Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Suburban Trade-offs

James Howard Kunstler has called suburbia the "greatest misallocation of resources in history". Aside from war, I would have to agree. It's easy to see the appeal of a house in the burbs - bigger house, better schools - but hard to see the costs. I think that if people were to take a serious, rigorous look at what these costs are, they might re-evaluate their purchase of a McMansion.

Unevaluated Costs of Living in a Distant Suburb/Exurb

1. Commute time - in some places, a commute from the suburbs is double or triple the time. Over a year this could easily add up to an extra 250 hours (30 minutes * twice a day * 5 days a week * 50 weeks) - or 6.25 workweeks. What could you do with an extra 250 hours a year?

2. Commute cost - In the past, gas has been so cheap as to appear to be "free". But as prices have doubled in the past few years, and will double again, this will begin to seriously hurt. My husband and I spend $100 per month on gas. But we have friends that spend $600. That's $7200 a year! Additionally, more driving wears out your car faster, meaning that your car needs more repairs and you have to replace the car quicker. And just a thought - most suburbs don't have any public transport.

3. Stress and the costs of stress - Stress from traffic jams, from being cut off in traffic, from sitting too long in your car. All this stress adds up and takes a toll on your body and on your mood. Stress dampens your immune response, leading to increased colds and other infections. Between 75 and 90% of doctor's visits are for stress-related complaints, which range from headaches, to high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety.

4. Loss of sleep - Some people give up activities when they have less time, but others just give up sleep. Americans average less than 7 hours of sleep, when most healthy adults require 8 - 9 hours. Sleep loss (also worsened by stress, see above) contributes to a variety of problems, including impatience, irratability, depression, slower reaction times and increased number of errors. Sleep deprivation may account for as many as 100,000 auto accidents in the US every year.

5. Loss of healthy living habits - Strange how we never seem to have time to exercise or fix healthy meals, which have such an impact on our health and our moods. Instead of cooking a healthy meal with whole grains and vegetables, a lot of Americans, especially ones short on time, tend to cook a packaged meal or skip the whole "cook" step and just get fast food. Of course, fast food is a processed nightmare with all the wrong kinds of fats, sugars etc. I'm sure you already know that.

And, living in a suburb means that you have to get in a car to go anywhere. There's no walking down to the corner store or restaurant. That cuts down on exercise as well.

6. Cost of maintaining a bigger house - A primary appeal of the burbs is being able to afford a bigger house. But bigger houses mean more money for repairs, updates, and daily maintenance. Some people have to hire a housekeeper. Some people have to pay $300 for gas and electricity. It adds up.

7. Cost of maintaining a bigger lawn / yard - It's nice to have a yard for gardening, a lawn for the dog. But, yard care does have a cost (unless you are growing all your own food :). With a smaller yard you can get away with a reel mower and a dandelion puller. In a bigger yard either you spend half a Saturday mowing and edging your lawn, applying fertilizer and herbicides (not me!) or you hire someone to do it for you.

I propose that a move from a nice 1000 foot house in the innner suburbs, where the yards are small, public transport is available and commutes are only 10 minutes, to a 2500 foot house in the outer suburbs, will cost you significantly in time and money, and possibly even your health. I realize that sometimes, a home close to the city just isn't financially feasible. Still, be sure to evaluate ALL the costs before you make a big commitment.

1 comment:

Heidi said...

I remember what a bad mood I was in when I commuted from Norman to OKC. BOO!