Residing in the Bay Area (Part 2 “Affordable” Housing)
While yesterday’s Part 1 post on quality of life was an introspective examination about living in the high-priced Bay Area, today’s post will deal with the practical side of economically residing here. I’d like to note that I’m not going to mention home buying for two reasons, first one being that Brad and I are not even in a position to own a home here, thus my knowledge is limited. Secondly, in contrast to a nationwide trend, renting is less expensive than buying in the Bay Area. Many factors go into determining the Rent vs. Buy Index, but the financial strain is determined my a price-to-rent ratio. For more info on that, visit Trulia.
If you read my ramblings from yesterday, then you know that Brad and I initially plopped ourselves smack dab in the heart of San Francisco, along with our three cats, in a tiny 400 sq. ft. apartment at the “affordable” city living cost of $1550/month. I also made the point to tell you that it was actually comparable to our cost of living when we owned a home in North Carolina. We sacrificed living space, a yard, a car, and the majority of our furniture and possessions. At the same time, giving up these extras actually saved us money, which was then applied to our higher cost of living expenses in the Bay Area. Of course, this is the lifestyle we wanted—without a doubt, not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you are considering living in an expensive city like San Francisco, make sure to be realistic. What “things” are you willing to give up to live there? If you really want it, you might be surprised at how much money is saved in these sacrifices.
However, after two years of living in our crammed city apartment, we realized that San Francisco was only a small part of the Bay Area which spans across nine counties. Exploring beyond the confines of the city, we found pockets of cultural goodness sprinkled across the region, and more importantly, spacious apartments and affordable rent. Not only that, more than a few Bay area neighborhoods and towns include the metropolitan characteristics we loved about San Francisco like culture, beautiful surroundings, diverse people, walkability, public transit on top of easy access to the city. But affordability became the deciding factor. Whereas, a 1 bedroom rental in the city hovered around $1600/month on the low end, we found 1 bedroom rentals not far beyond the city as low as $1000/month in great neighborhoods like Lake Merritt, Rockridge, Berkeley, San Rafael and Alameda to name a few.
Ultimately we settled on a spacious 1 bedroom for $1100/month in Alameda, a small island in the San Francisco Bay next to Oakland. With its tree-lined streets, Victorian houses, beaches, parks, and charming mom-and-pop shops/restaurants, we’ve been happily living here for over two and half years. Although it doesn’t replace the fun of living in San Francisco, it’s been a good compromise especially in the midst of our current money saving endeavors.
In the long run, finding affordable housing is dependent upon your current lifestyle and circumstances surrounding your career and income. But let’s not forget personal aspirations and self-fulfillment. I think most people “settle” and that’s it—leaving their quality of life in the dust.
Hopefully, through these posts, you’ve gained some insight into our frugal financial decisions when it comes to choosing where to live in this pricey region of the country. I’ll continue posting in the coming months in this new series Frugal by the Bay, addressing more thrifty lifestyle choices we make while living in the San Francisco Bay Area.