If (when?) you decide to move to Los Angeles and start working towards your show business goals, unless you’re very rich, the first thing you need to consider is how to live on a budget in Los Angeles.
There are very few places in the U.S. as financially impactful as Los Angeles.
I’ve moved to Los Angeles a while back, and can confirm how tough it can be to keep things together financially when living in the City of Angels.
In 2014, a UCLA study (PDF) confirmed that rent in Los Angeles is least affordable across the whole country.
According to more recent data, Los Angeles continues to be considered as one of the least economical cities to reside in. It costs home owners an average of $630,000 to buy a house in this area.
With a cost of living index 34 points higher than the national average, Los Angeles isn’t known as the home of affordable living.
So how do we as Los Angeles residents survive the extra financial burden placed upon our income and bank accounts, and how can you as well? It’s planning.
11 Tips on How to Live on a Budget in Los Angeles
Living in the county and the city itself requires a bit of careful planning, and some creativity.
Although you may be used to a life of walking, free parking, and reasonable rent, life in Los Angeles requires a different mindset and different money-saving tactics.
I’ve read articles like this before moving to LA myself, and after implementing some of the tactics, here are my personal favorite (best?) ways to survive life in LA without breaking your budget.
1. Double Check Your Grocery Store
Yet in Los Angeles, visiting the wrong grocery store can result in overpaying.
Sure, the Walgreens around the corner sells everything except fresh fruit and vegetables. The mom-and-pop mart across the street does so, too.
But have you checked their prices against other retailers in the area?
When living in Los Angeles, you’ll get more bang for your buck by shopping around.
My best tip on living on a budget in LA is to compare each store’s weekly ads to see where you can save.
For example, you can purchase a pound of spaghetti noodles at Vons for $0.50 one week, and $1 another. Or, you may find milk for $3 at Ralphs, while your corner store sells it for $4. These little difference add up.
2. Stop Paying for Parking
With street sweeping laws and regulations, too many cars on the streets (because nobody walks in LA), varying hours of allowed parking and tow zones, and even special holiday hours, you may never know where and when you’re allowed to park and when you aren’t.
You can avoid excessive parking fines and even that valet fee at places like the Grove, the Laugh Factory, or Hollywood and Highland by always skipping the valet and taking a cab, or better yet Uber, to wherever you go.
With the accessibility of both taxis, Lyft, and Uber, you’ll never need to spend a dime on parking.
It took me a while to realize the value of these services particularly in this city, but it’s true.
As a bonus, these services can save you gas, additional tickets, and the expense of wear and tear on your car.
3. Shop Flea Markets
But when you move to Los Angeles, I’d say forget about buying your home goods and furniture in these box-like retailers.
Instead, save yourself some cash by furnishing your place with vintage pieces from flea markets throughout the city and county.
Why waste hundreds of dollars and an entire Saturday at Ikea when you can stop by the Rose Bowl, the Orange County Swap Meet, or the Roadium and purchase furniture, cookware, kitchen utensils, and other items for a fraction of the cost.
LA is a great place to find mid-century vintage items, and there’s nothing better than a DIY vintage home.
4. Forget the Gym
Want a truly LA experience? Cancel your gym membership and get outside. That’s one of the benefits of living in Southern California.
Seriously. Los Angeles is the mecca of healthy individuals, the city of kale, Runyon Canyon, and long walks on the beach.
I didn’t even know what hiking really was before I moved to LA. Now I hike several times a week.
Forget paying for a monthly gym membership and hit the trails, campgrounds, beaches, and parks of your new surrounding city for free.
There are many outdoors related things you can do in Los Angeles for cheap(er) or even free.
5. Go for Free Stuff
Speaking of free things, there’s more than just outdoors in LA.
Another great benefit of living in this city is all of the free activities, adventures, and places that sit nearby.
Want to receive some free stuff? Visit LA Weekly’s promotions page to get some mailed to you.
Looking for additional promotions? Visit Curbed LA.
Remember that you can also visit any one of the numerous Los Angeles county beaches, all of which are free as well.
6. Eat Tacos from Trucks
Grab some tacos, a burrito, or even pupusas from a taco truck, and you’ll have the cheapest eats you can find locally.
At just a few dollars a plate, taco trucks and their delicious fare make the cost worth the calories.
I would recommend to chat with native Los Angelenos, or others who’ve come to know the city’s secrets well, and you’ll be able to discover many different ways to eat on the cheap.
SeriousEats.com has a great list of 21 best places for tacos, so start checking those off.
7. Skip the Satellite or Cable
When living in Los Angeles, there’s an almost endless wealth of activities, adventures, and places to explore.
Although you may be a TV watcher and couch potato by nature in your hometown due to cold weather and a lack of things to do, LA leaves no excuses for us.
This city offers ample opportunity for you to get up and get interested in a hobby, a place, or even just an event.
Many residents of the city save hundreds of dollars each month by forgoing satellite and cable TV, and now I’m one of them. Why sit inside when the sun is almost always shining outside?
If you still want TV viewing options to fall back on, you can stick with Netflix, Hulu, or even Amazon — each of these streaming services is available for mere dollars a month, a huge savings for your bank account.
8. Utilize Your Shopping Smarts
Sure, you can find stores anywhere, but if you’re living life on a budget in LA, you won’t want to hit Rodeo Drive or the Beverly Center.
Instead, head out of these famous areas and into less tourist-focused LA neighborhoods to score deeper discounts.
For example, you’re more likely to find increased amounts of clearance and sale items if you shop in Burbank or Torrance rather than Beverly Hills or West Hollywood. Simple, but many people forget.
9. Take Advantage of College Campuses
Perhaps the most exciting (and helpful) perk of attending a college or university is receiving student discounts at many different retailers. I even have a suspicion that’s why many students go to college (not really, but maybe?)
Though your student days and discounts may have ended, you can still find ways to take advantage of all that’s available to college students in Los Angeles.
And luckily, LA is home to many students thanks to schools like CSULA, USC, UCLA, and LMU within its city and county limits.
Although you can’t claim to be a student and snag deals at stores, you can utilize these campuses’ many free offerings to the community.
Need to do some research, or just want to read? Visit the UCLA library in Westwood, where you can read and utilize their internet.
Or, if you’d like to save a few bucks on your annual dental checkup, stop by USC’s Ostrow School of Dentistry, where you can have hygienists in training practice their skills on your teeth.
With a little research, you can find out what these LA colleges offer for free or highly discounted rates, and by taking advantage of these discounts you’ll be able to save in many ways.
10. Join Local Rewards Programs
However, when you need to make every dollar count, your purchases can help you save money if you’re utilizing various rewards programs.
For example, most pharmacies and grocery stores throughout Los Angeles feature programs that either offer discounts on in-store purchases, or give cash back in some way.
Shop regularly at Vons, and you’ll receive as much as 30 cents off per gallon at your local Shell station. Same with Ralphs.
Become a Rite Aid Wellness member, and you’ll earn rewards dollars that can be spent at the store at a later date.
Want to save on parking? Some shopping centers, like The Grove, offer free valet parking with rewards program membership and certain purchases.
Check with the places you frequent, and see just how much you can save by filling out a form.
11. Cut Bills Back
Of course, if you consciously work on lowering your bills each month, turning off any unnecessary lights and avoiding your AC or heating unit, you can shave dollars off them.
Take your savings a step further by speaking with your gas, electricity, and water providers — many of these companies throughout Los Angeles offer citizens who earn certain levels of income a discount on their monthly bill.
For example, Southern California Gas allows residents to apply for a discounted program, and Edison also offers something similar.
You can also track how much electricity you’re using each month, allowing you to cut back if you’re getting close to your maximum budget number.
Don’t be afraid to work at negotiating those bills, even if they seem firm.