When my husband and I moved to LA from DC, we thought we knew almost everything there was to know economically about living in a “big city”. After all, we were natives of the nation’s capital. How different could it be living in Los Angeles? Just like DC, we knew LA would be expensive. So we researched and created our budget. We had all the major areas covered like cost of living, rental costs, job pay rates, etc. And we already had friends here who gave us their tips on living in LA on a budget.
So, we were ready. What could we possibly not know now? Well, a lot. Here are five things we probably should’ve known about financially, before moving to LA.
5. Bring Your Own Refrigerator. Most Rentals Don’t Come With One
We were baffled by this one, but this is an LA thing that’s pretty much etched in stone. Most rentals in LA county don’t come with refrigerators, but some places will rent one to you for a fee that is tacked on to your rent. Our first landlord rented a refrigerator to us for $35 extra per month. We took the deal because we were tired, hungry, and pretty much needed a place to store our food pronto. And frankly, we had too many other things on our minds and didn’t feel like shopping for a refrigerator. But the monthly fee really added up.
Tip: Make room in your budget to buy a refrigerator when you get here or to buy one before you get here and rent a U-Haul that’s big enough to accommodate it. If you have to wait to buy one when you get here, we’ve found pretty good deals on Craigslist.
4. Illegal Parking on Street Cleaning Days. Average Ticket $40
This is another one that took some getting used to. Los Angeles reserves certain days and times for street cleaning in every neighborhood (check the signs on your street for days and times). It’s usually for a two hour period, one day a week, on one side of the street. For example, if one side of the street you live on is cleaned on Mondays from 12 noon-2pm, then the other side of that street will usually be cleaned the next day, Tuesday, from 12 noon – 2pm. So basically two days out of the week, for a two hour period, you won’t be able to park on one side of the street. This is good to know because many apartment complexes in LA don’t have parking so you have to park on the street.
The day after my husband and I arrived in LA, someone buzzed our call box. It was our downstairs neighbor warning us to move our cars for street cleaning or we would get a ticket. She saw our out of state tags and figured we probably didn’t know anything about it. I don’t remember her name now, but thank you wherever you are!
I don’t know about other cities, but in DC the jaywalking laws are almost never enforced. So needless to say, this is a part of LA culture that I simply wasn’t used to. And I still forget about it from time to time, even after living here for five years. But I’ve seen this one in action. I walking in Downtown LA on lunch break one day, and saw an LAPD officer on a motorcycle roll up on a guy who was jaywalking and issue him a ticket. At first I wasn’t sure that’s what I was actually seeing because truthfully it was the first time in my life I had ever seen anyone get ticketed for jaywalking. So take this one seriously. Tickets can range from $190 – $250.
2. Most Apartments Aren’t New Looking and Are Relatively Small
This will save you more time than money. But it can also save you money because you won’t spend extra for that “newer” place when the older places can meet your needs just as well. I lived in a suburb of DC that had pretty awesome new looking places for about the same price or even less than what you typically find in LA. And the places were usually bigger. But it’s just the way things are here. Most rentals are older and can even look a little run down from the outside. If you keep shopping until you find an apartment that looks like what you’re used to, you might end up spending more money than you have to. I’ve found that as long as the neighborhood is safe and clean and your place has air conditioning, heat, is free of pests, and everything functions like it’s supposed to, you’re doing well here. Yes a smaller, less fabulous looking place can take some getting used to, but you get to live in one of the coolest cities on the planet in exchange. I’ll take it!
1. The “You Need a Car” Myth
Granted, this one isn’t for everybody, but I know someone who moved to Los Angeles a couple decades ago without a car and is still getting around fine today without one. If you absolutely want to move to LA, but don’t have a car yet, don’t let that hold you back. You don’t necessarily need to buy a car before you come here. There is plenty of transportation available from buses, to the subway, to the commuter train, to Uber. And, because weather is so good here, biking is big.
The Los Angeles public transportation system consists of the Metrolink commuter train, Metro Rail (the subway), and Metro (the buses). Buses run pretty much everywhere. The subway goes to most places, although at the moment there are no trains that go to the West side of LA. But there’s currently a project underway called the Purple Line Extension that will extend subway services to that area. The Metrolink commuter train also runs to several places in LA county. This option, however, is a bit more expensive.
Metro bus fares are about $1.75 one way (there are discounts for seniors). The Metro rail subway fare is the same. However, you can also purchase day passes ($7), or seven day passes ($25) . Metrolink commuter train fares are calculated based on the distance you travel. Traveling just two stops from Burbank to Union Station costs me almost $12. I admit, this is not for everyone. You can find Metro bus and Metro rail maps and fares by going to www.metro.net. For Metrolink, go to www.metrolinktrains.com.
Uber has grown into a big business in LA. I’ve taken it to avoid drunk driving after parties and it’s worth it. Prices are reasonable (definitely less than taking a taxi), and service is usually quick.
Moving to LA has many challenges, but also many rewards. There are so many cool things to do here. So avoid the traps that will cost you unnecessary money and use the extra change to enjoy this awesome city.