Living on the Cheap in the Bay Area: Resources and Tips

Over the years as a graduate student living and working in the Bay Area–one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S.–I’ve accumulated a small list of resources and tips to make ends meet and have a hell of a good time while doing it. I’ve come to share this list with new graduate students at UC Berkeley and via emails with friends and cohort members, and am now posting it here for others to use and add to. Some of the links and discounts may be outdated, but most of these resources still exist.



Home & Beauty Saving Tips (or how to live well under $20,000 in the bay area)


  • PG&E (1-2 person household w/combined annual income of $30,500 & below)
  • CARE program: get 20% off your monthly heating and electric bill or 1-866-743-2273
  • Energy Partners Program: free energy efficiency measures (new showerhead or fridge, weatherization measures, etc.) or 1-800-989-9744
  • Verizon, and probably most cell phone carriers give you 20% for being a student/employee of the university
  • Airbnb: While I don’t fully support this company (they don’t pay taxes, the use of apartment space solely for airbnb rentals lead to crowding and rent increases in cities, violation of apt contract, etc.), but for the grad student trying to make it, renting out my apartment through this service has been an extra boost to my monthly income. Every time I go to a conference or a short weekend trip, I rent out my 250-sq foot apartment in the worst part of SF for $100-125/day.


  • Urban Ore: really cheap everything, used & vintage; accepts credit card
  • Post-docs listserv: a lot of “im moving back to my country and selling everything” type sales
  • North Berkeley streets! And weekend estate sales.
  • Cal Overstock & Surplus Auction:,ca/list/current?orgid=18446


Public transportation to SF

  • Transbay buses: takes about 25 minutes to get to SF Transbay Terminal (by Montgomery BART), plus free wi-fi onboard and comfy seats on some routes like the FS
  • Causal carpool: outside N.Berkeley BART, you just wait in line (one line for Civic Center stop, the other for Downtown) and hop in; other locations exist (some controversy now since there is a new toll for carpools, $2.50)


  • Waterside Workshops: sells used bikes & free instruction on how to rebuild them, use to teach how to make clothes too
  • Missing Link: really helpful local shop, free classes; Mike’s Bikes might be cheaper option for bikes but I’ve found good gear here for touring
  • Downtown Berkely Bike Station: free valet parking, 24-hr bike storage, bike rental, some gear for sale and the Berkeley Bike Co-Op offices are now here, good resources

Car rentals

  • City Carshare: UCB discount ($50 annual fee, no $300 deposit or monthly fees), UCSF discount ($25 annual fee, no $300 deposit or monthly fees); sometimes the first weeks of school they have promotions
  • We shifted from


Arts & Culture

Museums, Galleries, and Dance

  • SF MOMA, de Young, Legion of Honor, Yerba Buena Center Galleries: free 1st Tuesday of the month
  • Exploratorium, Academy of Science: Have young adult nights with alcohol and discounted night price
  • Oakland Museum of California, 1st Sunday of month free
  • SF Ballet does $20 rush tickets same day of the performance. They’ve also recently started an online rush service where you send in your ID and can get rush tickets ahead of time. Alonzo Lines (amazing!) also has student tickets for $20. Finally, ODC in the Mission has great dance class packages, that start at free-$5 for your first class, and packages for under $50.

Art Galleries


Sports & Rec


Clothing & Books

  • As of March 2014, H&M gives 25% (!!!) of your entire purchase with a student ID. You may have to convince them of this, but I’ve done it at both SF stores in downtown.
  • North Face Outlet: cheap backpacks and fleece, really cheap during their sample sale; (510) 526-3530
  • UC Press Sidewalk Sale: $5 paperbacks, $10 hard covers, lots of anthro classics (usually in October). Also, AAA always has discounts at the conferences (the last day usually being the day with the best discounts but of course, the least amount of options available).
  • REI: if you’re a member (one-time payment of $20 for household), each month they have used gear sale; also have some good free classes on photography, biking 101, or backpacking
  • Alameda Antique Market: 1st Sunday of the month, haven’t been yet but have heard good things
  • Cookbooks, Valley Life Sciences Library: “some 5,000 cookery and food-related volumes,” amazing collection, better than the public library; lots of local cookbooks from Bay Area restaurants



  • Vidal Sasoon (SF, downtown): Thursdays, 6pm sharp – you can be a “hair model” and get creative haircuts from a master or apprentice for $18-20, sometimes free. Sometimes has a dye specialist, but have to check. Request to have your hair cut by the master stylist in front of the class, instead of a random hairdresser taking enrichment classes at the academy.



  • Guide to the Good Life in Berkeley: pdf “booklet” of local coupons
  • (good deals for finding discount codes for car rentals, and etc.)
  • SF Cheap
  • Student Life Listserv for UCSF Graduate Students: provides updates in one email/week with what’s going on in the city, discounts, and some UCSF-related student stuff


For academics:

If you are a grad student, you should never have to pay for a conference:


Fellowships & Postdocs

Sample Cvs, Cover Letters, and Applications

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