budget living

Living in San Francisco is Expensive But It Has a Lot of Free Perks and Programs

San Francisco is an expensive city. There is no denying that it costs a lot of money to live here. Rents are outrageous. Buying a home can feel impossible. However, for as much as people like to complain about it, this isn’t a city only for the rich. A lot of people still live here on lower and middle class incomes. And if you’re in those lower-earning classes, you can take advantage of a lot of great perks and programs.

You Can Live Here If You’re Not Upper Class

Head over to the Pew Research Center’s income calculator and you’ll discover some interesting information. You can use this tool to figure out if you’re lower, middle, or upper class. Moreover, you can see how many other people in your area fall into that same category. If you make $100,000 then you’re upper class. Many people feel like you have to be upper class to be able to live in San Francisco.

However, only 30% of people living in the San Francisco Metro Area are upper class. That’s more than the rest of the US (where 19% are upper class.) Still, it means that 70% of people here are either lower class or middle class. Granted, this is for the whole metro area, including Oakland and Hayward. Chances are that people in lower classes are living outside of the city. Still, it’s important to realize that even though there’s a tendency to believe that you have to be super-rich to live here, there are people (myself included) making their way here despite living in the lower classes.

San Francisco Housing Is Expensive

One recent report found that you need to earn $61 per hour to be able to afford to rent a two-bedroom house in San Francisco. People are definitely often crowded into studios and one bedroom apartments here. Another report found that you need to earn at least $200,000 per year to afford to buy a median-priced home in the city. Housing is expensive.

Low-Income Housing Programs

Notably, though, there are a lot of programs in place for people who want to rent or buy a home despite a low income. There are first-time homebuyer programs. There are special loans to cover down payment costs. I’m not saying that these programs are easy. They’re certainly not perfect. We have a long way to go towards affordable housing here. But there are some options, and people living here on a lower income shouldn’t overlook those options.

Awesome Free Programs and Activities

If you’re under a certain income bracket, then you can access a lot of programs in the city that help reduce your costs. Personally, I use San Francisco Health Plan, which is the local version of Medi-Cal. I don’t have co-pays and I get good medical care. Likewise, I use the discount program to get a lower-income price on my PGE utilities. I already have a college degree, but if I didn’t, then I would definitely take advantage of the opportunity to attend City College for free, which is an option for any California resident living in San Francisco.

One of the coolest new things that lower-income people can access in this city is free access to museums. If you get low-income services, such as Medi-Cal, then you qualify for free entry for up to four people to several of the major museums here. You can enjoy art and science at places that do have pricey admission but will allow you in for free.

More than this, though, there are so many great free and cheap things to do in San Francisco. You don’t have to be “poor” to enjoy them. The library alone offers classes, business resources, events, art displays, movie showings, book readings, and access to certain museums at no charge. There are also free days at most museums that residents of any income level can take advantage of.

I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to I could do one free thing here every single day. If I added in low-cost (say under $10) then I could definitely fill every day. There are parks and beaches and people-watching, of course. There are parades, festivals, free concerts, outdoor movies, comedy shows, open mic music and literary readings, multiplayer tag and treasure seeking games … the opportunities really seem endless.

So, yes, it costs a lot to live here. You’ll pay a small fortune for your housing. But the overall cost of daily life here doesn’t have to be exorbitant.

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Kathryn Vercillo

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