Tips for Frugal West Coast Living

Walk essentials
Walk essentials: Water bottle, picnic lunch, and diaper bag

On the weekend, I branch out from cooking-related posts and write about my family, answer reader questions, or just blog about what's on my mind! If you have a question or topic you'd like me to tackle, send it my way! :)

Rebecca writes: 

I'm a fan of your blog and have been following it for some time now. My family is soon moving from Kansas to Tacoma, WA and we couldn't be more excited. I have heard a lot though that the area has a much higher cost of living than Kansas. I was wondering if you would have any west coast tips for this Kansas girl.

This site has great charts and statistics for various areas! I especially love looking at weather charts. :)

We've found that housing prices are the biggest difference from living in Ohio. We moved from renting a 2-bedroom house with a garage and yard in Ohio to renting a 2-bedroom apartment north of Seattle and our rent almost doubled!

We've read (and found) that utilities are slightly cheaper here. We live in a 3rd-floor apartment and combined with the milder climate here, our heating costs are a lot less than they were in Ohio. The same goes for cooling -- since we use a fan instead of air conditioning like in Ohio! :)

Our picnic at the park
Our picnic at the park

Food is slightly more expensive here overall BUT there are still great sales and quite a lot of stores to choose from! I like to get my groceries at Costco to keep things as simple and affordable as possible (having 4 young children, only 1 vehicle, and the weekend traffic being NOT fun!), but there are so many stores and farmer's markets and the options are virtually limitless!

I love that the weather here is conducive to getting out a lot more (no freezing cold winters or blazing hot summers), and there are beautiful parks and places to go for FREE! We've only scratched the surface when it comes to parks and trails and beaches!

Kids playing at a park

Gas prices are higher here, but traffic is more of a hindrance to travel than gas prices. ;) Traffic is one of the downsides to this area. Aside from freeway congestion (and most north-south travel requires the use of I-5 or I-405), the stop lights are just plain LONG if you're trying to get anywhere during rush hour. So while everything is so close, it's not like driving the "2 miles to the store" we did in Ohio. We measure distance in minutes. "Two miles" seems a lot further when it's called "15 minutes"... or even more! :)

Car insurance is a lot higher here than it was in Ohio. I think our insurance nearly doubled when we moved! We still just have 1 vehicle, and we don't travel/drive a ton (to work, church, and the grocery store once a week!).

Overall, we really love living in the PNW! Aside from housing prices, I think everything else (utilities, gas, insurance, food) pretty much evens out and we get to enjoy the beautiful cool summers, mountain and Sound views, and woodsy trails! :)

Does anyone else have West coast tips to share??

I appreciated this guest post at Money Saving Mom about frugal living in high cost-of-living areas. And I know Jessica lives in the San Diego area, and blogs about frugal living there. :)

Walk essentials


the electronic device in the bottom picture?

It is an mp3 player. I have the same one. Cheap and it has served me well for several years. :)

I grew up in Oregon and now live in North Carolina (moved 8 yrs ago when I married hubby - he's soooo worth it though!).

The weather is one thing I miss. There's no opening windows here to cool off the house in the evenings, and the mosquitoes are keeping us indoors more than I would ever wish to admit. Your post makes me homesick... (North Carolina winters are pretty awesome though - sunny and most of the time pleasant.)

I miss the bulk food options living in the North West. Win-Co is a store I miss. Oh, and Adams natural peanut butter that can be purchased at Costco, that's great too! I live in a peanut growing state, but to find natural peanut better at a decent cost; I've tried and failed at. Sometimes when flying back from visiting family, I load our suit cases with peanut butter. My husband thinks I'm crazy - but he loves me anyway. ;-)

what a cool post!!! Ha and to think I live so close to you:) so I can pretty much say yup to all you said:)

Tammy, i notice you have a Sansa mp3 player... my husband and I do too (pretty cool that you can have as much storage as a larger-sized iPod, but for less that $50!!) so my reason for writing about it is that my husband and I found that the original software on the mp3 player was dog-slow, it seemed to have a lot of "bells and whistles" and when you just want the thing to work--we found that a revamp of the software was the ticket! I do not know the model you have but wanted to share a link tot he software that we really like using, like I said no bells and whistles, but a super fast start-up and straight forward usage:
I am sure Joshua can help you, if you decide to update your software!

thanks for always sharing things about your family and adventures!!!


Jamie, thanks for the info! :) I hadn't noticed the Sansa mp3 player being slow, but Joshua had it first and then passed it to me so maybe he souped it up? ;)

It's an mp3 player, I have the exact same one. :)

We live in Nor Cal and yes things are expensive here. The cost of living is definitely more but then I guess wages are slightly higher here too. Gas ranges from $3 to $3.39 here.
We recently went on a trip to Idaho/Montana and even in remote areas, fuel was the same or less expensive than here. Also the drivers were nicer overall.
I don't know how much car insurance is anywhere else but I can imagine it would be more here. CA drivers are crazy. So are Nevada drivers! =O Really scared me a couple of times.

I noticed that food wasn't that much more expensive in remote areas of Idaho. It makes me wonder why things are so high here when we have I-5 right here for truckers etc...

The nice thing about the West Coast is that most of the climate is very conductive for growing things so if you have space, you can usually garden. At least for 5 months out of the year.

We just moved from Tacoma and dream about moving back. If you aim for central Tacoma the neighborhoods are nice and the houses affordable (for the area). North Tacoma (north of 6th Ave) is beautiful, but the houses more expensive. Hilltop is hit and miss and East Tacoma pretty low income and rough. North/Central Tacoma (pretty much the same area) is a good place to aim for. If this is an army move you will be about 20 minutes from the bases. Ruston way is a great place to go enjoy the Puget Sound and walk and there are tons of great parks (including Jefferson which has a nice spray park for kids). There are lots of fun restaraunts. As for shopping we mostly did Costco, some Fred Meyers (for the organic food section) and the markets. From late April through October there are Markets on Tuesday night in central tacoma, Thursday morning/afternoon in downtown Tacoma (this is the biggest one) and Saturday morning in North Tacoma. You can find that info on the website (you'll have to google it). Heat can be expensive for a house, and most houses are older and not as well insulated (we just sold a 1919 craftsman). But, you can definitely keep the windows and doors open all through the summer to keep cool (unless it is already cold). Winco, in Federal Way, is a good place to shop (15-20 minutes north of Tacoma) and we also order our grains and such through Azure Standard (online). There is lots of great hiking up on Mt Rainier or in the Olympics, ferries that cross the Sound at various points, lots of beaches (including a sandy beach across the water in Manchester). Hope this helps! I am a Pacific North Westerner and am going to do what I can to get back!

Anonymous above--there is also a Winco in Puyallup for those who live in south Tacoma! My husband and I live in Puyallup and we love it here. We moved here from Southwest Washington (Cowlitz County) about 9 months ago, where I was born and raised and hubby has spent the majority of his life. I have no experience to compare it to, but living in the PNW is amazing. I would never dream of leaving!


We moved from Michigan to Nevada (Arizona for a year first) about 6 years ago. I recall that our auto insurance was much higher and gas prices. I think the thing I miss most is the availability of local farms and all the produce. I can still get what I need from farms, but it's a lot more work! I also appreciate the laid back attitude of the West Coast -- so different from the midwest! Although everyone is late here and that drives me crazy! If an event starts at 5 PM, people will start to show up around then; whereas, in Michigan, if it started at 5, you got there by 4:45 so you were ready to go at 5! But overall, I love the West Coast!

I agree that a lot of people here seem pretty laid back and also run a much later schedule. Here in the Seattle area it seems like there are so many more 9-5 jobs, whereas in Ohio, all the factory jobs were 7-3, 3-11, or 11-7. We're the odd ones out here, going to bed "early" and getting up early (5am). :)

Another great place for good priced bulk foods is Azure Standard. They have drop points all over the sound. Some stuff is more spendy, but I find that their wheat berries, honey, and some other things are priced well below what I can find elsewhere.

We moved from Memphis to Kirkland about the same time you did, and the prices are definitely higher here! Gas is way higher, but I also don't feel like traffic is that much worse than what I was used to as long as I avoid the freeway. (and I really love the carpool lane, we didn't have one of those in TN) Our car insurance never changed when we moved here, I feel like we have a great deal and aren't paying that much. (we do have USAA, though) Housing is definitely MUCH more expensive, and that's why we'll probably be renting for a long time rather than buying a cheap and awesome house like we could have done in TN. Food is more expensive, but there's no food tax here! The really bad part, though, is that coupons don't double in Washington, I was used to doubled coupons shopping at Kroger and getting a lot of stuff for free or close to free, not so much anymore. I do love not having to run an air conditioner all summer, that definitely saves a ton of money. I do want to move back to TN in a few years to buy a house, though, I really don't like the houses around here and we definitely can't afford them.

Ahh, so much of your comment resonates with me. :P :)

We lived in a small town in Ohio, so I think any big-city traffic would be a lot more traffic to us. :) We usually try to travel at off-hours, but still end up stuck in traffic on occasion... usually on I-5 of course. :)

We had no tax on food in Ohio... I have never done that great with coupons but I've noticed that here in WA, tax is charged on prices pre-coupon... and since tax is almost 10%, it can add up. I mean, like, a $1 coupon is really only a 90-cent coupon, since I still pay tax on that dollar I "saved"! :)

I love the weather here though! Wow, today was just perfect in my book!! :)

Housing, YES. To work in Seattle, it means a long commute or REALLY pricey housing. I cringe at the real estate prices around here (north of Seattle) but really, rent prices on houses are really high too... but apartment living with a big(ger) family isn't going to last forever... I hope! ;)

We recently discovered Winco. I was shopping at Safeway, but our weekly shopping trips were amounting to over $100, which made it hard to stick to our budget. Each time we go to Winco, I am blown away at how much I can get and pay much less. Without changing my shopping habbits (buying the same amount), we are paying probably at least $20 to $30 less each shopping trip. I love the bulk bins to get spices, pasta, snacks, oats, etc. We are hooked!

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