San Francisco is widely regarded as one of the most desirable cities in the United States. The scenery is breathtaking, the weather is mild year-round, and the people are as diverse as in any place in America. The downside to a move to the Bay Area is that it is one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Rent, transportation, and even food cost significantly more in San Francisco than in other locations.
If you are considering a move to San Francisco, the following information breaks down the average costs of various necessities in the city to help you estimate the income you need to live there as a student, a professional, or an unemployed job-seeker. Keep in mind these are averages.
Because the cost of living varies wildly from one part of town to another, and because every resident has a unique set of circumstances, you may have to adjust these figures to determine the specific amount of money you will need.
- San Francisco has one of the highest costs of living in the United States.
- The average rent in San Francisco for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is approximately $3,500 per month, and utilities cost around $150 a month.
- Students can save on living costs by sharing an apartment with roommates.
Rental Prices in San Francisco
Rents in San Francisco have climbed rapidly. As of January 2020, a one-bedroom apartment in the city rents for around $3,500, while the median across all homes is $4,300.
For someone moving from a less expensive part of the country, such as the South or the Midwest, this figure may invoke shock or outright fear. After all, in cities such as Cincinnati or Memphis, a $3,500 per month income would provide a comfortable home with a yard, pay for necessities, and still leave you with some pocket money.
The good news is that $3,500 is the median. There are some extravagantly wealthy areas of town where rents are $10,000 per month or higher, but there are also areas with rentals well under $3,500.
Utility Costs in San Francisco
Utilities are the one expense where San Francisco residents get a break. Bills for city residents are lower than the national average. This is due in large part to the city's pleasant climate; it gets neither hot in the summer nor particularly cold in the winter. Basic utilities such as electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage for a 915-square-foot apartment are around $154 per month. Budget-conscious residents can easily lower that amount by using energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances, and by running their heat and air conditioning sparingly.
Food Costs in San Francisco
San Franciscans pay more for food than residents of almost any city in the United States. A gallon of milk costs, on average, around $4. A loaf of plain white bread costs around $3. A dozen eggs are around $3. For a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the average cost is $6.
In San Francisco, the typical household spends about $5,200 per year on groceries, or about $430 per month. This is lower than other major metropolitan areas such as San Diego, but higher than in Los Angeles.
Commuting Costs in San Francisco
Relying on a car for transportation in San Francisco is very expensive, not to mention a major hassle. Auto insurance and gas cost well above the national average. The city ranks third in the nation for traffic congestion levels, behind Los Angeles and New York, and the parking is just as bad as the traffic.
Fortunately, San Francisco offers far more advanced public transportation than other California cities. In addition to buses and taxis, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, train system runs extensively throughout the metro area.
For drivers, car insurance rates average $2,257 per year in San Francisco, compared with $1,868 across California and a national average of $1,548. Using BART to commute and get around town, by contrast, is much cheaper. The average passenger fare is $4. Assuming two trips daily and 20 days of commutes per month, that works out to $160 per month.
Student Life in San Francisco
The Bay Area is a big draw for students. Several prestigious schools call the region home, as do dozens of high-paying employers in nearby Silicon Valley, many of which recruit from area colleges. Before moving to San Francisco to attend school, however, it is wise to know how much money you need to survive.
As a student, you can mitigate oppressive San Francisco rents by living with roommates. Sharing an apartment with three other students brings your share of a three-bedroom apartment rent of around $6,300 to $2,100. Your utility bill also becomes one-fourth of what it costs if you were to live alone. Food is still expensive, but transportation is largely a non-issue as long as you rent a place within walking distance of campus.
Working in San Francisco
Living a professional lifestyle in San Francisco is far more expensive than being a student. On the bright side, the pay for professional jobs is higher in San Francisco than just about anywhere. As a professional, you have probably moved beyond the roommate lifestyle, so rent, around $3,500, is solely your responsibility. Utilities add another $154, while a monthly food bill of $430 enables you to eat a healthy diet but certainly not at fancy restaurants. Transportation runs anywhere from $160 if you are willing and able to travel exclusively on BART, to more than $500 per month to own a car.
A monthly income of $5,000 allows you to live in an average apartment and meet basic expenses each month while having money left over to save or use toward unexpected costs, such as car repairs or dental work. That amounts to $60,000 per year. With the right education and experience, such jobs are plentiful in the Bay Area.
Job-hunting in San Francisco
The above information should make it clear that San Francisco is a hard place to live without a steady income. Even if you move to the area with money saved up, the city's exorbitant costs can erode your savings quickly. California provides unemployment benefits, up to a max of $1,300 per week depending on your income, which may not quite be enough to avoid dipping into savings.
One piece of good news exists for job-seekers in San Francisco. As of January 2020, the city's unemployment rate was 2.7%, nearly a full percentage point below the national rate of 3.6%. In fact, it is one of the lowest citywide rates in the United States. Particularly if you have in-demand skills, you should be able to find a job quickly in San Francisco. That said, it is still wise to have six months of living expenses saved up when moving to the city without a job. For San Francisco, that means $25,000 to $30,000.