Cleveland

Letter from Cleveland: This Town Is Cheap

I’ve struggled for a long time about how to gracefully incorporate my move to Cleveland into this blog, which is about the pursuit of sartorial stealth and effective living for the self-made thousandaire. (I have to write that now and then to remind myself.) A year and a half in, and I’m still adjusting. When old friends ask me “How’s Cleveland?” I think I have a different answer every time.

Cleveland is a lot of things, good and bad. But I’ll start with the one trait about the Forest City that pops up more than anything: Cleveland is cheap.

I’ve written before in a pitch to freelancers like me who can work from anywhere looking for a big bang for a hard-earned buck that Cleveland is a comparative bargain. My unrenovated 560 sq ft studio with a broken stove burner, a bar fridge with no freezer, and a view of a brick wall in Manhattan was costing me $2,300/month, which was lower than the median NYC rent in 2016. My 1,000 sq ft one bedroom loft apartment in a newly converted downtown warehouse with all new, energy-efficient appliances, an in-suite washer and dryer, and a sick kitchen sets me back $1,455/month, which is expensive for Cleveland. Compared to hotter coastal cities, it’s ridiculous.

With the ability to do the same work I did in New York, charging the same rate, combined with a car-free model of living that I’ve mapped to the Cleveland experience, I have money left over when the bills are all paid, which was not always the case in the Naked City. In essence, I’m comfortable, which is a fun new twist for me.

When it comes to buying instead of renting, the median home value in Cleveland is just around $56,100, according to Zillow. If you love living in coastal towns as I do, compare that to about $230,400 in Chicago, $603,600 in Boston, $681,600 in New York City, $687,700 in Los Angeles, and $1,353,500 in San Francisco.

Other things are cheap here, too. Parking, which is a part-time career for car owners here, is cheap, though Clevelanders who’ve never done time in other towns would beg to differ and are a little spoiled. Monthly parking in my apartment building’s garage is $180 (compared to over $400/month in the parking garage in my Manhattan building). Downtown Cleveland’s scourge of surface parking lots is hideous, making for an ugly city landscape, but the offerings are cheap there, too. The most expensive parking I’ve personally seen is a special event surge hike to a whopping $40 when there is a Browns game or a Taylor Swift concert at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Read it and weep, New Yorkers.

As a movie fan who still likes going to the cinema, I was giddy at the price of a movie ticket at my local. Granted, Tower City Cinema, which is a ten minute walk from my apartment, hasn’t been converted to the “luxury” man cave with BarcaLoungers, the projection and sound are perfectly fine. The comfort level reminds me of the Angelika or Film Forum in New York, i.e. not fancy but totally serviceable. During the day, which is a great time to see a movie for a freelancer, it costs me $7. When I went to see Avengers: Endgame on opening day at the same theater (yes, I’m one of those), the ticket was $9.75. A ticket for the same movie at my multiplex in Manhattan costs $16.50.

Dining out runs the gamut in terms of cost here, as is true in other cities. You can eat well pretty inexpensively, you can go decadent, and you can find everything in between. And the restaurant scene is a real high point in Cleveland, with some incredible restaurants offering outstanding food and experiences.

As for groceries, I don’t notice a huge difference between what I spend here and what I was spending in New York. Although our local family business, Heinen’s, with locations around the area and a gorgeous one downtown in an old bank building, has pretty fair prices and runs deals all the time. And they have an online shop with delivery right to my apartment door, just like FreshDirect. These days, I’m definitely cooking more at home now that I have a nice kitchen, which is a money saver for anyone.

All in, living in Cleveland is a comparative bargain. Couple that with the model of living I’ve chosen – living without a car, in an apartment, with walkable access to most of the daily amenities I need and easy bike/bus/Uber/Lyft access to everything else – adds up to the highest standard of living I’ve ever had for a very low cost. If I were interested in a different apartment with lower rent (the average rent in Cleveland is around $1,000), the cost could even be less. But I absolutely love my apartment and the building.

Cleveland has some nice things going for it, as well as many significant things working against it, which is another multilayered subject for another time. But compared to other coastal cities, this town is cheap.

Featured image of Downtown Cleveland by Yuanshuai Si / Getty Images.

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4 Comments

  1. $56,000 is pocket change here in Portland! I get jealous of people who get to buy houses for so little then can put 100-200 grand into renovating them, because their purchase price was so cheap. When you start off with a $400-500,00 price tag, most of us normal folk don’t get to do much in the way of renovations. I’m green with envy!

    Your loft sounds awesome! I’ve always wanted a loft apartment to decorate. I bet you’re having a blast! Just stay away from the Waterford Condos, lakefront somewhere in Cleveland. A friend lived there for two weeks before discovering the building suffered from long-term water damage and the mold to go with it. She unfortunately died from it, as did the previous owner. Beautiful views, dangerous building. Mold happens everywhere, you just have to be aware and hope unscrupulous real estate agents and the greedy heirs of the dearly departed don’t lie to you.

  2. Nice assessment Georgie.. yes, BOSTON and immediate suburbs are through the $tratosphere, but 25- 30 miles out (and commutable along The Pike) and the RE prices drop a lot. Worcester is becoming a huge draw for millenials and
    urban hipsters who want the city experiences and fun without the extreme price tag. We’ll see how long this lasts. Enjoy your digs and investment, sweat equity included..

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