I'm Christina Lyon, a coffee sipping, piano playing, beach loving, word-obsessed freelance writer and musician. I'm on fire for helping freelance writers get paid and small biz owners succeed online. When I'm not reading or writing, I play music and explore the beaches and wild trails along the California coast.

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The Ultimate Guide For How To Live In California On A Budget

Christina Lyon

All the financial details you need to know about living on a budget in California from a single-income native Californian.

It ain’t called the golden state for nothin’, and there’s a common misconception that you’ve gotta make some serious stacks to live in California because: living in California is expensive. So, is it possible to live in California on a budget?

Absolutely! If not, 40 million of us wouldn’t be sticking around. So, why do you have to work three full time jobs to have a roof over your head in California? Well, you don’t. Polls lead people to believe it’s impossible to afford to live in California. Sure, it depends entirely on your circumstances and each one of ours is vastly different.

Me? My boyfriend and I live in a one-bedroom apartment with no children or pets. I am not a financial advisor or expert, however, I have lived in California on a shoestring budget for seven years and I’ve garnered valuable experience in pinching pennies. Thus, I want to offer my two cents on how to live in California on a budget. In fact, at one point I attended college full time while working two jobs and living in Koreatown. If that ain’t living on a budget in California, I don’t know what is. Now I’m a writer, artist, and small business owner, so budgeting is a key component of my lifestyle. Take it from me:

With a good budget, you can live in California cheaply, without feeling cheap, and still enjoy the benefits of living in California.

Does it seem impossible to live in California without making six figures? California cost of living deterring you from living here? Read on to learn how to live in California on a budget (comfortably).

A shot of high rise buildings in Los Angeles on a sunny day. Exploring local areas is a great idea for moving to California, as well as a fun activity when you are living in California on a budget.
An overhead shot of La Jolla beach in San Diego, California where dozens of sea lions rest on the shore. A great free activity in California.
Visiting La Jolla in San Diego is a fun, free activity in California!

California Cost of Living 2019

Here are some quick stats to give you a rough look at the cost of living in California in 2019.

  • The median home value in California is $548,700, and is estimated to drop in 2020.
  • The median cost of rent in California is $1437 for a 1-bedroom apartment and $1832 for a 2-bedroom apartment.
  • Utility and gas bills in California average 554 kWh, which translates to approx. $101.49 a month.
  • Taxes – Oy. We pay some pretty steep taxes in California, not the highest, but state sales tax lands around 9%, and property tax is (fortunately) below average at .8%, probably because it’s so damn hard to buy property.
  • Food, transportation, and costs of living are something to consider if you’re moving to California and will vary according to your lifestyle. When creating a realistic budget for living in California, this is where I take liberties with trimming the fat to save.


For more location-specific stats on the cost of living in California, 2019, check out this dope post from Smart Asset, which is full of solid deets and helpful infographics.

How Much Money Do You Need To Live Comfortably In California?


I am not writing this post from a perspective of anyone other than myself. With that disclaimer in mind, I’m writing from a single-income perspective.

If you have dependents or circumstances that increase your monthly costs significantly, I highly encourage you to consult with a financial advisor.

Now, on to the meat of this post, which is why you’re here, amirite?! How much money do you need to make to live in California? Keep in mind, we’ve got 58 counties and 482 ish cities, so the cost of living in California and expenses run the gamut.

Can you live in California on an annual income of $50,000 or less? Hell yes, you can! I’d argue you can live here on $30,000, with an effective and realistic budget. Of course, it also depends on if you live in NorCal, So Cal, inland or at the coast.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) determined you’ll need upwards of 70K annually to live in California. That ain’t a cool number, considering that the average income in California is $51,910. The good news is that millions of people are living in California on around 50K a year.

Some stats to get ya pumped about living in California

  • On a comfortable budget, 50K is a realistic income.
  • On a shoestring budget, 30K is a reasonable income for living in California.
  • You can make $24.96 an hour and live comfortably in California.

Boom! Leave it to the stats to prove your dream of living in California on 50K (or less) a year, is totally possible!

Living on a budget in California doesn’t mean barely getting by. There are affordable places to live in California and plenty of free things to do and see! It’s all about mindset and implementing an effective budget.

Will you live in a mansion in Beverly Hills on 50K a year? Not a chance, but you can live comfortably in a one-bedroom apartment in a dope city and enjoy the perks of living in California.

Now on to the actionable steps to actually make a budget and manage it.

Living on A Budget In California

First, you’ll have to actually create a realistic budget i.e. an accurate representation of your net income and expenses. Sit down and pour out all your expenses, income, and get real nitty-gritty with it. You don’t want to skimp out on details. Do you get three lattés a day? Put it in the budget. Do you take Uber to the grocery store 5 blocks away from your apartment? Add it to the budget. I’m not trying to turn my nose down to any of these choices, rather highlight how easy it is to overlook little actions that add up big time financially.

Keep in mind, you’re not writing your ideal budget, you’re writing the actual budget for how you live so you can visually see where you need to cut back. Don’t forget to include mundane items like laundry quarters and toiletries.

My biggest tip for how to survive in California financially: make a budget and stick to it.


If you need a solid resource for creating a budget, I recommend this legit budget from Nerd Wallet.

What Are Your Largest Expenses?

Obviously, big-ticket expenses like rent or car payments can’t necessarily be altered. You’ll have to wiggle other items around if you want to save money. Or, you can completely overhaul your life and move to an affordable area in California or buy a less expensive car. IF those aren’t realistic, I totally feel you! Nothing’s taking me from Redondo Beach, so I gotta cut back elsewhere.

If you really want to live in California but aren’t picky about where you can research the most affordable places to live in California. Of course, these will be more inland cities, distant from big cities like LA or San Francisco.

Living inland or in affordable cities is a good way to live on a budget in California because you’ll save money on the biggest expense: rent. That said, consider that if you have a long commute because you live in Whittier and work in Calabasas, those expenses will add up.

Plus, if you’re under 65, why are you living in Whittier? If you know, you know. (Yo, Gramps!)

Logging your expenses is one of the vital spokes in the wheel of a solid budget. No one knows this more than finance and budgeting experts! Glean helpful tips and learn how the pros budget in this insightful guide from OutwitTrade.

Can California Be Budget-Friendly?

I have managed to learn how to live on a budget in California. It hasn’t always been fun or easy, but it’s been worth it as I love living in California. California is an inspiring cultural melting pot full of artists and innovators.

Why shouldn’t you be one of them?

Lastly, there are few cheap places to live in California near the beach, but I pinch pennies elsewhere so that I can live in Redondo Beach because #beachlife is awesome!

A closeup picture of a woman sitting down at a table with paperwork to create a budget for California living.

Tips For Living in California on a budget:

  • Start with lower rent prices, scour the market for the best affordable cities to live in California.
  • Trim the fat: cut out excessive expenses like eating out, coffee runs, memberships you don’t use, and absolutely unnecessary expenses like Postmates.
  • Use a budgeting app like Mint to hold you accountable.
  • Save 10-20% of your paycheck for a rainy day fund, debt, etc.
  • Swap your gas guzzler for public transport. (It absolutely bites in LA, but hey, we’re working on it!)
  • Pay cash for big items, if there’s no cash, don’t buy it.
  • Love going out with your friends? Cut back to just the weekends, or take advantage of half-price happy hours.
  • Utilize all of the AMAZING free things to do in California! (Blog post coming soon!)
  • Ditch the boutique grocery stores because shopping at affordable grocery stores in California will save you hundreds of dollars each month. And never underestimate the power of a coupon!
  • Buy second hand – there are so many rad vintage flea markets and thrift stores in California that you can Upcycle vintage clothing for a fraction of the cost of new clothes. Plus, buying second hand reduces your carbon footprint –double win!
  • Ditch the gym – We’ve got epic outdoor options for working out. From Muscle Gym in Venice, to the famous Runyon Canyon, to tons of local hikes to the myriad of Southern California beaches. Break a sweat outdoors to skip a $20-$60 monthly gym fee.
  • Ditch cable and choose one streaming service. Instead of paying $100 a month for cable, choose a streaming service like Netflix or Prime and pay only around $15 a month.
  • If you’re gonna grab food on the go, choose taco trucks or street food for cheap, delicious food!
  • Kick single-use grab and go food and plastic items to the curb. Not only are they a complete waste, but they’re overpriced.
  • Brown bag it: seriously, eating out for lunch every day is toxic to your budget. Pack your lunch the night before to save some major dough monthly.

Go forth and budget wisely, my friends!

There you have it! Are you ready to move to California and live on a budget? Are you living here already and ready to implement an effective budget for living in California? I’m in your corner, you’ve totally got this!

Think I’m absolutely insane and this budget is totally unrealistic? Hit me up! I firmly believe that with a little compromise, sacrifice, and hard work you can live in California comfortably on a budget. If not, what the heck have I been up to these last seven years? 😉

The author, Christina Lyon drinks coffee at a cafe in Hermosa Beach.

What’s the hardest part of saving and budgeting for you? Are you an expert budgeter? Drop your budget tips below! While you’re here, don’t forget to check out my local’s guide for beach living in California!


May 18, 2019

California Beach Life, Lifestyle

*This post may contain affiliate links, and I may receive a commission on purchases made through provided links (at no extra cost to you).

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  1. Nancy Anderson says:

    I love this article and even posted on Facebook (which I usually don’t go on, lol).

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