Save Money (and Still Enjoy Your Life) in the Bay Area

When lawyer Kate Dowing announced that she would move out of Silicon Valley due to the exorbitant housing prices, the story went viral. It emphasized what many Bay Area residents know all too well: If you come to this affluent area for other reasons than working for a major tech company, life will be very expensive. Here are some ideas to save money and make it work nevertheless.

Top Tips to Save Money

1. Go green

The Bay Area is more car-focused than European cities, but if you get a bike and use public transport you can get by without a car. Free shuttles connect the suburban areas and you can transport your bike on public transport (Bart, Caltrain) for free.

2. Look east

If you do buy a car however, dealers and repair workshops are in the East Bay are cheaper and can save you money. This also goes for dentists, housing, etc. Driving off-hours, and avoiding the more congested streets can save you a lot of time. As well as getting a Fastrak toll tag for your car, if you are crossing the bridges regularly.

3. Rent smart

Generally the East and South Bay are more affordable than San Francisco. Look for housing offers on craigslist and supost (a Stanford buy/sell list). If you qualify, you can also apply for affordable housing at the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, but you have to be lucky to win the lottery; there are hundreds of applications for each room. However, the application process is simple and free – so why not try?


4. Buy local

Get fruit and vegetables at your local Farmers’ Market and consider taking turns with friends as you can save money if you buy in bulk and share.

5. Buy and sell second-hand

There is a huge market for used goods in the Bay Area! Look at yard sales and online forums (craigslist and supost) for furniture and household accessories. Stanford University has its own permanent yard sale where you can get everything from furniture to computer parts. and are great neighborhood resources for free or gently used items at low prices. Many offices also have “for sale” mailing lists, which are especially trustworthy since the sellers and buyers are colleagues. You can get outdoor gear at considerably reduced prices at SaC and REI’s monthly garage sales (returned gear, members only). If you have kids, you can buy and sell gently used clothing or toys at local consignment stores like Kid to Kid.

6. Buy in bulk

If you have that extra space at home, buying items in bulk online is cheaper than getting them in the supermarket (toilet/kitchen rolls, washing up liquid, nappies etc.). A Resto Depot card allows you to buy grocery in bulk – good, if you can share with friends.

7. Drink water

When eating out, it is totally acceptable to drink only tap water. But don’t forget to tip, no matter what.

8. Fly for free

Certain credit cards give you flight miles for ordering and using them. It’s realistic to get one intercontinental return flight almost free in the first year (you only pay flight taxes), because each card comes with an initial chunk of flight miles on them.

9. Skip fees

You can save money if you get a bank account that does not charge you a fee for drawing out money from your home country.

10. It does not have to be Hawaii

California itself has amazing destinations – from the Lost Coast to Death Valley. Self-organized road and outdoor trips don’t have to be expensive at all; campgrounds range from $12-25 for up to six people and your group gets access to all National Parks for $80 a year (or $20 each time).

11. Free fun

Universities and their international centers offer a lot of free activities (Stanford, Berkeley, SFSU). If the professor agrees, you can also audit a regular university class. Or look out for free online classes (MOOCs) on EdX or Coursera. You can find other affordable classes at community colleges and adult schools.

12. Sharing is caring

If you have a particular talent (of course you do!), you can offer a class at an international center, boost your teaching experience and get to know other expats. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer your talents, you can check out a lot of great opportunities at Volunteer Match.


Do you have any further tips for saving money whilst enjoying life in the Bay Area?

Note: The links and examples are meant to be helpful as we use them ourselves; Life in the Bay has no affiliation or partnership whatsoever with the mentioned organizations or companies.

About Christina Felschen

Originally from Germany, I came to the Bay Area in 2014 with my partner. After working in Latin America, Scandinavia, France and on the world oceans, I am startled to see how Silicon Valley is inventing the world of tomorrow and is still stuck in traffic jams every morning. I continue to work as a journalist with a focus on human rights, migration and travel and try to polish my skills as a photographer. Most of all I enjoy exploring California's fantastic outdoors: its mountains, deserts and secluded beaches – and I would like to share my tour ideas and travelogues with you.

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