One of my Bay Area blog readers emailed me this photo of their recent weekly grocery run to Berkeley Bowl. They spent a total of $53. I love all the yummy fresh produce on display, so healthy and green! Berkeley Bowl was left off my budget grocery shopping post from earlier today, but we often visit this independent supermarket when we’re in the Berkeley neighborhood. Such a bargain on fresh produce and organic products. It’s a Mecca for healthnuts!
If you have a photo of a cheap and healthy looking grocery cart, feel free to email the pics to firstname.lastname@example.org — I enjoy posting these types of photos. It’s fun and helpful!
Grocery Shopping on a Budget in the Bay Area
I’m continuing on with my recently established Frugal by the Bay series. I took a lot of time to highlight how Brad and I chose to reside in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area in these posts, Residing in the Bay Area (Part 1 Quality of Life) and Residing in the Bay Area (Part 2 “Affordable” Housing). I guess after shelter, it seems only natural to highlight food. How do we shop on a budget in a land of foodie delights?
We have sworn off restaurants since July, but in actuality, if we were to step foot back into one, there are many low budget dining options in the Bay Area. However, in my opinion, the key to living frugally is to prepare the majority of meals inside the home. Our savings documentation on this blog for the past 8 months is a true testament to how much money a couple can save when they stop eating out. That’s been the majority of our spending cuts.
Our usual grocery shopping is divided between the chain stores Lucky and Trader Joe’s and then our local farmer’s market. The bulk (about 70%) of our groceries are purchased at the budget friendly grocery chain Trader Joe’s mainly because of their quality ingredients at a great price—NO artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; NO genetically modified ingredients; NO MSG; and NO added Trans Fats. The fact that there is a TJ’s located about every 5 or 6 miles across the Bay makes it a super convenient place to shop. My only real complaint with TJ’s is their wasteful packaging with fresh produce. Then again, we don’t buy much produce there except for frozen veggies and fruit. We purchase almost all our fresh fruits and vegetables from our neighborhood farmer’s market held twice a week, and if we miss the market, we visit a nearby produce stand that has good deals from regional farmers. Then, what we can’t buy at TJ’s and the farmers market, we buy at the regional grocery chain Lucky which tends to have amazing bargains without having to use a “club” card.
For an example of our typical low budget farmers market/grocery store shopping runs check out this old post. Hope you find this information helpful, if there is any subject that you’re interested in me covering on my Frugal by the Bay series, please email: email@example.com. And for the record, I’m no expert, just offering up helpful suggestions from our quest to save money in the pricey San Francisco Bay Area.
I kept writing about our strategically planned meals and grocery run during our $30 for 10 Days challenge, so I thought I should give you a sampling of our menu. The food was created with staples that we had in our pantry on top of $28.73 worth of groceries purchased on the 1st day of the challenge. They served 2 hungry adults.
Main dishes that kept well in the fridge & fed us for more than one meal:
Brazilian style black beans and rice (Brad’s authentic recipe)—3 meals
Pinto beans and cornbread (my own hillbilly recipe)—3 meals
2 baked pasta dishes with different variations of tomato sauce, cheese and veggies—5 meals
Oatmeal and berries
Yogurt and granola
Baked potato with all the fixins
Eggs sunny-side-up and hashbrown potatoes
Egg scramble with veggies and bacon
Potato onion frittata
Strawberry banana yogurt smoothie
Pizza toast of many variations
Yogurt with maple syrup
Toast with butter and jam
Homemade chocolate brownies
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.
Residing in the Bay Area (Part 1 Quality of Life)
Right off the bat, you may be wondering why, if it’s so expensive to live in the Bay Area, would a money conscious person consider it? My answer is quite simple, quality of life. Wherever you reside, from North Carolina to Oklahoma to California, there needs to be resources in close proximity that satisfy your inner life force. For Brad and I, that includes arts, culture, diversity of people, walkability, mild climate, accessibility to mountains, desert and ocean. The Bay Area offers all of that to us, and a silly survey can’t measure our quality of living—that’s up to us individually.
This is my first post in my new series titled Frugal by the Bay, and when I started to delve into where we reside, my oh-so-philosophical mind took over. I’ve decided to break the housing section down into 2 parts. Today, in this informal-contemplative examination, I’m offering my perspective on quality of life as a determining factor in where you nest. In a numbers-ruled world, my artist self doesn’t believe the numbers are solely responsible for leading you down the frugal path. I know plenty of people whose mortgage and rent are much less than mine, but spend lavishly and carelessly because they are not personally fulfilled in life.
With that said, there are personal sacrifices that we’ve had to make to reside here more frugally. When we first moved the Bay Area, we chose to live in the city—the outward and inward beauty of San Francisco drew us right in. Right into a pricey glorified box that cost us $1550/month. Our first apartment was technically a 1 bedroom, but at barely 400 square feet, I would say it felt more like a studio. And did I mention we have 3 cats? After selling a 1600 square foot home in North Carolina, prior to moving westward, I initially thought we had lost our minds. Yet once we were settled, the fun of living in the city quickly squashed these negative thoughts. I realized the city was an add-on living space. We lived in the cute neighborhood of Potrero Hill overlooking the vast beauty of San Francisco and the bay, and everyday we took walks to soak in these views. Not only was it a charming neighborhood, but our location was convenient to walk to the trendy Mission area with its authentic Latin American roots and vibrant urban scenery. We also had a main bus line right outside our door step—we could hop on a bus and be downtown in 15 minutes. We rarely used our one car except for out-of-town jaunts to nearby national and state parks, scenic drives through Napa Valley or cruising down HWY 1 for breathtaking views of the Pacific.
It may surprise you, but compared to living in a small town in North Carolina, the price comparison wasn’t that different. Home ownership in a less expensive state had it’s fair share of living expenses tied up in it. So even though our mortgage payment including insurance and taxes was around $900/month, we were constantly repairing and updating which is a natural side effect of owning a home. Our quality of life as artists diminished. All of our free time and money was consumed by home maintenance and upkeep—we had a huge yard that needed constant mowing, weeding and trimming. Moreover, we had a tendency to high tail it out of our beloved home whenever we got a chance for adventures elsewhere, typically in urban areas. An enormous added expense was having to own 2 cars because we had to drive to get anywhere. When push came to shove, we were restless, and realized that while other folks may think a home with an acre of land is a dream come true, it just didn’t line up with our dreams and aspirations.
Ultimately the word “living”, has a multitude of values wrapped up in it that will determine your behavior with money. In my humble opinion, quality of life is as important as dollars and cents when we talk about living frugally. Tomorrow, I will post Part 2 which will deal more specifically with finding affordable housing in the Bay Area.