You don’t need me to tell you that the cost of living in Los Angeles can be quite high when compared to many other cities in the US.
For aspiring actors the situation could be even tougher due to all the investments necessary to pursue this career choice.
If you’re in the position to move to Los Angeles, then as brave and bold as this call may be, it will also demand of you to keep a hawkeye over your finances, something that causes pre-mature balding from late-night hair yanking. I would know.
In this article, I’m using my personal experience and budgets from the years of living in this city as well as current research on the cost of living in Los Angeles – unexpected as well as expected. This post will save you time and money if you’re new to LA.
Who are these numbers aimed at? I’m a single person living by myself, so all calculations are based around that. If your situation is similar, then this is the most accurate article on how much it costs to live in LA in 2016 you can find.
What is the Cost of Living in Los Angeles?
The short answer is that the cost of LA life is very high compared to many other cities in the world.
Due to constant need to save money, I’m always on the lookout for better deals on apartments or other ways to stash away a few dollars every week. I have to be aware of rent prices in LA and how to better budget for everything else in order to survive in LA, and now I’m relaying that information onto you.
If you Google “cost of living in Los Angeles,” you’ll find tons of help. But this is my word of warning to you: use more than one resource to get an accurate estimate.
To better understand how much it costs to live in Los Angeles, you want to look for specifics. Don’t go by the general numbers you find on most websites.
For the purpose of this guide, I will assume that just like me, you are a single person (possibly with a partner) and you don’t expect to live ten feet away from the beach in Malibu, because you are smart enough to understand that that’s expensive.
Bottom Line: Cost of living in Los Angeles is much higher than in many other cities in the US and the world, according to data. The prices also continue to increase.
Why “Average Prices” Aren’t Helpful
Naturally, I started this article with a few days of research to see what the Internet has to say about the cost of living in Los Angeles. I was surprised to find a lot of misrepresented data.
How do I know? I have tens of Excel spreadsheets for my monthly budgets. And as a struggling actor, I keep a close watch on the cost of living in Los Angeles. It may be OCD.
Furthermore, it’s in my best interest to track costs and finances, so that’s what I do.
Let me quickly walk you through some examples from the interwebs. Below is what someone doing their research on the cost of living in Los Angeles would see.
An article from SmartAsset, an authority for this type of information, and one of the first pages of my Google search, says the following:
“…the average rent on a one-bedroom LA apartment is $1,949.”
“…need two bedrooms in LA? Expect to pay around $2,846.”
Sure, if you draw an average between living in Beverly Hills (a fancy place for the rich and famous) and Van Nuys (cheap area for the working class), this is probably accurate. But how does that help us? It doesn’t.
The best way to calculate rental cost of living in Los Angeles is definitely not by looking at the average price range. Your situation is likely different, which means you’ll have different aims. You need to base everything around your set budget and look for specifics.
Los Angeles is a huge, spread out and diversified city. That means you get significant rental price differences between all areas. To get a better idea of LA rent prices, what you should do is look at separate LA neighborhoods in your specific price range.
I’ll get to those neighborhoods in a moment. Let’s get back to that article.
Here’s what SmartAsset has to say about the cost of utilities in LA:
“…the basic monthly utility bill for a 915 square foot apartment in LA is $110.71.”
That’s not necessarily going to be true for your case.
For example, I live in a 2 bedroom apartment (1,200 square feet), and starting May, it’s becoming very hot in Los Angeles. Utilities in LA are usually the highest during hot months because the AC is running almost 24/7.
My water and electric bill (from LADWP), which is what you pay the most in terms of bills (besides internet), for 2 months (May-July) was $57. That’s barely $29/mo, which isn’t that much and I’m far from trying to save on this.
My total bills usually come down to about $60/mo (for a 2 bedroom apartment without trying to save on anything), which is far from what SmartAsset says you’re going to pay.
The rest of their information on the cost of living in Los Angeles seems somewhat accurate for the “average” numbers. But again, this doesn’t help us with calculating actual costs of living in LA, so let’s move on.
Another website, Apartment Therapy, did a better job on rent prices, but I don’t think it’s accurate enough. The problem is that they omit important details, which I’ll mention below.
Bottom Line: Using numbers for the “average” cost of living in Los Angeles will not give you an accurate idea of how much you need to budget for. Duh.
Cost of Rent in Los Angeles
Once again, what you want to do when budgeting for rent in Los Angeles is to consider several areas first based on that area’s price range. Pick one of those, and then choose a specific neighborhood there. After that, you can start looking at apartments.
Here’s a breakdown of popular LA areas and the approximate cost for 1BR apartment:
- Westside Los Angeles ($1,600-$3,000/mo)
- Central/East Los Angeles ($1,200-$2,000/mo)
- San Fernando Valley – South, East ($1,300-$2,100/mo)
- San Fernando Valley – West, North ($1,000-$1,800/mo)
- Long Beach ($900-$1,500/mo)
- Pasadena ($1,000-$1,600/mo)
I have previously said in my LA neighborhood breakdown article that only three of these areas apply to you as an actor. For the list of reasons why, take a look at that post.
Here’s briefly on neighborhoods that do not apply to you as an actor:
Pasadena is a nice family-friendly area. It’s too far for an actor to live.
Long Beach is a hit or miss. It can be a fine place to live, but there’s more ghetto areas around. It’s also way too far for someone trying to work in showbiz.
San Fernando Valley (western and northern parts only) can be nice too. Pricing-wise, it’s a mix between what you get in Pasadena and Long Beach. There are some very nice family-friendly areas, while others can be quite rough. Either way, it’s too far.
So what I’m going to do is focus only on LA areas that apply to you as an actor:
- Westside Los Angeles (Wikipedia + Map)
- Central Los Angeles (Wikipedia + Map)
- Eastside Los Angeles (Wikipedia + Map)
- San Fernando Valley, southern and eastern parts (Wikipedia + Map)
* Note: Central Los Angeles and Eastside Los Angeles are often lumped together to form an unofficial Central/Eastside Los Angeles area. This is because western part of Eastside Los Angeles that borders with Central Los Angeles are both similar, while the eastern part of Eastside Los Angeles is extremely unsafe. Whenever I mention Central/Eastside Los Angeles, please always assume that I mean all of Central and the western part of Eastside LA only, unless otherwise noted.
And here’s three most popular neighborhoods/cities from each area to give you an idea.
Westside Los Angeles
Santa Monica (1 bedroom): $1,900-$3,000
Example: 1 bed, 1 bath, 800 sqft – $2,800
West Hollywood (1 bedroom): $1,600-$2,700
Example: 1 bed, 1 bath, 750 sqft – $2,200
Culver City (1 bedroom): $1,600-$2,500
Example: 1 bed, 1 bath, 825 sqft – $1,850
Central/East Los Angeles
Hollywood (1 bedroom): $1,200-$1,700
Example: 1 bed, 1 bath, 750 sqft – $1,500
Silver Lake/Echo Park (1 bedroom): $1,500-$2,000
Example: 1 bed, 1 bath, 575 sqft – $1,700
Koreatown (1 bedroom): $1,200-$1,600
Example: 1 bed, 1 bath, 650 sqft – $1,300
San Fernando Valley (South and East)
Sherman Oaks (1 bedroom): $1,400-$1,900
Example: 1 bed, 1 bath, 685 sqft – $1,700
North Hollywood (1 bedroom): $1,300-$1,800
Example: 1 bed, 1 bath, 700 sqft – $1,350
Burbank (1 bedroom): $1,500-$2,100
Example: 1 bed, 1 bath, 700 sqft – $1,900
Hopefully, this paints a better picture of what the rent costs in Los Angeles are.
Yes, you can find a one bedroom apartment that’s $100 cheaper (if you really look for it) or $200-$500 more expensive than the suggested prices above, but what I listed is a “reasonable” rate (for LA, that is) for someone on a budget.
If you think these prices are way too high, it’s because they are. Rent costs in Los Angeles will continue to rise through 2018 at least, so the situation is not looking any better.
That’s why as a starving actor who can barely afford rent you need to find a roommate until you’re able to pay the bills and live more or less comfortably (or at least without the headache of not knowing whether you’ll pay rent or not next month).
Rent is the first consideration for someone trying to calculate cost of living in Los Angeles. And with that out of the way, here’s what else you’ll have to spend your money on.
Bottom Line: Los Angeles rent prices are extremely varied and are based on the area and the neighborhood. Pick the one that fits your budget and go from there.
Cost of Food in Los Angeles
Let me first give you a quick and succinct breakdown on the cost of living in Los Angeles from my personal budget, especially when it comes to food prices and a few other semi-important things. For other monetary details of living in Los Angeles, keep on reading.
The below numbers are based on current (2016) supermarket prices and will vary depending on your area and the store itself (more on this below).
* Note: If you’re from overseas, remember that in the US, prices do not include sales tax.
Food and grocery shopping in LA.
- Lunch eating out: $11-$14
- Fast food meal: $6-$8
- Loaf of bread: $2-$4
- 1/2 pound of cheese: $5-$7
- 12 large eggs: $3-$5
- Instant coffee: $6-$12
- Grounded coffee: $5-$9
- 1 pound of boneless chicken breast: $5-$7
- 1/2 pound of grounded turkey: $4-$7
- 1 gallon of 2% milk: $3-$4
- 2 pounds of potatoes: $2-$3
- 2 pounds of apples: $2-$4
- 2 liter soda bottle: $2
- Six pack of beer: $6-$9
- Table wine: $3-$15
- Cigarettes: $5-$8
Living expenses in LA (single person).
- Street parking (per hour): $1-$4
- Parking facilities (per day): $5-$15
- Utilities: $60-$130
- Internet: $30-$70 (depending on the plan)
- Haircut (for men): $15+
- Gas: $3.5-$4.5 (July, 2016)
- Uber (from DTLA to Sherman Oaks): $30
- Taxi (per mile): $3
- Public transport weekly pass: $25
- Cell phone plans: $50-$80/mo
- Gym: $30-$50/mo
Household items/furniture in IKEA (cheapest).
- Dinner table: $50
- Chair: $15
- Desk: $100
- Couch: $100
- Cookware essentials: $40
- Big set of dishes: $30
- Cutlery: $10
- Microwave: $60
- Toaster oven: $40
Entertainment in LA.
- Movie ticket: $6 (cheap) or $10-$16 (standard)
- Improv show: $5-$15
- Plays: $5-$80
- Restaurant dinner for two: $100
- Coffee (Starbucks): $3-$6
- Coffee (local): $4-$8
If you need more details on the cost of Living in Los Angeles listed in the way I did above, just let me know in the comments below.
Eating out, bars and coffee.
The city is arguably one of the best in terms of cuisine offerings, with multicultural buffet of international foods and budget lunches sometimes costing as little as $5.
As an example, a modern cheap food place I occasionally visit when I’m in Hollywood is Oi Asian Fusion in Canoga Park, which provides flavors of the Asian kitchen for $10 and less. In LA, that’s pretty good.
For fast food places, I usually choose Flame Broiler which is pretty healthy and decently priced for a satiating bowl of beef, rice and veggies. Although prices went up recently.
Alcohol. Naturally, Los Angeles has a city life that demands to be explored, and that means bars and cafes. Lager beer averages at about $4 when on the cheap side. In more expensive places, it can go up to $5 extra. Wide varies widely.
Coffee. LA continues to see an increase in trendy coffee joints with all the hipster culture taking over the city. The website Thrillist.com will give you several popular coffee must-haves, which can be used to estimate an approximate cost of quality coffee in LA.
One such must-have is Alfred’s Coffee & Kitchen on Melrose, whose lattes are sold for about $5. I visited the place more than once – it has a cool hipster-like vibe and their chocolate dipped waffle espresso cones are adorable (although not cost-effective).
Just in case this needs to be pointed out, places like these cost higher than your average venti-sized latte sold at Starbucks ($5-$6), although the prices for that also continue to rise like everything else in Los Angeles.
Basically, good coffee in LA is in on a slightly higher end of the price scale, and that stretches out to food and alcohol as well.
Bottom Line: It’s possible to eat out in Los Angeles on a relatively low budget if you do your research beforehand and know where to go.
Groceries and cooking at home.
There’s of course the (in)famous cheaper option that is Walmart ($), which so far beats out any other supermarket for prices.
Other supermarkets that can be budget friendly but have fewer locations are Food4Less ($) and the newly opened Aldi ($) stores.
If you want more quality produce, then you’ll have to seek that out in more expensive stores such as Ralphs ($$), Trader Joe’s ($$), Pavilions ($$$) or Gelson’s ($$$).
Personally, I find Ralphs and Trader Joe’s to be right in the middle of decent prices and good, fresh food. Those are my two most often visited stores.
Remember to get a membership card with Ralphs and other supermarkets (TJ’s doesn’t have one). When you seek out deals and discounts, you can shop pretty cheap in LA.
In terms of ethnic food markets, those typically have a reputation of being less costly (again, depends on your area) compared to the standard supermarkets.
The famous Los Angeles farmer’s markets, of which there are many, like The Original Farmer’s Market on 3rd St and S Fairfax St, often charge a lot more.
Even though I’d love to support our farmers and local businesses, I rarely shop at farmer’s markets. It’s not cost-effective in the least.
Bottom Line: Grocery prices vary based on your area and the stores you shop at. Take advantage of membership cards and other discounts for cheaper prices.
Cost of Owning a Car in Los Angeles
You MUST have a car; or at least a moped.
Los Angeles has a terrible public transportation system. There’s no way you’ll be able to juggle your auditions by taking public transit, let alone going to work and acting classes on top of that.
Owning a car will give you the much needed personal freedom and a sobering scent of air freshener. Unfortunately, cars also contribute to your monthly bills, so consider that too.
Since the cost of car ownership in LA is going to vary depending on many different personal situation factors, it’s difficult to say how much should you budget for.
Once again, I took it upon myself to ask the internet to see what they think about the cost of living in Los Angeles with your own car. What I found out was definitely shocking.
An article by Investopedia paints out car ownership’s expenses as considerably large, with each car costing a person on average more than $8,000 dollars per year.
I have to call BS on that.
Let me tell you that there’s no reason you have to pay that amount; not even close.
Once again, that “average” number – provided that it’s accurate, which is questionable – is completely useless to us when calculating real-life cost of living in Los Angeles.
I bought a used Ford Mustang V6 2003 a few years ago for $3,000 with 130k miles on it. Here’s how much I paid for my car (excluding gas and washing) over the last 12 months:
- General maintenance (incl. oil change): $100
- New windshield wipers: $20
- Registration: $95
- Smog: $50
Total: $255 for July 2015 – July 2016 (approx 10-12k miles)
This is what I paid for it the year before:
- General maintenance: $90 (same mechanic)
- Registration: $95
- Smog: $0
Total: $185 for July 2014 – July 2015 (approx 10-12k miles)
For car insurance, I pay $74/mo. That’s the cheapest plan I could find.
I keep a close track of my budget, so I know the numbers are correct and accurate.
Obviously, the key is to get a decent car from the get go and not rush into buying the first thing you see.
In my case, Ford Mustangs are known for their reliability, which is why I didn’t have to spend much on the car. However, bear in mind that this is a 3.5L V6, which means it does very poorly on MPG. Therefore, I pay more for gas.
The car that would be the best of both worlds – reliable and cheap on gas – is a Honda Civic. This is the most ideal choice for an actor living on a budget in Los Angeles.
I also recommend buying from a reputable dealership. You’ll pay a little more than buying directly from a private owner, but you’ll have less of a headache because good dealerships have a reputation to maintain. You can Yelp and Google to find them.
As for gas prices, your best bet is to simply look at a website like Gas Buddy. Plan to drive about 10k-12k miles a year, and calculate your average spend based on your car’s MPG.
Bottom Line: Car is essential in LA. Ignore its looks, and try to find one that will run a long time with minimal maintenance required and that does well on gas.
Cost of Public Transportation in Los Angeles
For example, if you live in Sherman Oaks like I do, and you need to get to an audition in Santa Monica or somewhere in West Hollywood, it may take you 1 metro ride and 2-3 bus rides. That’s not an efficient use of your time, which is why you need a car.
As for the prices for public transit, those are definitely reasonable: 1 Ride Base Fare is $1.75 – significantly less than the latte at one of those trendy LA’s coffee hotspots.
The Los Angeles metro has several different price worthy deals, including a 7-Day Pass for $25 if you ride a lot (which I hope you do not). Use it for both metro and buses.
Another plus is that the metro offers different discounts, although these mostly apply to younger and older citizens, and not so much to anyone in between those age groups.
While you’re “in between cars,” get a TAP card and use that for both buses and metro access. I always have mine with me and it still has about $10 on it, just in case.
The one time I occasionally do take metro is when going to Downtown LA on a very busy night, such as Saturday. Parking is a headache, so I just leave my car in North Hollywood and go straight to DTLA in one metro ride. It’s very convenient.
Bottom Line: Avoid LA’s public transportation at all costs if you want to make it to your auditions on time. Otherwise, get a weekly pass.
Acting Costs in Los Angeles
If the reason you’re moving to or have moved to Los Angeles is to act, then I presume that the cost of living in Los Angeles isn’t the only topic you’re interested in.
But I’m already 3,000+ words in with this article. I think I will do a separate write-up on acting costs in Los Angeles (once I regain my muse after spending a whole day writing this one), and after that’s done, I’ll update this post with a link.
This way it will be easier for you to separate cost of living in Los Angeles from acting costs and create a better budget structure.
How to Budget for Cheap Living in Los Angeles
I have previously given you some of my personal tips on how to live in LA on a budget.
Since we’re covering cost of living in Los Angeles in thorough detail, I thought I’d drop a few more observations on how an actor can save several dollars here and there in this expensive city.
Here’s how I create my weekly/monthly budgets.
I do a simple and rough budget plan in an Excel spreadsheet. If you want an example, let me know and I’ll create a “stock” one just for you.
In my spreadsheet, I lay out my sources of income and my expenditures, and also graph these. All items are color coded for easy overview.
I try to keep everything organized. The less messy everything is, the more clean and clear my finance sheets are likely to be, which helps to keep a better track of everything.
I used to be quite irresponsible with money. Once I started taking finances more seriously after reading a few personal finance books, I was able to put a lot more cash towards my acting costs and budget for producing my own filmmaking projects.
Trust me, it’s worth being financially aware in Los Angeles.
How to feed yourself on a budget?
For self-explanatory reasons, food is something that you can’t really compromise on.
Below are some suggestions on how to make food less expensive in LA. Most of these are just common knowledge and I hope you’re already doing this to save up.
I create a monthly food and shopping plan. This saves me quite a bit of money.
Mainly, by organizing both my monthly food and shopping plan, it helps me cut down on spontaneous buys, which can cripple one’s finances considerably.
A monthly food plan involves planning roughly all future meals I’m likely to prepare.
Doing this helps me plan those meals so that I can “recycle” food, i.e. reuse leftovers from one day to the next. Ultimately, this cuts down on the amount of products I’ll need to buy, plus decrease the amount of food I’ll end up throwing away.
Complemented with a shopping plan, by which I write a precise grocery list, I’ll get more control over my food budget, and put an extra dollar in my “acting jar.”
This may sound time-consuming, but it’s not. It takes me approximately 1-2 hours every month. This is what you have to do as an actor living in LA, trying to put every cent towards your acting career.
Considering the high cost of living in Los Angeles and the insane rent prices, and if you don’t want to live with a roommate, then you need to find other ways to save cash.
A few other things to consider.
- Food coupons. I don’t do them, but I know people who do well with food coupons. Their practicality speaks for itself. Although you can’t have your entire budget orbit around coupons, they can occasionally free up a dollar to cover other expenditures. All you need to do to find food coupons is a quick Google search.
- Become a vegetarian. I love my meat, but other actors told me that they were able to cut their food costs when they switched to plant based foods. This makes sense, of course, since meat does cost more. There’s even a study on how being a vegan can save you hundreds of dollars every year.
- Don’t eat in restaurants. I hate to be that guy, but it is what it is. If you’re trying to save, then cook at home or choose very budget options to eat out. Spend your money on rent, gas and acting classes instead.
- Check your ego. Don’t splurge on expensive clothes, cars or other things to demonstrate your status. Focus on what matters the most in your life at the moment, and that’s sustaining yourself for as long as you can in this city while pursuing a career as an actor, which isn’t easy as is.
Bottom Line: Creating a shopping plan and tracking your expenses is being smart.
How to rent for cheap in Los Angeles?
Cost of living in Los Angeles is high across the board, and finding a way to live on a very cheap monthly rent in Los Angeles is a tough nut to crack.
The only option is if you sacrifice comfort and living preferences to what is economically possible and sustainable. Even then, expect to pay more than almost anywhere else in the US.
Besides getting very lucky, the only two other things you can do for cheaper rent are these:
1. Get a roommate. It’s the most sensible thing an actor who has just moved here and trying to cut down on cost of living in Los Angeles can do. I lived in a living room (no privacy) for my first year in LA, and had no complaints. It can always be worse.
Once you get over the idea of having some of your personal space being trampled by another budget-smart human being, you’ll get used to that living arrangement quick.
Having another person to split the rent with means that you might not necessarily need to make a home out of a shoebox. If you get lucky (or unlucky) to live with another actor, there are other things you can split costs on as well as share the journey together.
I provided you with some tips on how to find a roommate in LA before. So if your intestines aren’t entirely wrenched at the thought of sharing breathing space with someone else, and they shouldn’t be, check out that post and sites like EasyRoommate.com.
2. Get a place in a cheap (i.e. run down) area. Another compromise you’d have to make if you want to save even more cash is to pick one of the cheapest neighborhoods in LA.
If you take a look above, you can see which areas are cheaper to rent in. Just to reiterate, some of the inexpensive neighborhoods that actors often choose are North Hollywood, Koreatown, Van Nuys and Hollywood.
My advice to you is to not go too cheap. By that I mean don’t venture too far outside of the central LA vicinity for the reasons I’ve already mentioned before.
Also, keep in mind that some very affordable areas are so cheap for a reason. Not only will they be rundown and probably far, but you’ll see some gang activity and experience crime first-hand. It’s not worth it.
Here are just a few cheap areas to avoid due to safety precautions:
- Parts of Downtown LA
- Parts of Koreatown
- Parts of Central Los Angeles
- All of East Los Angeles
- Parts of Mid City
- Anything below Mid City
- Most of Long Beach and Harbor area
- Anything east of DTLA
- Eagle Rock
The three areas in bold are a complete no-no. Do not even consider them if safety is important to you.
In fact, before you choose an apartment, refer to this LA Crime Map to see how your neighborhood is doing with regards to all types of crime activity.
And with that I’m wrapping up this article on the cost of living in Los Angeles. I believe this was quite thorough, but if you think I missed anything, let me know in the comments.
Bottom Line: The only way to cut down costs on rent is to have a roommate and pick a cheap neighborhood. Avoid dangerous areas, however.
Take Home Message
In summary, the cost of living in Los Angeles is unsurprisingly expensive. Rent prices continue to rise, and so do other expenses. When California’s minimum wage goes up, we’re going to be far above the numbers we’re at now.
To save money and live as cheap as possible as an actor in LA, you need to plan your budget well. Find ways where you can save, and understand the things where you cannot be saving on too much (unsafe neighborhoods).
With all that being said, living in Los Angeles is possible even on a minimum wage for a struggling actor. As long as you have a roommate and are smart about your finances, you can easily enjoy yourself in this awesome city.
Hopefully this helps you to brave through all the voices around nagging you about how expensive moving to Los Angeles is, and why you shouldn’t make the move. This article should’ve prepped you for the economic hurdles that life in LA will throw at you.
And for more advice on relocating to Los Angeles, remember to grab my free eBook!