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This 30-year-old commutes 4 hours a day so he doesn't have to pay $4,500-a-month San Francisco rent—here's how much he saves

It's no secret that living in San Francisco is expensive. The median rent there is $4,500, according to real-estate website Zillow, and the median price for a home is well beyond $1 million. That's compared to the national median of $1,695 and $278,900, respectively.

So when Danny Finlay, a 30-year-old who lives in Dixon, California, was offered a job in the Bay Area, he came up with an alternative to moving and paying exorbitant rent: becoming a super-commuter.

Dixon is about 72 miles away from Finlay's office at public relations firm SutherlandGold, where he works as an account executive. That means, in order to get to work by 7 a.m., he wakes up at 4:30 a.m., leaves his house by 5:10 a.m. and takes a combination of car, bus and train to get to work. Round-trip, he spends four hours commuting five days a week.

He thinks it's worth it.

"I mean, I wish [the commute] was shorter," Finlay tells CNBC Make It. "But if I had the choice to live in Dixon and commute, or live in the city and not commute, I'd still commute."

That's partly because of the amount of money he saves. He and his wife, Mireya, who lived in Los Angles while in college, decided to move to Dixon after graduation, as opposed to a pricier city like San Francisco. "We started to think about where we really wanted to settle and where we wanted to buy a house," Finlay says. "The commute allowed us to let our money go further."

Factoring in everything from housing costs to miscellaneous expenses such as parking, groceries and dining out, Finlay says the choice to live in Dixon rather than the Bay Area likely saves him around $15,000 to $18,000 per year.

The median price for a home in Dixon is $460,000, according to Zillow, compared to more than $1.2 million in San Francisco. Finlay and his wife now own a three-bedroom house with a swimming pool, and they have mortgage payments of $1,600 a month. That's less than they'd have to pay to rent a studio in San Francisco.

RENTCafé puts the median rental price for 512 square-foot studio at $2,461, a 699-square-foot one-bedroom at $3,261, a 1,016-square-foot two-bedroom at $4,377 and a 1,469-square-foot three-bedroom at $5,143.

Meanwhile, Finlay says he spends less than $150 a week on commuting costs, including gas and public transportation.

But the travel has its downsides. To and from work, the four-hour daily trek covers 140 miles. That means he spends about 1,000 hours commuting per year, or about 43 full days on the road.

Nationwide, one in 36 commuters travel 90-plus minutes to work each day, finds Apartment List.
Courtesy of Danny Finlay
Nationwide, one in 36 commuters travel 90-plus minutes to work each day, finds Apartment List.

Public transportation isn't always reliable, either, he says: "The other day, it took me three-and-a-half hours to get home because there was an accident on the freeway and the bus never showed up."

And even when Finlay does get home without delay, that doesn't leave many hours to relax or run errands. "By the time I get in, I'm pretty tired … and there's only a certain amount of time that I can do things," he says. "So, it's like, do I choose to watch TV tonight, or do I choose to go to the gym? Do I go for a run, or do I walk the dog? Everything has a time limit since there's a time I have to go to bed."

Still, Finlay says he sees himself commuting for the foreseeable future. And he isn't alone. Super-commuting, defined by real estate site Apartment List as traveling 90-plus minutes one way, is becoming increasing popular in the United States. Sydney Bennet, a senior research associate at Apartment List, says that could be due to high-profile jobs being concentrated in a few select city hubs where high housing costs can lock workers out.

"Increasingly, the most lucrative jobs and most talented, wealthy people are converging in 'superstar cities' that are knowledge and technology hubs," Apartment List notes in a recent report. "Eight of the 10 metros with the largest share of super-commuters are in regions surrounding three superstar cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York."

Nationwide, one in 36 commuters travel 90-plus minutes to work each day. In 2005, there were 3.1 million super-commuters, or about 2.4 percent of all commuters. In 2016, there were 4 million, or almost 3 percent of the total. Of the top 10 cities with the largest share of super-commuters, five are in California, and San Francisco ranks No. 6.

The trend reaches to the East Coast, too: "We see people coming from all over New York, New Jersey and even Pennsylvania to have somewhere they can afford to live and have the job they want," Bennet tells CNBC Make It. For some, "the commute is the right trade-off for their lifestyles. So, maybe they don't want to live in an urban city, but that's where the jobs are, and so they make that sacrifice to live where they want to live."

Housing prices could continue to rise, especially in superstar cities. Home values in San Francisco have gone up almost 10 percent over the past year, reports Zillow, and are predicted to rise another 8 percent within the next year. Similar trends can be seen in popular urban areas across the country.

If you're looking to buy a home, be sure you're ready to transition from renting. And if you're looking to rent, check out these budgeting hacks, credit card tips and other ways to save.

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Don't miss: This 30-year-old commutes 4 hours, and 140 miles, every day so he doesn't have to pay $4,500-a-month San Francisco rent

Video by Jon Fazio