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Smithee Update: Six Months in San Diego

This article was written by in Debt Reduction. 12 comments.

This article is by Consumerism Commentary staff writer Smithee, who is juggling about a dozen clients and creative projects as a freelancer.

It’s been a year since I was laid off and decided to become a full-time freelancer, and it’s been six months since my wife and I made a risky decision to move the family from Dallas to San Diego. Overall, we think moving was the right thing to do, but there are a few things keeping me anxious.

I’m writing this update from the Starbucks near the house we’re renting in San Diego, because Starbucks has air conditioning, and the heat and humidity in the house were too difficult to ignore. The good news is that today is only about the tenth day that it’s been too hot in San Diego since we moved back in April.


As I hoped, moving to a place with nice year-round weather has had a good effect on my ambition and productivity levels. Some people like warm weather, but I found that Texas’s six-month-long summers would infect my outlook and attitude, creating tense and downright depressing work relationships.

In addition, working for myself means I can create my own hours and I’m not suffering from road rage or dealing with the rising gas prices. To be fair, though, San Diego’s rush hour is literally only an hour long, which is a level of sensibility I never saw in New Jersey, Seattle, or Dallas.

Most days I even have enough time in the morning to sit down and eat breakfast outside, which is part of my American dream.

San Diego at Night

Moving is expensive

Including fixing up the old house, packing, storing and moving all the stuff, animal medicine and drama, paying an agency to rent out our house in Dallas and $4,600 for the first & last months’ rent plus a security deposit in San Diego, moving wasn’t something we could do with cash on hand. We’ve created over $10,000 in credit card debt for the privilege of living somewhere better, and it almost always seems like the right decision.

Long-time readers might remember that I spent over a decade with thousands in credit card debt, before I finally buckled down and, with the help of a respectful salary, wiped it out over about nine months. I hate credit card debt, and knowing those balances are out there building interest against me causes some anxiety. The silver lining is that the “San Diego debt,” unlikely my legacy solo debt, is something that my wife and I are both contributing toward reducing, so it should go away that much more quickly.

The best part about our move (financially speaking) is that we’re saving at least $200 a month on air conditioning, which is the same amount more that we’re paying for housing. If we didn’t have to spend so much on rent deposits and agencies, it’d basically pay for itself. Over time, it will.

Debt reduction strategy

We’re not really reducing debt in a meaningful way, yet. At the moment, my wife has the big dependable salary. My work sometimes generates large paychecks, but freelance work is not reliable, so I’ve been spending more time finessing and futzing with each month’s household budget instead of putting payments and savings on auto-pilot.

I’ve been using the 50/30/20 guideline, and in the months where I have large freelance income, we’re able to save quite a bit. I know what I’m supposed to do is keep saving until we have three months’ worth of emergency savings available, or put it toward credit card debt and then build emergency savings.

What I want to do is use it to pay off the car loans early. One is on a schedule to expire in January, and the other one in June of next year. They add up to over $1,000 a month, and unlike the credit card debt, they always require the same regular payment amount, or else bad things happen.

In fact, once the car loans (and the old IRS installment) are completely paid off, we could fulfill all of our “needs” (the 50 part of 50/30/20) with just my wife’s salary. If things go the same way they have been, and if there aren’t any expensive emergencies, isn’t it smarter to free up $1,000 a month for saving or debt payments?

That’s the trick, isn’t it? You’re supposed to assume there will be emergencies that require you to have saved up a lot. I’ve never had that much saved in my life, but I’ve also never been hit with a truly expensive emergency, and I am impatient to be out of debt.

Photo: robsettantasei

Published or updated September 7, 2011.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

San Diego is far more expensive than Texas due to income taxes. CA state income tax is over 9%. People tend to overlook this (especially salaried employees) as it comes out of your paycheck, but by no means are you saving money by living here.

I’m moving from San Diego to Texas in a couple months, actually, because the move will save me over $30,000 a year in taxes. Plus I can buy a beautiful house 15 minutes outside of Austin for $200K. I love the neighborhood I live in here in San Diego (College area, near SDSU), but even dumpy houses here are $300K+.


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avatar 2 Anonymous

I find this ironic the reasons Erica and Smithee each moved out of their respective place.

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avatar 3 Smithee

That’s a good point; neither of us has had to deal with a state income tax in more than ten years. In that case, San Diego is definitely more expensive than Dallas, but it’s not as bad as we feared.

If you’re going to live in Texas, Austin is the place to be.

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avatar 4 eric

Ha. Sounds like an episode of Trading Places.

Nice to hear from you Smithee. Glad things are working out.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

From one San Diegan to another, welcome! San Diego can be a bit more expensive up front, but when you consider things like maintenance, heating/air, it quickly becomes on-par with the rest of the country. This two weeks of warm/humid weather is an anomaly.

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avatar 6 wylerassociate

I’ve been to San Diego and I absolutely love it, such a beautiful city. Is living in San Diego cheaper or the same price as living in Los Angeles or San Francisco?

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Welcome to San Diego! I also moved here from Dallas, 5 years ago. I have never regretted it, not for one second. It’s a bit more expensive, but not as much as people think. Our insurance, electric, grocery, and commuting costs actually dropped quite a bit. We spend a lot less on entertainment here, because there’s so many free things to do – and you can always be outdoors.

9% is the top income tax, I suspect most salaried people aren’t paying nearly that much. I only paid around 3.5% state income tax last year, and I make quite a bit more than the median salary for San Diego.

This is a great city to live in.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

Moving can definitely create a huge dent in your finances. The last time I moved, it took me about 12 mths to get back on track so I chalked up quite a bit of credit card debt and some small loans. Definitely a painful time as I had to be super strict with myself – but on the brighter side, I am very happy where I’m living now. It’s great to hear your plans to kick the debt back to zero though.. ;p

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avatar 9 Cejay

Great to hear that things are going good Smithee. I know with your plan you will be out of debt real soon.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Hi Smithee, I’ve lived in San Diego and it is beautiful and expensive. Also just moved this summer and it is really really expensive, no matter how you slice it. Fortunately, although I didn’t like the exenses, we had the cash to pay for them. Now, if I can just get the house in order, I’ll be a bit more content!!!

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avatar 11 faithfueledbennetts

I remember reading about you making this move several months back. I think it is great that you are where you are happy. Also, the savings on your AC bill are NUTS! That for sure will make up for something justifiably speaking.

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avatar 12 lynn

It’s good to hear you are enjoying life in San Dieago. Your plan to move forward sounds like a winner. Good luck!

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