- Helen H. Richardson/Contributor/Getty
- Living in the suburbs can be extremely expensive, and often in unexpected ways.
- Some of the hidden costs of suburban life include sky-high transportation expenses and pricey groceries.
- Here are six of the worst hidden costs of living in the suburbs.
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I’ve lived most of my life in the suburbs.
I was raised just outside Washington, DC, in Alexandria, Virginia. My wife and I settled in Glendale, California, a few miles from the center of Los Angeles, and now we live in a suburban neighborhood a short train ride from Manhattan.
If living most of my life in suburban areas adjacent to major cities has taught me anything, it’s that suburban living can be extremely expensive, and often in unexpected ways.
Homeownership is more common in suburban areas than in urban settings, and much of the costs associated with suburban living are therefore predictable. The costs you might not have anticipated when settling just outside the city, however, accrue slowly over time and in sudden and unexpected ways.
Whether you own or rent a home, living in the suburbs of most major cities is more expensive than living in the city itself, according to a survey conducted by Zillow late last year (even if urban property is usually much more expensive).
But you probably expect mortgage and maintenance costs. The following expenses, not so much.
Here are the hidden costs of living in the suburbs that most people don’t see coming.
Groceries cost more in suburbs than in cities
- Stephen Chernin/Getty Images
Contrary to popular misconception, you actually pay more for groceries in suburban supermarkets than you do in urban shops.
That’s because there’s a much larger supply of food in cities, which forces city grocers to lower prices to foster competition. According to a 2015 study, when a city doubles in size, it experiences a 20% increase in the number of products available.
You need to buy more gas in the suburbs, too
When you live in the suburbs, almost every errand requires the use of an automobile, which of course means consuming fuel an urban dweller would not expend. What’s more, these short trips are especially inefficient when it comes to fuel economy, as a cold engine gets roughly half the mileage as a fully warmed motor.
Property taxes can rise dramatically
- Helen H. Richardson/Contributor/Getty
Just last year, I saw my own property taxes increase by nearly 40%. This was partially due to improvements we made, but also due to home improvements made by neighbors.
When overall neighborhood value increases, so do your taxes. New laws can also raise property taxes. And in most cases, homeowners have a window of only a few months to contest new tax increases.
Transportation costs add up
- Flickr/Mrs. Gemstone
City living is overall more expensive than suburban living … until transportation costs are factored in. Suburban workers with commutes usually pay around 15% of their annual income in transportation costs, but these expenses can balloon to 28% in inefficient locations. Bridges, tunnels, and toll roads pile on the expense.
The costs of nature
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In the city, the property for which you are responsible usually halts at your door and usually doesn’t involve a roof or basement.
Suburban living, on the other hand, exposes you to damage from flooding, hail, falling tree limbs, creeping roots, and so much more. I have incurred costs created by windblown debris damage, roots breaking apart pipes buried beneath the yard, and more flooding than I care to think about.
That’s just to name a few of the times nature has forced us to reach for the checkbook.
- Tim Boyle/Getty Images
City residents consumer significantly less power per capita than their suburban denizens, largely due to HVAC costs. A standalone suburban residence of comparable size to a city condo will cost much more in terms of heating and cooling mostly due to cooled or warmed air escaping through windows or attics.