On the importance of escaping the NYC bubble

NYC is a magical place, and Williamsburg is the best home I could possibly ask for at this early stage in my career – a cosy apartment with 4 friends, a backyard for throwing BBQs, an easy commute to work, and all the bars & restaurants a 24 year old could desire.

But Logan Square in Chicago offers a comparable environment at a fraction of the price, as I discovered this past weekend. A long weekend getaway for KC’s birthday provided me with my first trip to the Windy City and a healthy reflection on what life outside the Big Apple looks like.

And just look at the pictures from the Airbnb we stayed in for $75/night:

Check out Maja’s place on Airbnb

KC and I were in mild shock that we could rent a night in such a beautiful, spacious place in a trendy neighborhood for the price of a standard dinner in Brooklyn. Convinced that our host was undercharging us, we Zillow’ed the neighborhood and found spacious, modern apartments within a 5 minute walk of the Blue Line for less than $1,000/room, which in my mind is a bargain price for any type of rental in Manhattan or (accessible) Brooklyn.

I’ve read a few pieces such as The Atlantic’s Opting out of Coastal Madness to Live a Low Overhead Life that have advocated the massive reductions in cost-of-living outside the North East / West Coast bubbles. Similarly, I have often daydreamed about the incredible properties within my budget in Central and South America.

But this is Chicago!

It was a pleasant revelation – the fact that everywhere else isn’t surprisingly cheap, but rather that NYC is so expensive that it skews my perception of what a reasonable cost of living actually looks like. Of course, there’s a reason NYC is priced the way it is – because everyone wants to live here – but I think there may be additional factors such as geography and policy that exacerbate the expense.

The consequence of that revelation is that I now value every dollar I earn more than before. Saving $10,000 would buy me just 2% of a studio in Williamsburg (if I’m being generous), but 5% of a beautiful 1 bedroom in Logan Square. Each marginal New York dollar saved is worth at least 50% more on a purchasing parity basis elsewhere, and as a result I increase my propensity to save.

Getting out of the NYC bubble also allowed me to reflect on what makes the city great – you don’t notice how well sized blocks are in NYC until you visit a city such as Berlin that has massive blocks; Chicago’s streets were wider than NYC’s, which offered more sunlight and vistas but at the expense of the density and busyness that makes New York, New York.

It was wonderful to take a break from the NYC bubble. I’m hoping to take more weekend getaways over the summer to see what the rest of the country has to offer. At the same time, it’s good to be home.

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