Lots of people are California dreamin’, but the reality is that the most populous U.S. state is one of the most expensive.
While thinking of wealth, muse on health. If you’re committed to a healthy lifestyle, you’ll be in good company in California. U.S. News & World Report found that the Golden State has the healthiest population in the country. All of those sunny days — 258 of them a year — must be keeping everyone fit and happy.
If you’re tempted to move to this sprawling state, keep reading to learn what the California cost of living looks like. Don’t forget to pack your sunglasses.
What’s the Average Cost of Living in California?
Average Cost of Living in California: $46,636 per year
If you have California beaches on your mind, make sure you take a close look at your monthly budget.
California has the third-highest cost of living in the country, according to MERIC data gathered in 2021. The only U.S. places that cost more are Hawaii and Washington, D.C.
What is the cost of living in California?
According to 2020 data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis , the annual average cost of living in California is $46,636. Here is how that breaks down by major spending categories.
Average Annual Per-Capita Cost in California
Housing and Utilities
Food and Beverages (non-restaurant)
Gas and Energy Goods
All Other Personal Expenditures
Housing Costs in California
Average Housing Costs in California: $1,248 to $2,357 per month
You’re going to be hard pressed to rent or buy a place for less than $1,000 a month in California, despite the fact that the state has over 14 million housing units (per the latest census data). Redfin put the median sale price of California homes at $700,000 in October 2021, compared with a U.S. median existing-home sale price of $353,900 that month, and the the California Association of Realtors® predicted a state median of over $800,000 in 2022.
Here’s what housing costs look like on a monthly basis, according to 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau:
• Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,357
• Median studio rent: $1,248
• Median one-bedroom rent: $1,379
• Median two-bedroom rent: $1,655
• Median three-bedroom rent: $1,852
• Median four-bedroom rent: $1,852
• Median gross rent: $1,614
Home prices can vary greatly throughout this state. These are the typical home prices in 20 major California cities, according to Zillow, in September 2021.
Average Utility Costs in California: $375 per month
Utilities can add up fast, especially when you add cable and internet bills.
Average California Bill
Cable & Internet
Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Sales, Revenue, and Average Price, 2021; Inspirecleanenergy.com; DoxoInsights, U.S. Cable & Internet Market Size and Household Spending Report 2021; and Rentcafe.com, What Is the Average Water Bill?
Groceries & Food
Average Grocery & Food Costs in California: $302.50 per person, per month
You gotta eat. How much should you plan to spend on food in California?
The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that California’s average annual non-restaurant food cost per person is $3,630. That equates to $302.50 per person, per month. The average family of four could end up spending $1,210 per month on groceries.
Where you live in California can have an impact on food pricing. The Council for Community and Economic Research, , which ranks the food costs in major American cities, shared the cost of groceries in California cities for the second quarter of 2021, from lowest to highest.
Grocery Items Index
Average Transportation Costs in California: $4,900 to $13,317 per year
From San Diego all the way up to Sacramento, California is notorious for its bad traffic, so prepare to spend a lot of time in the car. How much will all that commuting time cost you?
How many children you have and how many working adults are in your family can all affect how much transportation will cost you in California. The following results from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator can give you a general idea of what to expect cost-wise.
Average Annual Transportation Cost
One adult, no children
Two working adults, no children
Two working adults, two children
Average Health Care Costs in California: $7,638 per person, per year
According to the 2020 Bureau of Economic Analysis Personal Consumption Expenditures by State report, the average annual cost of health care per Californian is $7,638.
Of course, your specific health care needs and your coverage also play a large role in how much health care will cost you each year.
Average Child Care Costs in California: $1,269 to $1,785 or more per child, per month
It’s no secret that child care is one of the larger monthly expenses. In the state of California, what you can expect to spend depends on the age of your child and if you choose to have home-based family care or not.
Good to know: By 2025, the state plans free universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds.
These are the average child care costs you can expect in California, per 2021 data from costofchildcare.org .
Type of Child Care
Average Cost Per Month, Per Child
Home-based Family Child Care
Highest Marginal Tax Rate in California: 13.3%
California residents are used to paying a hefty tax bill. State income taxes can go as high as 13.3% for those at the top of the graduated-rate income scale.
How Much Money Do You Need to Live Comfortably in California?
What it means to live “comfortably” is hard to nail down, and your definition will depend on your personal standards. Keeping that in mind, when it comes to living in California comfortably, U.S. News & World Report’s Affordability Rankings , place the Golden State as the second-least-affordable state, behind Hawaii. Ouch.
It turns out that having beautiful weather almost every day of the year comes at a price. MERIC also listed California as one of the most expensive states to live in, so take a close look at your budget before moving to California and choose your housing accordingly.
What City Has the Lowest Cost of Living in California?
To help you find one of the more affordable areas to live in California, we’ve reviewed the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index for the second quarter of 2021 to find three cities where cost of living is least likely to break the bank.
With a cost-of-living index of 101.6, you’re most likely to find relative affordability in Bakersfield. Nature lovers will appreciate having close proximity to whitewater rafting and the aquatic center, as well as the ability to join local hiking clubs. Redfin reported a median home sale price of $345,000 in late 2021.
Stockton is the second-most-affordable city in the large state of California (cost-of-living index of 113.6). This Northern California city is a popular spot in California’s Central Valley and is a culturally rich and diverse city. Enjoy river views and don’t miss eating your way through the Stockton taco trail. Refin gave a median home sale price of $406,000 in late 2021.
Sacramento is the third-most-affordable city in California, with a cost-of-living index of 122.1. If you’re looking for a big-city feel without a big-city price, Sacramento may be the place for you. With more than 1.5 million residents as of 2019, you’re sure to make a new friend or two. There are also more than 30,000 employer establishments here for when you’re ready to look for a new job. Redfin showed a median home sale price of $455,000 in the latter part of 2021.
SoFi Home Loans
From beaches to deserts to mountains, California has it all. Because the Golden State has so much to offer, the cost of living in California is relatively high. Still, you may be wooed by the West Coast to put down roots.
Although there are many home loans on the market to choose from, SoFi offers a range of fixed-rate home mortgage loans at competitive interest rates and with as little as 5% down.
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