Here’s the situation:
Washington DC is the 4th most expensive city in North America according to Expatistan.com, known for its collaborative international cost of living index.
Comparing it to similarly populated cities, DC’s high cost becomes even more apparent.
One of the only similarly-sized cities that comes even close to improving on DC’s cost of living would be Boston, which is only 2% cheaper. But Boston’s infested with Afflecks and Wahlburgers, so that small of a difference may not be worth it…
These stats are further reinforced when you look at the costs of specific expenses compared to their national averages.
While the margins aren’t staggering, almost everything, (particularly housing prices), is more expensive in the DC area.
So yeah, it can be pretty pricey, but it’s good to remember that high averages don’t mean affordable options aren’t available for DC residents
The Northeastern part of the US is a notoriously expensive place to live. The high base costs of the Northeast combined with being home to some of the nation’s largest metro areas create an abundance of high prices in every sector.
You get pretty similar results when you compare the nation’s capital to nearby major cities. The only city more expensive than DC in the area is New York City.
Pretty much any of the nearby major cities besides New York City are going to be cheaper options.
Okay, we get it, DC is expensive. But how much are we talking?
Here’s a detailed breakdown of the cost of living in Washington DC
Now that we’ve established the big picture, let’s get to the core of exactly how much you’re going to be spending on a monthly basis to live in DC.
Short answer: You’re gonna be spending between $1,700 to $3,000 depending on your lifestyle. Whether you’re renters or homeowners, looking for housing costs or average rent, or you care more about the costs of childcare than gas prices, life is gonna look pretty different for you.
Housing: $1,275 – $2,039 per month
The median rent prices are gonna be between $1,275 and $2,039 depending on how many people you want to live with, but the best prices are found between a one-bedroom apartment or two-bedroom.
These prices are pretty high, even for an area of the country with a famously high cost of living. In fact, NUMBEO has DC listed as having the 12th most expensive rent in the country for both a one-bedroom and a three-bedroom..
Pretty much anywhere you look in the Northeast is going to be more reasonably priced: DC’s average is easily beaten by Philadelphia ($1,445), and Baltimore ($1,200).
Not only is DC’s rent comparatively high, but it’s rising faster than anywhere else in the country.
If you’re looking at home prices, that’s a different story. The cost of real estate and property taxes can vary a lot, especially depending on where you are between Virginia and Maryland. Check out our DC neighborhood guide if you want help finding more info on where to find your new home around the city.
Utilities: $95 – $163 per month
Living in the Northeast, the weather is not going to be your friend. When it’s cold, it’s cold. When it’s hot, it’s hot. You’re gonna be running your heat and air conditioning for the majority of the year and that’s going to lead to some high utility costs.
Internet: $27 – $67 per month
Being a hub of business and politics, internet access is absolutely vital to DC. Because of the high demand, DC has the 3rd most expensive internet in the country. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of options that makes finding something affordable at least somewhat possible.
Healthcare: $195 – $415 per month
Without a subsidy, you’re looking at about $415 per month. With a subsidy, however, the average health insurance cost is about $195 per month.
Groceries: $380 – $430
According to Smart Asset, the minimum you should be expecting to spend on groceries in DC each month is $380. This isn’t too outrageous, but DC does have the 3rd most expensive groceries in the country.
NUMBEO has a pretty great breakdown of what your basic monthly grocery expenses will look like too. And here’s a recent study from Washington’s Consumer Checkbook detailing each local grocery store’s price and quality rankings.
Transportation: $165 – $380 per month
You’ll begin to notice a theme developing here when we tell you that DC has the most expensive public transportation in the country. Still, that high price does get you a pretty good public transit system and a downtown that’s very walkable.
Recently, Metrorail has taken steps towards decreasing these transportation costs as well, offering their Monthly Unlimited Pass program that gives members free and discounted rides with plans at an affordable rate, and also with the option to pay an additional $45 for free bus rides.
Bottom line: The cost of living in Washington DC won’t be cheap, but it’s not the highest out there
It’s also extremely important to be aware of your area’s tax laws. Washington DC’s sales tax rate is 5.75%, and they have a five-stage bracketed system for income tax ranging from 4% to 8.75%.
Besides taxes, your average costs and earnings can vary wildly depending on your current lifestyle situation. Whether you’re a single person living with roommates or whether you have a family, the MIT living wage calculator will do a great job of helping you figure out exactly what your expenses are going to be. You might even want to consider living a little outside the city––around Arlington or Alexandria, for example.
If you’re looking to live in one of the busiest, most influential cities in the country, with institutions like Georgetown University, then moving to Washington DC should be an obvious choice! Particularly when other major metro areas like NYC and Philly are an afternoon’s drive away…
And if you’re trying to budget for a move within the city, be sure to check out our Cost of Moving in Washington DC Guide.
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