The tradeoffs we make for living in NZ

tradeoffs for life in auckland new zealand

Here’s a truism if there ever was one: Travel widens your horizons.

You can know a lot of things intellectually, theoretically – but often you can’t really grasp them until you’ve experienced them firsthand. Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone?

What would my ideal city be? I’m still stumped. Somewhere warm, but not punishingly hot. That poses a problem for T, though. We would prefer to live at opposite ends of the globe in that sense – I’d decamp to a sunny island, he to Antarctica. Other criteria:

  • Somewhere with advanced transport – a comprehensive metro system.
  • Somewhere with diverse, awesome and affordable food options, including a range of ethnic choices.
  • Somewhere with cheap/free entertainment options year round.
  • Somewhere with proximity to beaches, and maybe bush, mountains, etc.
  • Somewhere that doesn’t have a sky high cost of living, or at least a place where incomes and costs are in line, proportionally speaking.

I’ve yet to find this magical city, and I fear it does not exist.

While New York is now my absolute favourite destination in the world, it’s not my forever city. Sure, it seems like a fabulous place to live in your 20s, but long term… probably not so much.

Toronto was another city T and I found ourselves nodding at. Canada seems pretty close to perfect as a country goes; it has the good stuff you enjoy in the US (low prices, a range of ethnic cuisines, good customer service) and none of the bad (guns, healthcare, lack of employee rights, the imperial system, litigiousness – did anyone else adore that Don monologue to the lawyer in The Newsroom?). But the weather! I doubt I’d survive a single Canadian winter.

I thought I would return home either with a newfound fervent love for New Zealand, or the exact opposite. Turns out, it’s a grudging mix of both, tilted slightly in favour of the former.

My city has its faults. But I also need to appreciate what we do have.

  • Auckland has ridiculously unpredictable and rainy weather, but it’s milder than almost anywhere else in the world. A variance of about 15 degrees from hottest to coldest really isn’t very much at all. Many parts of the world have it so much worse; sure, they have lovely hot, dry summers, but by the same stroke, bitter, snowy winters.
  • We have the most pathetic excuse for public transport, but we aren’t under CCTV surveillance everywhere we go. Nor do we have armed police.
  • We have no squirrels, but also, we have no scary/poisonous creatures (or even plants) that are out to get you.
  • It’s hard to get ahead if you’re part of the squeezed middle class, but we do have a reasonably laid back and egalitarian culture.
  • We don’t have anywhere near the variety of cuisines that bigger international cities have to offer (though that’s sloooooowly improving), but at least we don’t put high fructose corn syrup in everything.
  • Everything costs a lot. There’s no getting around that. But, erm, at least we don’t add sneaky taxes at the till?

I realise things in Auckland are unlikely to change. We are too small for mass transit; we don’t have the density and possibly never will. We like our houses, detached ones. (That goes for me, too.) It’s a city that’s desirable enough that prices keep steady or continue to increase; there’s still enough money around, both local and international, to feed this – even if the rest of us get left behind and priced out. We are too small for competition in consumer markets and far away from other countries – the tyranny of distance still exists for certain kinds of goods.

Living in New Zealand really is a lifestyle choice. Now, at least I’m a heck of a lot more aware of the sacrifices I’m making in exchange for what I get.

What tradeoffs do you make to live where you live? Have you found your forever city?

30 thoughts on “The tradeoffs we make for living in NZ

  • Reply Erin @ Gen Y Finances December 6, 2013 at 07:35

    Your ideal city sounds a lot like Portland. It’s cost of living is cheap for a city, the food options are numerous and awesome, public transportation is great, and we are within an hour of both mountains and beaches. It’s certainly my ideal city. I love living here!

    It may just be my forever city…don’t tell my mom (who lives across the country and wants me to move back)!

  • Reply save. spend. splurge. December 6, 2013 at 07:35

    1. I love that you noted you don’t have squirrels. 🙂 I find them adorable, even if people call them “rats with tails”.

    2. My ideal place to live is now Toronto or Montreal. Even with the winter, it’s not that bad. It’s been getting warmer, and there is only a short period of time or a few days where it drops really low, but otherwise, it’s pretty reasonable compared to when I was growing up here.

    3. We don’t have properly made houses here either. If you want a proper house, it’s a condo (in my humble opinion). Houses here are not properly insulated, make a lot of noise (made out of chipboard).. but you and T know all of this, it’s the same in NZ.

    4. Toronto has a much higher cost of living which is why I prefer Montreal, although in Montreal you have to speak French to be accepted (what? it’s true), but it has a WIDER range of food to eat in Montreal.

  • Reply kathleen December 6, 2013 at 07:40

    We don’t have a big airport, but we also have a lower cost of living than the cities that have direct flights everywhere. Forever is a long time, but yes, I do think I’ve found my forever home.

  • Reply Vanessa December 6, 2013 at 09:01

    Toronto’s winter is not that bad at all. They get snow occasionally but I’ve been in the middle of winter and wandered about without a hat or mittens. Honestly, if you two are able, I totally suggest that you get a holidaymaker’s visa and try living over here for a year or two (Vancouver has super mild winters but is a very, very expensive city to live in).

    • Reply eemusings December 6, 2013 at 12:47

      I can’t even handle single-digit temperatures, so anywhere that gets any sub-zero days are an automatic no!

  • Reply Debt BLAG December 6, 2013 at 13:03

    Looks like you’ve gotten a few recommendations for the North American Pacific coast already so I’ll add another: Requirements 4 to 5 make it sound like you’re describing the city of San Francisco exactly. California’s beaches are well-known, but the City is also just a few hours drive from Lake Tahoe and its skiing, the Redwood Forests, Yosemite, rapid rivers, and deserts.

    Now that you’d be competing with Silicon Valley money, rent in San Francisco is out of control, but if you’re willing to live across the Bay (or in one of a few inner city neighborhoods) it becomes fairly reasonable without too much drop-off in quality of life.

    And no sub-zero days…

    • Reply eemusings December 6, 2013 at 15:44

      SF would definitely be my choice within the USA (though SD was also pretty cool). It’s like Auckland in some ways (maybe too similar?) COL is obviously high, doubtful about job opportunities, especially for T.

      Didn’t get to the PNW though (that said, not really keen to live anywhere that’s rainer than Auckland…)

  • Reply krantcents December 6, 2013 at 13:37

    There is no ideal city anywhere! There are pros and cons about every city. I was born and raised in New York and it will always be home. I moved west about 40+ years ago to Los Angeles. There are lots of things wrong, but in balance it is insignificant. Los Angeles provided opportunity for financial independence. I do not think I would have been able to afford rental property in New York. The weather is tough to beat (close to 300 sunny days), great beaches, just hours from skiing, friends and family. Traffic is terrible, but you can get around that. Cost of living is expensive, but I managed to get around that too. Many of the things I enjoy are free.

    I love to travel and visit all the great cities (Paris, London, Amsterdam etc), but I will always return to Los Angeles.

    • Reply eemusings December 6, 2013 at 15:46

      Absolutely there are pros and cons of every city. California weather is STUNNING. LA traffic was horrendous though. Seems like it would be okay if you can live and work in roughly the same area. We also quite liked where we stayed in Orange Country.

  • Reply SP December 6, 2013 at 14:40

    We just moved to SF east bay, and I think it meets most of your criteria… housing is still expensive, but there are some affordable areas and you can work in SF and earn a SF salary. My biggest concern is commute, and we’ll see how affordable it really is when we start house shopping.

    I realize the healthcare and gun thing is very different than what you are used to, but on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t impact ones life, almost at all. Assuming you are part of the masses who have employer provided heath insurance. I do disagree with our approach and vote accordingly, and they can be valid reasons for avoiding an area (if they do impact your life, things go very wrong!), but for most of us, it is just a fact of life that doesn’t cause trouble.

    I think I could fall in love with a lot of cities. In the US, I very much prefer anywhere on the west coast (particularly California), but I could love other places if I ended up there. I found Stockholm to be charming, but I don’t want to see winter and it is not affordable at all.

  • Reply Kara December 6, 2013 at 19:06

    I’d like to think where I live is my forever-city. I grew up in a tiny town, and while where I am now is considered small by some, I think it’s a great size. As far as trade offs go, we pay quite a bit more for real estate here than in smaller, nearby towns, but the amenities are worth it, in my eyes.

    And Canadian weather isn’t THAT terrible 😉 Where I am, the summers get in the high-30’s! Just ignore those negative double-digit winter temps! Really, when we were in Vegas it was the perfect temperature for me; warm in the day but cool at night! I need to be able to escape the heat.

    • Reply eemusings December 7, 2013 at 10:15

      Yeah, that’s both WAY too hot and WAY too cold for me. Our temps here range from like 10 to 25, so I’m spoiled – it is super super mild.

  • Reply Linda December 7, 2013 at 04:32

    I’m looking at a few smaller California cities for my final home. As much as I like San Francisco and the Bay area, it is too expensive and too congested for me. LA is out of the running because of the traffic. I’ve always loved Monterey/Pacific Grove/Carmel when I’ve visited that area and I think that would be my ideal place to live. They are all on the ocean, have good bus system (yes, you can take the bus to Big Sur! Cool!), and the economy isn’t totally tied to tourism.

    I also loved Eureka/Arcata, but those towns are much farther from a major airport or large city than I’d like to be, and the economy around there is pretty limited (tourism, one small uni, and a prison). San Luis Obispo was another great place and within easy driving of SF and LA. It has a uni, bus service in the city, and is close to the ocean (both Morro Bay and Avila Beach were in short driving distance.) I may check SLO out again, but Monterey area has been beckoning me for years.

    I think towns with universities are often a good bet for finding cheap entertainment and decent public transport. Unfortunately, housing in all these areas is pretty expensive and there are less employment opportunities than the big cities.

  • Reply The Asian Pear December 7, 2013 at 17:39

    I’ve been to other cities and I’m pretty sure that I’d be pretty happy living in Vancouver and London. There’s just something about both cities I totally vibe towards. That said, for me, Toronto is home. And I’ve already asked myself many times before, would I ever leave it? The answer is no. Because I’m quite used to Toronto and have accepted it – even if we do have a crack smoking heroine using Mayor. My family is here and it’s what’s most important to me. So while not my favourite city nor has the profile I love for a city, it’s home.

    PS – We also have raccoons, chipmunks, foxes, wolves, groundhogs, skunks, muskrats, and deers in the city.

    • Reply eemusings December 7, 2013 at 17:46

      Yeah, Auckland is home for us too – friends and family count for a lot. Obviously we haven’t been to every city in the world but I think we’ve been to all the ones that we would consider living in, and none of them have proved compellingly better. It would have to be a very strong proposition for us to decide to move from where we’ve lived all our lives. Alas, nowhere is perfect, according to my demanding criteria… :/ So I gotta suck it up, and focus on the positives! Auckland – the least of all evils!

  • Reply Michelle December 8, 2013 at 03:45

    I lived briefly in Toronto and it is a a fantastic city. You will get used to the weather…maybe!

  • Reply Deia @ Nomad Wallet December 8, 2013 at 23:27

    It’s not just about not being able to pinpoint the right city. Getting the proper visa could put a damper on things, too.

    Canada is great, but I can’t stand the winters too! Of the Canadian cities I’ve been to, I love Montreal the most, but I’ve only been there in the summer and I’ve been told the winters there are miserable.

    My ideal city would have to be Sydney. I lived there for 2 years and still haven’t had enough of it. I love its chaotic energy and can live with its less-than-perfect public transport system. And the weather is perfect! There are many, many hoops to jump through if I were to seriously consider moving there for good though.

    • Reply eemusings December 9, 2013 at 09:25

      Yeah, I haven’t gone into every single detail obviously – employment prospects, visas, proximity to friends and family etc, and the inertia thing – those factors that run a bit deeper. As Kiwis under 30 we can go basically anywhere, but staying permanently would depend on jobs.

  • Reply SuburbanFinance December 9, 2013 at 10:57

    I would love to live in a different city, but I am so tied to my family and friends, that I don’t know that I’d be able to move away from everybody I love. I tend to believe that it’s not the place itself that makes somewhere special, but the people there, so I am stuck in Canada for the rest of my life unless my family decides to uproot – then I will move wherever the majority of them go (which is never going to happen).

  • Reply Dear Debt December 9, 2013 at 14:15

    I would love to go back to New York. The price is hard and it can be pretty chilly, but honestly the perpetual PNW rain really gets to me. Portland is growing on me significantly, but I still have a hard time sometimes. I’m from LA and lived in NYC, so I am used to big, diverse cities. I am worried if I moved back to NYC if it would be forever though. I don’t know if I can imagine myself there in my 50’s. For now Portland is great, but I want to live abroad, travel and continue living so I am not sure where my forever city is.

  • Reply steve December 12, 2013 at 17:19

    the city you’re looking for is Sydney. there might be poisonous stuff in Aus, but you’re not really at risk in the city. it’s mild like NZ with only the occasional stinking hot day. but weather is much more predictable, and it’s usually sunny. I’ve learned a forecast for “showers” here, actually means a few clouds, not a few showers. It is expensive, but incomes here are sky high compared to auckland so it more than compensates. As long as you learn where to shop, you’re sweet in Sydney.

    • Reply eemusings December 13, 2013 at 08:59

      T doesn’t like Australia, so Sydney is basically out! I tell people Auckland is like Sydney’s poor cousin.

  • Reply Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) December 15, 2013 at 00:44

    Unless you have absolutely no cold tolerance, Toronto winters are actually some of the mildest you’ll find in Canada (with the only possible exception being Vancouver). Because T.O. is right on Lake Ontario, the winters are rarely too bad. Sure you’ll get snow, but having traveled to Montreal and Minnesota in the winter, I can assure you that Toronto is definitely manageable. My understanding is that it can get pretty cold in NZ too (though maybe not where you are?), so maybe Toronto actually could be in your future!

  • Reply Tonya@Budget and the Beach December 16, 2013 at 14:17

    Sounds like Vancouver would be more of your ideal place. I know the city is expensive, but outside of the city is not to bad and it checks off a lot on your list. The weather is mild, and it never gets too hot or too cold, and has the beaches and mountains. The downside is the gray sky, but since you’re kind of used to that already…

  • Reply Shawna December 18, 2013 at 15:43

    Wow, this desire for the perfect place to live really resonates with me! We even share some of the same things on our ideal location list. I’ve spent the past 15 years moving from city to city here in the US (including NYC and Los Angeles) looking for the perfect place to live. So far, I just have a list of places that do not meet my criteria 🙂 Still don’t know where I want to be, and like you, am beginning to think that this magical place might not exist. At this point, I think I might be happy identifying a place that is good enough. My search resumes in the summer when my apartment lease is up 😉 Best of luck settling in back in NZ.

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  • Reply Physician on FIRE February 3, 2017 at 08:38

    Where I live in the US is actually further north compared to Toronto. Summers are great if you wear an appropriate amount of mosquito spray.

    On the other hand, rural America tends to be a great place to raise a family and cost of living tends to be lower compared to major cities. In medicine, demand is higher for physicians in rural areas and pay tends to rise to help meet that demand. #GeographicArbitrage


  • Reply Frugal Desperado February 17, 2017 at 06:12

    I know I’m late (err, years late) on this thread but I was reading through your top posts and had to comment. I spent some time traveling post-uni (and would just be a nomad forever and ever, if I could) and hands down favourite forever city is Hong Kong. Living there was the best year of my life. It’s the uber city that’s still surrounded by bush and ocean and islands and mountains. It took me ten minutes by foot to get started on a hiking trail that put my smack dab in forest atop a mountain with one of the most breathtaking views I’ve seen in my life. I need to drive 2 hours from Toronto to even see some decent trees n’ water combo. And the food. Sweet lord, the food. The non-stop liveliness and entertainment. The culture. Yes, rent was a mother but one can live cheaply in HK if they really try. Besides rent, the utilities and cell/internet charges were less than a quarter of what I pay in Toronto, and by learning a few cantonese words and shopping in the street markets, my grocery costs were a joke. Transport prices are also a joke, and their MTR system is far superior to what we have here, at a fraction of the cost. So yep, HK is my forever city, in my heart. It’s been 6 years since I lived there and I still pine for it like the long-lost love of my life.

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