I took a $40,000 pay cut to work remotely from my Los Angeles apartment. Here’s how I live and what I spend money on.

The author, Dave Johnson, recording a podcast in his Los Angeles apartment.

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The author, Dave Johnson, recording a podcast in his Los Angeles apartment.
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Dave Johnson

Los Angeles is an expensive place to live.

Back in 2017, Apartment Guide named Santa Monica the most expensive place to rent an apartment in the United States, with other popular West LA neighborhoods like Venice and Playa Vista not far behind. When I moved to California in 2012, I was aware of the punishingly high cost of living, but I mitigated that with a 90-minute commute so I could own a home outside of LA County, where prices were only eye-watering, not panic-inducing.

But then a lot changed. Fed up with three hours on the road every day, I sold my house and started renting an apartment in Westwood (a lovely neighborhood near UCLA) for its proximity to my office. Shortly after that, in January, my office was shut down – I was one of a dozen LA editors who were laid off as the base of operations shifted to New York.

I chose to make lemonade out of this bag of lemons by returning to my original passion: freelance writing from home.

Unfortunately, an unavoidable consequence of the shift from a corporate desk job was that I’ve taken a drastic $40,000-a-year pay cut for the privilege of working in a T-shirt, six feet from my fridge. I’m now making a lot less than the roughly $105,000 I was making annually before, but I’m still able to pay for my apartment, gas for my car, a few subscription services, live entertainment, and the occasional frozen yogurt.

Read on to see how I live and where my money goes.


First things first: I paid off my 2015 Prius with some of the proceeds from my house sale, so I only pay for gas (which is over $4 a gallon here in LA), insurance, and routine maintenance. Thanks to the fact that I work from home, I only put about $30 worth of gas in the car each month.

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Dave Johnson

Apartments in LA are pricey. I know this because my out-of-state friends’ eyes bug out when I tell them what I pay for my pad. My two-bedroom apartment costs a cool $2,600 a month — a bit less than half my gross income — for which I get a spacious home office.

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Dave Johnson

But I do love my apartment. Yes, I could probably find one that’s a little cheaper, but the living room accommodates my drums, a small theater, and VR gaming. And the kitchen has more cabinets and counter space than a kitchen supply store.

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Dave Johnson

When I worked for The Man, I had a $200-a-month fitness center membership. That was one of the first things that had to go when my income downsized, but thankfully I already had an elliptical machine for daily aerobics.

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Dave Johnson

I also snagged a $30 yoga mat a few months ago, which, when combined with a seven-minute workout app on my iPad, provides my morning exercise routine.

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Dave Johnson

I’ll be honest: When you work from home, it can feel claustrophobic to eat all your meals one room away from your computer. That means I head out almost every day for pizza, Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack, or some other not-especially-healthy fast food lunch. I end up spending about $250 per month on lunches.

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Dave Johnson

Before I started working from home, I took advantage of the 10-block commute to my old office to buy myself an awesome toy: a one-wheeled electric skateboard called a Onewheel. It’s easy to ride, yet makes you feel like you’re a snowboarder from the future.

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Dave Johnson

The layoff unexpectedly curtailed my daily Onewheel commute, but I still use it for short trips, like to the grocery store up the street. Unfortunately, I’m still making monthly payments on this $1,700 investment. That eats up $77 per month, at least until it’s paid off in the fall.

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Dave Johnson

While I admittedly enjoy eating out, I dine in about half the week thanks to meal delivery service HelloFresh. That’s three two-person meals a week for $200 per month. Since I split these with my girlfriend, that adds up to a surprisingly reasonable $10 per meal.

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Dave Johnson

When I run out of HelloFresh bags, though, I generally head out for dinner. LA is chock-full of amazing restaurants, from Michelin-starred fine dining to local favorites, and I am on a quest to try them all. Having dinner out three nights a week ends up costing me about $400 a month.

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Dave Johnson

I hate the taste of coffee, so you’ll never catch me inside a Starbucks. But do you expect me to stop eating sugar? Didn’t think so. One of my worst vices is that I consider ice cream to be a part of the food pyramid. I’m surrounded by artisan ice cream and frozen yogurt, so I drop about $6 on a couple of scoops perhaps twice a week — about $50 per month.

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Dave Johnson

I’d ask you not to tell my doctor about all the ice cream, but I have no healthcare anyway. That’s something I’ll need to rectify, but in the meantime, I’ve relied on the MinuteClinic at CVS for medical care and the GoodRx app for deep discounts on prescriptions.

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Dave Johnson

One of the reasons I love LA is the great entertainment. I try to go to Largo, an iconic theater that hosts comedy, podcast recordings, and music, once a month. I try to attend a taping of the podcast “How Did This Get Made?” as often as possible — typically for about $30 each time.

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Flickr Creative Commons/Joshua Smelser

In the Before Times, I attended quite a few concerts — at both enormo-dome stadium shows and more intimate clubs. I’ve had to become more selective about pricey shows, but I couldn’t resist grabbing tickets to see Heart perform at the Hollywood Bowl in September. I splurged: The tickets cost $230.

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Dave Johnson

A lot of my entertainment is cheap, though. I often assemble a group of friends to go escape from a room. There are dozens of high-quality room escapes in LA, and last week we played Jumanji at 60Out for about $30 per player.

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Dave Johnson

Meanwhile, board game nights are free.

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Dave Johnson

Hiking trips are also a low-cost way to pass the time, but most trails are just too darned far away. A better option: My girlfriend and I like to walk around neighborhoods and mingle with gaggles of tourists taking selfies in front of signs.

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Dave Johnson

When you’ve co-hosted a half-dozen or so podcasts, that probably makes you a “serial podcaster.” Though I’ve dabbled in Patreon and sponsorships for some of my podcasts, most of them have been largely self-funded. Last week, I spent about $50 on some foam baffling to deal with the terrible acoustics in my office.

The author, Dave Johnson, recording a podcast in his Los Angeles apartment.

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Dave Johnson

Almost anyone who knows me will probably agree that my interest in rockets, robots, and dinosaurs hasn’t changed since I was 11 years old. For the last two years I’ve been building a half-scale R2-D2 from a serialized kit — one shipment per month.

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Dave Johnson

As luck would have it, I put the finishing touches on my droid this very week. Yes, it’s awesome: Packed with motors, sensors, and electronics, it behaves like the real deal. Also, it’s stupid expensive and I’m an idiot for having ever subscribed. Each monthly kit cost $70. Over 25 months, you do the math. I’m afraid to.

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Dave Johnson

I suppose that I just like getting mail. As a Stitch Fix subscriber, I get a bimonthly box of clothing, theoretically hand-picked by a personal stylist. I don’t have to keep all five items, but I do tend to keep a few each time — it averages to about $25 per month.

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Dave Johnson

Lastly, my apartment has never had cable TV. Instead, I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu (now included in my Spotify subscription), HBO Now, CBS Instant Access, and Amazon Prime. Including my monthly internet bill, that’s roughly $110 per month. I’m not sure I’m saving money, but I can watch anything, anytime.

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Dave Johnson

Do you want to share your lifestyle with Business Insider? Email the freelance editor at mabadi@businessinsider.com.