When it’s cold as fuck outside, everyone thinks about moving to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles has it all: stars, palm trees, beaches… oh, and ridiculously high rents. Navigating LA on a budget can be… a challenge, to put it lightly.
But not impossible.
I’ve been living in LA for 4 years now, so I’m practically an expert. (I am not. Please don’t tell LA natives I said that, they’d bully me so bad.) Here are some things you should know about living in LA on a budget.
Location. Is. Everything.
If you’ve heard anything about LA, it’s probably how bad the traffic is. Or that we have a place called “Eggslut.” The rumors are true — the traffic is bad and there indeed is a breakfast place called Eggslut. Pretty good sandwiches.
For traffic reasons alone, you want to very carefully consider where you live in LA. But there’s reasons beyond commuting, too.
For the average person, rent is your biggest expense. So it’s important to get it right. There’s a wide spectrum in rent costs in Los Angeles from neighborhood to neighborhood. For example, if you’re ballin on a budget, you’re probably not going to find yourself renting the highlife in Beverly Hills.
But you also don’t want to just choose the cheapest neighborhood possible and hunker down. It’s important to think about where you rent as your home base. Ask yourself:
- How’s my commute? Gas isn’t cheap around here, so for both your wallet and your sanity, consider how close you live to work.
- What’s around me? Are you someone who prioritizes going out? If you don’t have a few bars and restaurants you like in walking distance, will you be spending more money on Ubers every week? Be honest with yourself and take it all into account.
- Is there parking included? Depending on where you are in LA, parking can be make or break.
I’m not someone who goes out much, so when I moved to LA, I landed in the valley. Cheaper rent, more space, and ample parking. The midwesterner in me is thriving.
And, finally… let’s be real: there’s no magic trick that makes housing in LA affordable, so at the end of the day, you might need to find a roommate.
Start by asking anyone you know in LA if they have any recommendations for Facebook housing groups – they’re the secret key to finding someone tolerable enough to spend 24/7 in a 600 square foot apartment with.
Be a responsible foodie
LA has an amazing food scene. Amazingly delicious and amazingly expensive. It’d be easy to spend my entire paycheck on brunch alone, but apparently I also need to pay bills and rent. That’s why grocery budgeting is an essential part of living here.
Most people have a grocery store they would die for. Find yours & declare your loyalty. I used to be a diehard Trader Joe’s gal (for the snacks ofc), but I’ve recently graduated to Sprouts (I know, very adult of me). I coupon like nobody’s business. By checking through the Sprouts (or Ralph’s, Von’s, whatever your store du jour is) coupons before I go shopping and arriving at the store with a prepared list, I cut my grocery costs down upwards of $20 each trip.
Keeping my groceries in check is how I make sure I have budget for the main event: dining out. As someone who will scroll through The Infatuation website for hours on end just to make a single decision about where to go to dinner, I take it all very seriously. Cleo’s helped me set a restaurant budget so I don’t spend too much indulging myself. And when I go over, because I got a reservation at Bestia and I just couldn’t pass it up, Cleo gives me gentle (or not so gentle) reminders to cool the f*ck down.
And when it’s the end of the month and you just need a cheap bite?
- My favorite breakfast burrito in LA is at Jack’s Classic Hamburger. It’s $6, big enough to keep me full the whole day, and there are french fries in it. Yup. French fries.
- Monte Carlo’s Pinnochio in Burbank serves a $10 plate of pasta, cheap enough to even excite the Ohioan in me.
- For all other food needs, seriously, The Infatuation has the answer.
Lean into the thrift
LA has a reputation for being superficial and all about looks. It’s… well, a little true. I don’t let myself fall too hard into participating – I definitely don’t have the budget or the patience to go blonde – but one LA trend I do love is the thrifting. LA thrift stores are like no other – amongst the weird old junk you’ll find some amazingly cute threads for unbelievable prices.
- One of my favorites is “It’s A Wrap” in Burbank (have you noticed all my recommendations for affordable places are in the valley??) – they sell clothes from movie and TV productions. You get cute, cheap clothes without contributing to the terrible environmental effects of fast fashion (sustainability FTW), and you get to impress your cousin in Idaho by telling them your t-shirt might’ve once been worn by Jennifer Lawrence. Win-win.
- Seek out your local Buy Nothing Facebook group. The Buy Nothing project is a group of location-based communities of people giving away items to their neighbors. Search “[your neighborhood name] + buy nothing” and join the group closest to you. Not only have I gotten some amazing items for free by being in this group, but I’ve also gotten to know my neighbors, like we’re living in the 1950’s. It’s wholesome AF.
Fun can be free!
My absolute favorite thing about living in LA? There’s so much fun to be had for free.
Whether it’s going to the beach (where I’ll circle the blocks for 30 minutes to find street parking because hell no I’m not paying $20 to park), hiking in Griffith Park (like I’m some sort of nature goddess), or attending some weird free promotional event, there are SO many ways to have fun for free in LA.
- Santa Monica & Venice Beach: Sure, you might have to pay for parking – unless you’re like me and determined to circle the block for 30 minutes to save yourself $20. Look, nobody said being thrifty was always easy.
- Griffith Park: A place for a beautiful hike like you’re some kind of nature goddess, and actual free parking. What a concept!
- The Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens: This has got to be one of my favorite places in LA – it’s ridiculously beautiful and so big you can easily kill a whole day. Tickets normally cost $25, but once every month, they give away tickets for free. Check out the Free Day ticket page to stay updated on when the tickets get released – because they go faster than a One Direction concert.
My friends are always amazed at my ability to find a free event with free food – did you know movies and TV studios will often promote new releases with live activations where they just give you sh*t? I stay tapped into studio and network Instagram accounts, because they often advertise the events there. If you’re lucky, you might find yourself attending a free screening of a movie in Hollywood Forever Cemetery with free snacks and branded swag or attending a Bachelorette-themed picnic (speaking from experience).
Some of the accounts I follow that have delivered with advertising fun events with free food:
Oh, and if you ever meet someone in the Television Academy? MAKE. FRIENDS. “For Your Consideration” season starts in March, and that’s when TV shows try to court Emmy voters by putting on killer events with open bars and free food. Academy members get a plus one, so… put those networking skills to work, baby.