The True Cost of Making It In LA

Because LA is so much more expensive than most people think, I’ve tried to make up a rough monthly estimate of what you will need, money wise, to live comfortably in Los Angeles. Keep in mind, I’ve estimated low in most cases. And of course, I’m not talking luxury living here, this is actually the bare basics. You could delete a few of these items, of course, and survive, but let’s face it: no one likes a smelly sick actor with a broken down old car and headshots from 1998! You WILL need money to have a competitive advantage, or even just a sane, normal life.

Estimated Monthly Costs Of Living In LA

  • Rent: $1000 ($2,000 without roommate, doesn’t include $1,500 deposit)
  • Car Gas: $300 (this is low if you drive an SUV)
  • Car Insurance: $150 (this is low basic for LA, you’ll need more)
  • CA Car Reg: $150 (more if your car is pricey, one time payment, but important)
  • Health Insurance: $250 (this is low, and you’ll need it)
  • Parking/Meters: $75 (there is no free parking anywhere in LA, plan on tickets)
  • Utilities: $250 (if you have air-conditioning, it could be more in summer)
  • Cable/Internet/Cell: $250 (you will need a computer and internet connection)
  • Headshots/PR: $100 (this is low if you’re doing mailings, could be triple this)
  • Laundry/Clothes: $250 (includes buying some new clothes here and there)
  • Gym Membership: $100 (this doesn’t include one time deposit of about $300)
  • Acting Classes: $300 (this is low if you’re taking more than one class)
  • Eating Out/Clubs: $400 (this is low, food and drinks are very expensive)
  • Groceries: $400 (this is low, unless you work hard and cut coupons)
  • Total: $3875/month!

Most actors and actresses moving to LA have no idea how much more expensive it is than where they’re coming from. I’d say take what you think it will cost and multiply that times 3. Because of this, I recommend not moving to LA until you have some money in the bank. And if you’re young, do not LIE to your folks about how much it will cost. If they’re funding your first few months, then they need to know how much they’ll be sending you.

The biggest two expenses you will face up front are rent and gas. On top of that, as an actor you’ll also have other expenses. These include: new headshots, expensive gym memberships, acting classes, new clothes for auditions, computer upkeep & internet casting services, deposits for new apartments, gas and electric bills ($ in summer, remember, LA is hot, hot, hot!), dry cleaning, etc...

Remember, with the cost of gas what it is these days, driving to auditions can also be costly. Most auditions are in Burbank (in the Valley, North of the Hollywood Hills) -- or in Hollywood, and a few are in Santa Monica. Depending on where you live or work, you may be leaving work to go on auditions in the middle of the day, and you will need to plan on driving a LOT!

When I was an actress, I had many different day jobs. I often found myself having to leave my work (in West Hollywood) to drive to Pasadena for an audition -- this is about a 15 mile drive one way. This kind of thing happens every day when you’re a working actor (if you’re lucky!) You’ll get used to it, but you’ll never get used to constantly filling up your gas tank.

There are other costs you really need to keep in mind before moving to LA to act. You’ll want to have money to go out and mingle, money for food and drinks, money to get into clubs; these fun nights out are often the best ways to meet new friends or get seen by industry professionals.

My brother, Eric Tretbar, is a also a working director there. He’s introduced himself many a night to different actors or actresses at various clubs, where he’s asked total strangers to audition for his films. This happens all the time. In other words, if you’re so broke you can’t even go have a drink with friends, then it’s going to be a hard first few years trying to make it in LA. Half the time you get parts just through contacts and going to parties or just plain sitting at an outdoor cafe. Make sure you have enough money in your bank account before you arrive in LA, and plan on needing, and spending, (at the least $2500) $3500 a month.

My intention in writing this post is to keep it real. If you want to be a working actor or actress, and you think living in LA is in your future, be realistic. Come prepared knowing how much you’ll really need to live there. Good luck and don’t get discouraged!

About Kirsten Tretbar

Kirsten Tretbar is an acting teacher, filmmaker, and former actress. She received her MFA in Acting from USC in Los Angeles, where she acted professionally for many years.

Los Angeles + Kansas City