Fun and Cheap in the Bay Area
If there is anything I’ve learned this past year on my spending lockdown, it’s that there are countless free things to do in the Bay Area when you need a little entertainment or fun time. I’m always on the hunt for “free” events especially when I know I’ll be hosting out of town visitors. I usually never have to look further than FunCheapSF which offers up free or cheap event info for “cheap bastards like ourselves” (their words not mine) that are looking for frugal alternatives in this typically expensive region. I’ve attended free music and dance performances, street festivals, museums, wine tastings, fashion shows, art gatherings and so much more just by receiving their weekly mailings.
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.
(Crissy Field; House of Air Trampoline Jumping; Painting Party)
One great aspect of living in the Bay Area is my large, diverse network of friends which leaves my schedule always packed with fun activities. Saturday was a uniquely bay area experience starting off with a bridal shower at the recreationally transformed hangar, House of Air, on Crissy Field. What better way to rid myself of a stressful week than bouncing with friends on a field of trampolines? After jumping, I engaged in an afternoon of restoration with another set of kindred spirits. A friend hosted a painting party in her garage complete with food, wine, canvas and paints. It was the perfect mix of creativity and thought-provoking conversation. Feeling revitalized and ready to start a new month.
With only a $50 gap, I’m calling a tie for 3rd Place in our first ever Money Drain Awards.
Dining Out - $440/month
This includes ALL food and drink experiences not prepped or cooked in the home - restaurants, take out, coffee shops, frozen yogurt, ice cream, wineries, bars, bakeries, etc. This is by far the most tempestuous category in the Bay Area. We live in Foodie Nation. Walking down 24th Street in the heart of the Mission, how can you not be enticed by a scoop of Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast ice cream, a flavorful blend of bourbon and cornflakes? And don’t get me started on the beloved bay area organic Blue Bottle coffee, individually slow dripped less than 48 hours out of a micro roaster, we’re talking smooooth! I’m not going to bore you with elite San Francisco foodie talk, because there are plenty of other blogs for that. Dining out is a phenomenal part of the cultural makeup here, and I’m starting to think we’ve lost our minds declaring we will not be eating out for an entire year. We’re swimming in a sea of sharks.
Groceries and Household - $490/month
I found it too difficult to separate the food groceries from the random household products like detergent and cleaning supplies. Every couple of months, a trip to Costco or Target would greatly increase this tally while some months were much lower, but averaging it out over 12 months resulted in nearly $500 per month in groceries. Really? I think the bulk of it was food, indulging on fancier cuts of meat, name brand labels, gourmet products and over abundance. We simply would buy more than we could eat in a week - especially considering that we were often running for take out or casual dining. Many of the overstocked items would sit in our cabinet for months, even years. Since our spending lockdown started, we’ve been eating the remnants of this bounty.
All in all, spending almost $1000 a month nearly all on food is comical for two people. It’s important to note that we are not giving up foodie culture, and as a result, we are learning to cook our favorite dishes from scratch. To tell ya the truth, cooking at home has thus far been the most rewarding part of this whole experience.