What is the real cost of living in San Francisco, CA?
From the Gold Rush to the Summer of Love to the current tech-driven economic boom, San Francisco, California, has always been a tiny city with an outsize impact on national culture. The city’s colorful Victorian houses have recently been joined by new luxury apartment buildings, ramping up the cost of housing and changing the economic calculations for the 900,000 people who call San Francisco home.
Table of contentsHousing: Rental PricesHousing: Home Purchase PricesUtilities CostFood CostTransit CostAverage Salary
Numbeo’s cost of living index, which factors the cost of consumer goods prices, including groceries, restaurants, transportation, and utilities, scored San Francisco at 91.77 out of 100 in July 2020. (This index benchmarks every US city against New York City, which scores 100.) However, the sky-high rent costs in SF more than offset the 8% savings on goods. When you factor in rent, SF scores 101.5, suggesting that it’s actually more expensive than NYC.
In May of 2019, 20.5% of all jobs in San Francisco were in the tech industry. For workers in those jobs—especially in technical roles—pay is among the highest in the country. Across all industries, salaries in the Bay Area averaged over $100,000 per year at the end of 2019. (More on that below.)
But with such a high cost of living, even the most well-compensated residents have to crunch the numbers with a budget calculator to see if living in the City by the Bay is worth the price.
Housing: Rental Prices
Housing cost is by far the biggest expense for people living in San Francisco. The average SF rent of $3,700 is two and a half times the national average of $1,463. Only Manhattan is more expensive, with average rents of $4,210.
The highest rental prices (over $4,000) are found in the newly developed neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, such as South Beach, SoMa, and Mission Bay. More affordable neighborhoods, where median rent for a one-bedroom is under $3,000, can be found on the southern and western edges of the city. Check out the Outer Sunset ($2,450) or Outer Mission/Excelsior ($2,300).
Renters will find no relief to the north of San Francisco, where the average rent in Corte Madera is $4,362. In the South Bay, Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Mountain View all have typical rents around $4,000. Rents have a wide range in the large East Bay, but good values can be found in Alameda and San Leandro, where rents for one-bedrooms are around $2,000.
Even if the numbers sound high, living in San Francisco doesn’t have to be out of reach. Coliving with roommates allows you to spend significantly less than the average cost of solo housing. For example, Bungalow's average price for a private room in a shared home in San Francisco is up to 39% less than the rent of an average studio apartment in the same neighborhood.
Housing: Home Purchase Prices
San Francisco is the most expensive city in the United States in which to buy a home. One cause is limited supply: The city is located on a small peninsula, preventing LA-esque sprawl, and in an earthquake-prone area, preventing Manhattan-like vertical expansion.
When the city’s highly-paid workers compete for this limited supply of housing, the result is a median home purchase price of $1.35 million. This is five times the national average, and twice what it would cost to purchase a home in Boston, New York, or Washington, D.C.
Prices have climbed in other Bay Area communities as well. In picturesque Marin County County, immediately north of San Francisco, homes sell for a little over a million. San Jose, a Silicon Valley city about an hour south of San Francisco, has a median home price of just under a million dollars. The most affordable part of the region is the East Bay, where homes can be found for less than $800,000 in Oakland, San Leandro, and Hayward.
San Franciscans save money on utilities when compared with rates in other cities. The city’s mild climate makes air conditioning and central heating rarely necessary, reducing electricity and gas bills. For renters, a relatively low monthly cost of around $150 will cover basic utilities. Adding internet costs an average of $70 more per month.
After housing, food is another area where San Franciscans spend more than in the rest of the country. Restaurant prices are higher, at $18 for an inexpensive meal or $40 for a full-service meal for one. An additional charge paid by SF diners is the “health surcharge” that is commonly tacked onto restaurant bills to cover healthcare for employees. Among restaurants that add this fee, the average charge is 4.45% of the total bill.
The hilly terrain can prove an unexpected workout for those who are new to living in San Francisco, but the city is fairly compact and walkable. Forty percent of city residents do not own a car, and instead take advantage of a wide variety of public transportation options. This results in San Franciscans spending less on transportation annually than people in other parts of the country.
SFMTA runs light rail and bus lines throughout the city, as well as cable car and trolley service in downtown and tourist areas. Single rides cost $2.50, and unlimited monthly passes cost $81. (Unlimited BART service within San Francisco can be added for $17 more). These prices are similar to other major cities, and less expensive than in New York City.
For transit connections between San Francisco and the eastern part of the Bay Area, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) offers subway service at a distance-based rate. BART runs to cities in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties, as well as a limited corridor in San Francisco and south to San Francisco International Airport. One-way tickets from downtown Oakland to downtown San Francisco start at $3.70.
Caltrain is a commuter rail option between San Francisco and points south, including tech hubs Menlo Park, Mountain View, and San Jose. Ticket prices range from $3.20 to $14.45, depending on distance travelled. A monthly pass between San Francisco and San Jose would cost $298.50.
Car owners in San Francisco can expect to pay between $1,341 and $1,588 annually for auto insurance, which is right around the national average of $1,427 per year. Parking is a big hidden expense for drivers in SF. Garage parking can add $150-$600 to the monthly budget, depending on the neighborhood.
Gas prices in SF are similar to what you’d pay in other California cities like San Diego and Los Angeles. Over the past year, SF gas prices have fluctuated between $2.80 and $4.30 per gallon, which is about a dollar more per gallon than the countrywide average cost.
Many San Franciscans opt for ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft to avoid the hassles of public transit or owning their own car. Prices for both services are similar: a five mile ride through the center of the city will usually cost about $15—but at rush hour, surge prices can be much higher.
San Franciscans need high salaries to absorb this high cost of living. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the San Francisco metro area earn wages that are 42% higher than the national average. The minimum wage in SF is the second highest in the country (after Seattle) at $16.09 per hour.
The Bay Area has a higher percentage of workers in the high-paying management, finance, and computer sectors than the rest of the country. In San Francisco, the average salary for tech workers is $145,000, which is more than in any other US city. Across all industries, salaries in the Bay Area averaged over $100,000 per year at the end of 2019. The highest salaries are paid in San Francisco and San Mateo counties.
If these high salaries are tempting you to move to San Francisco, consider how your expenses will increase. According to payscale.com’s cost of living calculator, San Francisco’s cost of living is 80% higher than the national average. Cutting down on housing expenses is the best way to make living in San Francisco more affordable.
Bungalow offers private rooms in shared homes that are more affordable than solo housing options in the same neighborhoods. Wifi, utilities, and monthly cleaning are set up before you move in so that coliving is seamless. Unlike other shared housing options, Bungalow vets all residents and helps you match with roommates who share your living preferences and interests. Find your next home on Bungalow.
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