California is known for its high cost of living, so those considering a move to the Golden State often wonder – is 90k a good salary here? At first glance, bringing home $90,000 annually may seem like a fortune. But given California’s steep housing costs and high taxes, you may be surprised to find that income doesn’t stretch as far as you’d expect. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down whether 90k is a livable wage in California and how far that salary can really take you given the state’s pricey rents and goods.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While 90k is well above the median salary in California, it may only translate to a middle-class lifestyle in the state’s urban areas and high cost-of-living coastal metros. You’ll be able to afford basic necessities, but likely not much discretionary spending.

Accounting for California’s High Cost of Living

California is known for its beautiful weather, diverse culture, and thriving economy. However, it also has one of the highest costs of living in the United States. When considering a salary of $90,000 in California, it’s important to take into account the various factors that contribute to the high cost of living in the state.


Housing is one of the biggest expenses for individuals living in California. The demand for housing in popular cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles is incredibly high, driving up the cost of rent and home prices.

According to Zillow, the median home price in California is significantly higher than the national average. Rent prices are also above average, making it difficult for individuals with a $90,000 salary to find affordable housing in desirable areas.

Goods and Services

Another factor to consider is the cost of goods and services in California. From groceries to healthcare, prices tend to be higher compared to other states. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of living index in California is higher than the national average.

This means that everyday expenses like groceries, transportation, and healthcare can eat into a $90,000 salary more quickly than in other states.


California has one of the highest state income tax rates in the country. It is important to account for this when considering the adequacy of a $90,000 salary. The state’s progressive tax system means that higher earners pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes.

Additionally, California has a high sales tax rate, which can impact the affordability of goods and services.

While a $90,000 salary in California may seem like a substantial amount, it’s important to consider the high cost of living in the state. Individuals with this salary may find it challenging to afford housing in desirable areas and may have less disposable income due to higher expenses.

It’s essential to budget wisely and consider all factors when evaluating the adequacy of a salary in California.

What Can I Afford Making 90k in California?

Living in California can be expensive, and it’s essential to know what you can afford on a salary of 90k. While this income is above the average salary in the state, it’s important to consider the cost of living and various expenses you’ll encounter.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key factors you need to consider.

Housing Costs

Housing is one of the most significant expenses in California, and it can vary greatly depending on where you live. In cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, finding affordable housing can be quite challenging, and it may be necessary to allocate a significant portion of your salary towards rent or mortgage payments.

On the other hand, if you live in a more affordable area, you may be able to find housing that fits within your budget.


Transportation costs can also take a chunk out of your budget. California is known for its traffic, and commuting long distances can lead to increased expenses for gas, tolls, and vehicle maintenance. Additionally, if you rely on public transportation, you’ll need to factor in the cost of monthly passes or fares.


Food expenses can vary depending on your eating habits and whether you choose to eat out or cook at home. While California offers a wide variety of culinary options, eating out frequently can quickly add up.

Planning your meals, cooking at home, and buying groceries in bulk can help you save money in this area.


Utilities such as electricity, water, and gas are necessary expenses that need to be accounted for. The cost of utilities can vary depending on the size of your home, the climate in your area, and your energy usage.

Implementing energy-saving practices, such as using LED lights and being mindful of water usage, can help reduce utility bills.


Healthcare costs can be a significant expense, especially if you don’t have employer-sponsored health insurance. California offers various healthcare options, including Medi-Cal for low-income individuals and Covered California for those who don’t qualify for government assistance.

It’s important to research and compare healthcare plans to find one that fits your needs and budget.


Living in California provides access to a vibrant entertainment scene, from concerts and sporting events to museums and outdoor activities. While it’s important to enjoy your surroundings and take advantage of what the state has to offer, it’s essential to budget for entertainment expenses.

Look for free or low-cost activities, discounts, and special offers to make the most of your budget.

Remember that everyone’s financial situation is different, and what may be affordable for one person may not be for another. It’s crucial to create a budget and track your expenses to ensure you can comfortably afford your lifestyle while still saving for the future.

How Far 90k Goes in Different California Cities

When it comes to salaries, it’s important to consider the cost of living in the area. In California, where the cost of living can be quite high, a salary of 90k can vary greatly depending on the city you reside in. Let’s take a closer look at how far 90k goes in different California cities:

San Francisco/Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its high cost of living. With skyrocketing housing prices and expensive amenities, 90k in this region may not stretch as far as it would in other parts of the state. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco can easily exceed $3,000 per month.

However, the Bay Area does offer a wealth of job opportunities and a vibrant tech industry, which can compensate for the higher cost of living.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is another city in California with a high cost of living. While the cost of housing may be slightly lower than in San Francisco, it is still significantly higher than the national average. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is around $2,300 per month.

However, with its diverse culture, beautiful beaches, and thriving entertainment industry, many individuals are willing to pay the premium to live in the City of Angels.

San Diego

San Diego offers a more moderate cost of living compared to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Diego is around $1,900 per month. With its sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and ample job opportunities, 90k can provide a comfortable lifestyle in this southern California city.


Sacramento, the capital of California, has a lower cost of living compared to the coastal cities. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Sacramento is around $1,400 per month. With its proximity to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a growing job market, 90k can go a long way in providing a good quality of life in this city.


Fresno is located in the Central Valley of California and offers a significantly lower cost of living compared to the coastal cities. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Fresno is around $900 per month.

With its affordable housing and a lower overall cost of living, 90k can provide a comfortable lifestyle in this region.

It’s important to note that these figures are general estimates and can vary depending on various factors such as personal expenses, lifestyle choices, and individual circumstances. It’s always a good idea to research the specific cost of living in the city you are considering and create a budget tailored to your needs.

The Middle-Class California Lifestyle at 90k


When it comes to housing, California is known for its high cost of living. However, with a salary of 90k, you can still find suitable housing options that fit within your budget. While you may not be able to afford a luxurious mansion in the heart of Los Angeles, you can still find decent apartments or houses in more affordable neighborhoods.

Websites like Zillow or Trulia can help you explore various housing options and find a place that meets your needs. Additionally, renting a room or sharing an apartment can also help you save on housing expenses.


Transportation costs in California can be quite high, especially if you rely solely on a car. However, with proper planning and utilization of public transportation options, you can effectively manage your transportation expenses.

Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles offer extensive public transportation networks, including buses, trains, and light rail systems. By using these options, you can significantly reduce your fuel and parking costs.

Additionally, biking or walking can be great alternatives for short distances, helping you save money while promoting a healthier lifestyle.

Leisure & Vacation

Living in California offers a wide range of leisure and vacation opportunities. From beautiful beaches to stunning national parks, there’s no shortage of places to explore and enjoy. While some activities may come with a price tag, there are also plenty of free or affordable options available.

Whether it’s hiking in Yosemite National Park or strolling along the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, you can have an amazing time without breaking the bank. Additionally, taking advantage of local discounts and deals can help you save money while still enjoying everything California has to offer.

Saving & Investing

With a salary of 90k, it is possible to save and invest for your future. It’s important to create a budget and stick to it, allocating a portion of your income towards savings and investments. Setting up an emergency fund can provide financial security and help you navigate unexpected expenses.

Consider opening a retirement account, such as a 401(k) or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), and contribute regularly to take advantage of potential tax benefits. Consulting with a financial advisor can also provide valuable guidance on how to make the most of your money and achieve your long-term financial goals.

How 90k Compares to Other California Salaries

Vs. California’s Median Income

When considering whether a salary of 90k is good in California, it’s important to compare it to the state’s median income. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in California is around $71,000. This means that earning 90k puts you above the average income for the state.

It’s definitely a good salary compared to the median income.

Vs. Tech & Finance Jobs

California is known for its thriving tech and finance industries, particularly in cities like San Francisco and Silicon Valley. In these sectors, salaries can be significantly higher than the state average.

For example, software engineers and data scientists in these areas can earn well over 100k per year. While 90k may not be at the top end of the salary scale for these industries, it is still considered a good salary, especially for those starting out in their careers or in mid-level positions.

Vs. Public Service Jobs

In California, public service jobs, such as teachers, firefighters, and police officers, play a crucial role in the community. While these jobs may not offer the same high salaries as tech or finance positions, they often come with other benefits, such as job security and retirement plans.

In comparison, a salary of 90k is above the average income for many public service jobs in California. It can provide a comfortable living and allow individuals to support their families and contribute to their communities.


While $90,000 is well above what the typical Californian earns, the state’s sky-high housing costs and steep taxes mean it may not allow for as lavish a lifestyle as you imagined. In coastal cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, earning 90k will provide a thoroughly middle-class life. But you’ll be firmly in the upper-middle class living in less pricey metro regions like Sacramento or Fresno. Across California, 90k provides a comfortable salary to afford basic needs, some extras, and middle-class homeownership. But it likely won’t be enough for luxury expenditures or early retirement dreams.

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