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Ask HN: How much do you save in the SF Bay Area with $120k salary?
59 points by symbolepro 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

I'm going crazy trying to sort through this. Got a job offer with one of the big bay area companies. $140K base + bonus/stock to get to $210K. Doesn't seem like enough to move my family there from the midwest, so I'm about to say no because I can't make it work (while saving for retirement/paying for college/etc) on $200K per year? WTF?

I've lived in downtown SF for 5 years and as I type this visiting Nashville TN, as I am thinking about moving to Nashville.

The biggest expenses to consider in SF besides the obvious housing costs:

- Food + drink + groceries are way, way, way more expensive. There is no Walmart in the city. Get used to corner stores that charge a hefty premium. I miss Walmart and strip shopping malls.

- Income taxes. Tennessee for example has 0% income state tax, excluding dividends. The 0% state income tax in Tennessee also includes capital gains (stocks, company selling) which is huge.

- Health insurance. San Francisco according to my quick research using Blue Shield retail prices are some of the most expensive in the entire United States. I pay $500 a month for a middle of the road plan (single). That's a car payment for a nice BMW or Mercedes. Absolutely absurd.

Why not live in the suburbs of bay area (East Bay, for example), and quickly cut 30% of your housing costs? Obviously the commute sucks (I endure it daily), but it makes the numbers work. It boggles my mind that most software workers think that they have to live in SF. Bonus: There's Walmart and strip malls in the East Bay. :)

Agreed with your other points though. Not having staate income tax is a huge bonus.

> It boggles my mind that most software workers think that they have to live in SF

Because they don't want to spend 6 hours a day commuting?

6 hours is kind of an exaggeration, it's more like 2 hours total which could be well worth it

OOC, what's your daily commute in total hours spent on the road, and what does it cost you monthly?

I drive 22mi across hwy 92 to work.

44mi x $.535/mi[1] + $5 bridge toll = $28.54 per day to commute to work.

That's $~628/mo all-in to commute via car. My additional housing costs in the peninsula would easily be more than that for equivalent housing (2br SFH).

Commute is typically 40m-1:10 to work and 28m-1:10 back, depending on when I leave (and time of year). I normally head to the gym after work which means I skip the heaviest traffic on my way home.

Averaged, commutes are 40m each, which was my door-to-door time when I used to commute to the city via Bart (admittedly, not as pleasant).

[1] Based on IRS mileage rate.

Thank you for using IRS mileage rates. It's so intellectually dishonest when someone has a 60 mile commute and says, "Oh it only costs me $3 because my car gets really good mileage!"

Those mileage rates are very, very generous though. As a car owner who tracks the expenses pretty closely, I can tell you, driving 10,000 miles a year does not cost anything like $5350, inclusive of car payments (or depreciation if you've paid it off), gas, maintenance, tolls, parking, registration, inevitable tickets, etc. It might be about right if you drive an $80k car that gets 15MPG, though.

Its a reasonable rate to reimburse employees for driving their own vehicles for work by (I'd estimate its about 95%ile of expenses), but a poor rate to estimate general car ownership costs by.

Tell us more!

What's the breakdown for your actual all-in commute costs on a per-mile basis, and how have you arrived at those numbers?

Oh gosh, that's a cakewalk of a commute. Thanks for the details!

Nice! We're just a few hours away. Visited during the Stanley Cup madness, they love their Preds. Knoxville is also a very cool place, both possible spots for us as well.

I lived (edit: in SF) for about six months a few years ago. One thing I did find is that liquor at SafeWay is way cheaper than it is back home, lol.

Shoot me an email (in my profile), interested to chat.

My comment suffered from a contextual lobotomy. I lived in SF for ~six months, not Nashville, sorry. :/

you're not crazy. i have tried to come up with a scenario that would let SF match the material wealth I have in seattle for less than 300k/year (2x increase), but to no avail. It's just not a sensible place to have a family.

Exactly. If I saw a path to $300K in the next 2-3 years I'd probably just gut it out, but nobody is going to make a commitment like that to me, sooo.

FWIW if you’re working at on of the Big 5 that’s pretty achievable, although primarily in RSUs. I started at $125k and was at over $300k total after three years. Obviously at a start up it’s going to be very different.

Big 5. I keep hearing about this refresher magic but nobody will give me numbers to work with.

You're not alone in that conclusion - I think you either need to have purchased a home during the last real estate correction or be DINKs (or both) for it to really make sense financially.

Single earner with kids? My wife and I moved here on an offer less than that and were quite comfortable... That was almost 5 years ago, but cost of living was close.

Just curious. How many years of experience do you have?

I'm a dinosaur. 20 yrs in my industry.

I'd say no. Not the valley. I just moved my family to Seattle, same situation. I'd been a freelancer in Kalamazoo and the work had mostly dried up, so I got this huge offer and it seemed too good to pass up. I'm having huge doubts as to whether it was the right decision. SV is twice as expensive, I'd not consider it.


Also have you lived in SV before? I did years ago and didn't care for it even as a 20-something. At least WA has no state tax, mountains right next door, and eh, I like the culture better. More real, less flashy, and still has some blue-collar too. I think better for families. If your offer is from a big name, then they've certainly got a Seattle office. I'd inquire about that possibility. And salaries are very close, especially considering the state tax.

But like I suggested, even Seattle is hard to call a slam dunk. If there was more than one crappy company to work for in Kalamazoo I'd have loved to stay. It's cheap, it's a college town so there's stuff to do, has an amazing arts scene for its size, great outdoor activities, good public schools and park/trail system, and a good mix of political views that still talk to each other. I've lived in IN and OH too, and had less affection for those. So I guess a lot of it depends on your current situation too.

But if you've got a decent job with benefits and are living in a place you don't mind, 140K won't get you far in SV. One other quick note: before moving out here I looked at housing prices but didn't realize that the places that were showing up in my budget were all horrible school districts, so if you think you're seeing some nearly-affordable options, cross-reference the school guides.

Also consider what to do if you don't like your new job. (My situation). After spending a ton of money and dragging family through untold stress to make the big move, you're stuck in a job that isn't that suitable to your strengths or interests. You have to worry about your performance all the time, work late, and have no particular interest in the subject beyond making the next mortgage payment. Any financial buffer you have now will be shot in no time in SV, whereas presumably in the midwest you have enough buffer to take some time experimenting.

That said, perhaps that's one upshot of SV over Seattle. If you don't like your job in the big 5, there are lots more options from startups and mid-range companies to choose from. Seattle isn't quite as deep, especially east side. Granted, I haven't tested those waters, so maybe it's deeper than I realize.

Used to live in Kalamazoo, but now in the Bay Area. Kalamazoo is a great place. A big enough city so that you can find most things you need, but ridiculously cheap housing. At 25 and fresh out of school I bought my first house on a salary of $50K/yr. Brand new home, one of the better neighborhoods, great schools, short commute. You could find nice bungalows from the 1960's for less than $100K.

However, it was a one company town, that's why I left.

Also I think if you're in SWE and have 20 years experience in anything beyond VB6 or COBOL you're being vastly lowballed. Most relos from MW to west coast are. Feel free to DM me, same name at gmail or twitter.

Good to hear you don't face ageism. Mind to share specifics - what industry/stack?

Apologies for the throwaway, and numbers are rough


  - 1500/mo in 401k
  - 6200 after-tax, after 401k income
  - 2800 savings from after-tax income
  - Total discounted savings/mo, roughly: 2800 + .85 * 1500 = 4075
Is the bay area cost of living expensive? Absolutely. But I'd argue if you're a generally frugal person you'll save more (in absolute terms) here than anyplace else. I doubt I could get much above $100k anywhere else but NYC.

$100K+ is doable in just about EVERY major metro area outside of New York as a developer depending on experience. e.g. You won't find that for jr-mid level positions but Sr. and up you can easily.

Throwaway, but for perspective in Minneapolis there's quite a few Sr dev positions pay $125k+, if you play your cards right there's even a few $210k jobs for people with 3-5yrs experience.

ok, Throwaway, I'll bite. My username at usual suspects.

In Houston sr. devs(3+ years of experience if your driven, 7 if your not) are easily making 100k+. And most devs who are on hacker news could easily make 140k+.

I'll second the comment about $100k in Houston, though in general most of the jobs are in health care or energy, and you'll find yourself doing something like .NET or ColdFusion.

I do think you overestimate the average skill level on HN though :-)

It's true. I write enterprise .NET for health care and energy companies :).

But you get to write some cool things. The last three things I built were

A system that takes sensor data from wells across the world, runs them through a physics engine, and displays those results to users across the world in real time.

A web app that lets users easily write complex queries to retrieve cancer tissue information across multiple departments in a large research institution.

An app to upgrade an entire codebase using a compiler to figure out the semantic meaning of different code snippets and transform them to the new version.

So it's not all boring :).

And I haven't met a mediocre dev who was familiar with Hacker News. Honestly I've thought about replacing my tech interviews with one question "Have you heard of Hacker News?"

What is wrong with .NET? For some reason it is not sexy here but c# and certainly f# are great languages and large parts of the stack is open source. Not quite sure why it is seen as something negative especially when something like JS is seen as positive.

> What is wrong with .NET?

Nothing at all. I've done quite a bit of it (ColdFusion too!). Nothing wrong with health care or energy industries either. I do think there's a lot of the HN crowd that only have eyes for the hip languages or fun startups though, whether it makes sense or not.

Let's make .NET hip again... Rise4fun, f# and yes, f* are seriously cool. For any self professed language freak. The framework is robust, fast and now available everywhere. I write and compile large projects on Linux and working on a tool chain to compile iOS Xamarin on Linux.

It is very nice. And Bridge.Net is very mature as well; all our core libraries compile with only a few injects and it is not too big either compared to what I see most people doing online.

I do a lot of JS because legacy but it really hurts when you have such nice languages and tools.

"And anyone who is on hacker news could easily make 140k+"

If only it were that easy.

You're right, not everyone, but last time I talked to a recruiter they said good .NET tech leads were making 140k-160k, and 6 month contract gigs were paying 60-90/hr.

The good devs I know are all making 120k-150k while the mediocre devs I know with 5+ years of experience are making 100k+.

So 3400/mo or less in expenses?

Mind breaking that down?

What's your housing situation?

Transportation costs?

I spend $1150 on rent. $100 on utilities. $300 on food. $150 on transportation. Plus a few hundred for annual expenses of flying home and buying new clothes. Adds up to a little over 20k per year.

Plenty of families in the Bay Area earn less than $120k and get by. I feel very fortunate to earn more.

What's your living situation that makes $1150 per month possible? Room mates?

Three people in a three-bedroom apartment in Millbrae.

Craigslist shows many rooms in the Bay Area less than $1,500, though almost no studios.

I live in San Francisco and have made 120k for the last year (just recently got a raise to 130k). I don't have a family to support, and live with friends renting a bedroom for 1600/mo in a 4br in Bernal Heights (I prefer to live with people, so not having a 1br apartment downtown helps a lot).

My take home is around 77k annually and I got about 1300 back from taxes last year. I eat out/go to bars a couple times a week, but mainly try to cook for myself. I have a few hobbies that eat money and I end up spending a couple hundred at least every month on them. I travel every 3-4 months, have gone to Seattle, NY, Vancouver, LA in the last year.

With all this I've still saved somewhere between 30-35k. I also bought a motorcycle with all the crap that comes with that (gear, insurance, parts, etc) in that period, so if I hadn't then I'd probably have another 8k or so.

I honestly make more than enough money to live comfortably and when I moved to the city I was only making 80k and my rent was the same. I still felt I had enough to live comfortably but I wasn't able to save nearly as much.

120k will be fine as a single person in SF. If you have a family maybe not.

Make 110k, take home around 4800 month after taxes and maxed out 401k.

Rent $1600 in SF (lucky here). But I still have over $2k month after all expenses. As a single person, I consider myself fortunate.

People will complain about living expenses but they need to calculate the income - expenses plus what the area you want to live in. City living isn't always a viable option for people. Whereas some people love it.

I don't think I can find any urban city that I can live in and find myself in a situation where I can bank more than $2k a month after expenses and maxed out 401k.

SoCal was an option for me. However I hate the suburbs, hate having a car and the salaries for new grads were 50-80k where most rents were still at least $1300.

So how does that rent compare to the mean in the area, and what are you renting at that price? Because, as an outsider, that seems remarkably low (the averages for SF that I can find suggest 2-3k for a studio or 1-bedroom).

Also, how does the rest of your budget break down? Math suggests $1200/mo for all other expenses and I'm curious how that's allocated.

Yea I have been spending a little too much. It's the moving cost and weddings I have been attending that are killing my budget.

Yea rent for studios are between 2k-3k a month. And I'm near downtown with only 20 minute walk to work. I live with my brother but if it wasn't for him, I still prefer to live with other people.

Again, depends on the lifestyle that people want. I know people who want their own place, have a car, maybe even a boat. They will have to work in places that aren't NY or SF.

So room mate and no transportation costs. That context helps a lot, thanks!

Dallas, make 110k and take home 6100 and expenses are about 1.8k including car payment and nice 1k sq/ft 1 bedroom apartment in uptown

it really depends on where you want to live but man its really nice to live where there are no income taxes

Unfortunately, you're not going to get an exact answer here, because everybody's lifestyle is slightly different. However, you can guess what's going to be the big changes in your budget. I think there will be 4:

1) Your take-home pay will change. Use a calculator for you exact number, but according to [1], a single person will take home about $6,400 / month.

2) Unless you live in Manhattan, your rent will dramatically increase. Like everywhere, there's a huge range. Want to live in Oakland with a roommate and bike to BART? You could probably find $1,500 / month. Want a new construction 2 bedroom downtown or close to Caltrain on the peninsula? $5,000 / month. Houses can easily run $8,000 / month with mortgage + taxes if you can scrape together the $300k down payment. Look around on Zillow and ballpark it.

3) Eating "nice" food out isn't cheap. There's plenty of good, cheap eats, but if you're thinking date night, it's easy to drop $120 for 2 people then go off and order half a dozen $8 beers. The high end is really bad -- there's a bunch of amazing restaurants that are $75 - $100 for 6-8 courses. If you're moving from a small city, these simply don't exist. This might be a shock if you're used to eating at "the best place in town" for a special occasion.

4) Depending on where you are in life, there's a bunch of family-ish things that can really eat up a budget. Dog walkers are $20 / day. Infant day care is $2,000 / month. Getting around is kind of a pain if you don't exclusively live, work, and play in the city, which can be fixed by giving Uber $25 / ride. And unlike other cities, there isn't anything that's remarkably cheap (e.g. when I lived in VA, groceries were like half the price I expected. It was great.)

Ultimately, though, a lot of people make it work. The networking and career attitudes in tech are unmatched (I moved from Boston at age 30), the weather is great, and it turns out that a bunch of my friends who I thought had disappeared had just moved out here and they all hang out.

If you're just in it for the money, it's a close call. Your best bet is to work out here between age 22 and when you have kids, then move somewhere affordable with the $5mil you made during that time. But that's not exactly why I moved here -- I've learned more in the last 2 years than I thought possible, and I've fundamentally altered the arc of my career. I may leave at some point, but I'm glad I moved out here.

[1] https://smartasset.com/taxes/california-paycheck-calculator

Just a gut check, here: assuming you have kids at 32, and start working at 22, it'd be a bloody miracle if you made 5 mil gross, let alone after taxes and expenses. That's half a million per year, every year, starting from entry into the industry. Google pays a lot, but it sure as hell doesn't pay that much.

$5M in 10 years at $120k? Even at $200k it's $2M before tax without living expenses. I don't see how you get to $5M unless you're working at Google etc. and even then it's extremely unlikely. You'd have to save half a million a year. Where is this dream job?

Maybe he's counting on winning the stock options lottery. Pretty unlikely, based on my experience.

Slight tangent, but my wife and I hated the weather in the Bay Area. The lack of seasons was disturbing on a subconscious level for someone who grew up with them. OTOH, if you like constant 70-80's with sunshine, you'll probably be fine.

Judging from this thread, very few people are going to be saving 5 million dollars by the time they retire much less decide to have kids.

At $115K, I take home about $5.5K/month, of which I save about $2.5K.

That's commendable. Would you mind breaking down your budget a bit?

It's really a housing and commute question. Living one hour away from work can reduce cost of living by 25%.

But quality of life with that much commuting (?) :-/

Interesting comments but curious to know from the perspective of racism and related issues. As an Immigrant from India, and Living in California (for over 10 years) at this time seems to be best bet from that perspective.

With expanding family, I have been contemplating a lot to move outside of CA for cost saving but thoughts about racial issues plaguing the country just makes me nervous.

Did you experience it yourself? I haven't heard many reports about racial violence against Indians.

As a white person, I occasionally experienced verbal aggression from Black people (didn't talk back, so it ended that way). I think the other way round is more or less a taboo these days.

I don't live there but saw this and thought it might help (shows salaries around the world adjusted for cost of life, I found it accurate for London and Berlin).


I can attest Houston is a great city for saving money. I was able to save $40,000 living in a nice 1400 sq ft house in a beautiful historic neighborhood, 5 minutes from downtown. This is while my wife was going to school and not working, we were going out to eat and/or drinks 4-7 times a week, and taking two week long vacation each year.

Used the savings to quit my job try and get a startup or consultancy going.

I'm shocked by some of these answers. Is SF that ridiculously expensive these days?

For reference, I was saving 50% of take-home on a $90k salary three years ago, living without roommates in a nice neighborhood in NYC - which isn't exactly known for being inexpensive.

What do you spend that much money on?

linkregister had a conservative breakdown of a fresh graduate saving $1k/month:


Numbers are from a year ago, but rents haven't increased too much since then, and we had assumed the grad's salary was $100k.

would be curious to know take home pay (120k minus tax) as well

Salary * 0.6 is a fairly close guesstimate for take home pay in San Francisco if you're making low six figures.

take home at 130 was almost exactly 3k/check

housing ate 48% of my monthly income

This is why I'm going to Southern California in the future rather than the Bay Area. Still, housing in California..

Yeah, orange_county is right: you're not going to find much better down here either. If you're not in Santa Monica paying bay area rent for a rundown shack you're going to make less the further inland you go, and the rents don't get much cheaper.

Housing is still expensive in socal with lower salaries. Anything in California is a bad deal in my opinion.

Hey, I was in a similar situation 2 years ago when I had a similar offer from one of Facebook, although in the high-cost European city of London. Pros:

- you will learn a lot at these companies

- you will work with very smart people, which is a great experience

- your expectations (toward yourself, your peers, the product you're working on) will be torn apart and recalibrated at a much higher level, which is a good thing

- working on products that are used by 100s millions / billions of people is a positive human experience because you're helping give people services that improve their lives (buying books so they can learn to program, building products so they can keep in touch with their loved ones, helping them find information on the web, etc.)

But, keep in mind:

- these are big companies, so the peopleware is slow: getting promoted takes time and depends on a myriad of factors outside your control; don't _count_ on it [in the first 2 years]

- the signing/relocation bonus won't be around in year#2, so dependending on how much of a refresher you get, you could make less in year#2

- stock prices fluctuate! it could go down 30% (as well as up 70%) in the next 9 months; as a rule of thumb, make sure your base salary covers living expenses

- as a rule of thumb, assume your refresher grant will be 1/2 of the initial stock grant, and has the same vesting schedule; use Quora to get more details on your specific company, or ask a friend who works there

- be sure to use the correct tax rates (also for stocks) when net'ing the offer numbers (look out for federal and state taxes, income vs cap.gains)

- if you're a software engineer, the offer numbers seems a bit low vs your 20 years of experience for SV, esp. the stock part

--- either this company pays less than others or they're under-leveling you

--- if you care, ask your recruiter what level they put you at

--- there's rational reasons for these big tech companies to under-level people with lots of experience, which is that they have their own internal stack and ways of doing things, plus they're very good at spinning people up in their bootcamp programs, so they don't care _that_ much about prior experience

- if you take the offer, you will probably soon meet people at the company (or in SV) who are doing roughly the same job as you are, are a _lot_ younger, but have _significantly_ better packages because they had better signaling (went to top uni, had competing offers); depending on who you are, this may end up bothering you

Another thing to consider: many of these companies also have offices in the US, but outside of SV, eg. Seattle, Washington, Texas, NYC, where I believe they offer roughly the same packages, but cost of living / commutes are much more reasonable.

Good luck!

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