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Places Where Americans Live the Most Balanced Lifestyles

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

As Americans, we’re often focused on status markers, like the amount of money we make, but research indicates that time we spend with people we care about, good health and income equality are some of biggest factors that lead to happiness. It’s not just how much we earn, it’s what we have to do to earn it, what we get in exchange for it and whether we have the time and health to enjoy our friends and family.

In other words, a balanced life.

To figure out where people are most likely to find that kind of balance, we compared seven measures in the 50 biggest metropolitan areas of the U.S.

We looked at the following (full methodology below):

    • Average commute times
    • How much of their incomes residents spend on housing
    • How many hours people work compared to how much they earn
    • Local income inequality
    • How many people are in very good or excellent health
    • Whether they get enough sleep at night
    • How local prices for typical consumer goods and services (excluding housing) compare with the national average

Below are the places that ranked highest — and lowest.

Places with the most balanced lifestyles

For clarity, we used the name of the major city in a metro area (i.e., Grand Rapids, instead of Grand Rapids-Wyoming-Muskegon, Mich.)

1. Grand Rapids, Mich.

Residents of Grand Rapids work a little harder for their money than those at other top cities on our list, but that money seems to work a lot harder for them, too. Generally, housing only costs 18% of income, commutes are under 22 minutes, prices on consumer goods are about 5% lower than the national average, and income inequality is relatively low. Maybe that’s why 56% of the population are reported to be in very good health (the ninth highest), even though 14 other cities have fewer sleep-deprived citizens. Of course, we might expect denizens to be made of hearty stock, given all the opportunities for outdoor activity for those who can make it through the notoriously harsh winters.

Score: 83 (out of 100)

2. Salt Lake City

Another city with a vibrant outdoor culture, Salt Lake City takes the number two spot with a score of 81. The key seems to be the widespread prosperity: Salt Lake City has the second-lowest income equality of any metro we reviewed, which is especially impressive considering the median income was $69,490 in 2016, considerably more than the national median of $55,322. And it only takes an average of 22 minutes to commute to those high-paying jobs (about the same as Grand Rapids), where workers spend about an hour less a week than average Americans. Prices for goods and services are about on par with the national average, but Salt Lakers spend 20% of their income on housing — about 1% less than people in the other cities we reviewed. Almost 57% of the population are reported to be in very good health, and more than two-thirds report getting at least seven hours of sleep a night.
Score: 81

3. Minneapolis

The Twin Cities are home to more people in very good or excellent health than anywhere else on our list. Maybe it’s because they get so much rest; only four other places report lower rates of sleep-deprived citizens. Income inequality is a touch higher than in Grand Rapids and Salt Lake (but still the fifth lowest on our list) and the average commute is about three minutes longer, but residents get more money for their time. Housing costs about 20% of the median income, and goods are priced about 4% lower than the national average.
Score: 80

4. Raleigh, N.C.

The Research Triangle Area places fourth on our list, thanks to a very healthy (third on our list) and well-rested (sixth for fewest sleep-deprived citizens) population. Commute times are fair at about 26 minutes on average, as is the percentage of median income that goes to cover the median housing costs (20 percent). In terms of income inequality, Raleigh also runs middle of the pack among cities we reviewed, ranking 23rd, but that’s a big jump from the first three cities on list, which ranked third, second and fifth. Moreover, Raleigh ranks 18th for both the amount they earn for how long they work and the cost of consumer goods compared to the national average.
Score: 71

5. Kansas City, Mo.

A healthy showing on average commute times (under 23 minutes), income inequality (8th lowest on our list) and share of income that goes towards housing (19%) sends KCMO to the fifth spot on our list. Kansas City ranks in the top half of our list for citizens who aren’t sleep deprived (22nd), percentage of the population in very good or excellent health (19th) and income earned compared to hours worked (24th). The place where they rank lower than more than half the cities on our list is in local prices compared to national averages (27th), but they should still expect to pay about 3.7 percent less than most other Americans for goods and services.
Score: 68

Places with the least balanced lifestyles

50. New York

It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that New Yorkers endure the longest average commute times (over 35 minutes), and pay the highest prices for goods and services of America’s 50 largest metro areas. It also sits at the 49th slot for income inequality. While New York has one of the highest median housing costs (San Francisco is the most expensive), it’s somewhat offset by higher median household income. But not too far offset; residents of only three other cities spend a larger portion of their income on housing. Lending credence to the famous epithet of “the city that never sleeps,” 41% of New Yorkers report being sleep deprived (Detroit is the most sleep-deprived, with just over half of residents reporting fewer than seven hours of sleep a night). With 31% of the population reported in good or excellent health, New York ranks 35th out of 50 in that area. One bright spot is placing 8th for the amount of money New Yorkers earn for the number of hours they work. Sadly, that didn’t help New York’s score much.

Score: 20

49. Miami

Not to be outdone, Miami also ranks dead last in two areas we measured: The cost of housing relative to income and income inequality. Miami fares poorly in other areas, too, like the number of hours worked relative to the amount of money earned (43th), average commute time (41st), and prices for goods and services relative to the national average (39th). It runs in the middle of the pack in other two categories, coming in 26th for both the percentage of people in very good or excellent health and the number of people getting at least seven hours of sleep a night.

Score: 22

48. Philadelphia

Philly doesn’t rank last in any area, but it falls in the bottom ten for all but two categories: Average commute time (40th), income equality (41st), very good health (45th), enough sleep (47th) and consumer prices (47th). It does slightly better in the percentage of income that goes toward housing (35th), but has a stronger showing in the number of hours citizens work relative to how much they earn (15th).
Score: 23

47. Los Angeles

Citizens of LA earn a lot for the hours they work, but that doesn’t help too much given the high price of housing — only two other cities spend more of their incomes on housing (San Diego and Miami). The cost of goods and services are the highest outside of New York City and San Francisco. Add to that high income inequality (ranked 45th), that famously horrific commute (45th) and poor health (42nd) to get a low score.
Score: 24

46. Tampa, Fla.

Another Florida city in the bottom five, Tampa’s biggest flaw is the ratio of hours worked to income earned (ranked 45th). Tampa doesn’t rank that low elsewhere, but it doesn’t rank high in anything, either; its top showing is a rank of 31 in the percentage of people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Average commutes clock in over 27 minutes (35th), and only half the population are reported to be in good or excellent health (32nd). The city ranks even lower for the prices of goods and services (40th) and the percentage of income that goes toward housing (41st).
Score: 26

Methodology:

The top 50 Combined Statistical Areas (CSAs) are ranked on a 100-point scale on the following seven measures:

  1. Average commute time, as reported in the 2016 American Community Survey (“ACS”)
  2. Percentage of income spent on housing, calculated as (the median monthly housing cost) / (median household income / 12 months), as reported in the 2016 ACS
  3. The number of hours worked relative to income earned, calculated as (the mean average number of hours worked) / (divided by the mean monthly household income / 12 months), as reported in the 2016 ACS
  4. Gini coefficient to represent income inequality, as reported in the 2016 ACS
  5. Price index, calculated as (Price Index for Goods + Price Index for Other) / (2), as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the “Real Personal Income for States and Metropolitan Areas, 2015” release
  6. Share of the population in very good health, calculated as (percentage of the population in very good health) + (percentage of the population in excellent health), as reported in the 500 Cities Project (2016) from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”)
  7. Share of the population who gets fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, as reported by the CDC. Data was not available for the following metro areas, so the unweighted average for available areas in the same state was used: Greenville, S.C. and Harrisburg, Pa.

The sum of all ranks was then divided by seven, for a maximum possible score of 100 and a lowest possible score of zero.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kali McFadden
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Kali McFadden is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kali at [email protected]

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Mortgage, News

We Downsized Our House So We Could Travel the World

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Purchase agreement for house

You’ve settled into your dream house and have called it home for years. But now you realize your family has more house than it actually needs, plus a large mortgage to match. Is it time to downsize?

The answer depends on what your financial and lifestyle goals are. Below, we share one story about a Florida-based family downsizing their home. Giving up 1,600 square feet allowed them to pay off their mortgage in a fraction of the time and achieve their goals of globe-trotting.

Keith and Nicole’s downsizing story

Keith and Nicole DeBickes loved their house in Delray Beach, Fla., but with more than 3,500 square feet of living space, it was perhaps larger than they actually needed at the time. “One day, I came to the realization that I had a 400-square-foot bathroom that I spent 20 minutes a day in, and we had this big formal dining room and formal living room that we never used,” Nicole said. “And we had a really big mortgage to cover it.”

She also wasn’t thrilled with the schools in the area — or with the idea of paying for private education. She and Keith knew they had to make a change.

The DeBickes (who work as an engineer manager and software engineer, respectively, and make between $100,000 and $200,000 combined annually) put their house on the market and started looking for a smaller home that was zoned for better schools.

They eventually settled on a 1,900-square-foot, four-bedroom house in Boca Raton. “We wanted to buy with the idea that we’d have a much smaller mortgage and we wouldn’t have to pay for private school,” Nicole said. “Then we could do things with our family like travel or retire earlier.”

The couple took out a 30-year mortgage for $110,000 in 2007, much smaller than what they had before. They then refinanced into a 15-year loan for $150,000 in 2009 to remodel their kitchen and upgrade their electrical work.

Pros and cons of downsizing your home

Deciding to downsize your house is a major decision that takes a good amount of effort and planning. Consider the following pros and cons before you choose to move forward.

Pros

  • Reduces your mortgage debt.
  • Potentially reduces other housing-related expenses, such as utilities.
  • Frees up cash to reduce or eliminate non-mortgage debt.
  • Gives you a smaller house to maintain.

Cons

  • Reduces your available square footage, giving you less space than you’re used to.
  • Unless you have enough equity to cover the purchase of your new home, you must qualify for a new mortgage.
  • You’ll have to sell your existing home.
  • You will have to shell out thousands of dollars for both your home sale and new home purchase.

Tips to pay off your mortgage more quickly

The DeBickes didn’t like the idea of having a mortgage on their downsized home. “We didn’t want to be working every month for a mortgage,” Nicole said. “We don’t like debt, and we wanted it to be gone.”

The couple buckled down and started making double and triple payments every month on their home loan. They drove older cars, carpooled to save on gas and maintenance and packed lunches to cut down on their food costs. The family took relatively modest vacations, staying with family or driving to the west coast of Florida.

All their diligence paid off — the DeBickles submitted their last mortgage payment in fall 2013.

If you’re on a mission to be mortgage-free sooner rather than later, here are tips to help you get there:

  • Make extra principal payments each month. Try rounding up your monthly mortgage payment. For example, if your payment is $1,325 every month, pay $1,400 instead or increase the amount by even more, if your budget allows. Be sure to communicate to your lender that you want the extra payments applied to your principal balance and not your interest.
  • Pay biweekly instead of monthly. Split your monthly mortgage payment into biweekly payments. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, you would make 26 half payments, or 13 full payments. Making one extra full payment each year could allow you to shave a few years off your mortgage term.
  • Consider recasting your mortgage. If you have at least $5,000 or $10,000 — depending on your lender’s requirements — you could use that lump sum to recast your mortgage. A mortgage recast allows you to lower your monthly payments by paying your lender a set amount of money to reduce your mortgage principal.
  • Dedicate windfalls to paying down your principal. Every time you get a tax refund, bonus or some other windfall, use it to pay down your outstanding loan balance.

Achieving financial freedom

Although they’re now mortgage-free, the DeBickes were still putting money away like crazy. They eventually quit their jobs (temporarily) and traveled abroad for two years with their boys, who were 10 and 7 in 2015. Without a mortgage payment, they were able to amass the $190,000 they thought they needed to travel for 28 months. “We have been living on one salary and saving or paying off the house with the other for 12 years,” Nicole said.

Despite their hefty savings goals, they’ve been able to take the boys to Europe and Costa Rica, too. “We want to really get them prepared for what travel is going to be like,” Nicole said.

The trip, which is outlined on the family’s website, FamilyWithLatitude.com, took the foursome everywhere from Ireland to France, among other spots. Nicole and Keith “road schooled” their children as they traveled, with the help of Florida’s virtual school program that allows them to take classes online.

They planned to rent their home while they were away, which will help finance part of the trip and cover some house expenses, such as insurance and property taxes. In the meantime, they are maxing out their 401(k)s and taking care of college funds for the boys.

“(In 2014) we were able to purchase the prepaid college plan for my youngest son in a lump sum,” said Nicole, who had already done the same thing for her eldest. “So I know that both boys have good college funds to take care of them.”

The bottom line

If you’re looking to move into a smaller home and save money in the process, it might make sense for you to downsize. Just be sure you’re clear on the benefits and drawbacks, and how the choice to cut down your square footage would align with your personal goals.

In the end, the lack of debt will allow the DeBickes the freedom to not only to travel the globe, but to hang out with the important people in their lives.

“With both of us working, we haven’t been able to spend as much time with the kids as we wanted,” Nicole said. “It’s a real luxury that we can do this. I’m looking forward to spending time together as a family.”

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kate Ashford
Kate Ashford |

Kate Ashford is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kate at [email protected]

Crissinda Ponder
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Study: Millennials Depend on the Bank of Mom and Dad

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Millennials are advancing steadily into middle age. But statistically speaking, America’s largest generation retains one characteristic of their youth: Widespread dependence on their parents to help pay the bills.

A new survey reveals that even millennials who think of themselves as independent on money matters still hit up their parents for regular, recurring expenses. Of those surveyed, 54% claimed they stood on their own two feet, but when pressed a further 30% of those admitted to leaning on their parents to help cover costs on everything from groceries to car insurance.

The costs being covered by parents

For the most part, millennials aren’t hitting up their parents for cash to cover extravagant, one-off charges like airfare for an Instagram-worthy vacation. Instead, the survey found millennials ask mom and dad for help making ends meet for living expenses, such as the phone bill, food and rent. For example, of the millennials who receive monthly help from their parents, 48% of respondents say the money helps cover the phone bill. A more detailed breakdown can be seen in the graph below:


Besides these day-to-day costs, emergency spending requires a call home for some millennials. About 15% of all survey respondents said they would need help from their parents to cover a sudden $1,000 expense. Instead, most would opt to use either cash or savings, provided those savings weren’t earmarked for retirement in a tax-advantaged account.

Millennial money worries

Dipping into your emergency fund to repair a hole in the ceiling is a good strategy (and a reason why you save), while making a withdrawal from your savings account to pay for a bottle of rosé is not. Unfortunately a staggering 70% of millennials surveyed admitted to using savings to cover non-emergency expenses.


To use a favorite phrase of millennials, “this is problematic.” A savings account can only be drawn upon six times a month via debit card or check (due to federal regulations) and you don’t want to waste one of your six free withdrawals to pay for a pint of Americone Dream. Even worse, the money spent on non-emergency expenses won’t be there when you need it to pay for an unexpected, urgent cost.

Another metric of financial health where millennials could stand to improve is retirement savings. While 58% of the millennials surveyed claimed to save money with either each paycheck or once a month, 44% don’t have any sort of retirement savings account — either a private one or through work.


To be fair, millennials aren’t exactly celebrating these personal finance failures. Approximately 57% said they regretted how they’ve spent money from their savings account, and a little over 36% said that during the past week, they felt anxiety about their finances every single day.

The numbers behind the stress

A significant financial worry on millennials’ minds is not having enough money. While we’re pretty sure everyone, regardless of age, would like to have more money, a recent study by the Federal Reserve underscores that millennials are particularly hard-strapped for cash.

Titled “Are Millennials Different?”, the report found when compared to members of Generation X and Baby Boomers when they were roughly the same age as today’s millennials, the millennials have less means to deal with their financial challenges.

As the authors of the report put it in the conclusion of the report, “We showed that millennials do have lower real incomes than members of earlier generations when they were at similar ages, and millennials also appear to have accumulated fewer assets. The comparisons for debt are somewhat mixed, but it seems fair to conclude that millennials have levels of real debt that are about the same as those of members of Generation X when they were young and more than those of the baby boomers.”

How can millennials do better?

Besides winning the lottery, what else can millennials do to improve their financial situation and rely less on their parents?

“Many millennials are skeptical of the market,” said Dallen Haws, a financial planner based in Arizona. “Although it’s good that they are not investing willy-nilly, it will be very important that they get comfortable with investing to be able to reach their full financial potential.” Read more on how millennials (and everyone else) can start investing with an eye toward retirement.

Millennials should also embrace the power of austerity. That doesn’t mean living like a monk, but it does mean thinking twice (or thrice) about making big-ticket purchases and whether or not they are affordable.

“Without question, the biggest regret amongst millennials I work with is overpaying for a car,” said Rick Vazza, a CFA/CFP based in San Diego. “Some of my most successful young members have happily continued holding on to inexpensive cars allowing them to funnel more money toward travel, retirement funds or a down payment.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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