than you are.  LA is a great city, but if you do ok in Chicago / midwest, and all your family, friends, community, girlfriend, professional connections, etc. are there - you might be giving up more than you realize to go chase the warmth.  If I were in your shoes, I would do the following:

(1) tweak schedule to try to beat the traffic - easier said than done, I am an early riser.
(2) in your spare time apply for jobs downtown
(3) figure out other ways (perhaps through your condo), to earn more money so you can get to FIRE faster
(4) retire early and take vacations whenever you want to
(5) save for a good vacation every year during hellish winters.

good luck, man!


  • Handlebar Stache
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  • Posts: 1398
Here's the other side: DH & I were born & raised in the Chicago area, & met at UIUC. He interviewed all over the country his senior year, graduated with a BSEE, we married that June, & moved to Texas. We've been in Dallas & Austin for 46 wonderful years. While we still visit family in Chicago regularly, nothing could induce us to ever move back there.

If you absolutely don't love where you are at, that's your clue to find what makes your heart sing. NOW is the time to do some exploration of where the companies are that work for you, & plan to go see them & their communities.


  • Handlebar Stache
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I would want to spend a lot of time somewhere before uprooting myself solely based on location. There are a lot of defined costs (hassle, expense, having to find a new job, being far away from family and friends) to justify moving for better weather. But I've never lived somewhere snowy, so I may not understand. Having lived in SoCal for five years, my strong preference would be toward San Diego (much more relaxed than LA; I've never found much to recommend the OC).

I would definitely visit Arizona before moving there. 115 in the summer is not particularly enticing for outdoor activity.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Another possibility: search and apply for a 'location independent' or remote job in engineering then live wherever you want. I know several engineers who do this, though might depend on your specialty. You could put your stuff in storage or sell it, rent out your Chicago place, and explore new places before a major move commitment.