How to Save Money Living in Los Angeles

David McNew/Getty Images

David McNew/Getty Images

There is plenty of fun to be had in Los Angeles and plenty of temptations to overspend. So how do average LA residents pull off saving any money? A lot of them probably don’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You won’t spend much time in Beverly Hills, but you don’t have to be rich to enjoy many of the best parts of this West Coast metropolis. Thanks to its beloved, near-perfect weather, Los Angeles provides lots of opportunities to spend time outdoors year round, often at little to no cost.

Still, the entertainment capital is no picnic for those who struggle financially. GOBankingRates found that Los Angeles is the second-worst city in America for saving money. The median annual income in LA is $46,803, well below the national average, and the city’s unemployment rate is over 9%. Add high housing costs and transportation challenges to the mix, and it’s hard to believe middle-income LA residents can make ends meet, let alone have cash left over for their savings accounts.

According to ApartmentGuide.com, the national average monthly rent for a studio or one-bedroom apartment comes to $769. Renters in LA pay an average of $1,148 per month. A separate study found you would need to make at least $33 per hour to afford the average apartment in Los Angeles County, which costs about $1,700 per month. With LA’s mild climate, at least utility costs tend to be low. In certain neighborhoods, it’s not difficult to go without air conditioning or heat year round. (Don’t try this in the Valley.)

LA’s sunshine, diversity, entertainment, recreation, and often, hopes of stardom continue to draw masses of people to the city from across the country, despite the high price tag. In a blog called Fighting Broke, Hollywood Assistant Chris Ming says there are tons of factors to consider when saving up to move to Los Angeles, but he could see himself doing it on just $3,000. Plenty of people have survived with less. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for the move, but if you’re willing to live simply and step out of your comfort zone, the transition to living in this expensive city doesn’t have to be a financial nightmare.

Whether you grew up in southern California or are new to Los Angeles, there is always more to learn about budgeting your income wisely. Previously we looked at how to conserve money in New York City as well as budgeting tips for all expensive U.S. cities. Now we turn to the West Coast, with the best insider tips to save money in Los Angeles.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

1. Go to the beach

Seriously, go to the ocean. (It’s part of the reason your rent is so high, so you might as well enjoy it.) If you don’t dig the beach, at least get yourself outside in that legendary sunshine. There are countless beaches to choose from. Venice Beach is entertaining with its famous boardwalk, street performers, and skate park. The vendors on the boardwalk are overpriced, but you can enjoy watching the skateboarders for free. Winter is a great time to go to the beach because it will be less crowded and easier to find free parking.

Angelenos like to brag that they can go skiing and swim in the ocean in the same day. Conceivable? Yes, but it’s doubtful they would feel like driving across LA twice in one day. The point is, there are countless opportunities for outdoor recreation, so no one in LA needs a gym membership to stay in shape. There are free or donation-based yoga classes outdoors, or even on the beach, and great hiking trails in Griffith Park, which boasts free parking.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

2. Be smart with your car

No, you don’t absolutely have to have a car in LA, but it does make life easier and saves time waiting for buses. Public transportation in LA is infamously unreliable. Plus LA is so far-reaching, you could end up changing buses three times just to get to work. Speaking of commuting, try to figure out a way to keep your trek to work short. A long commute, aside from costing you in gas, could add undue stress to your LA life. Also, you don’t have to drive all the time. Take the bus to the beach to avoid parking, or take Lyft if you’ve been drinking. Also, it’s not true that no one walks in LA, although certain areas are more walkable than others.

While having a car in LA is convenient, a lot of people are looking to capitalize off of the many vehicles crowding the city streets. Parking tickets are a huge racket, so watch out for street sweeping. Red light camera companies continue to mail drivers tickets of $500 or more, a controversial practice hopefully on its way out. Free parking can be hard to find, but make the effort to seek it out, and read signs carefully. There are apps that can help with this, such as ParkMe and Parker.  Taking good care of your car will save you money in the long run too, especially since your vehicle has to pass smog tests in California.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

3. Get everything for free

In a city as big as Los Angeles, there are bound to be plenty of opportunities to get stuff for free or dirt cheap. Free Craigslist is a gold mine in LA, especially for furniture, and the city is rife with thrift stores, swap meets, and flea markets. Trading with friends and neighbors is always a smart idea. (Having friends who also want to save money in LA is tremendously helpful.)

If you’re looking for free experiences, check out all the free museum days LA has to offer. LACMA even has free Jazz concerts on Fridays, and there are free weekly concerts at Santa Monica Pier in the summer. For art lovers, check out downtown art walk on the second Thursday of every month and First Fridays in Venice. (For more on free culture and entertainment see number five.)

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

4. Eat Mexican food all the time

Don’t be scared of food trucks if you live in LA. They are a city staple, and the beloved taco trucks can mean a very affordable meal. Not surprisingly, Mexican food is usually great in LA and tends to be on the cheaper side. Making it yourself will save money too, as you can find fresh ingredients like avocados and cilantro for a pretty fair deal compared to other parts of the country.

LA also boasts fresh fruit carts, where you can get a huge bag of chopped fruit with salt, lime juice, and chili for only $5, which makes a great beach snack. For grocery shopping, LA residents can find unbeatable deals on produce at the 99 Cents Only Stores, of all places. Trader Joe’s and the city’s many farmers markets are favorites too. With LA’s diversity, there are plenty of ethnic grocery stores like Mitsuwa, a Japanese food court and grocer, and these stores tend to have low prices on fruits and vegetables.

David Livingston/Getty Images

David Livingston/Getty Images

5. Take advantage of the industry

The entertainment industry can help you or hurt you when you live in Los Angeles. While it has crushed the dreams of many struggling LA residents, it has provided opportunities for others. Just don’t let it lure you into spending money when you don’t need to. The great thing about having a booming film and music scene in your backyard is you can see free movies at pre-screenings, go to live tapings of TV shows, or even be a paid audience member.

LA is a city full of performers, so entertainment can be found on every corner. There are innumerable comedy and improv shows in LA, often at very low prices. The Upright Citizens Brigade holds shows daily for $5 or $10. If you are a film buff, check out The Silent Movie Theatre for low-cost, foreign, and indie films from every decade, often shown in original 35mm.

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