California is a state where many people aspire to live, and it’s easy to understand why.
The state is home to Silicon Valley, Hollywood, breathtaking beaches, majestic mountains, and a mild climate that features warm summers and gentle winters in certain areas. Add to this a high standard of living, and the allure of California is clear.
Unsurprisingly, the Golden State is well-known for its significantly higher cost of living compared to other areas in the US.
But does this apply to every corner of California?
Absolutely not! Let’s delve into some of the most affordable places to live in California and discover how it’s possible to live on a budget in this fascinating state.
California is the 3rd most expensive and the 9th best state to live in the US.
The local cost of living is the sum a family or an individual spends to maintain a specific standard of living in a particular place. It includes payments for housing, transportation, groceries, utilities, leisure activities, education, healthcare, and other necessities. Let’s explore this in relation to the cities of California.
This is one of the critical factors influencing living expenses. High living costs can be attributed to the significant demand and low supply of housing. In California, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment measuring 430 sq. feet (40 sq. m) is $1,767. Buying a house in the city center, however, costs about $6,000 per 10 sq. ft. (1 sq. m).
The cost of everyday goods varies by region, being lower in rural areas than in cities. Average monthly grocery expenses for one person amount to $667, while a family with one child will spend around $891.
The cost of utilities varies based on location, personal preferences, and house size. On average, in California, a single person will spend $117 on utilities, while a family’s utility bill will be around $181.
Owning a car in California is costly, leading many to use ridesharing systems like Uber and Lyft or taxis. Public transport, the most economical option, varies in cost based on the specific system and distance traveled. On average, a monthly ticket costs $68, while a single taxi ride over a distance of 5 miles (8 km) will cost $17.8.
These costs depend on personal preferences. A gym membership typically costs $45.5, a movie ticket $13, and a haircut $20. A trip to a theme park, of which there are many in California, will range from $100 to $200 per person. As a result, one should budget $300-$400 for this category.
These are often costly. A primary care physician (PCP) consultation usually costs between $100 to $300 without insurance, a specialist visit ranges from $200 to $500, and an urgent care center visit costs between $100 to $200. It’s worth considering medical insurance options that suit you.
Although services and amenities are typically cheaper in small towns, I believe that due to a lack of competition, services in smaller cities may be pricier than in larger ones.
Ultimately, the cost depends on the specific location and the required services or amenities, and each option must be evaluated individually.
Monthly Expenses in California
If you choose to rent a one-bedroom apartment, cover utilities, and use public transport with a monthly subscription, all the while being sensible about your leisure spending, you can meet a budget of approximately $2,500, which includes rent.
If you opt to live without renting an apartment, your expenses would be around $849, which is 1.24 times more expensive than the US average.
To give you an idea, the average post-tax salary in California is $4,530, which is enough to cover 1.8 months of living expenses.
Average Costs of Living in Cheapest cities of California
Rent (room, 1br apartment)
Utilities (gas, electricity, water)
Grocery & Food (non-restaurant)
Cheapest Cities to Live in California Map
Cheapest Cities to Live in California
Visalia boasts a central location in the Central Valley, conveniently close to major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. This proximity is an undeniable advantage if you are seeking a lower cost of living.
The most popular sectors for employment in Visalia are agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, and general services.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are nearby, attracting those who enjoy hiking, camping, and outdoor activities. The residents take pride in their city and cultivate a hospitable and welcoming atmosphere.
The average cost of living in Visalia is $1,924, ranking 308th out of 319 in California. The median post-tax salary is $3,354, sufficient to cover 1.7 months of living expenses.
Rent for a budget-friendly 1-bedroom apartment averages $807 per month.
Expect to pay approximately $60.50 for dinner for two at a restaurant.
Internet service averages $64 per month.
A monthly transport ticket costs around $50 on average.
Most agriculture-based companies tend to hire staff during the winter for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.
2. El Centro
El Centro, the administrative center of Imperial County, has one of the lower tax burdens compared to other parts of the state. In addition, this city offers some of the lowest prices for housing and services. The city’s economy is primarily based on agriculture and the public sector, which, along with government agencies, offer the main employment opportunities. Education and healthcare sectors are traditionally in need of personnel.
The average cost of living in El Centro is $2,026, ranking 147th out of 319 in California. The average post-tax salary is $3,901, sufficient to cover 1.9 months of living expenses.
Monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center averages around $833.
A dinner for two at a restaurant will typically cost about $40.10.
The average monthly cost for Internet service is $83.
A monthly public transportation ticket will cost about $58.20.
Overall, El Centro ranks second after Visalia as the most affordable place to live in California. However, it does have some drawbacks:
If you plan to move there without having a confirmed job lined up, you may face difficulties.
If you’re not a fan of extremely hot summers, with temperatures exceeding 100°F, you will have a hard time.
Situated in Central California, Bakersfield offers easy access to stunning natural landscapes, such as the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Sequoia National Forest. This location is perfect if you enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities.
Bakersfield experiences a warm and dry climate, boasting over 300 sunny days a year. The city is steeped in agricultural traditions, and its distinctive food culture adds to its charm. Aside from agriculture, sectors like energy, healthcare, and logistics provide abundant employment opportunities.
The average cost of living in Bakersfield is $1,892, ranking 313th out of 319 in California. The average post-tax salary is $3,371, enough to cover 1.8 months of living expenses.
Rent for a budget-friendly one-bedroom apartment is approximately $811 per month.
A dinner for two at a restaurant typically costs around $48.
Internet service averages $58 per month.
A monthly transport ticket falls below the state average at just $44.
Helpful tip The city’s population tends to hold progressive political views, providing a comfortable atmosphere for like-minded individuals, unlike the rest of Kern County where Bakersfield is located.
Some drawbacks: Some of the parts of Bakersfield have high air pollution
Merced, situated away from the coastal areas of California in the Central Valley, boasts a lower cost of living, making it one of the most affordable cities in the state. This is reflected primarily in the affordable housing prices and transportation costs. Additionally, the costs of various services in Merced are lower due to its smaller population.
The University of California’s presence significantly influences the local economy, offering excellent educational opportunities. Industries traditionally in need of personnel in California such as healthcare, education, and agriculture are prominent, as are engineering and construction, business and finance, social services, and nonprofit organizations.
The average cost of living in Merced is $1,748, ranking 318th out of 319 in California. The median post-tax salary is $2,927, sufficient to cover 1.7 months of living expenses.
Rent for an inexpensive one-bedroom apartment averages $724 per month.
A dinner for two at a restaurant costs around $64.40.
Internet service costs approximately $76.90 per month.
A monthly transport ticket averages $29.90, the lowest among the listed cities.
5. Yuba City
Yuba City, located in the heart of the fertile Sacramento Valley, thrives on agricultural production, delivering fresh farm products directly to consumers.
Its proximity to the state capital, Sacramento, offers a wealth of employment opportunities and leisure activities, though Yuba City itself maintains a more relaxed pace of life and lower prices. The primary employment sectors are healthcare, education, agriculture, and the public sector.
Yuba City boasts a rich history dating back to the Gold Rush era, with many monuments from that period. The city’s culture is a vibrant mix, influenced by the Punjabi and Mexican populations, resulting in unique festivals and national holidays like the Sikh parade. The nearby Sutter Buttes mountain range and Feather River offer excellent opportunities for outdoor activities such as boating, hiking, and picnics.
The average cost of living in Yuba City is $2,143, ranking 113th out of 319 in California.
The median post-tax salary is $3,239, sufficient to cover 1.5 months of living expenses.
Monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center averages around $1,100.
A dinner for two at a restaurant typically costs about $85.50.
The average monthly cost for Internet service is $67.70.
A monthly public transportation ticket costs $67.80.
I recommend making purchases at WinCo Foods 24/7; it offers low prices and typically isn’t crowded with customers.
For household and grocery purchases, consider stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Costco.
If you’re looking for great hangout spots to make friends, Plumas Street Pub and Iguanas Mexican Grill are decent choices.
Located in the heart of California’s Central Valley, Fresno is close to stunning national parks such as Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. Its surroundings of open spaces, lakes, and hiking trails make Fresno appealing to lovers of outdoor activities, boating, fishing, and hiking. A diverse mix of cultures and a rich cultural life, characterized by festivals, arts, and culinary experiences, distinguish Fresno.
Employment opportunities abound in sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, education, and logistics. Healthcare is particularly promising, with a constant demand for doctors and medical staff.
The average cost of living in Fresno is $1,979, ranking 301st out of 319 in California. The average post-tax wage is $4,569, enough to cover living expenses for 2.3 months.
Rent for a budget-friendly one-bedroom apartment is about $1,010 per month.
A dinner for two at a restaurant typically costs approximately $48.
Internet service averages around $54 per month.
The monthly transport ticket, one of the lowest in the state, is only $37.50.
Helpful tip Fresno has the potential to become one of the most beautiful and developed cities in California within the next 20 years, so it’s worth considering this promising and relatively inexpensive place as a future living destination right now.
Though rental prices in Chico are slightly higher than in the previously discussed cities, they are still lower compared to larger cities. This is attributed to Chico’s main advantage – the presence of California State University, creating a vibrant, youthful atmosphere. Healthcare, retail, customer support, hospitality, and agricultural and food processing workers are in high demand. The city boasts a friendly atmosphere, with cultural events, farmers’ markets, and festivals fostering a sense of community.
Surrounded by beautiful nature and Bidwell Park, Chico offers fantastic opportunities for hiking, outdoor activities, and swimming.
The average cost of living in Chico is $2,276, ranking 92nd out of 319 in California.
The average post-tax salary is $3,638, sufficient to cover 1.6 months of living expenses.
Rent for a budget-friendly one-bedroom apartment is about $1,116 per month.
A dinner for two at a restaurant typically costs around $65.
Internet service averages around $65 per month.
The cost of a monthly transport ticket falls below the average at $43.50.
Redding is situated in northern California. The cost of living in Redding is lower compared to major cities, much like the other cities under consideration here.
A unique aspect of Redding is its supportive community spirit, characterized by philanthropy and an established network of volunteers. For instance, United Way of Northern California collaborates with volunteers and supports education and healthcare among other areas. Redding offers access to stunning natural landscapes, including Mount Shasta and Lake Shasta, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Turtle Bay Exploration Park, and the Trinity Alps.
Hence, it’s an ideal city for those who love outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, and hiking. There is a demand for professionals in healthcare, education, technology and IT, engineering, construction, and environmental science in Redding.
The average cost of living in Redding is $2,015, which ranks 232nd out of 319 in California.
The median post-tax salary is $2,861, sufficient to cover 1.4 months of living expenses.
Rent for a budget-friendly one-bedroom apartment is around $999 per month.
Expect to pay about $47.60 for dinner for two at a restaurant.
The average monthly cost for Internet service is $67.
A monthly transportation ticket averages $48.70.
Helpful tip Redding, unlike Bakersfield, is the most conservative city in California, so keep this in mind when evaluating it as a potential place to live.
Modesto is another city in California’s Central Valley. The primary contributors to the city’s economy are healthcare, education, and manufacturing, which offer the majority of jobs.
The city is notable for its community cohesion – residents are familiar with their neighbors and are always ready to lend a helping hand in times of need. Confidence and trust among its inhabitants define the city, which is also known for its relaxed pace of life. Various cultural events and festivities take place here.
The average cost of living in Modesto is $1,910, which ranks 311th out of 319 in California.
The average post-tax salary is $2,200, which is enough to cover 1.2 months of living expenses.
Rent for a budget-friendly one-bedroom apartment is around $977 per month.
Expect to pay roughly $54 for dinner for two at a restaurant.
Internet service costs approximately $62 per month.
A monthly transport ticket is below the state average at just $41.
Helpful tip The Mancini Park area is not very safe to live in, if possible, avoid renting housing there.
Here’s a table showcasing the necessary annual income (both before and after taxes) required to maintain a living wage for a family with two working adults and one child across nine selected cities in California, as well as California as a whole.
Cheapest Places to Live in California
Required Annual Income After Taxes
Required Annual Income Before Taxes
California on average
Among these nine cities, Visalia emerges as the most affordable, followed by El Centro. Bakersfield holds the third place, with Modesto rounding out the list.
Living Cheap as a Digital Nomad in California
While California might not be the cheapest place to live for a digital nomad, there are several strategies that can ease everyday life and save money.
Consider settling not in the major cities, but in the smaller surrounding areas, like Sacramento and nearby cities. Yuba City is a potential choice in this regard.
Choosing individual accommodations can also be a significant money-saver. Opting to cook meals at home rather than eating out can also contribute to substantial savings.
In today’s market, there is a wide variety of co-working spaces or affordable cafes like Starbucks that offer free Wi-Fi.
Opting for a bicycle as a primary means of transportation instead of relying on public transit is both eco-friendly and economical, allowing for easy navigation around the place
Cheapest Places to Retire in California
Retiring in California can be quite appealing given the state’s great weather and numerous recreational opportunities.
Here is my pick on several places in California that are quite affordable and are great options for retirees.
Bakersfield: The city offers a warm climate, outdoor recreational opportunities, and a rich cultural scene with music festivals and art shows.
Fresno: A variety of outdoor activities due to its proximity to several national parks. Healthcare is a growing industry in the area, providing good access to medical facilities.
Redding: Also beautiful outdoor scenery, including access to lakes, hiking trails, and national parks.
Hemet: Hemet is in Riverside County and is popular with retirees due to its lower housing costs and warm, dry climate. It has several senior communities, golf courses, and outdoor recreational areas.
El Centro: A good option to save on taxes.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much money do I need to live comfortably in California?
As of 2023, for one person to live comfortably, approximately $2,500 per month should suffice. However, this depends largely on your lifestyle and habits.
What part of California is the cheapest to live in?
Areas such as Bakersfield and Fresno in the Central Valley, along with Northern California cities like Redding and Chico, tend to have the lowest cost of living.
How does the cost of living in California compare to other states?
Among the 50 states, Hawaii, New York, and California are the three most expensive in terms of cost of living, with California ranking third on that list.
What are some cheap and safe places near Los Angeles?
If you’re aiming to live on less than $2,000 per month, consider Panorama City and Van Nuys. These areas are relatively affordable and still part of Los Angeles, with a commute to Burbank of less than 20 minutes. Also, take a look at the South Bay area, including Torrance, Redondo Beach, and El Segundo, as well as the Long Beach area.
California is not only a state known for its pleasant climate and beautiful natural surroundings, but it’s also one of the most economically advanced and progressive states in the country.
Additionally, it’s one of the healthiest states, with a culture that values physical fitness. This is a positive factor for people of all ages when choosing a place to live.
After all, the state is developing smaller cities to match the living standards of the larger metropolises, and despite being the third most expensive state to live in, there are still places where the cost of living is relatively lower.
Meet Sergio! A travel enthusiast with a zest for exploration, he’s all about discovering Spain’s beauty, especially the Canary Islands! 🏝️
As a true Canary Islands lover, Sergio dedicates his time to uncovering hidden gems and capturing stunning landscapes that make this paradise so unique. He combines his love for adventure and in-depth knowledge of the region to inspire fellow travelers and help them create unforgettable memories on their journeys through the Canary Islands and beyond!
This post might include some affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. I appreciate it when you use my links to make purchases.