What Is a Good Salary for a Single Person Living in California?

By Rebecca Lake · October 13, 2022 · 9 minute read

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What Is a Good Salary for a Single Person Living in California?

Calling California home can be expensive, and some locations carry a much higher cost of living than others. In fact, if you’re wondering where to live in the Golden State, your income may be the deciding factor. A good salary for a single person in California varies widely depending on location and industry: $50K may be enough in some areas, $100K in others.

Here, we’ll provide real-world stats to show you what the cost of living is really like. And we’ll compare annual salaries for different occupations to offer some insight into what a single Californian typically earns.

Key Points

•   A good salary in California varies widely depending on location and industry, ranging from $50K to $100K.

•   California ranks as the fourth most expensive state in the U.S. for living costs.

•   In Los Angeles, households spend an average of $67,587 annually, with housing and transportation being major expenses.

•   San Francisco Bay Area residents spend about $91,728 per year, with housing as the largest expense.

•   A living wage for a single adult in California is estimated at $45,385 annually, assuming a 40-hour workweek.

What Is the True Cost of Living in California?

California is the fourth most expensive state in the U.S., according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC). Only Hawaii, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts have a higher cost of living. Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) calculated that the average annual cost of living in California is $46,636.

Average cost of living numbers reflect both the highs and lows of what people spend to live in California. Cost of living generally means necessary expenses, such as:

•   Housing

•   Food

•   Utilities

•   Transportation

•   Taxes

•   Health care

•   Child care

•   Clothing

•   Education

Where someone chooses to live in California and their lifestyle can influence their personal cost of living. Their choice of career can determine how easily they’re able to keep up with the cost of living. What is considered a good salary for a single person in a metro area may be very different from that of someone living in a farming community.

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What Is the True Cost of Living in Los Angeles?

Households in the Los Angeles metro area spent an average of $67,587 per year in 2019-20, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The majority of spending was divided across eight categories:

•   Housing

•   Transportation

•   Food

•   Personal insurance and pensions

•   Healthcare

•   Entertainment

•   Cash contributions

•   Apparel and services

More-recent data from the BLS shows that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for goods and services in Los Angeles has more than doubled since 2019. Some of the biggest price increases have been in the food and energy categories. Meanwhile, the average weekly wage across all industries in Los Angeles was $1,698, which adds up to $88,296 in annual salary.

What Is the True Cost of Living in the San Francisco Bay Area?

Residents of the San Francisco Bay Area spent an average of $91,728 per year in 2019-20, according to BLS data. San Franciscans spent the most on housing, followed by:

•   Personal insurance and pensions

•   Food

•   Transportation

•   Healthcare

•   Cash contributions

•   Entertainment

•   Education

Similar to Los Angeles, San Francisco saw its consumer price index more than double between 2019 and 2022, with consumers paying more for food, medical expenses, and household furnishings. In terms of weekly salary, workers in the Bay Area bring in $2,696 on average, or $140,192 annually.

Why Is the Cost of Living in California So High?

California’s high cost of living can be attributed largely to supply and demand. Generally speaking, when demand for goods and services outpaces supply, that can result in higher prices.

High demand vs. low supply for things like housing, for instance, can send real estate values soaring. California is an attractive place to live because of its strong economy and job market, prompting more people to move there, driving up demand for housing. The state ranks fourth for the highest rent prices, and the typical home is valued at $775,876, according to Zillow.

Meanwhile, California residents are subject to higher property tax rates, which adds to the cost of living. They also typically pay more for fuel due to a combination of higher taxes and environmental regulation surcharges.

Inflation can add to the high cost of living in California. As of September 2022, the CPI increased 8.3% year over year. When inflation rises, everything you spend money on tends to become more expensive, driving up the cost of living even further.

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Living Wage Calculation for California

A living wage in California is the hourly rate that someone must earn to support themselves and their family, if they have one. It’s not the same thing as the federal minimum wage. The gap between the two is often used as an argument for raising the minimum wage across the board.

Here’s what an hourly living wage calculation looks like for different household sizes in California. Note that the state minimum wage for companies with 26 or more employees is $15.00 an hour.

1 Adult

2 Adults, Both Working

Number of Children 0 1 2 3 0 1 2 3
Living Wage $21.82 $44.18 $54.95 $73.98 $16.79 $23.98 $30.54 $37.57

Data courtesy of the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

So what is a good annual salary for a single person in California? Using living wage data, you could assume that $45,385 in annual pay would be a good salary for a single person with no children. On the other hand, a single adult raising three kids would need to make $153,878 yearly. Those income numbers assume a 40-hour workweek and 52 weeks of work per year.

It’s important to understand the distinction between salary vs. hourly pay, in terms of how much work is involved to earn a living wage. A salaried employee who works 60 hours a week may end up earning the same average hourly wage as someone who works 40 hours per week, even though they’re spending more time on the job.

Typical Expenses

Comparing typical spending to living wage calculations can offer some perspective on how easily Californians are able to keep up with their cost of living. Here’s a closer look at what adults spend in several key budget categories.

1 Adult

2 Adults, Both Working

Number of Children 0 1 2 3 0 1 2 3
Food $3,999 $5,893 $8,853 $11,742 $7,332 $9,124 $11,764 $14,321
Child Care $0 $11,439 $22,879 $34,318 $0 $11,439 $22,879 $34,318
Medical $2,288 $7,462 $7,249 $7,559 $5,764 $7,249 $7,559 $7,347
Housing $17,651 $25,624 $25,624 $34,798 $20,398 $25,624 $25,624 $34,798
Transportation $4,938 $8,762 $11,391 $13,456 $8,762 $11,391 $13,456 $14,613
Civic $2,581 $4,144 $5,120 $6,686 $4,144 $5,120 $6,686 $5,314
Other $4,748 $7,080 $6,477 $9,424 $7,080 $6,477 $9,424 $9,115

Data courtesy of the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

“Civic” refers to civic activities and includes costs related to entertainment, culture, pets, hobbies, and education.

Typical Annual Salaries in California

A good yearly salary for a single person in California varies widely, as does what is considered competitive pay. It mostly depends on the industry someone works in. Here’s an overview of annual salaries in California across different industries and sectors.

Occupational Area

Typical Annual Salary

Management $138,148
Business & Financial Operations $84,198
Computer & Mathematical $119,872
Architecture & Engineering $105,770
Life, Physical, & Social Science $91,100
Community & Social Service $58,272
Legal $117,935
Education, Training, & Library $64,168
Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, & Media $69,625
Healthcare Practitioners & Technical $105,245
Healthcare Support $33,159
Protective Service $52,280
Food Preparation & Serving Related $31,993
Building & Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance $37,461
Personal Care & Service $34,047
Sales & Related $38,049
Office & Administrative Support $46,994
Farming, Fishing, & Forestry $31,169
Construction & Extraction $62,681
Installation, Maintenance, & Repair $58,497
Production $40,168
Transportation & Material Moving $37,578

The highest paying jobs by state tend to be in the management, legal, technology, and healthcare fields. That makes sense, given how much big business and tech contribute to the state’s economy.

California’s large population also means greater demand for things like legal services and health care. These are not the best jobs for antisocial people, since they demand a good deal of interaction and communication, but that doesn’t mean introverts can’t find great opportunities here.

So, what is a good entry level salary in California? Entry level pay is likely to be higher in industries that have higher demand for talent. The downside is that hiring can be much more competitive.

New hires seeking jobs in the state may do well to read up on how to ask for a signing bonus or more perks in their benefits package, which can help supplement a lower entry level salary.

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Is the Cost of Living in California Worth It?

California is far from the cheapest state to live in. Whether it’s worth it to you to make your home there can depend on your reasons for wanting to live in the Golden State. If you’ve landed a high paying job in a promising field, for instance, then a higher cost of living might be a trade-off you can accept to launch your dream career.

On the other hand, you might find that California’s cost of living is simply too much for your budget. In that case, you might consider relocating to a less expensive state or, at the very least, moving to a different part of California.

Regardless of where you end up, using a budget planner app can be a great way to keep track of your spending. You can link the app to your bank accounts and credit cards to keep tabs on where your money goes and see at a glance where you might need to cut back. Maintaining a budget is one of the most effective ways to keep your cost of living under control.

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The Takeaway

What is a good yearly salary for a single person? The simplest answer might be this: An amount that allows you to meet all of your basic expenses, save a little, and pay down debt or work toward another financial goal. Whether that’s $50,000, $100,000, or more can depend on your preferred lifestyle and where you choose to live.

If you’re struggling to get a grip on spending, then using a money tracker app like SoFi’s can help. SoFi is an all-in-one financial tool for managing spending, monitoring your credit, and taking control of your money.

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What is a livable salary for a single person in California?

A living wage for a single person in California with no children is $21.82 per hour or $45,385 per year, assuming a 40-hour workweek. Whether that salary is livable for someone can depend on where they live in California and how they typically spend their money.

What is a comfortable salary in California?

The salary that’s required to live comfortably in California depends on how many people live in the household, how many people in the household earn an income, where you live in the state, and your typical annual expenses.

What is a good monthly income in California?

A good monthly income in California is $3,886, based on what the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that Californians pay for their cost of living. A good monthly income for you will depend on what your expenses are and how much you typically spend per month.

Photo credit: iStock/lechatnoir

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