A Guide to Cost of Living in San Francisco

San Francisco doesn’t need any introduction or elaborate details about what it has to offer its residents. However, it’s essential to know that its living standards are one of the highest in the United States. Suppose you’re looking to move to SF as a professional, a student, or someone looking for an opportunity.

In that case, you need to know and understand the expenses you’re likely to incur while living in the city, which may stun you initially. And with Silicon Valley attracting a ton of new residents regularly, it’s important to consider what you’ll be spending money on so that you can work on two things: one, setting up a budget for the monthly costs, and two, gathering the funds to pay for them.

To give you a clear idea of what comprises necessary expenses, we’ve categorized them for you.

1. Rental rates in SF

Being among the most expensive cities in the USA, the rental rates are bound to be high. With the number of tech companies and jobs constantly on the rise, the demand for rental rooms in San Francisco is increasing, leading to increased rental prices.

Home prices are pretty steep too, which is why more than 50 percent of residents prefer to rent out their homes.

Statistics from January 2020 reveal that the rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3500 and the median rent for all houses is $4300! While this may be surprising, yet normal for most people in SF, outsiders from small towns, such as Cincinnati or Memphis, might be taken aback, to put it mildly.

Why? Because in such towns, for $3500, they can find a great house that comes with a yard and have more than enough left for utilities and other expenses.

If you’re freaking out, don’t. With the median rent being $3500, you’ll find neighborhoods with rental rates of $10,000 and above, although they’re few and far between, and those with rents well below $3500. In other words, finding a room for rent in San Francisco at a reasonable price might be a tad challenging but not impossible.

According to the 30 percent rule, you need to earn around $8500 monthly to rent a room in SF for $3500. If your rent isn’t 30 percent of your gross income, you might need to look harder and find cheaper neighborhoods.

2. Reasonably-priced neighborhoods in SF

While there are hordes of neighborhoods in San Francisco, the rental prices tend to vary quite a bit, depending on the location. 

For young professionals and students with little or no income, Haight-Ashbury is a decent neighborhood that’s housed celebrities, such as Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, among others. The rents here haven’t remained more or less constant over the last couple of years. The area is also walkable.

A suburban area close to Golden Gate Park, Lone Mountain, is an affordable neighborhood where the rental prices have gone down of late. The University of San Francisco is nearby, so this is a top spot for students.

On the western side of Golden Gate Park lies another community with reasonable rental prices, The Outer Sunset. In fact, it’s among the top three affordable neighborhoods in SF. You’ll also find some of the best coffee and food being served at local cafes and restaurants, such as Andytown coffee shop and Outerlands Restaurant, not to mention some great beer at the Woods Outbound Brewery. 

So, based on your budget, lifestyle, and preferences, explore these areas and see if you can find a room for rent in San Francisco.

3. Costs of utilities in SF

It’s interesting to note that while residents might have to fork over a lot of money for rent, they get a breather when it comes to paying for utilities. What it means is that utility costs are pretty low. And this may have a lot to do with the weather conditions of the city.

While summers may be pretty warm, winters aren’t freezing, not even close.

So, the weather is perfect for residents. Therefore, residents don’t need to crank up the heating or use the AC for an extended period, resulting in low electric bills.

Utilities mainly comprise heating, cooling, electricity, water, and garbage disposal. The utility costs for a 900-square foot apartment (approximately) amount to $154 monthly if we include water, gas, electricity, and trash, which is reasonable.

But if you’d like to spend even less on utilities, the best thing to do is reduce energy consumption through energy-saving lights and other appliances.

Finally, if you’re lucky, you might run into a landlord who pays for a few of the utilities like water and garbage disposal. In most other cases, the tenant is responsible for paying the utilities depending on monthly usage.

4. Travel expenses in SF

As a resident of the city, new or otherwise, you’re going to have to commute to and from work or school, or wherever it is you’re going, so you need to consider transportation options. 

If you have a car, free parking isn’t an option within the heart of the city, though you might find some outside the city’s center. If you wish to park in the city’s center, you’re going to have to dish out more than $27 daily while the monthly charges will cross $300!

Besides parking, you also need to consider petrol costs and your travel expenses will shoot through the roof. According to Zumper, fuel and auto insurance costs in SF amount to $2,257 annually. If we compare it with the national average of $1,548, we see an alarming difference of over $700!

So, if you wish to cut down on travel costs, your only alternative is to use public transportation. At $78, you can buy a cable car and bus pass.

If you’d like to add a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) pass in addition to the cable car and bus pass, you’ll need an additional $16. Besides cable cars, buses, and BART, you have cabs and ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, to get around the city.

5. Food and grocery expenses in SF

Food and groceries are a crucial part of your living costs in a city. But just like everything else, the prices of food and grocery items are on the higher side. If you look at food and grocery prices in other parts of the state and the United States, you’ll see that they’re much lower than SF! For instance, the average price of a gallon of milk is $4, while a dozen eggs cost $3.

A simple white bread loaf is $3.

Generally, a family spends about $430 a month on food and groceries, and in a year, that sums up to more than $5000. The expenses will vary based on the number of members in your family,  eating preferences, and let’s not forget, eating outside!

SF has many restaurants serving varieties of cuisines, but you need to remember that even if they’re not Michelin-star restaurants, the costs can still be high. A two-person meal could range anywhere between $20 to $200, based on the restaurant you choose, so choose wisely!

6. Living costs for students in SF

San Francisco is an educational hub with several renowned universities and colleges in the city, making it a popular destination for students.

Staying with roommates is far more economical than living alone to save on rent and utilities. Should you decide to live outside your university campus, be sure to look for rental rooms in SF close to the university so that your travel costs reduce substantially. 

Students from San Francisco State prefer to live in Outer Sunset, and those from the University of San Francisco are likely to choose Lone Mountain.

7. Entertainment expenses in SF

In SF, there’s no shortage of places to visit and things to do! As someone looking to live here, you should know the city inside out and what activities you can participate in to spend your free time well.

San Francisco is known to patronize art in all its forms. So, you shouldn’t be surprised to find numerous museums all across the city.

What’s interesting about these places is that some of them have special discounts for residents, based on their incomes. So, for low-income residents, many of these museums have low-cost passes. A number of them also offer free admission either once a week or maybe once a month.

SF also offers a CityPASS, a pass admissible in different tourist spots.

You can see four different attractions at once and keep adding to the list for a price, based on what you wish to see. With the CityPASS, you have access to the cable car (or MUNI bus), the Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Aquarium of the Bay.

If you wish, you can add the Exploratorium or the San Francisco Museum and pay a single amount for the whole package.

8. Average salaries to overall costs in SF

To live comfortably in a city as steep as San Francisco, economists believe you need to earn at least $120,000 yearly or $10,000 a month. While it’s quite a considerable sum, finding a job in the city should be a cakewalk for you if you’re a techie. 

San Francisco might be expensive, but it cares for its people and their wellbeing. Those whose incomes fall well below the $10,000 range are entitled to financial support, which should help meet the skyrocketing expenses to some extent, if not entirely.

How do you feel about moving to SF?

Are you raring to go or hesitant about relocating because of monetary reasons? Our advice to you is not to let that stop you from following your dreams! If you’re overwhelmed by the costs you may have to bear while living here, reach out to a financial advisor. They can tell you how to invest your money well so that the returns are more than enough for the kind of life you envision living in SF!







Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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