How To Survive In San Francisco When You’re Broke

NOTE: This was written in 2010. We’re doing much better now, we even have our own bathroom, and have no idea who our neighbors are because we never hear them.

We here at The Rhodester Chronicles are authorities on the subject of surviving in San Francisco when you’re broke because we live in San Francisco, we’re surviving, and we’re currently broke.

Back of shoddy building
Dorian stands in our backyard, gazing at our window which, at the moment, is full of cat

Granted,  we’re not completely broke. We have some income, albeit not much. But we’re not sitting in a gutter wrapped in dread and a tattered blanket, bumming cigarettes from passers-by.

Not yet, anyway.

We’ve learned how to stretch a dollar which is often all we have so, in this post, we’re going to share some of this insight and help you survive in San Francisco when you’re broke.

There are a few things to know first…


Hideously so. We are temporarily staying in a shabby old hotel at a room rate of $220.00 per week. The bathroom is down the hall. The showers are past that. Everyone on this floor uses them including our immediate neighbor, who seems to have a drinking problem.

He likes to shout out the window (right next to ours) at young women passing by in the evenings, calling them “whores” and spitting on them. We totally expect an irate boyfriend to make his way up here some evening and get the wrong door, which would be ours, and then kill us.

He also tends to hock loogies out onto the sidewalk, but please bear in mind that all of this only comes after a session of binge drinking on his part. During the early-morning hours and well into the afternoon, he slumbers peacefully which makes it nice and quiet around here.

Well, except for when the guys in the gym below come out onto the sidewalk under our window and talk loudly about sparring matches and kick-boxing. And when the dog across the street barks at them, which is all day long.

This building was erected in 1907 which means we’re really moving up in the world because the other hotel we lived in when we first came here was built in 1906. We figure that we’ll eventually get into one that was built during the Eisenhower administration.

This room has a little refrigerator, a microwave, a sink and we even have a color TV. Oh yes, we have an Internet connection too, which is how we’re posting this.

We’re literally rolling around in the lap of luxury.

Other rooms in grander hotels that are more expensive might actually have their bathrooms and shower stalls IN the same unit being rented and neighbors that don’t scream well into the night. But those run about two thousand a week and you need credit so stellar it can be seen from the moon without binoculars.

Of course, one would ideally like to rent or buy a house, condo, or apartment here.

Buying is out of the question for us at this time, so we’ve been looking for something to rent, but the problem with that is there are a million other people looking for something to rent while we’re looking, and they all answer the same advertisements we do and show up at the same places we do and compete for the same apartments and rooms that we want.

Because of this demand, rooms and apartments tend to run about five times more in this city than they would in, say, a small town in Texas.

So, the first thing to do in order to survive in San Francisco when you’re broke is…


Sure, it’s nice to shuffle off to your very own private bathroom when you actually have one. Here, we throw a robe on and shuffle down the hall, passing other residents who are shuffling back. We toss little waves at each other and grunt pleasantries while on our way to pee.

This is acceptable to us because of the great coffee we’re peeing out. We drank it in our choice of great coffeehouses. There is art and decent music and cool people and neat things to see while we drink that coffee, depending on where we go. We could hit a different coffeehouse every day and not have to come back to any for a few years.

This is why people like living here, including us.

The greatness isn’t limited to coffeehouses though, there are parks and trains and bridges and galleries and bars and fine restaurants and ships on a bay. We even have weather here – lots of it – which changes every few minutes. It’s a never-ending tapestry of fluffy clouds followed by dark ones and then sunshine, followed by an earthquake or two, and that’s all before lunch.

Sure, it would be nice to have a lot of money and live high on the hog here in San Francisco like some people do, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s not about the million-dollar-plus condos with the four-hundred-dollar a month HOA fees and parking for only one-hundred and twenty dollars a month.

It’s about not having a car to park, so you take public transit, and not having HOA fees because you just pay your rent and the building management takes care of all the maintenance stuff, sort of, if you catch them early in the day when they’re sober.

Again, you just need to LOWER YOUR STANDARDS, and while you’re at it, remember that PERSPECTIVE is everything. Perspective is living right over Market Street in San Francisco and being thankful that crack dealers and hookers don’t have sirens attached to them too.

street hippie rolling a blunt
A street hippie rolls a blunt while a passer-by passes by on Market Street

You also need…


Our good friend James bought us a six-pack of beer the other day.

James doesn’t live in San Francisco and hasn’t even visited, but we were telling her how tough it is (Yes, James is a girl) and she either felt sorry for us or happy that we had accomplished so much despite how difficult it is, so she said, “Go get a six-pack of your favorite beer and I’ll reimburse you on PayPal.

Which she did, despite the fact that we couldn’t find our favorite beer at the local market and had to settle for Blue Moon, which isn’t bad.

Thanks, James!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another friend, who I’ll call Sebastian. That’s not his real name but I’m not going to tell you his real name because Sebastian drinks WAY too much, which he’s quite aware of, but despite that, he helped us on this hotel rent because we were short, which means he gave us his booze money.

He also helped us move our stuff from the first hotel over to this one, which would have been a lot more difficult if we’d had to do it ourselves. He was more snockered than a pickled platypus while doing it though, which is why I wouldn’t let him drive the rental van and it took us two days to find our cat.

He’d packed the poor thing in the donation box going to Goodwill, so our cat almost ended up on clearance.

Despite his own struggles, Sebastian is one of those stand-up guys you can count on for help when it’s needed, so we’re glad we met him. We’ve become acquainted with some pretty cool people since landing here, including Kelelah the Krazy Hawaiin, Bob the Astronomy Geek and San Francisco Joe.

So there you have it. Lower your standards and have good friends. Those are two ways to survive in San Francisco when you’re broke.

We could have gone into details like how to file for assistance and which markets are cheap yet have good quality food, but our cappuccinos are getting cold and the jazz band is about to start playing.

We love San Francisco.