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How to Live Cheap & Still Have Fun in San Francisco

By Robert Lanterman

San Francisco is a lot of things, but cheap isn’t one of them. For instance, as of 2015 the rent for a one bedroom apartment was over three times what I paid for a two bedroom duplex around the same time in Boise, ID. Being new to the “real world” – AKA having your first real job, being out on your own – is a different case in San Francisco than anywhere else. Specifically, it’s a more expensive case. A California minimum wage job is nowhere near enough to pay normal rent in San Francisco.

That said, how does one afford to have fun? It seems nearly impossible with all of these factors in play, but I want to throw some ideas out that will make it a little bit easier to be able to have a good time and not be struggling for cash in the expensive yet wonderfully diverse and exciting hub that is San Francisco.

Know Your Freedom

Let me remind you that you live in San Francisco – you have public beaches there with access to the ocean. I don’t even like swimming, but if I was paying that much for rent each month, I might go everyday just for something to do. One of the greatest lies we often tell ourselves is that we can’t have fun without money, and San Francisco is a wonderful example of just how untrue that is.

There are plenty of free guided tours that help you explore the history of San Francisco, including the “Alfred Hitchcock Tour.” There’s so much history in the city that you should never have trouble finding something new to learn about on these free tours.

There are parks everywhere across America, but maybe most appealing to me is the “Skatin’ Place” on 6th Avenue and Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, where they have roller discos and in-line skating lessons, as well as free open skating at all hours of the day.

For all of you food lovers, b.street gives out free Belgian waffles on the first Wednesday of every month. And you know that Saturday markets always have free samples!

If you’re downtown, walk to your destination. It might take a while, but obviously, San Francisco is one of the worst places traffic-wise in the entire United States, so you’re spending about the same time anyway, and you’re getting some exercise (and saving on gas).

To find all these activities, I had to do to find those things was use google, and the list doesn’t stop with those things. Being bored is more or less your choice. So if you can’t think of things to do, find out what free things you can do.

Share Expenses

Having a roommate can make life more than twice as affordable for you if you’re already on your own. Actually, the price of a two bedroom place for two people might actually be less than the price of a one bedroom place for yourself. So the way I see it, you can cut down on your expenses by splitting them.

You guys can split groceries, laundry, tools, furniture, and other household items, as well as utilities. With friends, luxury things like Netflix and Hulu Plus can be shared as well. It may be worth your time to consider.

Stay Ahead and Out of Debt

This February, San Francisco shocked the entire country by announcing they would be the first city to offer free college. If you were thinking of going to school and were worried about money, you could get your first two years out of the way cost free. This is significant of course because when it comes to college many people are in still in debt from it.

The best way to keep your life affordable is to sacrifice a few things in order to pay off your debts earlier than you were on track to do. This can be really hard, but I find it to be the most effective way to get out of debt. My former boss told me one time that, upon graduating college, he moved in with his parents and did practically nothing fun for quite a while so he could pay off his debt.

Granted, this article is about how you can still afford to have fun, but some temporary sacrifices may be well worth your time if you can minimize your debt as much as possible. Some people benefit the best by properly building personal budgets, and others (like me) get their bills and expenses (including saving) out of the way and then stop caring. As long as you keep free things in mind, you can manage this.

 

Know Your Deals

Some things will always cost money. Alcohol, for instance, always costs money. That’s where you need to be aware of the best deals you can get. In the case of booze, happy hours around the city are all easily found online. One of the most interesting I’ve heard of is the ‘Class of ‘84’ Dance Party at the Cat Club every Thursday night – they have $2 well drinks before 10 p.m.. Maybe even better, every Friday at Monroe, there is a Battle of the Decades where, at 5 p.m., drinks are $1 and 1960’s music is played. At 6 p.m., drinks become $2 and 1970’s music is played, and it goes along changing in those increments like that every hour. Of course, there are cheap deals on food too all across the city, for instance First Thursday deals.

Also, try bargaining when you want something. I had a college professor who told me that when I go shopping, I should just simply try asking if I can get a cheaper price. Her advice has been pretty successful – I’m usually able to get at least a little bit of money off items – books, music, etc. – through just asking. Don’t be afraid to ask.

 

Save What You Can

Unexpected expenses occur. Not to be a downer, but you should be at least a little bit prepared for those things. So saving what you can of your income is good. Yes, this whole article is about fun, but do you know what’s not fun? Not being prepared for emergencies. Follow your inner boy scout and just put a little bit aside every paycheck. It could be the difference between several months or even years when unexpected expenses catch up to you.

My advice is to put aside 15 percent of your leftover money after bills and monthly expenses before you go out and party. This is a pretty small amount that will accrue well over time. It’s a way to be prepared without significantly changing your lifestyle.

Maybe your experience living in San Francisco is a lot different than this. If that’s the case, I want to hear about it! Share your story with me on Twitter @Robolitious.

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