Calculating living costs isn’t easy. Googling for 15 minutes to get a sense of how much do you need to live in a city won’t be enough. It could be because lifestyles vary and so are living costs. But even so, there should be a “standard measure” applicable to most single adults.
So how much is the living costs in Redmond, Washington, U.S.A? After scouring the web, weighing the various sources, and consulting with friends who works there as legal aliens (as in non-citizen workers), I got a figure of about $1600 per month. This should cover a standard “student-like” lifestyle but without any student benefits nor tuition fees. It includes a basic living space, Internet, but none of the fancy leisure options.
Why am I doing this? Scraping up these numbers and publishing it? A number of MegaCorps that are based in Washington State (not D.C.) contacted me and wanted to interview me for a job that requires me to relocate there. That is should I pass, they’ll sponsor my relocation there. I’d figure I’d do my due dilligence and calculate my asking price before they ask for a number. This analysis took me a few days to complete and I’m publishing it to help those who are looking to relocate there – otherwise my time would be a total waste if at the end none of these companies wants me. Redmond is the most expensive city in Washington State (the last time I looked) and thus it’ll be a good “worst case” scenario for estimating the living costs there.
If you stick around and read this post completely, you’ll know about how I came to that USD 1.6k figure and also know how much money you need to make over there. I’ve prepared a “migration calculator” spreadsheet so that you know what should be your minimum asking salary to accept a job in the state of Washington – whether Redmond, Seattle, or others.
Living Costs Breakdown
As I said earlier these numbers are based mostly on my own lifestyle that haven’t changed much since my university days in Depok and Bandung. Most spending are only for the most basic necessities of a student – except for tuition fees. There is provision for Internet and mobile phone fees but those are just about the only extras.
I’ve obtained these numbers by searching around the web and compiling the answers afterwards. A lot of the data came from Yahoo Answers but some others are found in various forums. Most of these answers are outdated and thus I adjust them with a 2.31% annual inflation rate, a number I got from Wolfram Alpha.
As you can see for yourself in the pie chart to the right, most of the money goes to rent. Living space is pricey in Redmond. This assumes a small studio flat or a partial rent if you decide to rent a larger flat with other housemates paying a fair portion of the rent.
Food is the second most expensive item in the list. I came to a figure of about $5/meal with three meals a day. This should be plenty for a basic meal even for the health buffs among you. Fruits and other groceries will also come from this budget item – in other words you can choose to buy fresh vegetables yourself and cook them for weekends but eat at diners on weekdays. Of course this won’t provision any daily Starbucks coffee purchases but should be enough when you brew instant coffee yourself and buy a packetful of 30 sachets every month or so. Not to mention that a lot of offices provide coffee for free.
The Public Transport figure is benchmarked after the $90 monthly PugetPass that should cover most of the costs commuting to the office or nearby shopping centers. There is a $10 “overrun” budget for the occasional weekend shoppings that may be further than what the monthly pass covers.
Cost estimation for mobile phone subscription came from T-Mobile’s most basic smartphone package (therefore includes a few hundred megabytes of Internet usage), plus sales tax. But it doesn’t include paying for the phone itself – I assume you already have a working smartphone that you can still use over there.
Why T-Mobile? I looked at a rating of cell phone operators and it looks like T-Mobile is the top GSM-based provider in Redmond, WA. From what I know, NextTel (Sprint) is a CDMA-based operator and you can’t simply plug-in a SIM card to whatever phone you currently have. Yes I know that some CDMA phones can take in R-UIM cards, which is CDMA’s equivalent of SIM cards, but these aren’t popular in the U.S. and aren’t likely to be supported by the operators there.
Washington State does not garnish any state-level income tax for individuals, thus only federal income tax applies. However you still need to pay for social security and medicare “taxes” that falls under the FICA scheme.
The IRS does not provide any easy-to-use formulas for calculating income taxes, but they do provide a web-based “tax calculator”. Thus I tried poking around their tax calculators and entered a few common engineers’ salaries to get a “feel” how big the percentages are. I entered some “default” values to all other numbers that the calculator wants – that is, no dependents, no reliefs, no unpaid taxes, etc.
From the tax rate figures chart above you can see that you need to pay about 20% income tax if you’re an average engineer with no other tax returns. Of course this is in addition to 6.2% of social security and 1.45% medicare taxes.
With all of these factors, you’re probably overwhelmed: “Then how much money should I quote for my asking price?” Fear not! Since I’ve provided you with a migration calculator (in the form of an Excel spreadsheet) that helps you find your own unique asking price. It takes into consideration your targeted savings rate, living costs, federal tax, and FICA taxes. Simply key in your figures and instantly get the answer that’s unique to you.
- Your desired savings rate. Likely the total sum of money that both of you and your spouse currently set aside for savings. That is, a combined amount of your post-tax income after paying for your lifestyle costs.
- The number of adult dependents (including yourself). Will you be migrating there yourself or you’ll be bringing your spouse with you – this is used to calculate how much you need to support your lifestyle there.
As I said earlier, the living costs figures are modeled after my own lifestyle. But you can easily tweak these numbers yourself if you have a vastly different lifestyle than me. Look at the “LivingCosts” sheet in the Excel Workbook to fine-tune your own lifestyle figures.
The calculator will then show how much your minimum annual salary should be to migrate there and still maintain your current savings rate. You’ll notice that the spreadsheet provisions the possibility that your spouse may unable to get an equivalent job in your destination city. In fact, that is your risk premium for migrating – if he/she can still make good money over there, you both can save more.
Enjoy and take care!