This post is by Jason Hellerman from No Film School

I moved to Los Angeles in 2012 and got a job as an assistant. When I look back on those days, the only thing that shocks me is how little money I was paid and how little I could live on. If you want to move to Hollywood, you must realize that the expenses will be high. But it can be hard to make an accurate budget for a place you know only little about. Well, that’s where I want to help today.

I want to take you through a budget reflecting what it costs to live in Los Angeles. We’ll break down the cost of living for a one-bedroom apartment, plus utilities and expenditures, and even theorize what your salary might need to be to cover this nut.

As we talked about last week, it’s increasingly hard for people who are poor or middle class to break into Hollywood. If you know what it costs, you can save and prepare as needed before you make the big move.

Make sense? Let’s dive in.

How Much Money Do You Need to Move to Los Angeles?
‘Oliver Twist’
Credit: Warner Bros.

How Much Money Do You Need to Survive in Los Angeles?

When I moved to Los Angeles, I lived on a couch for a few months. I came with $250 to my name and was very lucky to find a job almost immediately. I used leftover student loan money for the downpayment on a car, and my job allowed me to pay my buddy minimal rent while living on his couch.

After two months, we moved into a two-bedroom apartment together. This was not an easy time in my life. I ate mostly free meals at work, and I was constantly picking up extra jobs to pay the bills. I bartended, did coverage, and even helped people move on weekends. It was a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle that lasted years.

That was a decade ago, so what does this look like now?

How Much Money Do You Need to Survive in Los Angeles?
‘Breaking Bad’
Credit: AMC

What to Budget to Live in Los Angeles

Let’s make a rough budget for what it would look like to live in Los Angeles now. We’ll do it by category and then add it all up

Average Rent for a One-Bedroom Apartment in Los Angeles

Right now, the average one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles costs around $2,700. If that seems high, that’s because it is high. It’s really expensive to live here.

While that’s a city average, you might want to search for cheaper neighborhoods. Make sure you check on crime rates and also if the apartment has parking and laundry inside. And I can tell you that it gets so hot in the summer, you either want AC or to make sure you have enough windows to stick fans all over.

You could take on a two-bedroom apartment and split everything with a roommate, and that is preferable if you are moving here. But some people come when they are older and want to live alone. The average cost of a two-bedroom apartment is around $3,200.

No matter what you choose, you will be spending the majority of your income on rent.

How Much Money Do You Need to Move to Los Angeles?
‘New Girl’
Credit: Fox

Average Cost of Utilities in Los Angeles

When it comes to utilities, you’re going to pay for electricity, water, internet, trash, and natural gas. Your LADWP bill will really vary based on if you have central air or not. If you have central air or run the AC around the clock, your bill will be hundreds of dollars. I would say the average for a one-bedroom is around $100 a month. But there is a wide range here.

For natural gas, it’s pretty cheap. You might only pay $5-$10 a month here. Trash depends on your apartment complex. Mine charges $25 a month for trash removal, so we will go with that.

Altogether, for baseline utilities, you’re paying around $130 a month for everything.

How Much Money Do You Need to Survive in Los Angeles?
‘The Big Bang Theory’
Credit: CBS

Average Cost of Groceries in Los Angeles

This will vary depending on how much you eat, and how much you go out to eat. If you get a job as an assistant, you’re going to need to do a ton of drinks to network, which can add hundreds of dollars a month. Let’s say that monthly you can survive on $200 worth of groceries, and let’s also say you need $200 in going out money, which is a low estimate. You can assume that includes movies, dinners out, and paid coffee.

We’re at $400 here. And you’re living cheap.

How Much Money Do You Need to Survive in Los Angeles?
‘Modern Family’
Credit: ABC

Average Cost of a Car in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is not a friendly city when it comes to public transportation. Everyone drives. You can’t even do an unlimited Uber, because they cover every state except for California. Which is wild.

I have taken the bus to work before. It was cheap and easy, but my commute in a car was 15 to 20 minutes, and on the bus, it was 40 minutes. But you can usually buy bus passes for different routes that are cheap.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow. Car payments to lease a new car will be around $400 a month. Gas right now is hovering around $5 a gallon here. If you fill up your 11-gallon tank twice a month, that’s $110.

You also want to take parking into account. Meters, valet, etc. You should budget an extra $30 a month in parking.

So you’re looking at $140 if you own your car, and $540 if you are leasing or financing. Again, expensive! Plus insurance, which I would estimate to be around $150 a month, depending on how new your car might be.

If you were bussing and Ubering, I would still leave around $250 in my budget line, because of surge pricing.

How Much Money Do You Need to Survive in Los Angeles?
‘The Fast and the Furious’
Credit: Universal Pictures

Other Miscellaneous Costs in Los Angeles

All right, now we are getting into the miscellaneous costs of living in Los Angeles. What do you pay for health insurance? It won’t be covered by your job necessarily, although mine was. What about student loans? Netflix/HBO/Hulu/Amazon, etc.? Your cell phone?

Here’s how I’ll break down these lines, and you can add or subtract what you have or don’t have.

  • Health Insurance – $350
  • Student loans – $350
  • Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/HBO – $65
  • Cell phone – $100

How Much Money Do You Need to Survive in Los Angeles?
streaming services
Credit: shutterfly

Your Tallied Los Angeles Budget

I broke down the budget into several different options. Let’s look at them.

1BR Apartment – no one splitting – max expenses

  • 1BR Apartment – $2,700
  • Utilities – $130
  • Groceries – $400
  • Car Payment – $400
  • Gas – $110
  • Parking – $30
  • Car Insurance – $150
  • Health Insurance – $350
  • Student Loans – $350
  • Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/HBO – $65
  • Cell phone – $100

TOTAL: $4,785

1BR Apartment – no one splitting – min expenses

  • 1BR Apartment – $2,700
  • Utilities – $130
  • Groceries – $300
  • Gas – $110
  • Parking – $30
  • Car Insurance – $150
  • Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/HBO – $65
  • Cell phone – $100

TOTAL: $3,585

2BR Apartment – splitting rent and utilities – max expenses

    • 2BR Apartment – $3,200/2 = $1,600
    • Utilities – $130/2 = $65
    • Groceries – $400
    • Car Payment – $400
    • Gas – $110
    • Parking – $30
    • Car Insurance – $150
    • Health Insurance – $350
    • Student Loans – $350
    • Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/HBO – $65
    • Cell phone – $100

    TOTAL: $3,620

    2BR Apartment – splitting rent and utilities – minimal expenses

      • 2BR Apartment – $3,200/2 = $1,600
      • Utilities – $130/2 = $65
      • Groceries – $300
      • Gas – $110
      • Parking – $30
      • Car Insurance – $150
      • Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/HBO – $65
      • Cell phone – $100

      TOTAL: $2,420

      So How Much Money Do You Need to Live in Los Angeles?

      If you found the above numbers disheartening, that’s because they are, but there are many ways to cut down on a lot of this stuff. Buy an older car to avoid that payment, and get an apartment close to your job so you can cut back on gas. Take coffees instead of expensive drinks. Or limit yourself to just buying a beer and not a $15 cocktail. If you are lucky, your employer might pay for your health insurance and your cell phone. That happened to me and saved me a ton.

      Still, let’s talk about starting salaries. If you move to Los Angeles and you’re working in Hollywood, you can expect to make around $40K a year to start, with $50K being a great starting salary. After taxes, that’s between $2,500 a month and $3,125 a month. As you can see, neither would cover the max expenses, which is why so many people have to get help from their families or go into credit card debt, which is not ideal!

      None of these starting salaries cover you living in a 1BR by yourself. Unless you take extra side gigs, which is reasonable but will work you to the bone.

      I am aware average rent prices can feel inflated because they include places like Beverly Hills, where the rent is so high it can move the mean, but even if you were grabbing a 1BR for $2K a month, which is totally possible in LA, that $700 in savings won’t move that much of the needle if you have all those other expenses.

      How Much Money Do You Need to Survive in Los Angeles?
      ‘Family Guy’
      Credit: Fox

      Summing Up How Much Money Do You Need to Move to Los Angeles?

      The answer here is “a lot.” To make it in Los Angeles, you are going to need to find a job that pays reasonably well. And you’re going to need to be smart with your money. It’s why so many people choose to get jobs outside of Hollywood and attempt to break in. They usually pay better and have more reasonable hours.

      We have an entire guide for assistants to help once you’ve locked down a gig, and we’re working on more stuff to help you rise in the ranks.

      Got questions or comments or even advice? Put them in the comments below. You have dreams, we want to see them become a reality.