How much does it cost to live comfortably in California?

Many people look forward to living in California, and that’s understandable. The state is one of the most prosperous economically, and it has the healthiest population. But it’s also one of the most expensive places to live. So, how much does it cost to live comfortably in California?

A single person needs an annual income of $46,636 to live comfortably in California. A family of 4 will need $114,715. Housing usually takes most of the income, but utilities, food, healthcare, and transportation are also important. For families, childcare is the next major expense after housing.

Due to the high wages in California, it’s possible to earn enough money to live comfortably as long as you don’t spend beyond your means. Here, we discuss how much you should be earning to live comfortably in the golden state.

How Expensive is California?

According to MERIC, California is the fourth most expensive place to live, only behind Hawaii, Washington DC, and New York. Its cost-of-living index is 42.2% above the national average. The amount you need to live comfortably here will depend on several factors such as your location, family size, etc. On average, there are various estimates. The Bureau of Economic analysis estimates an annual average cost of living of $46,636 before tax. Another estimate puts it at a gross annual income of $40,372 and net income of $34,337 for a single person, while a family of 4 with the two working adults requires $114,715. Of course, these estimates are just enough to live a basic lifestyle that doesn’t involve driving luxury cars or living in the choicest neighborhoods.

What do Californians Spend On?

Here is the typical cost of regular expenses in California:

1.      Housing

The cost of housing in California is more than double the national average. Average housing here is between $1,248 and $2,375 per month. This is, of course, the average as the actual cost will depend on lots of factors such as the location and size of the house. For example, renting a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco could cost you more than renting a three-bedroom in Bakersfield. Zillow puts the typical home value in the state at $774,899 as of March 2022, which is more than double the US average of below $350,000. Of course, if you’re planning to buy a house in the major cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco, you should be ready to spend above one million. On the other hand, if you’re planning to own a house in prime spots such as Beverly Hills, Newport Beach, and Palo Alto, you’ll need to spend over $3 million. As of 2019, the US Census Bureau reports the following monthly median costs for housing in the state:

  • Mortgage Costs: $2,375
  • Rent for four bedroom: $1,852
  • Rent for three bedroom: $1,852
  • Rent for two bedroom: $1,655
  • Rent for one bedroom: $1,379
  • Rent for studio: $1,248
  • Gross rent: $1,614.

With this, you can see how it’s almost impossible to rent a place that’ll cost less than $1,000 in California, regardless of your location.

2.      Utility Costs

Utility refers to your electricity, water, gas, cable, and internet. The average cost in California is $375, with cable and internet taking a large chunk of that at $118 per month. This is one of the costs you can cut back on by disconnecting from cable and opting for a cheaper subscription or a lower internet plan.

3.      Groceries and Food

Surprisingly enough, most people don’t spend a lot on food in California. The average person spends $302 on this. The Bureau of Labour Statistics stated in 2021 that the average US household spends $7,316 per year on food which amounts to $609.67 per month. Of course, several factors, such as the number of people in the household, eating habits, dietary restrictions, etc., will affect how much you eventually spend. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates, the average person in California spends $3,630 annually on non-restaurant food. Your location could also affect how much you spend on groceries. For example, the grocery index for 2021 put Bakersfield as the cheapest. But in places like San Francisco and Oakland, you spend close to 30% more on groceries.

4.      Transportation

Getting around California can be quite tasking. There’s traffic to deal with no matter where you choose to stay, which means you spend a lot more hours commuting, which leads to higher costs. Several factors will affect how much you spend, and the most important is the family size. MIT’s Living Wage Calculator estimates that a single person will spend $4,900 on transportation. A family of two working adults will spend $8,987, while a family of 4 consisting of two working adults and two children spend $13,317.

5.      Healthcare

California has the healthiest population in the US due to the great weather, quality air, and excellent healthcare system. But the healthcare system doesn’t come cheap. The 2020 Bureau of Economic Analysis Personal Consumption Expenditures by State report states that a single person spends $7,638 on healthcare annually. Your insurance coverage and healthcare needs will determine how much you eventually spend. The average cost of health insurance in the state is over $400 per month.

6.      Taxes

One of the things California residents complain about is the hefty tax bill. With federal, state, and local taxes, the tax burden in the state is high. It has the highest state income tax in the country, with those in the highest tax bracket paying up to 13.3%. In addition, there are still sales taxes and local taxes, and most people still have to pay federal income tax.

7.      Childcare

Raising a child in California is a costly affair, and you’ll know as soon as you have one. The average cost of childcare here is between $1,269 and $1,785 per child. It could be more. According to, the average cost of child care in the state is $1,785 for infant classrooms, $1,388 for toddler classrooms, and $1,269 for home-based family care. The average annual cost of childcare is $11,129 per child.

8.      Miscellaneous

Beyond the essential things you spend on, you still have to spend more, such as entertainment and other things, which are several extra expenses. The cost of this varies on the kind of fun you involve yourself in. For example, you could go to the beach and spend nothing, but if you should visit Disneyland with your family, expect to spend over $100 on tickets.

In Conclusion

Living in California can be quite prohibitive if you’re not earning enough. That’s why it’s essential to have a high-paying job when living in the state. There’s still a need to manage income and avoid incurring unnecessarily high costs, especially when it comes to housing.