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STXdreams
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May 15, 2020 10:15 pm  

My partner and I (early 40's) are deep into our obsessive research, trying to determine if moving to STX is something we can manage. She and I are scouring the housing market, including empty lots and storm casualties (though those are unlikely, they give an idea of land value, etc.), and trying to determine how different costs will be from our current situation in Maine. Ultimately, we are hoping to determine if this is a pipe dream, or if we could make this work. We hate winter. We wait until late June or early July for summer, and it starts feeling cold by late August or early September.

We know STX could cost more, and we are looking to see if plow and heating costs are roughly equal to the extra cost of power and goods in STX.

So far, while we were thinking we might want to rent first to get used to the island and where we feel most comfortable, we are finding that monthly rents far exceed a mortgage payment. This makes us think that buying a house or condo might be a better idea, practically-speaking. When we come, we plan to have about $60k saved for living expenses, but hope to hang on to at least $40k for a down payment, or renovations & improvements as needed. 

Our research so far has led us to believe that a super-affordable house (to us, $150k to $220k) would need $325 to $500 in monthly hurricane insurance costs. For us, the mortgage payment (FHA, 30y) would likely be around $1000 to $1500 if we include that insurance.

First question: Does $1000 to $1500 seem like a reasonable estimate to those who know, or can you suggest a more realistic figure?

Also, it sounds like many report the power costs are about double to triple what I am used to here. I am used to $80 to $200 a month for power.

Second question: Should I plan for $240 to $600 a month with the same power usage?

We're comfortable paying about $3,400 in monthly expenses including all but entertainment like dining out.

Third question: Is ~$3,400 in total monthly expenses a realistic number for a couple living in STX in a 1-2BR house or condo?

I may have many more questions over the coming months, but this is my starting off point. Thanks!

Background:

We both work in low-mid level positions in IT at the Maine state university - $72k combined gross income

I have one 12/yo son going into 8th grade next term, and I will likely start paying $400/mo child support when I move as I won't be splitting time with him evenly unless he moves with me. 

I can landscape, do auto repair, many forms of sysadmin and network engineer, and I could happily apprentice with WAPA as a line repairman, plant operator, etc.

My partner has lots of insurance claims/underwriting experience, hospitality (bar tending, serving), customer service, etc., in addition to her years of experience on help desk and IT Support.

We are comfortable living quite lean and light for a while if it means we can enjoy year round summer and a chill atmosphere far away from jacked up diesel plow trucks equipped with "truck-nutz." We don't even care if we don't have A/C for a year or two.

A friend with captaining experience might come down a few years after us with a boat and start a charter business with me, but for now, it's just me and my lady, and no concrete plans to start a business.

 

 


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Exit Zero
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May 18, 2020 12:55 pm  

Let me say that finding a nice, good, comfortable rental for 1 year will be the best investment in discovering if STX will fit your needs, income, lifestyle and most of all expectations.

Life here is not for everyone , hate winter or not, and buying a house - getting settled here with cars, jobs, social adjustments etc.will be a much better decision left after seeing how STX fits! And Where on the island you want to settle.

All those other questions will be answered after living here in a rental for 1 year.


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STXdreams
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May 18, 2020 1:11 pm  

@exit-zero Thank you for replying!

Would you recommend using the typical online rental search engines (Zillow, Realtor.com) to find rentals or, as I have seen mention of by others here on this forum, do you recommend trying to connect with locals instead? If so, do you have any recommendations for who or how to contact the right folks? I read one post from the stories section (that may be slightly idealized) about coming on-island, meeting a lady on the beach, meeting her landlord, and the landlord not only renting an affordable place, but assisting with getting a PO Box, utilities and even providing transport before a shipped car arrived. I suspect that experience is somewhat unique.

One thought is to book a week or so at a hotel and try our best to meet some landlords or folks who rent who can connect us with their landlords. I tend to think contacting a rental beforehand is the most affordable option, but without a firm grasp on the geography, I worry that we could end up in a bad neighborhood, or some other easily-avoidable problem if we were to be on-island to shop. 

The same question goes for jobs. Should we expect that most jobs are not posted online, but instead word-of-mouth and local-only sources? If there is a local staffing center or jobs board that you know iof, please feel free to share!

Finally, some information we have read online mentions that the local housing market on STX is currently sparse, and priced higher than normal. Can you comment on that? I haven't been looking long enough to know if it is trending higher, or if there are fewer places available. So far, it seems to me that availability isn't a problem, but I would say that some prices/rents are high.

Thanks again for your help!


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jaldeborgh
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May 18, 2020 2:34 pm  

As odd as it may sound, I think folks from Maine are more likely than most to fit in on STX.  Given you don't like winter Maine wasn't a good choice!  Maine is a seasonal place, it's off the beaten path and has many independent minded residents.  Common sense and self-reliance are necessary for survival.  All of these attributes will serve you well on STX.

First and foremost, STX is an island and a remote one at that.  It's also amazingly diverse, in every sense of the word.  It's for these two reasons that everyone suggests an extended PMV and/or renting before buying.  You have to decide two important things.  First, can I live on an island in the Caribbean and second, what part of STX is best for me.  Neither of these questions can be answered by research alone.  Visiting for a two week vacation or staying at the Buccaneer Hotel, while very nice, will not give you an accurate picture of life on STX, anymore than spending two weeks, in the summer, at a beachfront resort in Bar Harbor will teach you about living in Maine.

Almost all the questions you posit are minor, you both sound as though you can find employment and will earn enough to get by with an acceptable standard of living.  The question that needs answering is will you be happy living on STX.  This requires time and experience.  You both sound young enough and adventurous enough that you have little to loose, so give it a shot.  Life is about the ride, not the destination.


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Stxdreaming1
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May 18, 2020 5:50 pm  

Have you taken any trips to STX? If so, how many times have you been?


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Scubadoo
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May 18, 2020 11:56 pm  

The PMV and renting for a year are the best advise.  If renting for a year does not seem plausible buying a condo with reasonable HOA dues for your first few years may be more economical.  Your HOA dues will include insurance for the common areas, typically you will be solely responsible for content insurance for everything inside the walls of your unit which is much less than an entire structure.  Real Estate doesn't typically sell all that quickly in the VI but recently on STX with the economy up and the refinery re-starting the sales have been up and inventory down.


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rewired
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May 19, 2020 6:19 am  

My wife and I bought a condo near Christiansted in 2014 and were part-timers for almost 6 years.

We discovered pretty quickly that we were often driving to the west end for the things we liked to do and places we liked to go. We bought our house (on the west end) about 6 months ago and couldn't be happier.

See if you can find a rental for the year - many people have guest houses or basement apartments where you could get renter's insurance and avoid the condo fees (and real estate commissions).

The housing market is in flux right now, with much of the refinery construction completed and many of the FEMA workers returned to the mainland. Both had driven prices up for a while, but there seem to be more options out there now, so prices may be getting better.

Plan on about 40 cents per kilowatt hour for power (and consider solar an asset when you do go to buy).

Best of luck!


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Afriend
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May 19, 2020 12:37 pm  

Here's another vote for making a Pre-Move Visit (commonly referred to on this forum as a PMV) before making any long term commitment especially buying a home.  Come for an extended visit - anywhere from several weeks to several months and stay in a housekeeping unit rather than a hotel or resort.  Spend your time doing ordinary chores like house cleaning, laundry, yard work, grocery shopping, running errands visiting shops, bank, utility offices and other day to day activities similar to what you do now as those are the same type of activities that you'll be doing if you decided to live on the island long term.  Use the time to thoroughly check out neighborhoods and the housing market first hand (there's a big difference between the photos (and prices) you see on the Real Estate Internet Websites and what those properties actually look like in real life. Stop at the local banks to discuss mortgage options.  Explore employment opportunities to see what type of positions might be available in your selected fields.  Do some "drive arounds" during normal commuting times to get a feel for what driving is like during "rush hour" (Yes, there are rush hours in the Caribbean).  Stop by a couple of insurance agent's offices to get a field for premium costs.  Save the visits to the beach for those times when you have a spare few moments.  Remember, just because the island has palm trees, sandy beaches and blue water doesn't mean you'll be spending your days lounging around on the beach drinking pina coladas unless you happen to be retired or don't have to go out everyday to earn a living.

Now, you mentioned - <<...When we come, we plan to have about $60k saved for living expenses, but hope to hang on to at least $40k for a down payment, or renovations & improvements as needed...>>.  To many of us that means you really have set aside only $20K (not $60K) for Living Expenses which is not a bad sum but it will go rather quickly.  Likewise, a "super-affordable house" probably means you are looking a a real fixer-upper if you want a stand alone house and you'll need most of the remaining $40K for renovations and needed repairs rather than have it available for a down payment.  The point being at that price point you'll have to make trade-offs between size, condition and price.  Even condos at that price will be small and probably need a lot of updating.  That's one of the reasons we recommend a PMV - so you can see first hand what you can actually buy at your price point.

I know you said "We are comfortable living quite lean and light for a while" but saying and doing that are two different things.  It is often difficult for people who are use to a certain lifestyle to suddenly pare down to a lower level so here's a couple of other generalities that may help you determine if you can make your budget work.  In order to maintain your same lifestyle in the Caribbean you can expect you normal monthly living expenses to be about 35% higher than they are back in Maine.  As you probably already learned from your research food prices are high and electricity is very expensive (you can save money if you are willing to live with little or no Air Conditioning - some can do this but for others like me it's a luxury we can't do without).  Similarly, you'll find that wages for comparable jobs in the Caribbean are anywhere from 20% to 40% lower than they are where you know live.  That's the Catch-22 of living in the Caribbean - lower wages & higher expenses is the price you pay for living paradise.

Good luck following your dream.


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vicanuck
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May 19, 2020 4:40 pm  
Posted by: @afriend

Good luck following your dream.

Everything Afriend has written is very accurate. I'll just add that rents AND real estate are very high right now. Some say they'll come back down because FEMA and refinery construction workers are leaving. But, most FEMA people left long ago and most refinery construction worker live in the Man Camp. I highly doubt they'll come down much. Prices rarely ever go down in the VI.


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Afriend
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May 20, 2020 12:50 pm  

Oh, one more thing.  Since everyone's lifestyle and expectations are different it's difficult for others to tell you what amount of money you'll need to manage your household and how a house or condo that you find suitable will cost.  That's why you'll usually find people quoting a wide range of estimates for various expenses.  Human nature being what it is many people doing research such as yours will tend to focus on the lower end of the quote while those providing the information are more focused on the higher numbers since their experience has showed that in the Caribbean things always seem to cost more than "the average" and there always seems to be that little unanticipated adventure that life has inshore for your checkbook each month.  

When crunching YOUR numbers you'll find it better to use the higher estimates to find out if you "came make it work".  This may sound a little harsh but life is much easier if you have a generous budget and don't spending as much as you thought each month rather than running short and relying on your credit card to fund the shortage.

 

Again, good luck with your research.


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STXdreams
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May 20, 2020 3:05 pm  

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful responses to my post.

After doing some research, my fiance and I have decided that, with the situation of high COL and low wages, together with the several posts we've read on this and other forums about unavoidable petty crime ("I leave my windows down and doors unlocked so they don't break my car windows" stuck out to us), that we are going to keep looking for Caribbean destinations more inline with our dreams.

We may ultimately come to STX and see for ourselves, and also realize the crime may not ever affect us directly, but for now, those factors have us looking in places with a more robust infrastructure, like Belize, where energy is more affordable, and people aren't driven to crime to make ends meet.

Thank you all again for your help and kindness.


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Exit Zero
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May 21, 2020 1:52 pm  

STX Dreams -- yes that sounds like somewhere else will be a better fit. Thanks for the update.


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Afriend
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May 21, 2020 3:27 pm  

Be sure to thoroughly investigate (and understand) the Immigration and Residency Laws of the Caribbean destinations you are considering.  For most island nations you cannot just show up one day and take up residency or even work.  For most Caribbean island countries residency usually requires a substantial dollar investment in Real Estate or a business (sometimes requiring a “local” as a partner) that provided jobs for other locals.   Also, obtaining legal residency does not allow you to work.  For that you’ll need a Work Permit in most Caribbean countries.  These are often difficult to get.  You must have a “unique skill” and before being hired your potential employer must prove to the local Labor Ministry that there are no locals qualified to fill the Position.  You should consult with a local lawyer who specializes in Immigration for the country you are considering as the process is often complex, arduous, slow and filled with “red tape”.


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daveb722
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May 21, 2020 4:05 pm  

@stxdreams might want to look at this, crime is a serious problem there as well. https://www.osac.gov/Country/Belize/Content/Detail/Report/a043dca2-26a9-4c2a-96c6-184cedc8d23f

 


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Gator's Mom
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May 21, 2020 4:18 pm  
Posted by: @daveb722

@stxdreams might want to look at this, crime is a serious problem there as well. https://www.osac.gov/Country/Belize/Content/Detail/Report/a043dca2-26a9-4c2a-96c6-184cedc8d23f

 

OMG Belize has big time crime problems. By comparison the VI are wannabees.

 


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jaldeborgh
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May 21, 2020 9:17 pm  
Posted by: @stxdreams

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful responses to my post.

After doing some research, my fiance and I have decided that, with the situation of high COL and low wages, together with the several posts we've read on this and other forums about unavoidable petty crime ("I leave my windows down and doors unlocked so they don't break my car windows" stuck out to us), that we are going to keep looking for Caribbean destinations more inline with our dreams.

We may ultimately come to STX and see for ourselves, and also realize the crime may not ever affect us directly, but for now, those factors have us looking in places with a more robust infrastructure, like Belize, where energy is more affordable, and people aren't driven to crime to make ends meet.

Thank you all again for your help and kindness.

@stxdreams I’m afraid you may have taken some of the advice here a little out of context.  I think it’s mostly intended to caution people who might rush to STX without proper consideration and planning.  While my wife and I only purchased a seasonal retirement home on STX in January 2019, we’ve vacationed extensively in the Caribbean and owned a home on Martha’s Vineyard for almost 30 years.  I can assure you the COL of living on Martha’s Vineyard is well above St. Croix, including housing, taxes, food, gas and almost anything else, the one exception is hurricane insurance.  As for crime, yes, it’s a serious issue but strangely off-set by how increasingly kind and helpful people on the island are.  My wife, who’s 67 was nervous about crime, almost to the point where it was a deal breaker.  But after one season, it never comes up any more.  We use common sense, we don’t go to clubs, don’t stay out very late or walk around unfamiliar places at night alone.  We begun to make good friends and build a network that helps guide us, particularly about what not to do.

My basic point is simply, you should visit STX, get a taste and then decide.  I think you’ll find when you’re done trading everything off there aren’t many places that offer the combination environment, convenience, infrastructure and relatively low cost, plus it’s part of America, which to my wife and I was ultimately a big factor in our decision process.


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singlefin
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May 21, 2020 11:08 pm  

All good advice jaldeborgh. 

Id like to add more to “part of America” After Maria is when I really felt good about being in the U.S.VI. Our federal government, for example agencies like FEMA, really came through for us. I was told the BVI, never got the same kind of response from mother Britain. Even worse off where independent Caribbean islands who broke away from Europe decades before. Most of those have to rely solely on the U.N. after disasters.

Point being, I’m glad we chose a US Territory. But for life of me, I still can’t figure out why the Feds put so much money into our local government. They  can offer nothing in return, except an exorbitant amount of whining and crying when their pockets don’t get refilled.


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East Ender
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May 22, 2020 11:34 am  

Although I have a feeling that the OP has gone, I think this thread is important for other possible transplants. People on this board always recommend a "PMV" or extended visit before jumping in to a move to the VI. You need to see the lay of the land first hand. Zillow and other real estate websites don't work. You need to see the type of housing stock for yourself.

And yes, it is not unusual to find a possible landlord while on the beach or at a bar, etc. Person to person networking is still the best way to get started in the VI. Unless the job you are looking for has specific skills (in health care or related to federal agencies, for example), you are going to find work the same way.

If you think that you will find more robust infrastructure in other parts of the Caribbean, good luck. You might find that being under the US flag (although as a territory and not a state) is a good t'ing.


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Scubadoo
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May 22, 2020 11:30 pm  
Posted by: @stxdreams

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful responses to my post.

After doing some research, my fiance and I have decided that, with the situation of high COL and low wages, together with the several posts we've read on this and other forums about unavoidable petty crime ("I leave my windows down and doors unlocked so they don't break my car windows" stuck out to us), that we are going to keep looking for Caribbean destinations more inline with our dreams.

We may ultimately come to STX and see for ourselves, and also realize the crime may not ever affect us directly, but for now, those factors have us looking in places with a more robust infrastructure, like Belize, where energy is more affordable, and people aren't driven to crime to make ends meet.

Thank you all again for your help and kindness.

I went to the store today to pickup a few things.  When I was leaving the store a dozen police cars were all over the parking lot.  Apparently some nut job had sprayed bullets through a bunch of car windows in the row across from where I was parked.  I didn't stop to find out what was going on and only found out later.

No, this was not on STX, this was at the Walmart at a prominent location in North Carolina.  I went out to the driveway to look for bullet holes after I saw the news.  And it wasn't even the only local shooting incident of the day on the news.  Point is crime happens everywhere.  We don't hang out a shady places on STX late at night and have not felt unsafe in all the years on STX.


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ICatchBadGuys
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May 23, 2020 1:50 pm  
Posted by: @stxdreams

.....with the situation of high COL and low wages, together with the several posts we've read on this and other forums about unavoidable petty crime .....

You just described every island and cay in the Caribbean....and pretty much every large city on Earth! Haha! Seriously though, I wish you luck in your search. We are in the same boat, looking to "retire" in about 3 or 4 yrs and make a move. For what it's worth, we've been to a lot of places so far (Bahamas, Dom. Repub., Cayman Islands, etc.) with a first PMV to St Thomas coming up this July. We're betting that the USVI is going to be a contender, but we'll see. You gotta get on the ground. Of course you don't want to go in with blinders on, but ultimately the place you pick will likely have all of the things you listed as reasons to pass (for now) on STX. Good luck! 🙂   


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ICatchBadGuys
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May 23, 2020 1:54 pm  
Posted by: @stxdreams

.....with the situation of high COL and low wages, together with the several posts we've read on this and other forums about unavoidable petty crime .....

You just described every island and cay in the Caribbean....and pretty much every large city on Earth! Haha! Seriously though, I wish you luck in your search. We are in the same boat, looking to "retire" in about 3 or 4 yrs and make a move. For what it's worth, we've been to a lot of places so far (Bahamas, Dom. Repub., Cayman Islands, etc.) with a first PMV to St Thomas coming up this July. We're betting that the USVI is going to be a contender, but we'll see. You gotta get on the ground. Of course you don't want to go in with blinders on, but ultimately the place you pick will likely have all of the things you listed as reasons to pass (for now) on STX. Good luck! 🙂   


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STTsailor
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May 26, 2020 8:30 am  

The key to happinesses here is coming in as a young person in early 20s or as a retiree in 60s with sizable pension and assets.  In both scenarios you can get by here with little responsibility and have time to enjoy “the culture” 

if you come here with the family and kids you better have a job that you can do remotely or have a trade skills where you can work solo. Earning a lot of money from your profession can shelter you from crime to some extent plus will provide for private education for your kids. Most people who come here in professional capacity working in education, banking, IT, healthcare or government will ultimately move back unless they have family or roots on the island. 

the infrastructure here is archaic. WAPA, internet, cable, cell service are slow and unreliable. Customer service is very much lacking.  You often pay for services you do not get and have no recourse with provider. 

make sure you are handy enough to fix your house, car, generator and boat. If you have to outsource that you will be eternally frustrated by local resources. 

organize your banking in such a fashion to be able to do everything remotely without ever going into the branch. local banks are rather business unfriendly. Lines are long and competence level low. ATMs are frequently out of cash and out of service. 

For entertainment you must enjoy boating, fishing, diving or at least beach going. There is not much else here.  

if you happen to be caucasian prepare yourself for being a minority and you will not be here a protected class and affirmative action will not apply to you. To the contrary, you will be openly discriminated against in the supermarket, bank, gov offices etc. 


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jaldeborgh
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May 28, 2020 5:57 am  

Yes, life is difficult, as it is everywhere.  My youngest daughter is 25, living in Brooklyn, NY.  She’s well educated and earning $85K but can’t afford a remotely decent/safe apartment anywhere near her work, so she has to have 3 roommates to make it work.  My point is anywhere you choose to live has it’s compromises and challenges.

I had a funny conversation with my middle daughter years ago, while she was nearing graduation from college, she told me she wanted to move to a tropical island when she graduated.  I suggested, she should look to her career as doing something you’re passionate about is more likely to bring you happiness than where you live.  There was silence on the phone for a few seconds, she then responded with “I’m passionate about living on a tropical island”, hard to argue with that.  Ironically, she’s now living in Denver, CO and thinking of moving to Bozeman, MT.  Such is life.

This post was modified 2 months ago by jaldeborgh

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vicanuck
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May 29, 2020 8:01 am  
Posted by: @jaldeborgh

My youngest daughter is 25, living in Brooklyn, NY.  She’s well educated and earning $85K but can’t afford a remotely decent/safe apartment anywhere near her work, so she has to have 3 roommates to make it work.

Why does she stay there? Surely her talents could be used elsewhere.


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daveb722
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May 29, 2020 1:02 pm  

A lot of people live there for the experience of NYC and this is very common to share an apartment.  600 sq ft studios sell for 1-2 million, at least that was the going rate about 6 years ago, so I'm sure it's much more.  I wish I did it back in the day, but only for a few years, loved my experience back in the early 2000's on Long Island and would go to the city often, so much to do.  If she enjoys it, why not?  


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