Breaking Down What Makes These Californian Cities Too Expensive

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Feb 20, 2024

With the cost of living going up pretty much everywhere, cities that were previously somewhat expensive have now become even more expensive.

A study was conducted following Californian families (two working parents who have two young children, ages 4 and 8 years old), and the results are rather shocking.

California Is the Most Expensive Place to Live in the U.S.

According to the study done by Business Insider, California contains six out of 10 of the most expensive U.S. metros for families.

An aerial view of California. There are some mountains in the distance, but most of it is green fields and buildings.

Source: Alfred Twu/Wikimedia Commons

This is based on a list of factors that a family of four is typically expected to use monthly and how much these are expected to cost.


The Family Budget Calculator

The family budget calculator was created by the Economic Policy Institute and helps families in various cities and states discover the rough amount they might be spending monthly.

A person holding an iPhone with the calculator app open. The number is set to zero. They have a file open in front of them that has pieces of paper in it.

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These factors are housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, other necessities, and taxes. All of these add up to show what the average family in the U.S. is likely to spend per month.

Bakersfield, California

According to Business Insider, one of the cheapest places to live in California is Bakersfield.

Bakersfield skyline at sunset. The arena takes up the main part of the image and to the right, there are various buildings, a road, and a light-up sign.

Source: Robert Hale/Wikimedia Commons

Bakersfield has a monthly cost of $8,269, with child care being more expensive than housing, as this costs $1,766, whereas housing costs $1,137.

Modesto, California

Next up is Modesto, California, which has an average monthly total of $8,835.

A gas station in Modesto. There is a road and a tree to the right of it, with a tall building behind.

Source: Missvain/Wikimedia Commons

Child care is also the most expensive here; however, it is cheaper than Bakersfield and costs $1,648 a month. Housing here costs $1,365.

Stockton, California

At a slight jump up from Modesto is Stockton, with a monthly cost of $9,467.

Stockton, CA. There is a body of water at the front of the image and some buildings and palm trees in the background

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Here, transportation costs slightly more than housing as it costs $1,516, whereas housing costs $1,513. Child care is also the most expensive and costs $1,832.


Sacramento, California

Another jump up from Stockton is Sacramento, which goes into an average monthly cost of five figures at $10,373.

Sacramento at night. There is a body of water with a boat on that has its lights on. There are various buildings in the background.

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Housing is significantly more expensive here than any other factor and costs $1,756 a month. The cheapest is any other necessities a family might have, which is roughly $1,013 a month.


Napa, California

A significantly bigger jump is Napa, California, with a monthly cost of $12,765.

Downtown Napa. There is a road with some traffic lights on red. There are buildings on either side of the road and cars that have pulled up.

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Just like with Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, the highest monthly cost is housing, which costs the average family $2,388. Similarly, the cheapest monthly cost is food, which costs $1,261.


Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, California

Jumping up a bit now in terms of overall monthly price is Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, California, which costs around $12,901 a month.

A view from Santa Maria-Santa Barbara. The view is of a mountain range and field.

Source: Missvain/Wikimedia Commons

Housing is significantly more expensive here as it costs roughly $2,667 a month, with child care and taxes also significantly adding to this as they cost $2,301 and $2,246 a month, respectively.


Oakland-Fremont, California

Slightly further up the list is Oakland-Fremont, California, with an average monthly cost of $12,972.

The Oakland-Fremont skyline. There are some palm trees in the foreground. The main image shows some buildings and trees. The background is a bit hazy.

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As with most cities on the list, the most expensive is housing, as this costs $2,405 a month. Food and other necessities a family might have are the cheapest on the list, as they cost $1,200 and $1,276, respectively.


San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California

Much further up the list was San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, with a jump of almost $1,000 at a monthly overall cost of $13,752.

San Jose in the daytime. There is a road and on either side there are palm trees and buildings.

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Housing in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara costs just under $3,000 a month. However, food costs are cheaper than in Oakland-Fremont, as they cost $1,183.


Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California

Next up on the list and another significant jump in terms of overall cost is Santa Cruz-Watsonville, which costs an average of $14,509.

An aerial view of Santa Cruz, CA. The mainland is mostly fields, with there being more buildings towards the coast. On the left of the image is the sea.

Source: Mertbiol/Wikimedia Commons

Housing is significantly higher than other costs on the list, costing $3,293 a month, with taxes coming in second at $2,728 a month.


San Francisco, California

Finally, the most expensive on the list, which may or may not come as a surprise is San Francisco, California, which costs $15,106 a month.

The San Francisco skyline at night. The Golden Gate Bridge is visible and lit up, whilst being on top of a body of water. In the background are various buildings.

Source: King of Hearts/Wikimedia Commons

However, housing in San Francisco is slightly cheaper than in Santa Cruz-Watsonville, as this costs $3,188 a month. Health care is roughly half this amount and is said to cost around $1,682 a month.