Even if you love your home, there’s a chance it isn’t in your ideal place to live. But the space between fantasizing about your dream location and actually moving there is potentially miles and thousands of dollars apart.
Just over a quarter (26%) of Americans aren’t living in their ideal location type — whether that’s a city, suburb, small town or rural area — according to a new survey from NerdWallet. There are many reasons people live where they do — better school districts, proximity to work, bigger yards, and nearby friends and family, for example. And, according to the survey, financial obstacles are among the most common reasons why people don’t leave.
“Moving and getting a new place are major financial events,” says Holden Lewis, NerdWallet mortgage expert. “But long before you cross those big items off your list, you’ll tackle a lot of smaller tasks. Some are enjoyable, like browsing real estate listings for homes you like, and others are merely necessary.”
Here’s how to bring your dream move closer to reality in the coming months and years:
1. Get real
Moving to a new home, let alone moving to a completely different location, is a big, expensive step. And sometimes the idea of new surroundings is more appealing than the real thing. You want to live in the city, but are you really ready for the steep cost of living, the noise and the little-to-no backyard? If you dream of small town or country living, are you ready to leave the excitement of the city and its amenities behind?
Weigh your options carefully before committing to a major move, and understand such a big step could take significant effort.
2. Move-proof your credit
Approval on a rental or mortgage application will depend, at least in part, on your credit. And if your credit needs work, making it approval-worthy could take some time.
Start by reviewing your credit report and looking for errors. Then, make sure you’re paying your bills on time — your payment history accounts for as much as 35% of your credit score. Also, try to use no more than 30% of your available credit — higher credit utilization can weigh down your score significantly.
3. Attack debt
In the survey, 1 in 5 (20%) Americans not living in their ideal location say they have too much debt to afford moving and still have enough left for housing costs. Paying down debt not only boosts your credit, it also frees up your money for other things, like moving expenses.
But tackling debt can mean major sacrifices. Cutting excess spending or taking on a part-time job could speed up the process. Of the folks not living where they would like, 38% say they would take on a job to make the move possible, while 28% would give up travel. More than 1 in 5 (21%) say they would stop or reduce their retirement savings — a concerning approach because it could do more harm than good.
Take a critical look at your budget — how much money is coming in and where it’s going. Then, make paying down debt a priority, but not to the detriment of your future financial security; try to leave your retirement fund alone.
4. Start a moving fund
The cost of moving depends on a number of factors, such as the distance, the amount of stuff you have, whether you opt for professional movers and whether you’ll be temporarily without an income. It’s not unrealistic to plan for expenses starting at a few thousand dollars, if not more.
Start saving for these expenses as soon as you’ve squared away your debt. A high-yield online savings account is one option to earn some interest while keeping your money easily accessible. Automate your savings by setting up a direct deposit for a small portion of each paycheck or simply figure it into your list of monthly bills.
5. Zero in on the specifics
As your moving fund gets bigger, it’s time to start nailing down the specifics. Research the locations you’re most interested in to see how much you’d pay for housing and things like child care and other regular expenses. Identify neighborhoods that best fit your needs and contact a local real estate agent to discuss housing options in the area. If a new job is in order, ready your resume and begin scouting out the local job market.
6. Be flexible
If you’re not already in a financial position to make a big move, preparing to change living locations is a long-term project. And, as with all future goals, it’s vulnerable to the swings in life, such as job losses or promotions, marriage or divorce, or any number of things that could change your financial situation or life priorities.
Also, you may need to compromise. If you dream of one day living in a big city, you may have to look at several cities before you find one that fits your lifestyle and your financial situation. Or you might have to abandon your ideal neighborhood for a similar one in a more affordable town.
Removing the financial barriers between where you live now and where you would like to live is good for your financial health. Even if your goals change and you decide to delay (or abandon) any plans to relocate, tidying up your credit, paying down debt and starting an additional savings fund won’t be for naught. No matter where you make your home, these steps can make it more comfortable.
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Elizabeth Renter is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.