Budgeting Tips for High-Cost Tech Cities Like San Francisco

Even if you earn a big salary, it can be tough to make ends meet in expensive places such as Silicon Valley, San Francisco, New York or Boston.

Is it possible to stretch a buck without giving up the opportunity to work in a dynamic, high-tech hub? Of course. Here are some budgeting tips for living in such places.

Don’t Live Alone

Start by reducing the biggest line items on your monthly budget, advised Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks.com. Since housing is the biggest cost for most Americans (accounting for 37 percent or more of take-home pay), focus on that; enduring short-term pain can result in long-term gain when you live in an expensive area.

“Realistically, you are going to need to live like a college student again, at least for the first few years,” said Thomas Minter, a resident of Oakland and creator of the City for Millennials blog.

Find a roommate so you can split housing and utility costs, or rent out your couch to a commuting co-worker a few nights a week, he added. If you have family in the area, consider living with them.

For example, Minter subleased his apartment while he was traveling on business, which helped him save enough to purchase his first house at 25 and pay off his student loans by the time he was 27. Ultimately, buying a house or duplex and using rental income to offset a portion of the monthly payment can improve your lifestyle and build equity in a high-cost area.

Turn Extra Space into Cash

Every bit of unused space is valuable in high-paying cities with exorbitant housing costs. For instance, renting out your parking space or garage can bring in an extra $200 to $300 per month.

Learn to Cook

Dining out in a big city is expensive. Minter says he saves about $500 by eating at home just one week a month.

Stabilize Your Housing Costs

Stabilizing your housing costs is the best way to get ahead in markets whererents have been rising faster than wages and inflation.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box (or border) to find a better deal. For instance, neighborhoods in bordering cities may offer the same quality of housing as more prestigious zip codes; it might be worth moving to those places for the cost savings, even if it means a somewhat longer commute.

Alternatively, you can find an apartment covered under a rent control ordinance, or see if you qualify for subsidized housing. (FYI, a one-person household bringing in $82,200 a year qualifies for low-income housing in San Francisco.)

Be sure to ask about housing assistance before you accept a job offer. And speaking of negotiations, try leveraging your credit score to secure better leasing terms, or recruit a co-signer. Some professionals have scored reduced rent by working as leasing consultants or providing tech support in a small apartment complex on weekends.

Finally, be on the lookout for cost-saving opportunities. Many cities are implementing creative solutions, including vouchers, in order to solve local housing shortages.

Sell (or Share) Your Car

To reduce transportation costs—which ranks as the second-largest expenditure nationally—use public transportation on a daily basis. You can also rely on rideshare or microtransit services (such as the new, increasingly popular rental scooters) to make micro-commutes and connect with mass transit, Wang suggested.

Defray the cost of any car you already own by renting it out to neighbors via a service such as Getaround. See if your employer will provide parking, transit and vanpooling benefits on a tax-free basis (many do).

Take Advantage of Free Entertainment

High-cost-of-living areas tend to have a lot of free or low-cost entertainment options, such as concerts, museums, festivals and the like (and many have a “free things to do” blog). Check those out if you’re trying to spare your budget. 

Look for Hidden Deductions

Taxes are the biggest line item for many Americans; worse, many of the major tech hubs are located in high-tax states. Speak with a tax advisor to make sure you claim all of the deductions you’re entitled to. For instance, you may be able to deduct the cost of a home office, including utilities such as Internet, equipment and travel.

Reduce Student Loan Interest Rates

Today, the average student loan borrower is $37,172 underwater when they graduate, requiring payments of approximately $400 per month.

Refinancing with a private lender, negotiating a lower interest rate, or getting a cosigner to act as a guarantor could make a big difference in your cash flow, and help you pay off everything sooner. That will free up income, no matter which cities you live in over the course of your career.

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