What Is the Cost of Living in San Francisco?

FT Contributor  | 

San Francisco’s weather is comfortable all year, it boasts gorgeous scenery, and it’s an incredibly diverse place. The city has been featured in numerous films and TV shows that give it a reputation as lively and fresh. It’s a desirable place to be, and it’s one of the most expensive cities in the United States.

The cost of living in an area depends on a number of factors, including whether you’re renting or buying property,  as well as the price of utilities, groceries, and transportation. 

To determine whether it’s affordable, you must compare the cost of living to a family or individual’s income (at $15.59 per hour, San Francisco’s minimum wage is higher than what the state of California enforces). If you are planning to move there, brace yourself: the numbers in San Francisco are high.

Average Rent in San Francisco

One of your options for housing is renting. San Francisco rent prices vary dramatically — here are a few factors that affect rent costs in the city:

  • Size of accommodations (i.e., a studio or a four-bedroom house);
  • Location;
  • Amenities;
  • Number of occupants;
  • Parking;
  • Pets allowed.

RentCafé reports that the average rent in San Francisco for a one-bedroom apartment is whopping $3,683 per month, which is a 2% increase from last year. The average apartment size is approximately 747 square feet. Studio apartments are less expensive, while extravagant luxury accommodations can cost upwards of $10,000.

You are probably curious about particular neighborhoods that are more affordable. RentCafé notes that the average rent in the Treasure Island section of San Francisco is $2,616 per month, which is the most affordable neighborhood in the city. Neighborhoods such as Van Ness, Tenderloin, and Downton District 8 – North East are not far behind.

San Francisco House Prices

Buying a home is another option if you’d like to live in San Francisco. The average cost of real estate, again, depends on factors such as location, number of bedrooms, square footage, and other hidden costs of buying a home. Houses may also feel more expensive because, as their prices rise, wages aren’t following suit. There is a broad spectrum of San Francisco house prices and sizes, so let’s look at medians instead of averages.

According to Zillow, the median list price per square foot is $1,090, which is more than twice the average of the general San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Metro area. As such, the median cost of buying a home is $1,336,800, while the median home value is $1,387,263, which is 1.7% more than last year. Zillow expects these values will rise by 4.6 percent over the course of 2020.

San Francisco’s median home value is dramatically higher than the median home value in the United States as a whole, which, as of December 31, 2019, reached $244,054.

Cost of Utilities in San Francisco

The cost of living in San Francisco must account for much more than housing: you need to pay for utilities, such as electricity, water, and garbage disposal.

San Francisco’s weather is pretty mild, so you can save some money on power when it comes to air conditioning. It doesn’t get cold enough to put your heat on high, but many older apartment buildings lack AC units, so you may need to purchase a fan or two when it gets warmer. DoorSteps reports that a two-bedroom apartment rental in the Mission District averages around $24 for utility costs in the summer and $65 in the winter.

As for waste, recycling, and compost disposal, what you pay depends on where you are, the number of units in your building, and storage space. You can share bins with your neighbors and expect to pay somewhere between $43 and $96 monthly. For a 915 square foot apartment — slightly larger than RentCafé’s average size — the average basic utility cost (not including internet and prepaid mobile tariffs), is $142.16 per month, and then an additional $67.11 for the internet. To manage your expenses, consider establishing a zero-based budget.

Average Cost of Food Per Month in San Francisco

Living in the Bay Area means feeding yourself, too. If you’re considering a move to San Francisco, then you will need to augment your grocery budget. While the differences may seem small on paper, they add up over time. SFGate notes that residents of South San Francisco and Redwood City spend 29.5% more on groceries than the rest of the United States.

For example, you can buy a gallon of milk in Los Angeles, California and Austin, Texas for $3.70 and $3.21, respectively. In San Francisco, a gallon costs you $4.12. According to SFGate, a loaf of bread in Austin goes for $3.11, and it’s two cents less in LA — but bread can go for $4.97 in SF.

Of course, how much you spend on groceries depends on factors such as how many people you are buying for, if you are opting for organic or non-organic, allergies you need to account for, preferred diet, and more. Nevertheless, a monthly food bill of $600 would be unsurprising, though there are ways to save money on groceries.  

San Francisco Transportation Cost

Transportation costs also influence the bay area cost of living. If you aren’t interested in driving on all those steep hills the city is famous for, public transportation is your best bet. According to Numbeo, a one-way ticket on local transportation costs an average of $2.75, while a monthly pass totals around $81. Your options include taking the subway, railways, buses, and taxis (which cost about $3.38 per mile).

San Francisco Gas Prices

If you are brave enough to navigate those hills and remarkable traffic, then the cost of gas is important to consider. As of late January 2020, gas in San Francisco cost:

  • $3.5 per gallon for regular;
  • $3.6 for midgrade;
  • $3.8 for premium;

Parking is something you’ll have to pay for as well: the largest parking garage in the city, Fifth & Mission, charges between $170 and $510 per month, so it’s likely that public transportation is a better option for saving money.

The cost of living in San Francisco is not cheap. You’ll need to earn a significant income to live there comfortably and stick to a well-thought-out budget, especially if you are taking care of more people than just yourself. San Francisco is a gorgeous and cultured place — just be prepared to spend more on basic necessities and activities than you would in most places in the United States.


Image Source: https://depositphotos.com/

This post was updated February 5, 2020. It was originally published February 5, 2020.