Financial Pitfalls Of Suburban Life

financial pitfalls of suburban lifeSix 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.

3. Fundraisers

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.

4. Minivans

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.

6. Gas

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.

11. Tools

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.

12. Dehumidifiers

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.

14. Generators

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.

After moving to the suburbs, we were hit by these financial pitfalls that were never a problem in the city. Here's a list of unexpected costs that we experienced when we moved to the suburbs.

Photo credit Raphael Biscaldi via Unsplash

25 Responses to Financial Pitfalls Of Suburban Life

  1. Irwin Tsu November 2, 2017 at 7:58 am #

    I was reading thjs article and I started wondering if it was April fool’s.

    • Retire Before Dad November 2, 2017 at 9:06 am #

      Not sure what to make of that. This stuff is for real. Maybe I look at it as a pitfall while others see it as supporting a good cause (fundraisers) or spending on experiences with kids (bouncy house).

  2. Mark November 2, 2017 at 9:00 am #

    Local DC area (Arlington) resident as well and wife and I are just now realizing the costs with two young kids. It’s never ending and if you don’t rely on full time daycare good luck finding enough (low cost) activities to keep them occupied. We’ve thought of moving further out for more space but the grizzly work commute is always the deal breaker for us. Plus, the ability to walk to local grocery stores, businesses, etc is our hedge for weather events like snow or storms that cause outages where we’d need a generator or our cars to get other places.

    • Retire Before Dad November 2, 2017 at 9:10 am #

      Hey Mark,
      Arlington isn’t too far from me. Walking is a nice feature of a lot of neighborhoods over there. But homes are so expensive. These costs are in lieu of city costs like parking ticket etc, eating out more, so it all probably balances out. There are some costs savings in the suburbs too, those just don’t come to mind as often as the costs.
      -RBD

    • Tom November 2, 2017 at 3:54 pm #

      Don’t keep your kids “occupied”. Let them be bored and actually use their creativity.

  3. Dave @ Married with Money November 2, 2017 at 9:22 am #

    Just because it is in recent memory: Trick or Treaters. First year I’ve ever had to buy my own candy, because living in an apartment you just never get any Trick or Treaters. Not a significant cost of course but still…

    The big ones for me are lawn care and, for the moment, gas since I’m a bit farther from work until I find something new.

    Also don’t hate on the ice cream trucks, I’ve got some great memories of them!

    • Retire Before Dad November 2, 2017 at 9:29 am #

      Halloween candy is pretty cheap at Costco. The problem is how much is left over. I see this as more health issue than a money one. So much candy. By the end of the night we were giving away handfuls.

      As for the ice cream truck, our kids were so excited about it that first time we bought some. It was quite a treat and so cute. The problem is how relentless it is. It comes by before dinner almost every night. Sometimes it drives by after the school bus drops off the kids. I’m all about a side hustle, and this driver is going after it and that’s cool. But night after night in the same neighborhood it’s not special anymore.
      -RBD

  4. TheRetirementManifesto November 2, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    Smile here, RBD. 18 months ago we moved from suburbia to our mountain cabin, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I read your post in the rearview mirror, “these are all of the costs I’ve eliminated by moving out of suburbia”. Fun way to read it, and surprisingly applicable! Move to the mountains, my friend!!

    • Retire Before Dad November 2, 2017 at 10:07 am #

      Ya know, Fritz, Mrs. RBD and I spent a few days in the mountains of Lake Tahoe this year. And wow, I did love the lifestyle there. On the east coast, I don’t know where we could find an equivalent. We do like having access to the city and all of our friends are here. But nature has quite an appeal. It’s definitely something we’ve thought about, but at this stage in our lives, unlikely. Maybe in another 13 years!
      -RBD

  5. Dani November 2, 2017 at 10:09 am #

    This is a great list. I agree many of them are parenting-related, but they’re all true! The only things I would add would be Halloween candy and Christmas (and other seasons, if you’re into it) decorations.
    Urban living has a few trick or treaters, and hubby and I had even lived in surburbs before we moved in to our current home and were used to giving out 1-2 bags of candy total, but Halloween 2013, we bought $50 worth of candy and the minivan-loads of kids that were bussed to our neighborhood had us depleted in 30 minutes! The place was crawling with darling little costumed wonders and we couldn’t get away! We had been told that it was a good neighborhood to see lots of Littles, but we weren’t nearly prepared. We now are “that house,” and we don’t even come home until after 8:30, because it’s less expensive for us to go out for a nice meal than it is to buy enough candy to see all the kids. We still do it some years (we have to mentally prepare ourselves) , but certainly not every year.
    The other biggie is all the Christmas decorations. I’m talking beyond the tree and ornaments that we had in our condo: we have TWO doors now, so TWO wreaths, and bigger, plus swags for the garage. The porch has SIX pillars, so garland and lights for six pillars (and each one takes 3 strands of each… you do the math). The trees that are still dropping leaves into your aforementioned gutters also need lights, and LED ones aren’t cheap. Our picture window seat has room for MORE villages than we had room for in our old house. We’re not even going to discuss what those teenagers did to our poor lighted reindeer in the front yard (and then they had to be repaired. Good news: we’re expecting a new baby reindeer after that little episode LOL), and don’t forget the candy cane fence and inflatable Olaf. Also, we like our neighbors, so all those social marketing party people also get gifts of homemade fudge or treasures from our annual travels. All this decorating, just like lawn-mowing, takes time, as well!
    Just wait until the kids are in sports. Then you’ll have sports fees AND sports camp fees 😉 But they’re so cute in their little sport uniforms, and worth every penny!

    • Retire Before Dad November 6, 2017 at 7:26 am #

      We bought a wreath at bow at a local church and I was appalled at the price? I think the bow was $15 on top of the $15 wreath. I asked my wife to save the bow for next year. The tree I’m ok with, we get ours at a big box retailer and they aren’t badly priced. My distaste is for saving the bigger decorations. Taking up a lot of space in my basement.

      We’re going to bite the bullet on sports and camps. Those are important investments in our kids.
      -RBD

  6. Jimbo November 2, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    Other pitfalls include shoveling snow. But the one better thing than owning a snowblower is to have a neighbor with one. He plows my driveway and I watch his dog when they go away a few times a year. How about a bigger house in Suburbia let’s you accumulate junk that you would never buy if you lived in a condo. More closets and storage space means more crap. How about planting in the spring? Fertilizing the lawn?

    • Retire Before Dad November 6, 2017 at 7:23 am #

      Jimbo,
      We have a neighbor that snow blows the sidewalks. I don’t mind shoveling the snow. But we only get one or two snow falls a year. My son is close to being at helping age. We might sprinkle a little fertilizer on the lawn every once in a while, but definitely not the service. Junk, yeah for sure. Toys especially. But the bigger the house the more space for furniture.
      -RBD

  7. Jason@WinningPersonalFinance November 3, 2017 at 8:52 am #

    Great list. My lawn is my nemesis. I outsource the mowing right now. The value I receive from having it is lower than the cost to maintain. I’m very tempted to replace the grass with some artificial alternative.

    • Retire Before Dad November 6, 2017 at 7:30 am #

      Jason,
      I mow my own. But I do see the benefit to outsourcing it. Now that I’m unemployed I’ll definitely keep doing it. I suppose if my income was to jump significantly we have our yard landscaped and the house cleaned. But we’re not there yet. There’s a grass called Zoysia that’s resistant to weeds and spreads very well. I’m considering planting it all over my yard to reduce the need to weed and water. Parts of my yard already have it and it’s great, except it goes brown in the winter.
      -RBD

  8. dividendsdiversify November 3, 2017 at 9:24 am #

    Great post. This stuff is so true. Agree, houses are so very expensive. Regarding the 8 year old hustlers, my wife and I were walking down town in our suburb the other day and two boy scouts selling on the street stepped in front of us to block our way trying to make a sale. They acted like a couple of street tuffs. I felt like we were going to be mugged if we didn’t buy their stuff. Tom

    • Retire Before Dad November 6, 2017 at 7:32 am #

      My son just started Cub Scouts. Next year we’ll be involved selling the popcorn and I’m not looking forward to it. The pricing is very high, but they need to make a profit. So it’s just starting for us. The sell this stuff in front of hardware stores and all over town. So you’re gonna get hustled no matter what! Easier to say no when you’re at a store, not so much when they knock on your door.
      -RBD

  9. Susie November 5, 2017 at 10:19 am #

    We also live sort of in the mountains, foothills of northern CA, and enjoy less of this stuff too in our rental house with lawn care included! We had 12 kids for Halloween and they got candy and books I bought at our library booksale for less than 1 bag of candy (yes I’m a Librarian), the kids rushed to my basket of books 1st before getting my handfuls of candy, a great sight. But my husband goes crazy on front yard Christmas but we bought a lot the days after Christmas when things were 50% off. Thanks for this helpful blog! I hope to retire at 55 too in 15 yrs because as my 457 rep says I’m a unicorn and have 19yrs with the County already. ????

    • Retire Before Dad November 6, 2017 at 7:44 am #

      Susie,
      So your husband is one of those neighbors 🙂 We decorate a little bit with lights, but not overboard. One of our neighbors is a nationally featured crazy light house. So we appreciate that and keep our minimal. Good luck growing the 457 and retiring early!
      -RBD

  10. John C @ Action Economics November 8, 2017 at 8:06 am #

    My favorite memories from being a kid was running down to the ice cream truck in our trailer park and getting a ninja turtles ice cream. We moved to the boonies when I was 6 and I didn’t see another ice cream truck unit I was an adult. Enjoy the experience! Your suburb sounds insane with the trampolines. I thought we were crazy when we spent $300 on one because Mrs. C. wanted one. The second year we had it our kid knocked out his 3 front teeth (thankfully baby teeth) on his brothers face. I don’t think I own a car seat or booster seat that isn’t expired, heck I have one booster seat I got from a yard sale when kid #1 was little, that was over a decade ago.

    • Retire Before Dad November 8, 2017 at 9:27 am #

      John,
      Oh man, I love that story about the Ninja Turtles ice cream. I do feel like a grinch sometimes about the ice cream. But our kids want ice cream for every meal every day! Have to draw the line somewhere. This truck comes around so much it isn’t very special anymore. Plus our pool has ice cream too. So they always want it there too. Those trampolines are super fun, but talk to any pediatrician and they’ll tell you what they think of them. The moon bounce we have isn’t that bouncy so it’s a little safer.

      We do live in a very friendly suburb, so I shouldn’t complain too much. I’m grateful for what we have.
      -RBD

  11. rabbithutch November 8, 2017 at 11:31 am #

    This is a nice list, but I think it applies more to parenthood and residential living, not exclusive to suburban living. I have most of these additional costs and live in D.C.

  12. Journeys of The Zoo November 9, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

    Dear RBD,

    Been there, survived suburbia. Barely.

    We are done with home ownership and in three weeks are moving to a 100 acre farm (rented) where our closest neighbours are cows. Seriously.

    Your list captured so many great ones. I’d add “kids coming over at all hours of the day and expect to be fed at least one meal”.

    Besos Sarah.

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