Wednesday, January 10

Top Ten Unexpected Costs of Living in Jacksonville, Florida

When you move to a brand new community, you will have unexpected expenses that are generally hidden from your accounting. While there may be some savings you've missed, the costs are the ones that annoy you. The online cost of living calculators can give you an idea of the disparities, but there are minor differences in living that will cost something that you will not be prepared for until you make the move. Here's my Top 10 for Jax (yours may differ). Also, these are in no particular order because that would be too much work.

  • Time
Time seems to disappear in Jacksonville. Whether you're waiting in traffic or waiting for your server at a restaurant, Jacksonville moves slower than other cities. Even if traffic isn't suffocating, it still can take 45 minutes to get across town. Mowing my lawn in the summer takes nearly twice the time as similar yards I've had, and I can't totally explain why. Finding a house, getting inspections, finding a lender--that whole process--took extra time over our previous experiences. I even had a friend say he'd do something for me and then just not do it, rescheduling twice and then going on vacation. I waited three hours for a tow truck one day, a service that was no favor, and then I cancelled. Then that car sat in a lot for over a month to get fixed. The list goes on and on, but I frankly don't have time to list them all. You'll have to get used to it, and that's not an easy task for people coming from the Midwest.
  • Housing
The stats will say housing is cheap in Jax, but stats can lie. If you come from an area with basements and are used to having real storage, then houses cost more in Jacksonville than in other places. Also, Jacksonville is kind of its own suburb, but it's also a city, so location makes a huge difference. And if you don't want a half-hour or more commute, you have to limit your searches even more. Since we all know location is everything in real estate, we ended up having to go to the extreme high of our range in order to get what we wanted, and we still have around 500 less usable square feet than houses costing 20% less in KC and MKE. Plus, a lot of the houses we looked at seemed like people lived hard in them, meaning more time and money to paint and clean. The first house we bought was a flip that had termites and wasn't even finished, with no power in the kitchen and garage. I'll say it this way, housing is cheap in Jax if you're fine living cheap. If you're moving here from an area where people take care of their homes, then you'll pay more for that expectation in this area.
  • Bugs
Once we were here and had to deal with what the previous owners left for us, we heard all kinds of stories from other people, most of whom seem to be somewhat used to it all. We're not. Bugs in Jax cost money. We hired a service, chalking it up as one more expense to live in a nicer climate. I even beef up the security in areas the service misses. We're paying like $50 a month, so it's fewer bugs and local TV for us.
  • Water
I don't believe the reports that Jacksonville's water is some of the worst in the country. However, I simply don't like the way it tastes. Our fridge has a water filter, and that costs about $50 every six months. Of course, we had to buy the $1000 refrigerator first (the house came with a tiny one without a water hookup). Water for lawns can cost a lot, so I've had to adjust how much I water. I don't think it costs any more per gallon here, but it's easy to just set the sprinkler timer and forget it's coming on twice a week. You also have to realize that a lot of Jacksonville was built with wells rather than city water, so you might get cheap water with the expenses related to wells and septic systems. Also, I was told that a lot of the houses in the area get plumbing issues that result in either destroying your floor or running the water somehow through the walls and ceiling (or some such nonsense). OK, I can understand no basements here because they'd just be filled with water most of the time, and I get why no one would want to crawl around in a crawl space in Florida (bugs, snakes, homeless people, etc.), but how can a concrete slab over pipes that only last a little over a decade make any sense? Maybe he was wrong, but if not, that could be another expense. Hot water might cost more here, too, since natural gas is not available at many homes. And don't forget the rain, hurricanes, storm surge, and flooding. My car broke down because rain got in and killed some electronics. Some rain in the hurricane stained our ceiling, too, but we got very lucky compared to some in the area. You can do all kinds of research, trying to find the perfect spot to avoid water, but this is Jacksonville, and there's water water everywhere.
  • Transportation
Public transportation is about the same as the last two cities I was in. It's not a good system, but it does exist, and it's not impossible to use. However, since walking and biking are fairly dangerous, you have to drive everywhere, at least where we live. Jacksonville is a huge, spread out city, and the newer parts aren't even on a grid system (lots of dead ends), so you spend a lot of time driving around and stopped in traffic, costing money and time. It's not the worst traffic in the country, but most thoroughfares are busy most of the time. Because of the lack of freeways (relative to other cities), you'll experience more wear and tear on your car. You also have to be sure you fix your air conditioner before you move here or else you might get heat stroke just going to the grocery store.
  • Rust
Many of the light fixtures INSIDE our house have rust on them. Outdoor items seems to rust faster here than in other places I've been. I am not sure why, exactly, but it seems to be the case. This might ruin some items, but it will at least cost you more money in spray paint. I spray painted my mailbox, which was really more weathered than rusted, and it looks excellent now. Maybe that fix will only last a year, but it's not an expensive fix, per se, at least compared to having to replace my grill that's rusting out faster since we've gotten here.
  • Heat
AC will cost you money in Florida. It'll be running all day, for sure, and most of the night, for months. It'll cost you more to run your car. But that's expected. The heat that isn't is the heat needed in Jax during the winter months. We don't have efficient heating systems, generally, so people use space heaters or electric furnaces. We also have a propane fireplace, which is more pretty than efficient. We had one cold week, but I'm sure the heat we had to create will cost us more than you might expect. There are also several fires each cold snap in the area, since portable heating can be dangerous as well as expensive.

I learned that I really DO have one of the efficient heating systems that people can have in Florida--the heat pump. My thermostat did not engage the two units last winter.  If you are from the North and move into a newer home in Jax or St. Johns County, get familiar with what a heat pump is and why you should make sure yours works instead of assuming you just have an air conditioner and some kind of electric furnace.
  • Sun
The sun weathers and cracks and heats. It's a more intense sun in Florida than in most parts of the country. That might seem obvious, but it's also kind of surprising sometimes. This sun will ruin stuff you leave out, mess up your car's paint and dash, weather your house paint, kill your grass, burn your skin, and more. Preventing the sun from burning stuff costs money, and so does fixing stuff that's been burned.
  • Security
It seems like a lot of people have security systems here. That will cost you money for peace of mind. Almost no one uses garages, so cars are out everywhere, and that leads to car break-ins, which leads to replacing guns and installing lights or video cameras. I'm not paranoid, but I'm planning on putting a trail cam up, or at least using an old night-vision video camera. Property crime is a bit higher here than in many other cities, even if house break-ins aren't too bad. If you want to feel totally safe here, you might have to pay money. But it might be a perception thing, too, since I see a lot more ads for security than other places I've lived, so someone is trying to make money off the fear they want you to feel. I'm going to go ahead and add insurance into this category, since it provides you with security. Auto insurance is not the highest in the country, but it's high. Insurance for your home will likely be higher than where you are now. You also have options to pay more for insurance, like flood insurance, termite bonds, and alien abduction insurance.
  • Recreation
Jacksonville claims to have a huge system of parks. I've been to several, and they are nothing special. I know, I went from world-class parks in Milwaukee to some very nice parks in Lenexa, KS. Acreage isn't how you measure a park. Therefore, instead of asking to pay higher taxes to get decent parks, citizens of Jacksonville have opted for HOAs with their own facilities. Therefore, in addition to our taxes for sub-par parks, we pay $500 a year to an HOA for a pool, a small playset, a basketball court, and the feeling someone is watching me. Of course, we've got the beaches, and that makes up for a lot. Just don't live over on the west side or you'll never get there--you'll be 20 miles and 40 minutes away. Then all you'll have is the crappy parks.

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