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. It is for these reasons and more that people from all over the country, and around the globe, aspire to live in San Francisco. The downside of making a move to the Bay Area is it is one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Rent, transportation and even food costs significantly more in San Francisco than it does in other places.
If you are considering a move to San Francisco, the following information breaks down the average costs of various necessities in the city and calculates 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 up or down to determine the specific amount of money you will need.
Rental Prices in San Francisco
Rents in San Francisco have climbed rapidly throughout the 21st century. As of October 2018, the average apartment in the city rents for $3,362.96. 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 $3,300 per month income is often enough to own a nice home with a yard, pay for other necessities and still have money left over. In San Francisco, it pays rent for an average apartment, and then it is gone.
The good news is a lot of data makes up that average, some of it from extravagantly wealthy areas of town where rents are $10,000 per month or higher. Such places bring the average up, which means plenty of San Francisco rentals also exist for well under $3,800. That said, this city is not like others where you can find an apartment for $1,000 or under, even when you are willing to settle for a less-than-desirable neighborhood. As of 2018, apartments in San Francisco almost invariably rent for $2,500 or higher per month.
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. For a 1,000-square-foot dwelling in San Francisco, the average monthly utility bill hovers just above $100. 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 U.S. A gallon of milk costs, on average, $4. A loaf of plain white bread costs $3.56. A dozen eggs are $3.63. For a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the average cost is $5.82.
In most cities, frugal residents can keep food costs between $400 and $500 per month and still eat healthy and stay full. That is exceedingly difficult in San Francisco. Expect a monthly food bill of $600 or more.
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 is tied with Los Angeles for the second-worst traffic congestion in the U.S. The parking situation is 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, expect to pay $150 per month or more in car insurance and the same for gas. Using BART to commute and get around town, by contrast, is much cheaper and can usually be done for $100 per month or less.
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 $3,000 rent down to $750. 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.
At a minimum, you will need $1,500 per month of income to meet basic expenses as a student in San Francisco. With $2,000 per month, you can meet these expenses more easily and have some breathing room.
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, likely $2,500 to $3,500 per month, is solely your responsibility. Utilities add another $100, while a monthly food bill of $600 to $700 enables you to eat a healthy diet but certainly not at fancy restaurants. Transportation runs anywhere from $100, if you are willing and able to travel exclusively on BART, to $300 or more if you drive everywhere.
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 it quickly. California provides unemployment benefits, but only up to a max of $450 per week, which is nowhere near enough to live in San Francisco.
One piece of good news exists for job-seekers in San Francisco. As of August 2015, the city's unemployment rate is 3.4%. That is well below the national rate of 5.5%. In fact, it is one of the lowest citywide rates in the U.S. 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.