How I Managed to Get Out of Debt in One of the Most Expensive US Cities

May 13, 2012

Living on Credit Cards

I’m not quite there yet, but with the arrival of a check on Monday, I should have a $0.00 balance on a credit card I’ve been holding for five years. The conclusion to my entry on travel and debt.


I don’t own a car, nor do I have any desire to buy one in this city (much to my Texas relatives’ disbelief). One of the reasons I chose SF was its public transportation system: Muni, BART, Caltrain. I can pretty much go anywhere in the Bay Area without having to worry about gas costs, insurance, parking, and inspections for under $100/month.

Learning to live with less

Don’t get me wrong, I do have some indulgences – my iPhone, meals at Whole Foods – but for the most part I’ve saved money by not going crazy on expensive dinners and nights drinking. It helps that I don’t have a strong affinity for cigarettes or alcohol. Although this has led to some less-than-social nights, there are always fun free events in San Francisco.


Here’s where my approach probably differs from many financial planners. You see, I haven’t worked a steady, full-time job since I arrived in October 2011. Yet I am making money. How?

I’m not opposed to full-time employment at all, but there’s very little incentive for me to take a job paying under $15/hr just to pay bills. For one, that’s ridiculously low. Two, it would lock me into a schedule and prevent me from exploring one-time higher paying opportunities.

How have I been spending my time?

– Corporate Spokesman

There are a lot of companies who present themselves at trade shows in SF. The problem is, they’re usually understaffed or unprepared to deal with so many potential clients. That’s where I come in: I learn the talking points, present myself professionally, and take home a hefty paycheck.

– Tutoring

Kids and adults. Math, English, science, Latin, Japanese, study skills. Simple as that.

– Executive Assistant

During one of these trade shows, I happened to meet a small business owner impressed by my education, maturity, and background. He asks for my help with random tasks from time to time.

– Usability Testing

I hadn’t even heard of this until November of last year. There are so many software and app developers out here they occasionally want feedback from iPhone users to their product. Easy way to get $50 on your lunch break. It all adds up.

– Ultrasound Modeling

I don’t really like to do this, as it’s invasive and requires little-to-no activity. Companies like GE which manufacture ultrasound equipment often ask for men in various states of health to demo their products at trade shows and medical seminars. Very decent pay, but I don’t really enjoy doctors joking about my insides.


San Francisco – I believe – boasts some of the highest rent and property values in the country. Even working professionals are forced into housing with roommates at times. How did I get around this? I didn’t. I live with four roommates (two of whom are respectful and clean) in a less-than-reputable area of town: Bayview. I have no complaints for $480/month ABP.


Ignoring other people

This task has been the most difficult of all. In a city with such a sharp class divide, I toe the line: looking like one of the middle class, but being as poor as the guys at BART stations asking for change. It’s frustrating to hear from even those I consider friends about dining at a great sushi place, upcoming travel plans to Thailand, even looking at something as simple as a nice pair of shoes I can’t afford. It’s easy to save money; it’s difficult to save when advertisements tell you you must buy something to be considered successful and everyone around you presents that image of success: a nice car, bigger apartment, Italian suit. I still struggle, but I have to remember few of these people have had the kind of life I’ve had, a life of living abroad, nor are they likely to experience it if they stay fixed in their routine of working their long hours, paying their bills, and seeing travel as a luxury that’s meant to be enjoying on special occasions. That’s not the life I want for myself or my partner, wherever she may be.

As of June 2012, I will be debt free.

2 Responses to How I Managed to Get Out of Debt in One of the Most Expensive US Cities

  1. Andrea on May 16, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    I think some of the bigger and more expensive cities like San Fran and NYC actually make it easier to save money because there is so much available public transport and enough competition to keep the price of goods and services down. Balances out the high rents at least!

  2. […] might feel you’re staying afloat in cities like these, you’re not going to get ahead without making serious sacrifices, and living in a way upon which those around you may frown. Wages are high here, but rent is […]

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