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Getting a Good Value or Why We Pay the High Cost to Live in California (Frugal Friday)

Posted By Jessica Fisher On September 12, 2013 @ 8:30 pm In Budget Living,CA on a Budget,Frugal Friday | 57 Comments

Frugality is getting a good value for what you pay. That’s how we can live in California and pay the high cost of living. This post was originally published on September 13, 2012. The message still holds true.

Many people have wondered how it’s possible to live in California [3] which has a reputation for having a high cost of living, especially where real estate is concerned. It’s true, property is more expensive here than many other places. But, there are many metropolitan areas throughout the country that are also equally expensive.

Obviously, my experience is only that — my experience. I can only speak to what we know, what we do, and what works for our family. So take it with a grain of salt.

I think California is worth it.

Currently, we rent a spacious, five bedroom home with four bathrooms. The size doesn’t really matter. Three-bedroom condos rent for the same price we currently pay. Our monthly lease is around $2300 per month, including weekly gardening service.

We consider this to be a great deal considering that most rents are higher for this size house and that our home is in a nice neighborhood with little traffic and little crime.

$2300?!

A friend in Kansas choked when I quoted her that price. True, this is about half our monthly budget. Spending 50% on housing does seem to throw out of whack all the percentages that personal finance coaches would send your way. It does seem quite impossible. But, this is quite typical for Southern California.

And to many people, it might seem like it’s not worth it. And it might not be if we still had debt.

While paying a lot of money in rent doesn’t seem “frugal” on the outset, the benefits far outweight the costs. In a sense, I think that is what frugality is: getting your money’s worth.

Here are our reasons for living in California and paying the price that we do.

1. We love California.

It took a cross-country move to help us see that we are Californians through and through. There really is nowhere else we’d rather live.

I like warm weather. I like being able to go out of my house 365 days of the year. I like that I could grow food in my backyard 12  months out of the year  – if I wanted to. Not that I do, but I could.

Since the growing season is abundant and lengthy, produce prices are pretty sweet.

2.  Our families are here.

We lived in Kansas for five years. In that time my mother-in-law developed cancer and passed away. We regret that we weren’t able to be a bigger, tangible form of help to her.

While we don’t see my parents or my father-in-law as often as we would like to, we know that we could be at their side in a matter of hours simply by hopping in the car. We have been able to get to know my youngest brother in a new way as he lived with us for a time and now pops in from time to time. My other brother and a sister live only a couple hours away, and we’re hopeful that once law school is done, Janel [4] will be moving back to The Golden State.

3. California is a destination location.

There is so much to do here! We recently spent three days in the Eastern Sierras, on our traditional fall vacation [5]. We left our home near the coast, drove through the dessert, and seven hours later, found ourselves in the mountains. The landscape and topography of California are so varied that we can see a lot without traveling too far away from home.

This makes vacations more affordable since the things we want to do are practically within arm’s reach.

There is a wealth of historical attractions, particularly those concerning the Spanish explorers, the Wild West, and the Gold Rush. While it’s not the Revolutionary/Civil War setting that kids grow up with in other locales, it’s still rich in history.

Every weekend can hold some kind of “vacation” attraction due to our location. Staycations [6], especially those at hotels [7], are extra fun because of where we live. Stellar amusement parks [8] abound. We don’t really want to leave our home state; the fun is here.

Disneyland [9] is an hour away!

4. It’s only gas and land that are expensive.

As I’ve compared California to other places in the US, I’ve come to the conclusion that only gas and land are the expensive things in California. And even then, it depends on where in California. San Diego County is cheaper than Los Angeles. The inland areas are more affordable than the coast.

We rent because we’re not sure the market has hit the bottom. Some day we might buy another house here, but in the meantime, we’re okay with renting, even if it seems expensive. The water heater and the dishwasher both went out this past spring — and it wasn’t our responsibility. That was kind of freeing.

Other costs, like food or utilities, are on par with the rest of the nation and sometimes less. I get screaming deals on fresh produce, like avocados for 39 cents or 3 heads of garlic for a buck. I pay less for food and get better quality than I did in Kansas. My kids are just bigger now and eat more, so my grocery budget is higher.

Our home doesn’t even have an air conditioner because temps are usually pretty moderate where we live. The thermostat does read 82 in the summer heat, but I used to set the A/C to that anyway. We run the furnace from December to February, but our heating costs are much lower than they were when we lived in Kansas.

California living is pretty good.

We pay a higher price to live and drive in California, but there are so many more benefits that are practically free. While I’m not trying to convince you to move here, I want to reassure you that if you are moving to California for work, school, or military reasons, you really can make it work. Want more details, check out my California on a Budget series. [10]

If you’re happy where you live, but discouraged by the high prices, consider the hidden benefits you might find in your locale, the cheap or free ones.

Frugality doesn’t mean “spending no money”. It’s getting a good value for your money. For us, California living is just that.

This post was originally published on September 13, 2012. But the message still rings true.

Today’s Frugal Friday!

Time to swap ideas and inspiration for saving money and getting good values.

How do YOU save money?

This is Frugal Friday. In an effort to make these weekly financial discussions more interactive, I’m no longer posting a link-up. Feel free to leave a link in the comments. But better yet, chat with us on today’s topic.

Disclaimer: Neither the California Board of Tourism [3] nor the California Realtors’ Association have ever heard of me. I freely offer up my opinions regarding life in the Golden State. I represent the experiences of one family who has lived in four different California counties as well as the midwest. My opinion is just that — my opinion. Feel free to disagree. Your mileage may vary.


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[3] California: http://www.visitcalifornia.com/

[4] Janel: http://lifewithlande.com

[5] our traditional fall vacation: http://lifeasmom.com/2011/10/vacation-a-favorite-fall-tradition.html

[6] Staycations: http://lifeasmom.com/2012/06/year-of-the-staycation.html

[7] those at hotels: http://lifeasmom.com/2012/07/the-benefits-of-a-hotel-staycation.html

[8] Stellar amusement parks: http://lifeasmom.com/2011/07/an-amusement-park-survival-guide.html

[9] Disneyland: http://lifeasmom.com/2010/06/disneyland-on-a-dime.html

[10] California on a Budget series.: http://lifeasmom.com/2010/05/california-on-a-budget.html

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