The Cost of Living in Los Angeles (Lebenserhaltungskosten)

The Cost of Life in Los Angeles is about 20.000$ per year with a car, 14.000$ without a car

This entry is in English so it can benefit a wider community of people – most of the blog is written in German.

For everybody thinking about moving to Los Angeles – whichever reason; studying, acting, filmmaking, gangbanging (a dangerous business), lying around on the beach (a luxury) – it is important to know the cost of living.  These numbers are derived from my own experience, living in Hollywood, Downtown LA and West Los Angeles in shared apartment situations. Here is a detailed rundown of the costs, how they add up, as well as a conversion to the equivalent Euro amount.

Cost of Living in Los Angeles: Insurance, Gas, Other Expenses, Car, Rent, Cell Phone, Bed Food and Total Annual Cost: A compilation and addition of the Cost of Living in Los Angeles - an estimate for a decent life in LA lasting 12 months. It is well possible to save money by reducing costs, as outlined below.

Cost of Living in LA: Insurance, Gas, Other Expenses, Car, Rent, Cell Phone, Bed, Food and Total Annual Expenses: A compilation and addition of the Cost of Living in Los Angeles - an estimate for a decent life in LA lasting 12 months. It is well possible to save money by reducing costs, as outlined below.

Can I save something? 20.000$ for 12 months is quite something.

  1. Of course you can. For example, you can choose to not buy a car, which will save you easily 3.000$-5.000$ per year. Additionally, not owning a car relieves you from the risk to lose money by buying and later selling a car – usually, you get about 90% of your purchasing price back when you sell a used car one year after purchasing it – but accidents happen, market fluctuations are common and you might end up losing quite a chunk of money by investing into a used car that you plan to sell later on.The biggest problem with living without a car in Los Angeles is that one risks turning into some sort of an asocial zombie who has to ask his friends for rides if one wants to visit further-away places (that will eventually get annoying for your friends). The bus and subway system (Metro – Los Angeles Metropolitan Transport Authority) is existent but often not very reliable and has long distances between stations and lines – on top of that, the fast subway system doesn’t reach the westside of LA. Getting to a place with public transport usually takes two or three times as much time as using a car, so life becomes more tedious – especially if you plan to work on projects (e.g. film sets) and explore the city. The daily trip to college/work/university may be well doable by bus or bicycle if you’re able to find a conveniently located apartment – but any other trip, even groceries, can take you one hour without a car and twenty minutes with a car. It’s really all about priorities. Santa Monica has the much closer-knit Big Blue Bus System, a big bonus for people who plan on studying at Santa Monica College, one of the best Community Colleges in the US and A.
  2. If you buy a more expensive car that has better fuel efficiency, you will save on fuel, but the above mentioned risk of resale value loss is greater – a crashed brand-new Prius Hybrid is a worthless as a crashed 18-year old Nissan 240SX, just that the first hijacks about 20.000$ more of your financial outlook. I recommend to buy a cheap car if your budget and driving experience is low, and use it as sparingly as possible, for those trips that would be a pain when using public transport.
  3. Insurance is a tricky one, because this estimate doesn’t include a health insurance plan – if you’re studying at a college, you might be able to get a really good deal for college-provided health coverage. As for car insurance, that one can go from 50$ per month to 200$ per month, depending on driving experience, accident record, usage frequency, origin of the driver license, and the car model. I highly recommend Access Insurance, they are comparatively small and dirt-cheap.
  4. Rent varies greatly throughout the city; decent areas are usually around 700$ per month for a room in a shared apartment housing situation (that’s the number I mentioned in the graphic) – if you’re clever and patient, you can find deals for 500$, if you’re willing to live in shady areas or share rooms, you can get down to 250$ per month, which I highly dis-recommend. Craigslist Los Angeles is by far the best source for finding good deals.
  5. The food calculation is extremely low-budget and might be easily double of what I estimated if you go out often and/or are a passionate cook that likes to use a variety of foods and/or decides to go shopping for organic food. If you’re lucky, you have a Smart and Final or Food 4 Less-market close to your house, these will save you the most money.
  6. Beds can be cheaper of course; a simple mattress can be as low as 20$ – the 300$ version is a decently sized bed from IKEA – a good bed might truly add to your overall well-being.

So, how much shall I estimate?

If you are the king of super savers, you might get away with living costs as low as 6000$ per year (basically, living in South Central without a car, eating rice, drinking water, minimal cell phone usage), which really cuts a lot of fun, joy and life experience.

If you can somehow afford it, aim for 15.000$-20.000$ per year, because the two experiences (6.000 VS. 20.000) will be drastically different. I am not talking about the difference in the foods you can eat or the kind of car you have, or the kind of neighborhood you live in, or the amount of nights of binge drinking you can afford – I am talking about richness of experiences and fundamental freedom of exploration, choice and possibilities – the thing that makes you either despise or love your life.
I consider myself a cheap guy, pay 60$ for car insurance and 500$ for rent monthly (and achieved to live about 25% cheaper than my estimate with a similar standard of life) – but I wouldn’t go lower than that , because it would really kill a lot of my endeavors and adventures, both of which are much more worth more than money.

I also have to add that I am an international student from Austria (studying Film at Santa Monica College) and my parents support me with most of my costs, which makes me very, very fortunate. An American citizen will have a much easier time financing his or her life in LA because of the ability to have a job – us international students are not permitted to do so; we have very restricting rules concerning off-campus employment.


Questions? Post them below and I will include the answers in the article.

PS: The rest of the blog is in German, except a few filmmaking tutorials. Use the crappily Google-translated version of my blog for further reading or if you want to become a bodybuilder, learn German.

About the Author

Tobias Deml is an Austrian Filmmaker and Visual Artist. 2012 Cinematography Reel: Tobias Deml ist ein österreichischer Filmstudent und Möchtegernregisseur in Los Angeles. Er arbeitet derzeit als Kameramann in Los Angeles und popelt in seiner Nase.