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I am currently getting a 102K salary in Madison and have an offer for 125K from SFO. Should I accept this offer from a monetary perspective or not?

I will like to maintain the same life style that I am current maintain in Madison if and when I move to SFO. I currently stay in a single bedroom apartment with my wife and would like to stay in a similar sized single bed room apartment there as well. I am ok to commute with BART as parking is very expensive in SFO so this is one exception (to my earlier statement about maintaing the same life style) that I am ok to live with.

  • To save a lot of money, consider living in West Oakland or Emeryville rather than in San Francisco proper. Plenty of nice places to live just across the bridge, within walking distance of transport. – Joe Strazzere Mar 18 '14 at 13:26
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The answer depends on your spending habits and priorities and many other factors. However, just on the basis of the numbers you give, the simple answer would be no. The difference in cost of living between Madison and San Francisco is almost certainly more than the roughly 25% increase in your salary. This is assuming you actually mean San Francisco and not just the bay area in general.

Housing prices will be the biggest shock. San Francisco has arguably the highest housing costs of any major US city at the moment. If you're actually going to live in San Francisco proper (as opposed to elsewhere in the bay area), your rent for a comparable apartment would almost certainly double, and could easily triple.

Here are some comparisons from websites that compare cost of living in various places:

  • Expatistan says SF is 72% more expensive than Madison.
  • Nerdwallet says SF is 57% more expensive.
  • Bestplace says SF is 55% more expensive.
  • Bankrate says SF is 55% more expensive.
  • Numbeo says SF is 46% more expensive.

This doesn't of course mean that the move would be a bad idea. There are many other things to factor in, of which perhaps the most important are "How much do you like living in Madison?" and "How much do you think you would like living in San Francisco?" There could be things about San Francisco that you would like enough to spend more for them. In the end, it's a personal choice that's about much more than money. Even on a monetary level, you should factor in things like how likely future salary increases/career advancement would be in SF vs. Madison. But on the raw numbers, I think it's clear that $125K in San Francisco will not buy you as much as $102K will buy you in Madison.

Of course, if you're not going to live in San Francisco, but somewhere else the Bay Area, the answer could be quite different. The bay area as a whole is pretty expensive, but San Francisco in particular is insanely expensive. The sites I linked to should give you a good start on assessing cost of living comparisons. My hunch is that most places in the bay area with standard of living comparable to Madison will still be more than 25% more expensive than Madison, but you might get lucky.

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@BrenBarn has given a great answer, just thought I'd add some more information that might be relevant and fill in some gaps.

I lived out in Pleasanton until last autumn which is the East Bay at the easternmost point on the BART network. It used to cost me ~$1700 per month for a 800 sq.ft single bed apartment which I shared with my wife. This was in a nice area of town within walking distance of BART . Based on the websites @BrenBarn mentioned this is about half the cost of living in SF itself but still substantially more expensive than living in Madison. Also note that rents went up every year I lived there (we started at ~$1600 and were looking at ~$1800 to renew had we not moved elsewhere)

Note that you can always get cheaper rentals (mine was towards the top of the market for our area) but these were for smaller apartments and/or less desirable areas.

It is worth remembering that if you BART from that far out you are looking at ~$12 round trip per day. BART fares are roughly based on distance travelled so exact fares will vary depending on where you are travelling to and from. Also if you've ever had to commute before on public transit like BART then you'll know how crowded it gets during commute hours.

If you do want to pick a cheaper area in the East Bay then you'll need to be careful about where you choose if you plan on taking BART since there are plenty of places BART doesn't cover. So you may still leave yourself with a morning commute to a parking lot, on weekdays those lots were near full not long after 8am (if not earlier) so you'd have to be prepared to be an early riser.

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