Editor’s note: This post was updated on November 5, 2020.
When you move to L.A., a few things may surprise you: The golden light! That horrible traffic! The incredible weather! Oh, and … everything seems more expensive than where you’re from. It’s not your imagination: The cost of living in Los Angeles is about 48% higher than the national average. Yikes! That said, living in Los Angeles on a budget IS possible, if you’re diligent and willing to take the time to learn how. In this guide, we’ll share some of our best tips for how to save money in Los Angeles.
Cost of Living in Los Angeles
So, how much does it cost to live in L.A.? You’ll find that living in L.A. is more expensive than living in most other U.S. cities (barring perhaps New York or San Francisco), with much of that difference attributed to housing and entertainment costs. But while costs are higher overall, they vary widely depending on where you choose to live, how you get around, and your lifestyle. Here are some key cost trends, plus a great tool to help you estimate your living expenses in L.A.:
- What to expect: If you’re moving from a smaller town, you can expect that in addition to housing, the price of most things — from gas to movie tickets to healthcare — will be more than you’re used to.
- Cost of renting: According to RentCafé, the average rent in Los Angeles is $2,524 per month (average apartment size is 792 sf). Rent averages vary greatly by neighborhood, with some areas going for around $1,500 per month, and more desirable beachfront locales renting at more than $4,000 per month!
- Transportation costs: In Los Angeles, the costs of car ownership can feel unavoidable. With gas prices high, averaging $3.02 a gallon in October 2020, that means you’ll also be shelling out more for that daily drive.
- Entertainment costs: A movie ticket will cost you about $15 depending on the theater, and a cocktail will likely run you about the same.
- Compare to your city: To compare specific costs to where you live now, check out NerdWallet’s Cost of Living Calculator.
Saving Money in Los Angeles
- Choose your neighborhood wisely. The most critical factor in your budget in Los Angeles is going to be your cost of housing. Right off the bat, you can save a lot of cash by choosing to live in a neighborhood that’s less expensive (see our list of affordable neighborhoods in Los Angeles, below). You don’t have to live out in the middle of nowhere if you want to save money — you just need to find a ‘hood that’s still up and coming, as opposed to one that’s already arrived as a trendy hotspot or an exclusive beach community.
- Consider roommates. Next to choosing an affordable neighborhood, opting to live with a roommate or two is one of the best things you can do for your budget in LA. While living alone may be your preference, imagine what you could save (or what else you could do with your money) if you were able to split your housing costs in half or even by a third! Cost per room goes down the more rooms you add to an apartment, meaning you’ll quickly save cash by sharing a place along with splitting rent and utility costs with some roomies.
- Save on moving costs. Whether you’re moving locally, long-distance, or from somewhere else in California, you can save a bundle on moving expenses when you know your options. While you’ll want to get your own estimates for your specific move, here are some ballpark costs to help you budget and save:
Average moving costs for local and long-distance moves*
|Moving Distance||Full-Service Movers||PODS|
(plus fuel costs)
Average moving costs* For In-State Moves:
San Diego to L.A. and San Francisco to L.A.
(plus fuel costs)
- Rethink the gym! In a place like LA where you might be hitting the beach more often than usual, maintaining your physique might be on your mind more than usual. But that doesn’t mean you need to shell out for a pricy boutique gym membership! Aside from the beach with its lovely running trails and swimming options, LA is surrounded by mountainous parks and wilderness that feature hiking trails and other free ways to stay in great shape. Why stay inside to work out when you could take a hike in Laurel Canyon? The view is infinitely better and your wallet will be happy.
- Get smart about your transportation costs. That means doing the math on whether it makes more sense to take public transit or drive for your commute by factoring in costs for car ownership, insurance, and gas. While Los Angeles public transit is not exactly universally beloved by residents, if you live in a well-connected neighborhood (or at least one that’s accessible via transit to your place of work), the bus or train might be the most cost-effective option. Though you may pay with your time spent in transit, you can use it to catch up with your friends, reading, or work. And if you live really close to your job, try biking, which will double as exercise time. But sometimes transit simply won’t be worth the extra hassle compared to commuting, particularly if you live in an area where it would require several transfers to get to work.
- Search for affordable entertainment options. One of the great things about L.A. is that there are free things to do all around you. Go to the beach! Take a hike! Simply walk around the farmer’s market and listen to bands play. There’s also a full calendar of free or low-cost festivals and events happening around the city for you to enjoy. Watch for discount nights at movie theaters, free movies in the park, or specials at comedy clubs. If you like to go out with friends, choose a restaurant with a happy hour, so you can save a few bucks on a cocktail or food order.
- Be a wise grocery shopper. All grocery stores are not created equal! Take the time over your first few weeks in L.A. to get the lay of the land in the grocery aisles at various stores near you. Trader Joe’s and Aldi are well-known for their affordable prices and healthy options. Figuring out who has the best deals on produce, meat, dry goods, and dairy can save you big time in the long run. The number one thing to avoid? Don’t just buy everything at the nearest upscale grocer just because it’s convenient.
- Use your skills and be willing to accept small odd jobs. When you’re new to the city, it can be a real struggle to make ends meet. If you’re in a place where you could use extra income to pay your expenses, consider using apps like TaskRabbit, Fiverr, or GigWalk to find odd jobs or tasks you can do in your city or even from home. While it may only mean a little bit at a time, lots of little jobs can lead to big results! You can also consider offering your skills (handyman work, graphic design, copyediting, etc.) on social media and asking if anyone in your network knows someone who could use help.
Affordable Neighborhoods in Los Angeles
Looking for a cheap apartment in Los Angeles? Finding a neighborhood that fits your budget is an essential part of finding the right place for you. Haven’t started apartment shopping around specific areas yet? Check out our Los Angeles neighborhood guide, and our list of affordable neighborhoods in LA, below. Remember, it’s all relative! And if your heart is set on a pricier place, prepare to find some roommates.
- Northeast L.A.: NELA features a number of neighborhoods that have easy access to the rest of the city, but boast lower rents than much of West L.A. (the closer you get to the beach, the more you’ll be paying). Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, and Highland Park have median rents between $1,332 and $1,607 and offer great parks and things to do. These neighborhoods are worth checking out whether or not you need to save money.
- Echo Park: Located very near Downtown L.A., Echo Park has the benefit of still being up and coming (as in, hasn’t yet gone and went to skyrocketed rents). With a beautiful park and lake anchoring the neighborhood, it is still possible to find a 1-bedroom for under $1,800 (a deal in this part of Los Angeles) — though average rent in Echo Park is $2,301.
- Parts of the San Fernando Valley: Really? Yes, the Valley features some of the area’s most expensive and exclusive areas, like Hidden Hills and Calabasas (both home to many celebrities). But it also contains many smaller and more affordable towns, like San Fernando (where median rent is $1,310) and Burbank ($1,630). This area is worth exploring to help find an affordable apartment in Los Angeles.
Living In L.A. on a Budget is Possible!
Will it take a little extra time and effort? Yes. But choosing your neighborhood wisely, being frugal with your entertainment choices, and living with roommates can all help you keep your bank account in check while you live in Los Angeles.
Looking for more advice on moving to L.A.? Check out our guide to finding an apartment in Los Angeles to help get you started.