‘The Big Bang Theory’: Was Penny’s Apartment Financially Out of Reach?

Penny shows up on The Big Bang Theory in the very first episode and effectively turns Leonard and Sheldon’s world on its head. The pretty blonde is the polar opposite of the neighbors next door. She’s a socially adept, bubbly beauty to their comic geek personas. While Penny’s sheer existence makes the show what it is, one has to wonder precisely how Penny could afford to live in the same building as a couple of genius researchers.  It’s actually more easily explained than you would think.

What would Penny’s salary have been?

Penny starts the show as a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory. The average food server makes an average of $6 per hour, according to Glassdoor. To make a living wage, a waitress like Penny would rely heavily on tips, which vary day-to-day. The tips vary based on the day of the week, as well as the time of day. For example, a waitress working Saturday night will make substantially more than a waitress tasked with servicing a lunch crowd on a random Wednesday.

Payscale alleges that the average waitress makes around $36,000 a year when their tips are factored into the equation, but it’s hard to pinpoint Penny’s actual salary. Her salary may vary widely from year to year. Later on, when she becomes a pharmaceutical rep, her salary is much easier to estimate. According to Payscale, the average rep will pull in around $79,000 each year.

What would Penny’s rent have been?

The Big Bang Theory gang lives in Pasadena, California. While few people outside of California actually know where Pasadena is, it’s actually a highly desirable area. Just 20 minutes (without traffic) from Los Angeles, it’s kind of the perfect spot for those looking to get into the entertainment business. Penny’s dream is to become an actress, so her location choice makes sense.

Pasadena Freeway headed into Los Angeles
Pasadena Freeway | Visions of America/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The average rent in Pasadena soars above $2,000 per rent, but Penny was likely paying less, considering her apartment was incredibly small, and the building offered no big perks. If she were spending the average going rate for a studio apartment, which is around $1400 per month, she would be paying fair market value.

Leonard and Sheldon would be paying much closer to $2500 per month, considering their home is much larger and nicer in a lot of ways. Both Sheldon and Leonard pay half of the rent there, so their ability to afford their living expenses is not called into question.

Could she have really managed to pay the rent on her pad?

While the writers behind Friends fell back on a rent-control storyline to explain how Monica and Rachel could afford their New York City apartment, the creators of The Big Bang Theory refused to rely on the tired trope. Instead, they decided to make it clear that Penny is struggling mightily.

Penny regularly borrows money from her pals, and she freeloads on their internet and often eats their food. She also isn’t against the idea of letting a payment slip to afford what she needs. In short, no, Penny couldn’t really afford her rent, but like a lot of 20-somethings, she was figuring out a way to make I work. In that way, The Big Bang Theory is more realistic than a lot of other shows.