How Much Money Do You Need to Make to Live in San Francisco?

How much money you need to make to live in San Francisco

The Bay Area is well-known for its tech scene and tourist attractions, but it is also infamous for being one of the most expensive cities in America. For anyone considering a move to San Francisco, whether to work there post-graduation or to follow a new professional calling, the statistics can seem daunting. But perhaps this data can be misleading since San Francisco salaries more than make up the difference rent and groceries make, especially if you figure out ways to save money regularly.

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Comparing Real Numbers: What Does It Cost to Live in San Francisco?

Most Americans are aware living in the San Francisco area is expensive. The costs of rent, groceries and fuel are well above the national average, but the city makes up for it by offering salaries that also tend to be higher.

If you are thinking of moving to the Bay Area for the first time, here are some numbers you might expect to see when shopping for places to live and creating your budget.


If you research average rent in San Francisco, the numbers you’ll encounter may shock you. As of August 2015, San Franciscans paid an average of $3,803 every month. Fortunately for most people looking for a place to live, this number is bolstered by the Bay Area’s extravagant properties, where rent can be around $10,000. So the overall average rent payment may not be the best reflection of what you can expect to find when apartment hunting.

In San Francisco, affordable apartments will cost more than $2,500 a month, which, granted, is higher than the average in most states in the South and Midwest. If this rent payment still looks like an outrageously high amount to you, take comfort in the fact that while rent is high, the city’s lower utility costs can help soften the blow.

Alternatively, settling down just outside San Francisco can offer the benefits of living and working in the Bay Area without the brutal rent payments. Consider a rental in Hayward, for example, where rent is substantially more affordable.


Gas and electricity bills are a significant expense in most cities in the U.S. However, thanks to the mild year-round weather, utility costs in the Bay Area are lower than the national average.

In San Francisco, a 1,000-square-foot home will incur a monthly utility bill of less than $100. For comparison, the national average electricity bill in 2016 was $112.59, with Southern states averaging closer to $130.

Person Paying Utility Bill


If you’re dead-set on driving your car in the city, San Francisco may prove to be a massive burden to your wallet. From higher fuel costs and insurance payments to terrible traffic and parking difficulties, you may discover owning and using a car is more trouble than it’s worth.

Save up to two-thirds of the cost of driving a car by using the Bay Area Rapid Transit system to commute. It may involve a lifestyle change if you are unused to public transportation, but the prices will remain steady for you at around $100 a month or less.


Many groceries are more expensive in San Francisco than in the rest of the country. The variables that go into creating these high prices are unclear, although high costs of living and labor costs may have something to do with it. Overall, the cost of food is 23 percent higher than the national average.

An adult living alone can expect to spend an average of $3,564 a year on food, a number which more than doubles and triples with any additional dependents. This average assumes the family purchases only low-budget food items and prepares all the meals at home, modeled after the USDA’s low-cost food plan. Considering these strict standards might be unrealistic and impossible to stick to, most individuals can expect a monthly food bill of at least $600.

Battling Expenses: How Much Income Will You Need to Live Comfortably in San Francisco?

Now that we’ve broken down the average cost of living in San Francisco, what should you look for in a salary to live there — and not just by trying to make it paycheck to paycheck?

Your situation will vary dramatically depending on where you decide to live, whether you’ll have roommates and, of course, what kind of job you end up working. A student may be able to get by comfortably with $2,000 of income every month, while a professional living on their own may require closer to $5,000 to cover all expenses.

Without university perks or a steady job, living in San Francisco may be a challenge. Unemployment benefits are low, and with the average costs of living in the city so high, chances are you may deplete your savings before you know it. Fortunately, the job market in San Francisco is promising for aspiring professionals in a variety of fields. Even if your expenses amount to $60,000 a year, with the right education and background, there are plenty of salaries out there that can cover them.

Exploring Opportunities: What Do the Job Market and Salaries Look Like in San Francisco?

It’s no exaggeration that the Bay Area offers some of the highest-paying jobs in the country. The average salary in San Francisco was estimated at $96,677 in 2016, while the national median household income was no more than $59,039 the same year.

Man and woman working at a computer

To take these numbers a step further, if the average for a single adult’s expenses in San Francisco was $40,833 in 2017, 42 percent of that average income covers necessities, leaving more than half the earnings available for investing or using in other ways.

While the city is ripe with opportunities for techies and finance professionals, most of the higher-paying jobs are highly competitive. That’s not to say they are few and far between, though. It’s an excellent city for recent college grads to pursue a career, especially if they’re looking to make a living in one of the following top industries in San Francisco.


New graduates will find the tech startup openings in San Francisco are in high demand. Not only are there vast opportunities in this field, but the paychecks are very appealing. The three jobs that pay the most in the Bay Area are all tech jobs: data scientist at $142,729software engineer at $124,555 and database administrator at $110,887, all between 18 and 28 percent above the national average.

While these averages reflect the pay of senior employees, even the salaries for individuals just starting out are higher than national standards. For example, the median salary for entry-level software engineers is $108,314, a whopping 42 percent higher than the national average salary rate. Needless to say, if technology is your passion, San Francisco is where you’ll reap generous rewards for your work.

Even for those without specific tech experience, these startups are also searching for sales professionals, facility managers, human resources, accountants, business developers and other administrative positions, so there are many ways to get your foot in the door in the tech world.

Learn More About Tech Salaries

Health Care:

You can find the most prominent employer in the Bay Area within the health care industry. More and more hospitals are getting built, which continue to add to that number.

Physician’s assistants make an average of $120,736 in the Bay Area, while a registered nurse might earn an average of $123,762, which is 88 percent higher than the national average pay.


The finance world offers a lot of high-demand opportunities for recent graduates as well. With abundant banks that invest in tech companies, along with corporate offices of banks like Wells Fargo and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, positions are rife with opportunity and hefty paychecks.

The average salary in San Francisco for a financial analyst, for example, is $77,280 a year, which is 22 percent higher than equivalent positions in other parts of the country. Often this is an entry-level position, which over time will lend itself to growth and exciting career opportunities.

Other Top-Paying Industries:

Health care and technology are the industries that command the highest number of high-paying jobs, but there are always other fields you can pursue. Of course, most of the highest-paying jobs require extensive education and experience and are rarely entry-level. However, keeping them in mind will be useful for those looking to transfer to the Bay Area or who want to map out their escalating career path in a given industry.

Team of surgeons performing a surgery on a patient

Included in the highest-paying jobs in San Francisco, you’ll find:

  • Chief executives
  • Natural science managers
  • Dentists
  • Marketing managers

If San Francisco is where you envision your future, you’ll be glad to know you can combat the high cost of living with the numerous job opportunities in the area. Naturally, earning such a high salary will require hard work and persistence, but it will be incredibly rewarding in the end, especially if you further extend your earnings to live comfortably.

Stretching Your Income: How to Save on Costs-of-Living Expenses in San Francisco

Here are some tips on living frugally and reworking your budget so you can live comfortably in San Francisco.

1. Cook at Home

No matter where you live or how much money you make, cooking at home is a much more affordable alternative to eating out every day. Especially in bustling cities like San Francisco, restaurant options are endlessly enticing, but they can really hurt your wallet over time if you’re not careful, once you account for drinks and tips.

If it’s hard to make it back home to cook during the day, at least consider making coffee at home or stocking up on grocery store breakfast items to keep you from entering the nearest coffee shop during your morning commute. Keeping small snacks with you can also help curb hunger and prevent you from ordering that extra appetizer.

2. Find Low-Cost Entertainment

If you search for entertainment options on a given day, consider browsing the web for discounted tickets or even free events you may be interested in. Take advantage of hiking trails, local fairs, free-admission days at museums, matinee movie screenings and other low-cost options.

If there is a pricier event you’ve been dying to go to, like a festival or concert, using your hard-earned dollars for it will feel much more worth it if you’ve been careful not to shell it out every weekend.

3. Pay Yourself by Saving

Sending a percentage of your paycheck to a high-yield savings account is an excellent way to make your money last longer. If you keep it out of sight so you can’t spend it on a whim, your money will stay put and will be there in case of an emergency, or for whenever you are ready to start investing it.

4. Other Budget-Conscious Tips

The Internet is teeming with advice on ways anyone can save money, regardless of their situation. Whether you can refinance your student loans, use energy-efficient appliances, get a small side job like house-sitting or dog-walking or thrift-store shop exclusively, there are many ways to create a budget that suits your needs while going a long way.

Getting in touch with your employer is also a good idea. Figure out if they can direct-deposit a portion of your paycheck into a savings account for you so you’ll never see the funds and won’t be tempted to spend them. Also, negotiate 401(k) matching contributions to boost your retirement funds. In the future, you will be grateful you took that extra step.

More Budget Tips for Renters

5. Most Importantly — Choose Your Housing Wisely

While this is the last on the list, it is perhaps the most critical decision you can make to determine how far your earnings will go. Housing is usually the priciest investment anyone makes, so finding an affordable place to live will be hugely rewarding and help you save money in San Francisco.

Some ways to save on housing include finding rentals that are less appealing to most, which will put a damper on pricing. Others may recommend living with roommates as the best solution to cutting those costs in half.

Affordable housing in the Bay Area

But at Marcotte Properties, we believe there is a better way. Feel free to live with other people if you want, but you don’t have to settle for sub-par living arrangements just to suit your budget. Instead, consider getting all the perks of working in San Francisco without shelling out your hard-earned paychecks on rent by living just outside of the city in places like Hayward, Calif.

Lower rents are just one of the benefits of living outside San Francisco. You’ll have greater access to other parts of the Bay Area, living expenses themselves are more affordable and the neighborhoods are welcoming, if you decide to settle down for good somewhere and buy a home. You’ll also be able to enjoy local culture and cuisine while being close to any interesting events you want to attend in San Francisco itself. You may just find you’re living the best of both worlds!

Find Affordable Housing in Hayward, CA, and the Surrounding Bay Area with Marcotte Properties

Marcotte Properties is here to help you make the most of your rental experience. We have a selection of properties that can suit all your needs and give you the freedom to enjoy the Bay Area and be kind to your budget simultaneously. Contact us today to learn more about our available properties, or give us a call at 800-538-1724 for more information.

To begin estimating your living expenses in the San Francisco Bay Area, download our free budget spreadsheet and feel free to customize based on your needs. 

Free Template! – Bay Area Cost of Living Budget

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I want to say I really appreciate our property manager Bruce. He is fantastic! He is very responsive to questions and concerns.

Kristine A.. , Rewood Apartments