Six years ago, we moved to the suburbs from a one-bedroom condo in a densely populated and walkable area. We wanted more space, risk-free parking, better schools, a yard for kids to play in, and a friendly neighborhood. We got all of those things. But moving to the suburbs came with a bunch of financial pitfalls too.
When you live in an urban environment and think about leaving for the suburbs, you probably won’t factor in these surprise costs. Some items on my list are not exclusive to the suburbs but sure seemed to hit harder when we got here. This may be related to parenting in general, and some might be more prominent where I live.
Maybe these sound familiar to you? I’ve been meaning to write all these down because they keep coming up. Here they are.
16 Financial Pitfalls of Suburban Life
1. Moon Bounces/Trampolines
I swear, kids expect some kind of bounce apparatus at every party in the suburbs these days. Either the parents rent one for the party, or buy one on Amazon (this moon bounce is surprisingly cool and cheap).
For my daughter’s fourth birthday, Mrs. RBD suggested we borrow a mini-moon bounce from a friend and I was very tempted to do it. In fact, I was damn near close to buying one online for the party. But we thought better of it and passed.
About a month later our neighbors gave us one!
Last year, we visited some friends on the other side of town. They recently bought a sweet new trampoline. They recommended a service you can buy from AND they install it professionally. These are serious trampolines to the tune of $1500 installed. The funny thing, two of their neighbors have the same trampoline! But they didn’t want their girls always going next door all the time to use it, so they bought their own.
2. Relentless Ice Cream Trucks
Someone near us bought a dirt cheap P-O-S ice cream truck and drives it through our neighborhood every night May through July. The truck always shows up right before dinner and it always plays Christmas music for some reason.
It’s not hard to tell the kids ‘no’ a dozen times, but it keeps coming back. At some point, you have to give in to your kids and shell out money for overpriced low-quality treats. The first time we said yes, our kids went berserk with excitement. Once you buy, the truck returns every evening and slows down right in front of your house.
I’m not anti-treat. But I hate spending money on someone else’s timing. The ice cream truck driver is the personification of this annoyance.
I get hustled by eight-year-olds weekly. Boy Scout popcorn, Papa John’s pizza cards, frozen pies, and of course the ultimate suburban hustle, Girl Scout cookies.
Our preschool celebrated its 50th anniversary and we were bombarded by fundraisers for a good portion of the year. I’m all about supporting a cause, but I’d rather it be on my terms. This is just not the case in the suburbs.
Other people choose when you donate to causes, often at your front door. Each donation is small, but it adds up. Either accept that you’ll donate to every cause that knocks on your door, or be the mean house that never supports kids activities. Can’t win.
We bought a new minivan in 2015. The monthly payment was suffocating us so we paid it off and swore off car payments for good. Some couples give in to the minivan after two kids, but that third kid makes the minivan or large SUV a necessity. Good luck trying to put three car seats into a Honda Civic!
Not only are you hauling your own offspring, you have to account for carpooling as the kids get older too. Expect to pay at least $25,000 for a new minivan and up to $45,000 if you want all the upgrades. They guzzle gas and barely fit into most parking spots. But these things are pretty sweet if you’re hauling three kids around every day. Don’t see these much in the city.
5. Car seats
People without kids probably aren’t aware of this fact: there is more than one kind of car seat. There’s the infant car seat, the backward/forward facing, the forward facing, side impact, backed booster, and unbacked booster. These are mindboggling when you’re just getting started having kids. Some are better for plane travel, others are supposed to be safer.
The mid-range seats run $150-$300. But each kid will need 3-4 seats throughout their young lives. If you have three kids and two cars, that’s a lot of car seats. Sometimes you can use them as hand-me-downs or buy used, but they “expire” after five years, meaning you’re a horrible parent if your kid sits in an expired car seat.
And you can’t just throw them out. You need to recycle them a certain way. So the old ones sit around and clutter the basement and cost you time to dispose of properly.
I finally got a bike after many years of relying on car transport. The library, bank, pool, and grocery store are all within a reasonable distance and safe to ride. But aside from those, we’re a slave to our cars and the gasoline that powers them.
The days of walking to our favorite restaurant and grocery store are long gone. But we do sleep at night without the constant sound of cars and sirens.
7. Home repair
Did you ever see the movie The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long? Buying a home can come with enormous costs if you do it wrong.
I saw a good analogy on Twitter recently. Something to the effect of a rent payment is a ceiling. A mortgage payment is a floor. You don’t realize that when you’re buying a house. Shit breaks constantly.
As a renter, you won’t have to deal with it. But when you own the home, everything is your responsibility. One key to buying a home is to make sure the big items don’t need to be repaired immediately unless you can budget for it. Roof, windows, foundation, and HVAC are the biggies.
If you aren’t handy, all the other problems add up quickly. We’ve had four plumbing issues in six years, replaced a chimney, and had at least four appliance repairs. Suburbanites tend to buy bigger and more expensive appliances. More functionality leads to more repairs. We’re on a first name basis with our plumber and appliance guys.
8. Summer Gear
We belong to a swim and tennis club. It’s awesome and it costs us less for the whole summer than a month of preschool. But the membership isn’t enough. The club sponsors two campouts each summer. So we’re gonna need a tent and sleeping bags for everyone.
The hottest item for the pool and beach is a folding wagon. I was a sucker for this thing from the start and bought ours at Costco. Folds up nicely and fits in your car. It carries the beer cooler and a kid or two to the picnic area. Although our daughter fell out and knocked her head on cement because she wasn’t strapped in. Parent fail.
9. Summer Camp
Our kids need to get out of the house in the summer or else Mrs. RBD goes insane. She can’t be expected to deal with all three kids, all day, every week, all summer long. Summer camps are her only defense against the insanity since we don’t have family in town.
Where we live has a pretty incredible selection of camps. Fishing camps, reptile week, Star Wars Lego camp, and nearly anything else you can dream up. These are reasonably priced and we’re thankful to have them. Other camps at local churches can be more expensive. One nature camp at a nearby preschool charges $175 a week. For two kids that is $350. A few hundred dollars a month is the cost of summer sanity.
10. Lawn care
Lawn care isn’t cheap if you source it out to the professionals. But there’s a cost of doing it yourself too. My lawn takes up about 90 minutes of my time every week or two. More if you add in raking leaves, snow shoveling, weeding, pruning, and picking up sticks.
That’s 90 minutes I could be spending time with the kids, working on side hustles, exercising or whatever else. You can’t have a yard and just let it go. And I’m too cheap and stubborn to outsource it. So I try to space out my mows as long as possible. When my kids are capable of mowing, hopefully, I’ll outsource the job to them. My son is close to the age he can help with some activities, but still slows me down most of the time.
The thought of having a yard when you live in an apartment is one thing. Dealing with the reality of owning one is another.
The first year we lived in our suburban house we spent a lot of cash on acquiring tools. Everything was justified with, “well, might as well buy one since we’ll use it the rest of our lives“. That might be true if we stay here.
But tools accumulate in our basement and some of them I may never use again. I have a vast array of tools but use them rarely because I don’t prioritize home improvement projects anymore with three kids.
Even when I have the time, I am more prone to hiring out the work. Now, I try to borrow a tool instead of purchasing a new one.
Do you have a basement in the suburbs? Then you need a dehumidifier so mold doesn’t grow on the crap you store down there. Guess what… dehumidifiers are expensive. And they only make loud shitty ones.
These break every few years from my experience. We’re on our second already. Cost $200-$300 for something decent. I hope this Frigidaire lasts longer than the last brand. Dehumidifiers use a don’t of electricity too.
13. Downed Trees
A beautiful canopy of oak and maple trees line our street. In the summer they bring shade and character to our little subdivision. In the Spring, they drop pollen and other shit, and in the Fall they wreak havoc on my gutters. But they are worth the hassle.
I swear though, every other summer storm or heavy winter snow a branch snaps somewhere in my yard or nearby and damages the power lines, a fence, or the house. Last year, a big branch took out our cable. I had to borrow a chainsaw and to cut and chop it up for firewood. There goes a Saturday afternoon.
Worst case, power goes out (see next item). That can ruin a refrigerator full of food (or breast milk in our case). And you might have to pay for someone to remove the tree.
With beautiful trees and falling tree branches come downed power lines. Our splendid suburb was constructed in the early 1960s before they were putting power lines underground. So our power goes out frequently. Any rainy wind storm or heavy storm put us at risk.
The whole one side of our neighborhood is more at risk than the other. So we all have a generator of some kind. Some even have a full Generac system that connects to the gas line. I bought a Generac portable similar to this one at Costco for about $550. It can be a pain, but has saved a few fridge loads of food and keeps us out of the dark when extended blackouts hit.
15. Pet care
In the suburbs, a dog or cat is a right of passage for kids. My neighbors are giving in to their kids left and right. New cat here, puppy over there. Who took a dump on my lawn?
I like pets, but I don’t want my life to be controlled by a four-legged liability. Shit on the carpet, ruined furniture, scratched up floor, slobber on work clothes, $1,000 veterinary bill. No thanks for me. But I’ve seen the power of those cute and cuddly animals win the hearts of kids around the block. Parents can’t resist (and they want the pets). Pet care is a common cost in the city too. But in the suburbs, it’s more prominent. Prepare to pay.
A fence is the biggest cost associated with dogs. Then fence maintenance and repair when a branch takes it out. And you can’t just leave a pet at home when you go on vacation. There’s kennel costs or paying the neighborhood kid to feed the cat too. Plus all the food.
Mrs. RBD would go all in with a cat tomorrow. I’m far too practical to want one and will fight this for a long as possible (and expect I’ll eventually lose).
16. Marketing Parties
In the suburbs, social events among women are often combined with trying to sell overpriced unneeded stuff. These parties come in many forms such as cosmetics, clothing, books, etc.
I’m not going to give my opinion on these business models because I’m not looking to be trolled. I will say, however, it’s annoying when my wife is invited to these parties and pressured to spend our money on someone else’s timeline.
It works like this. Someone signs up to sell for XYZ company to become an empowered entrepreneur. She buys inventory.
She then asks a friend to host a party and invite all of that friend’s friends. Wine is served and the goods for sale are sampled and demonstrated. Invitees feel pressured to attend the party because they want to have friends. And if you attend, you’re expected to buy, and everyone else is buying and that’s the point of the party. The host gets a cut of sales or free stuff.
Facebook has made marketing to friends easier and more annoying than ever.
Mrs. RBD once returned home from one of these events with a $22 9-ounce bottle of skin moisturizer. The cheapest item available. It was made “without chemicals” so it was totally worth it. She declines most invitations nowadays.
Did I Miss Any?
Are there any glaring omissions from this list? Mrs. RBD suggested seasonal decorations and candy. We went pumpkin shopping this weekend and that felt like a waste of money, buying a big fruit that will rot on the front porch. But we did that before we moved.
Do you have any to add to the list? What are some specific urban costs? The first to come to mind is parking tickets and towing costs. I don’t miss those.
Add your suburban financial pitfalls in the comments section.
Photo credit Raphael Biscaldi via Unsplash