A high starting salary doesn't guarantee a high quality of life.

In February, IEEE-USA released its survey of salaries among engineers and found they had risen...but not by much. The average income rose from $122,466 in 2013 to $124,260 in 2014 (calculated before the inevitable taxes were deducted). Oh, and that starting figure automatically puts you in a 28% tax bracket. 

The median wage of American workers is currently around $50,500, so EEs are still well above average, but the difficulty comes in maintaining a grip on one's salary amid skyrocketing taxes and costs of living. How does an engineer keep as much of his/her salary as possible while still scoring a decent job?

The key may be to go against the flow.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top states for employment of EEs are California, Texas, New York, Michigan, and Massachussetts. The first instinct for many designers would be to accept a high-paying job in Silicon Valley and live the tech dream at an average salary of $114,730, but consider this: the average home price in Palo Alto is $3.3 million. Only one of 59 ZIP codes in the San Jose metro area has a median home value less than $400,000. 

3 beds, 2 baths, and $3 million in Atherton.

Needless to say, that 6-figure income won't go very far when even renting a 1-bedroom will run you somewhere around $2,000/month. In fact, Silicon Valley has all the feel of the gold rush in 1848 when price gouging led to slices of bread and eggs being sold at $1 each, only now it's crazy gas prices and exorbitant taxes.

But Massachussetts is expensive as well, and so is New York. So where is an EE to live? Away from the saturation. Take places like Idaho and Arizona, for instance. Idaho features an extremely low cost of living but also has Micron--which is preparing for a massive expansion--and almost no crime. Plus, scoring a house under $200,000 is a breeze. Arizona has over 7,600 high tech companies in operation, and the housing and cost of living is extremely reasonable (though be prepared for high air conditioning bills).

Think outside the bubble. Consider states like Alabama and Michigan, not Washington or Illinois. Look at Provo, Utah, instead of Austin, Texas. Sure, you'll be somewhere less glamorous, but it may mean the difference between early retirement or early bankruptcy. 

 

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