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5 Ways I Save Money While Living in San Francisco

A common complaint you might hear amongst people living in San Francisco is how expensive it is to live in San Francisco. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $3,400/month and the estimated cost of living is $1114/month (excluding rent). So, how does someone save money while living in one of the most expensive cities in the US? Here’s 5 ways I do it:

1. Living with roommates in an older apartment

I live with two roommates in an older apartment* (probably from the 1980s, judging from the interior layout). By choosing to live with roommates, I save at least $600/month. All throughout my adult life, I’ve lived in modest houses or apartments and always with roommates. Because I never upgraded my living conditions, my housing needs and expectations have remained pretty simple. I just need a room, a bathroom, and a functional kitchen. I don’t need amenities, such as an apartment gym, concierge, or a pool, or an amazing view like you’d get with one of those fancy high-rises. Even though I’d love to live alone (especially since I’m quickly approaching my 30s) or live in a new, sleek, modern apartment, I’d much rather spend 15% than 33% of my salary on rent.

*You don’t necessarily have to live in an older apartment to save money. I know people who lived in newer, modern apartments, but converted the living room into a bedroom to save on rent.

2. Not having a car

I don’t have a car in SF and instead, rely on public transportation, walking, and the occasional Lyft/Uber rides to get around. Even though my apartment comes with a covered parking spot in a garage (which is pretty rare in SF), I decided to rent out the spot instead of using it for myself. Since parking is so hard to find here (ask anyone who has ever driven in the city), people are willing to pay good money for a spot. So, I rent out my parking spot for $300, which means I save $300/month on my rent. Not having a car in SF also means I save money on gas, bridge tolls, parking meters, and possible parking tickets.

3. Taking public transportation or walking

Despite the many complaints and horror stories about the public transportation in SF, the MUNI can essentially take you anywhere in the city. With my monthly MUNI pass, which costs $75/month, I can ride the buses, light rail, and even cable cars to get around the entire city. I make use of my pass so much that each ride probably comes out to just over $1. Additionally, San Francisco is a pretty walkable city, aside from the hills. If I have the time and the weather is good, I’ll choose to walk to my destination, especially if there are beautiful Victorian houses or great views of the Bay on my route. I try not to rely on Lyft/Uber too much and only use it about 5-7 times a month, usually when the weather is bad or it’s too late at night. Fortunately, most rides in SF cost $4-5.

4. Only going out occassionally

Even though SF has tons of great bars and restaurants, I don’t go out to them very often, probably only 2-3 times a month. I joke about how I’m a grandma*, but staying at home instead of going out saves me a lot of money that would have been spent on alcohol, drunken food, and Lyft/Uber rides.

Since a dinner for two at a nice restaurant can cost anywhere from $80-$300 (depending on where you go), my boyfriend and I would much rather eat at a casual restaurant or make dinner at home and save money. Instead of going out to a restaurant or the movies for dates, my boyfriend and I usually take a walk to a nearby neighborhood, talking about everything and anything and making the occasional stop for bubble tea or snack (usually onigiri) on the way.

In fact, one of our most enjoyable dates (in my opinion) was when we walked to Japantown and stumbled into a cute cafe, where we discovered and played a board game called Wok Star (yes, it’s a board game based on running a Chinese restaurant). We had a great night and it only cost us the price of two cups of tea!

I played as Mrs.Wang aka Tiger Mom. Perhaps this is a sign of my future…

*I haven’t always been a homebody grandma. In my younger twenties, I went out a lot more, but even then, I would take advantage of happy hours, restaurant week deals, and public transportation (even if it meant an hour long bus ride at 2am).

5. Finding enjoyment in the little things

I find happiness in small purchases, such as bubble tea or coffee or pastries, which is why I have categories for each them in my budget. I know, I know. Bubble tea and lattes are pretty expensive for what they are and if I just gave up the expensive lattes and avocado toasts, I’d be able to buy a house. 😛

Enjoying a lavender latte while I write

But because going out for a bubble tea can also mean a heart-to-heart with a friend or coworker and getting a latte can buy me a few hours of alone time in a cafe where I can relax and write, they are worth much more to me than their actual monetary costs.

What are ways you save money where you live? How do you save money on rent or transportation? Do you save money by taking public transportation or not going out as much?

5 Ways I Save Money While Living in San Francisco

8 thoughts on “5 Ways I Save Money While Living in San Francisco”

  1. Hey Cyn! This was a great post!

    I can imagine San Fran being super crazy expensive. But it looks like you’re managing your money very well, so kudos to you! 👍

    Like you, I enjoy the small things such as boba teas, dessert, and sbux lattes. It makes me happy when I treat myself to one once a week w/ my friends lol.

    In terms of saving money, my fiancé and I are able to save because we rent out our separate space to a family, so it doesn’t put pressure on us when it comes to paying the mortgage. We are also able to save on food because my parents always invites us over to eat dinner since they love to cook extras. Overall, all these small things help A LOT! 😊

    1. Hey! Thanks for stopping by and reading my post! 🙂

      Aww thanks! SF can be expensive, but there are definitely ways one can save money while living here.

      Glad to hear you find enjoyment in the little things too! It’s great that these small things can make us happy.

      That’s awesome you and your fiance are able to do that! I’m fortunate my family also lives nearby and feeds me whenever I visit. Yes, I agree, these small things do help out a lot! 🙂

  2. I always wonder how young people manage to live while saving money in places like San Francisco. Your choice to live with roommates and not own a car is undoubtedly helping you save thousands of dollars a year. Since I live in a fairly cheap town (Cincinnati) I can afford to have a car and pay for the costs that come along with it, but if I was in a situation similar to yours I’m sure I would live without one as well.

    Great post, thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Hi Zach, thanks for stopping by and reading my post!

      Fortunately, those were actually pretty easy choices to make since it’s fairly common for people to live with roommates here and it’s easy to get around SF without a car. Plus, the traffic around the Bay Area can be terrible during rush hour. 😛

  3. Being a native of SF, your list is as good as you can get. I might add the free and cheap events that the city offers. Johnny Funcheap site (sf.funcheap.com) is a great source for finding such events around SF. We found such events like free movie night in various parks and free museum days on there.

    1. Thanks Kris! Glad to hear a native San Franciscan agrees with my list! 😀

      Yes, I forgot to add that site! SF Funcheap has been my go-to for free events for the past 6 years. I even won tickets to an event on there once!

  4. Whoa, I didn’t know you had a parking space! I actually thought about getting a super cheap place in Oakland and Airbnbing the entire thing + renting out the parking space separately. I wonder if you’d actually make good income from that, but for now it’s way too much work for me!

    1. Haha yeah. It ended up coming with my room. Oh that’s an interesting idea! I’ve actually never thought about doing that. Though, it does seem like it could be a lot of work. 😛

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