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How Much Does It Cost to Live Comfortably in the Bay Area?

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It costs over $84,000 a year for a family of four to live comfortably, but not extravagantly, in San Francisco. (byLorena/Flickr)
It costs over $84,000 a year for a family of four to live comfortably, but not extravagantly, in San Francisco, according to the Economic Policy Institute based in Washington, D.C.. (Lorena/Flickr)

Anyone who lives in the Bay Area knows it's not cheap. Rents in San Francisco are notoriously high and rising, trickling out to affect housing costs around the region. Then there are the great restaurants that must be tried, the health care necessities that must be paid, child care, transportation -- and that all adds up. But just how much does it really cost for families to live in various parts of the Bay Area?

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a nonprofit nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC, has put together a budget calculator to help estimate the income families need to live modestly, but comfortably, in various places. The calculator consists of seven individual components: rent, food, child care, transportation, health care, other items of necessity and taxes. EPI explains the methodology behind each measure. For example, housing data is based on HUD's fair market rent (FMR) determination, which is in turn based on five-year American Communities Survey data. The FMR is at the 40th percentile of rent cost, meaning that 40 percent of apartments are rented for less and 60 percent for more.

"EPI’s family budgets offer a higher degree of geographic customization and provide a more accurate measure of economic security," the budget calculator website says. "In all cases, they show families need more than twice the amount of the federal poverty line to get by."

In the Bay Area, there's been a lot of discussion about how feasible it is for families to afford this region.

According to the calculator, it costs $84,133 for a family of four to live in San Francisco comfortably. The numbers are similar, but slightly lower, for San Jose-Sunnyvale at $79,261 and the Oakland-Fremont area at $75,064. The main difference comes from the cost of monthly rent, although there are slight differences in health and child-care costs as well. In San Francisco, about 62 percent of the population rents.


Interestingly, the costs for a single-parent family with two children don't differ much from a two-parent household. A single parent in San Francisco needs an annual income of $80,703 to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. In San Jose that number is $75,618 and in Oakland it's $70, 978.

San Francisco residents often complain that it's just as expensive to live here as New York or Boston. Are they right? Well, for a family of four, New York is definitely more expensive than San Francisco, coming in at $93,502 annually. Chicago is much cheaper, only requiring $69,028 per year. And Boston is right around the same price as San Francisco, at $85,641.

Meanwhile, Federal Poverty Guidelines say a family of four is "officially" poor if it brings in less than $23,550 per year. Even 300 percent of that poverty line, $70,650, falls well below the comfortable threshold proposed by the Economic Policy Institute for Bay Area cities.

Update: Following a number of questions raised in the comments here and on Facebook, we've written a follow-up post on the numbers above and if a family of four can live on $84,000 in San Francisco?

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