Cost of Living in California Compared to…Anywhere Else

Today’s guest post comes to us from Jordan, a dedicated blog reader and voiceful commentator.

In a previous post on this blog, I had analyzed how my costs of living had changed after hiring movers and moving from the southern US to the Northeast. Jordan’s post, on the other hand, will take a look at how the cost of living in California stacks up to the rest of the world. Let’s get started!

Cost of Living in California Compared to…Anywhere Else

California…Hollywood, Beverly Hills, serfdom. It’s not often that I take time out of my day to moan on paper…er, electrons. Sure, I take plenty of time to gripe in person, or over-the-phone for that matter. But when one of your best friend calls you and gives you a legitimate stage for your molestations, you just have to go with it.

This post will attempt to reconcile the differences between living in California and, well, living in any other part of the world. Of course, being that money is the backdrop here, I will try to steer clear of political diatribe and objectively comment on the sound financial facts.


Of course, we have to put all this in context now, don’t we? I have lived on multiple continents and experienced many cultures. And when I wasn’t an inhabitant, I was traveling there. Business…pleasure…it matters not. The point is that I have sampled many corners of the globe and can candidly say, without any qualms, that California is the most expensive place to live – ever.


I moved to San Francisco, California nearly two months ago for work. I was given an Extended Stay hotel to call home while I looked for a place to rent. I was making six figures, had a car paid for, no college debts, and a very healthy credit score. Even though the housing markets in the US are still WAY overpriced, I figured they would have fallen enough in California that maybe I could find a decent deal. Wrong. I linked up with a Realtor and she explained that, unless you are willing to commute 60 minutes to work, one way, there would be no way I would be able to afford a house in a respectable area. I asked her for the definition of respectable…let’s say that many homes come with barred windows to keep out the neighbors.

Realizing that I didn’t want to be the first straight white guy to die in San Francisco, I decided that safety was a priority. So I ended up finding a 700 square foot apartment for myself. 1 bed, 1 bath. $2000 a month. Not bad considering I could buy the same unit for a meager $825,000. Definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore.


When I got tired of crying myself to sleep at night over the money I was literally throwing away on rent, I decided to go to the DMV to register my car. It is, after all, illegal to drive an unregistered vehicle for more than 30 days. So a short 6 hour wait later, I got to pay $500 dollars to register a 2006 car in California. My eyes bulged. My wallet hid. The guy next to me laughed as he told me he just paid $1800 to register a new truck. I will quit now before the political wheel starts turning.


Okay, I have been sodomized by the state of California so far. I’ll just cut back on other expenses to make up for it. Yea right. Gas: $3.25 a gallon. Milk – more expensive than gasoline: $5.20 a gallon. Tickets for entering an intersection during a yellow light (they have sniper cameras): minimum $300 dollars. A pound of low-grade, shit bird turkey meat: $11.00. Parking ticket for not paying a meter when there are NO change machines around: $50 (even after explaining that I got the ticket WHILE I was getting change for a dollar inside to pay the meter). Parking anywhere? Bring change! State income tax: 10%.


I think it’s fair to say that California is going to cost me nearly 400% more than it would in the midwest. Use an online calculator and that is your base rate. Are you white, male, and able to pay taxes? Square it. All in all I would never choose to live in California. This is the only place I know of where a six figure salary buys you minimal protection and only the bare essentials. Sure there are plenty of things to do, but it takes money to do them all.

How about you all? Have you all lived in California and experienced these kinds of living expenses?

Do the costs anywhere else in the world compare to California? Let everyone know by commenting below!

About the Author Jacob A Irwin

Hi folks! My name is Jacob. I am the owner and operator of My Personal Finance Journey. I started this blog in January of 2010 and have enjoyed the journey ever since. Since finishing up graduate school in Virginia in 2014, I have been working in biopharmaceutical development in Colorado. You can read more about me and this site here​. Please contact me if you have any questions!

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Leave a Comment:

Damon says July 23, 2011

Hey Jordan,

I definitely feel your pain. I have lived in California most of my life which is pretty crazy considering I am completely mobile with what I do. In fact I have been known to do consultations while camping. About two years ago we made the decision to take an extended stay in Colorado and strongly consider moving out of California because of the high costs and other problems. We lasted about six months before we decided that we needed to move back, simply because all of our family lived here and I felt it was important for my kids to grow up with their grandparents, cousins, etc.

So ultimately I just have to suck it up here and every time I open my wallet, I just have to tell myself, I am doing it for the kids. It is really crazy to live here though.
My recent post Should I Borrow from 401K to Pay Credit Cards?

    MyPerFinJourney says October 17, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Damon! Even though CA seems to be very expensive, staying there for family reasons I feel is reasonable.
    My recent post Easy Like Sunday Morning Weekly Roundup – # 2 – October 16th, 2011

      Damon says October 17, 2011

      Yes, I just wish that I could convince many in my family to move out of state with us. That would give us the best of both worlds 🙂 Of course, the weather is hard to beat 🙂
      My recent post Debt Settlement Pros and Cons

Kellen says October 12, 2011

Haha, I live in Atlanta in a neighborhood with barred windows, and it's not that dangerous… And the rent is 1/3 of the price of the neighborhoods without barred windows!

I think Califronia gets away with charging more because people are essentially paying for the lifestyle and the weather. If you don't love San Francisco, then it must really suck to be paying that premium without realizing the value of these things in exchange.
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    MyPerFinJourney says December 20, 2011

    Good point here Kellen. I think it's also just a matter of space – since land is limited in California because of the mtns and deserts, there is an increase in demand for the limited supply.
    My recent post Easy Like Sunday Morning Weekly Recap and Roundup – # 5 – December 17th, 2011

Tae says November 29, 2011

I just recently moved to southern California for work as well and it's hitting my wallet extra hard since I took a pay cut at a government salary! I've lived overseas and various different places through the military and I have an open mind when it comes to new places but this place is sure something else. Washington state was starting to get pretty expensive as well but at least they don't have state income tax. What hurts more is trying to buy a decent place down in the OC, total highway robbery. The lifestyle here hasn't sold me yet, but the weather sure did. Can't beat 24/7 golf weather, but wait, playing golf even in muni courses cost $$$, way over priced. I don't know how half of the people I meet afford to make a decent living here, especially all the illegals. Thanks for the article and making me realize that I was an idiot thinking it wouldn't be too bad, but boy was I wrong.

    MyPerFinJourney says December 20, 2011

    Thanks for sharing Tae! So the job that moved you to CA didn't offer a higher salary? I've heard that most jobs must pay people a lot more for the job to be located in CA compared to other states.
    My recent post Easy Like Sunday Morning Weekly Recap and Roundup – # 5 – December 17th, 2011

Bill says December 2, 2011

Lots of folk are leaving California because it is just getting too expensive. I for one think it is a positive thing. This state was getting over populated anyhow. The cost of living in California will increase even more if these new taxes are passed. Lucky for us the last attempts failed.

    MyPerFinJourney says December 20, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bill. I once heard about someone who works in CA but lives in a completely different state, traveling almost 8 hours each way! Wild stuff!
    My recent post Easy Like Sunday Morning Weekly Recap and Roundup – # 5 – December 17th, 2011

Patricia says February 14, 2012

I am from the East Coast. I find California affordable. The houses cost about the same as houses in the East Coast, but I pay 1/3 the taxes and 1/3 the utilities. I live in Orange County, my family and I have an incredible active lifestyle. We love it here. BTW my husband is from the Midwest. We would never live anywhere but CA.

    MyPerFinJourney says June 22, 2012

    Thanks for sharing Patricia. Glad you all are enjoying CA! Where did you all live on the East Coast? I'm curious where prices are equivalent to CA.
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John says February 15, 2012

I'm in the process of applying for a job in Southern CA. My colleagues in other states are payed roughly $120K, any ideas as to what $$ I should negotiate ? What are th main expenses? Since I'm moving from UK (wife &1 year old baby) like to know what costs I need to consider? Safety is the main priority. Good neighbourhood etc.
Appreciate an advise.

John L says August 17, 2012

I moved back from the San Jose area to rural-ish part of NC near Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill , Research Triangle Park. Taking out housing and I find the COL here is higher than CA. I had a $59/mo PG&E bill, here I have $209… hot, humid summers and cold, damp winters. Food costs more, taxes aren't as bad but even though the top NC Income tax rate is 7.75% it starts at about $25,000… you get the drift. I took a pay cut from 6 to 5 figures, about 20% and I cannot make ends meet here where I was stashing money every month into my savings account in CA. I once lived in MA near Boston and CT near NYC… CA wins again over those places on pricing as well as weather… I'll pay the rental in CA and live with it! As odd as it sounds, jobs are more plentiful in CA for my wife and my professions. She can't find one here where she never went without there, I stayed fully employed in CA and after 5 months here, I am looking for new work and see nothing on the horizon. I'll take CA any time!

I did have to give up golfing went I got to CA though.

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