Coffee heat rising

California Dreamin’

LOL! Check out the comments, below, especially from Deflating Dreams. 😀 English-major math strikes again! Gotta race to meetings just now, but will be back with an update.

Could I afford to live in San Francisco? Offhand, you’d think the answer would be no way, eh?


M’hijito is angling to get himself into a master’s program that would train him to be a physician’s assistant. Pay for such work is passing decent…good enough to get him back to San Francisco, where he craves to live. If he takes off for the Bay Area again, there won’t be so much reason for me to hang around this big old expensive house in a city not likely to shake off its economic depression any time in the near future.

Yeah, I know: California’s economy is in bad trouble, too. But Arizona’s nasty little secret is that we’re even worse off than California, second only to Michigan in unemployment. and thanks to the demagogues in the legislature, we’ve shot ourselves in the economic foot with SB 1070. That actually isn’t the half of it, to tell the truth. Arizona, I’m afraid, is about worn out as a place to live, certainly for anyone who aspires to the middle class.

I’d be sorry to leave the choir…but frankly, San Francisco has plenty of high Episcopal churches; surely one of them has a decent choir. And I really would regret leaving my best friends behind. But still, it’s something to think about. Blood being thicker than water, after all.

Let’s suppose I could sell my house and clear two hundred grand on it. Remains to be seen: prices are below pre-bubble prices here, but it’s a nice house in the quietest part of the neighborhood, and just this minute no obviously run-down houses directly abut it.

And let’s suppose M’hijito and I can unload the downtown house with a loss of no more than $52,000. I dispose of all but the most basic of my possessions, so it takes about $3,000 to move me up to the City. I’m left with net cash and retirement savings of $653,810. Not counting the remaining $10,000 of RASL supposedly coming my way, or the $14,000 emergency fund in the bank.

A 4 percent annual drawdown from this nest egg would come to $41,153; 5 percent would yield $47,690. My financial advisor says I have more than enough to last the rest of my life, even at a 6 percent drawdown, though that’s something I view with skepticism. So let’s work with 4 percent and 5 percent; add $15,000 of Social Security to those and you get a gross income ranging from $56,153 to $62,690. Subtract 23 percent for taxes, and you get a net of $42,237 to $48,270.

That just might provide enough to pay rent and buy food. Let’s check it out…

For the 4 percent drawdown, I posit a rent of $2,000 a month, which would get me into a studio or maybe a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco proper. If we subtract that rent from net monthly income and then deduct the expenses I can’t get out of—Medicare Part D, Medigap, and long-term care insurance—and then we subtract the estimated costs of utilities, does enough remain to live on?

That’s fifty bucks more than than I allow myself now!

Realistically, one isn’t likely to find a good apartment in San Francisco for much less than $2,500. That would require a larger drawdown from savings. At 5 percent with a $2,500 rent payment:

Think of that! I could probably do it. The place where I want to live includes basic cable service, so I might be able to engineer the DSL and phone through that. And given that most months I don’t spend $800, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that there’s enough play to cover unexpected expenses.

And that’s without any side income: no teaching gigs, no freelance assignments, no blog income.

It will take M’hijito two or three years to pick up the undergraduate requirements for a science degree and then get through the master’s. By then I will have established myself as the master of online courses at Paradise Valley Community College. If they’ll let me keep on teaching online no matter where I live, just that little bit of extra change would keep me quite comfortable in San Francisco.

And I know exactly where I want to live: in a historic national park. Yes. The San Francisco Presidio, an old military base, has been converted into a sprawling residential area, run by the National Parks Service. I would kill to live at the Presidio! O… M… G… I’ve loved that place since I was 12 years old!

The section called the Quarry has single-story two-bedroom apartments, wheelchair-accessible, for $2,425. The interiors are a bit on the military side, but with some adept decorating you could make it pleasant enough.

On Ruckman Avenue, you can rent in one of these places, with hardwood floors, remodeled kitchen, enclosed sunporches or verandas… A one-bedroom is $1,795, but the site says the apartments have basements, which presumably would give you room for office space or storage.

To die for. The Sanches neighborhood has two-bedroom apartments for $2,350. They look like regular old apartment buildings. But the price is right, and so is the size.

I dunno. I’d probably sacrifice size for charm, given a choice. The area where I’d really like to live is Baker Beach: $1,795 for a two-bedroom; and even a three-bedroom for $2,100. It’s directly across the street from the ocean, and the interiors are much nicer than any of the other affordable places. Unfortunately, they won’t let me keep Cassie in that part of the park, so that’s out.

Interestingly, you can get an employee’s discount if you work for any of the businesses on the grounds. So presumably once you got there, you could get in line to be considered for any openings that you could weasel your way into, thereby cutting the rent nicely.

In theory, if you lived in San Francisco you could probably dispense with the car. But I think out in the Presidio, you probably would need one. The Dog Chariot is a little big to maneuver in the City…but one could replace it with a Smart Car. The price is about what I’d get for my aging Sienna.


Get that degree, son, while I still have enough life in me to enjoy San Francisco!

21 thoughts on “California Dreamin’”

  1. Do it do it do it!

    110 degrees Farenheit is not a human-suitable climate, I don’t care who you are or what you do. Leave that crap for the rattlers and scorpions and go live in a nice place.

  2. once upon a time i lived in emeryville which is just at the other end of the bay bridge and my studio apartment there was $1100 a month. you could get a 2 or 3 bedroom for less than $2500 there and take bart in to the city in just a couple minutes anytime you wanted.

  3. Looks like it’s a viable option! I’m shocked that rent in San Fran isn’t really that expensive. The weather is cool most of the year, except a few days of heat; completely opposite from AZ. You can enjoy the outdoors all year long! It might be a great opportunity for you. Go for it!

  4. @ Carrie: Another option is the East Bay, but costs there are just as high as right in the City…in some cases, it seems, higher.

    @ Little House: Amazingly, rents are relatively low just now because of the depression. When my son was up there, he and his roommates couldn’t touch a place for under $2,500. To find a two-bedroom in the Presidio for $1,795 is some sort of miracle. Course, there’s probably a ten-year waiting list…

  5. Oh, I think this is a wonderful plan. You have said that your son is unhappy–I think being a PA would be great. There are tons of things to do in SF that don’t cost money–like taking walks on the beach.

    I had been told that the apts in the Presidio were perks for connected people–that they were very cheap. How great to know that they are open to the public.

    I think this is your best idea so far.

  6. er, how do you get a 4% drawdown on 653K to be 41K? 0.04 x 653,810 = 26,152 annually…
    That said, not having to pay $250 air conditioning bills would be a good start. You might also look at the Central Coast (San Luis Obispo area)–3-4 hours drive south of San Francisco, still some culture and wine country, and significantly cheaper. Finally, don’t forget that CA has high income tax (9.25%) and sales tax (8.5-10%, depending on where you are).


    P.S. I see what happened. What I have for gross drawdown is actually drawdown plus Social Security. Then I blithely added SS in a second time. Ohhh well. 😀

    • @ Deflating: LOL! So much for English-major math. I have no idea why that happened…must’ve punched the wrong figures into the calculator, which happens all the time.

      And so much for that idea. Guess I’ll be stuck in Arizona for the rest of my life. {sigh} Maybe I can at least sell this place and rent in a safer neighborhood that’s not surrounded by blight…Scottsdale, someplace in Tucson perhaps. With a rental somebody else can cover the costs of maintaining the place.

      Sales tax in Arizona is now 9.3%, BTW, and the state came up with a way to raise income taxes without officially having to say they’d raised taxes (which would get every bureaucrat involved lynched). They changed the way taxes are calculated, from a percentage of federal income tax due to a percentage of income. Cost of registering a car here is also quite high, especially for newer vehicles, and you get a good gouging for the emissions test, too.

  7. with over $675,000 you will be just fine moving anywhere you want to go. as long as you live within your means and keep working you should be able to enjoy your community and still sing in the choir on Sundays.

  8. Other costs of living are higher in CA. Gasoline costs more, food costs more, car registration costs more. I haven’t specifically compared to Arizona but do be aware of this. As an example you can put in different zip codes at for the weekly add and see that the sale in one place is $5 and $6 in SF. It adds up. I do think there are cheaper places in the east bay an are more car-friendly. The presidio is a long drive from a grocery store, let alone Costco (timewise, not as the crow flies). And eatin out is expensive, sum restaurants take on surchages to cover the fact they have to provide health insurance for the employees. I think it is doable here on $30k, but that is a small place. And there’s no need for AC.

  9. Funny, have you considered that when drawing down your retirement savings you may not need to contribute to new savings? Unless that is more like planned spending?

    • @ Nola: The $200 a month is not for life savings; it the diddle-it-away fund. This is the money I use to buy clothes and cover the cost of home and car repairs, plus the occasional real indulgence. I could not cover these out of cash flow without a small backup fund.

  10. I wonder of there aren’t some more “creative” housing options. When I lived in Houston, many people lived in garage apartments behind very tony houses. Some people might have little back buildings or basement apartments.

  11. deflatingdreams beat me to the punch – heck, if those figures were correct I could retire now! We plan to relocate OUT of CA (as many of our friends have recently) within 5 years, whether we can afford to retire a few years early or have to work a few more years before SS & Medicare kick in – anywhere along the coast or within an hour or two is totally out of our price range, and the central valley is no place to spend one’s last years. I really don’t see how anyone could live on the CA coast on retirement income unless they either have paid off their house already or were earning & saving tons more than the average person.

  12. No sales tax in Montana. 4% sales tax in Wyoming (but on everything-even groceries and services). Bad winters, but nice summer. But short summer. Summer is awesome (not too hot) but winter is BAD! Housing is very low priced. Gasoline prices are lower than California. Gas & electric is rather high priced. Produce selection is not very good, but locally raised beef, pork and lamb is wonderful. I would compare Montana’s winter to Arizona’s summer. You just do not get outdoors much. Unless you are a winter sports aficionado. Then you would love it here. So I don’t recommend it. But LOTS of people from California are coming to Montana and Wyoming for retirement. Crazy!
    (I haven’t come across anyone from Arizona coming here to retire, but I personally know a lot of folks in Wyoming who travel down to Arizona for the winter).

    Don’t really know what this has to do with moving to SF…just chiming in with my experience!

  13. @ Deedee: this appears to be profoundly true. For a state-by-state comparison of registration & gas tax costs, see

    The study’s posited vehicle is a 2007 Camry with a manufacturer’s price of $22,140 and a used retail value of $20,850, with a fuel efficiency of 24 mpg. Of course, the Dog Chariot is many years older than that…but it gets a grandiose 18 mpg when it’s in the mood.

    According to (, San Francisco is 126% more expensive than Phoenix. Most of that is engendered by the cost of housing, which is 383% higher in SF than in Phoenix.

    Really, there’s only one other place in California that I’d rather live in than Phoenix: Monterey, another venue of my dreams, except that it’s gotten altogether too crowded since I developed that particular fixation. It’s a lot cheaper than San Francisco, according to Best Places: only 26% higher than lovely uptown Phoenix. Housing is a mere 59% higher.

    How about San Luis, a suggestion offered by Deflating Dreams. Hevvin help us, San Luis Obispo is a hefty 80 percent higher, with housing 242% more expensive. {gasp wheeze}

  14. @ frugalscholar: 🙂 I would have adored living in someone’s converted-garage “studio” in my 20s. But today…well, I’m afraid I’ve passed that resilient time of my life.

  15. @ DeeDee: Y’know, I’ve lived in the desert all my life. I didn’t see snow until I was 12 years old. And I don’t think I would do well in a place where it snows: don’t know how to drive in it and would probably kill some hapless native! Probably I’d love Montana and Wyoming–my third-grade teacher and her husband escaped the sands of Saudi Arabia to run a guest ranch in Montana and adored it. But only in the summers.

  16. Oh wow! You’re really thinking about coming to SF? That’s great! Let me know.

    You can get a decent place for $2,000… but yeah, $2500-3,000/month is more like it for a decent 2bed/2bath in an OK location.

    It’s kinda cold here though… 55-70 during the summers only!



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