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Cost of Living in Washington DC for Renters

Curious about the cost of living in Washington DC? It's around $1,775/month for the average renter.

And if you live alone it's closer to $2,300/month.

Here's the super-quick breakdown — and we'll go into the details of the cost of living in DC below, as well.

cost of living in washington dc

Image source: Wikitravel

Many list Washington, DC, within the top ten most expensive places to live in the United States; others rank it in the top five.

Save for those moving from places like New York City and San Francisco, the average cost of living in Washington, DC, can bring with it some serious sticker shock. And as I'm sure you can tell, if you've got somewhat of a tighter budget, having some roommates is a phenomenal way to save money. Even just one roommate can cut your housing costs by 25%!

If you're curious about more of the details and context behind the cost of living in DC, the rest of this article will cover current data on:

How does the cost of living in Washington DC compare to the national average?

In DC, you’ll pay 39 percent more than the national average. Some costs are low, like utilities, which are actually three percent lower than the national average; however, the housing expenses in the city are 148 percent higher, hiking up the overall average cost of living. Washington, DC, might be cheaper than New York, which is 57 percent more expensive than the national average, but it’s still slightly more expensive that even very pricy cities.

For instance, the average cost of living in Washington, DC, is more expensive than in Boston (two percent more), Los Angeles (five percent more), and Chicago (19 percent more).

Cost of Living in Washington, DC
Cost of Living in Washington DC

A huge slice of your income will go toward rent/housing.

Despite a system of rent control, the rent prices of the DC area seem to be out of control. The current average rent within the city of Washington, DC, is a whopping $2,540 per month ($2,121 per month for the larger metro area). It’s $2,287 per month for an average one-bedroom apartment and $2,815 for a two-bedroom. The median house value in the city is $498,000.

When you’re looking for a reasonable listing online, know that some areas are far more expensive than others, with Georgetown topping the list at an average of $2,600 per month in 2015. It depends on the neighborhood you decide to live in. In the city, and even sometimes within some neighborhoods, there’s a fairly large difference in prices.

On average, people in the Washington metropolitan area spend more than 35 percent of their income on housing, which is beyond the recommended 30 percent and the national average of 33 percent. In 2015, a study revealed that 25 percent of all renters spent more than half of their income on housing. Low-income housing hasn’t really been a focus, as many luxury townhouses and condos are being built.

cost of living in washington dc

Image source: The Atlantic

Other expenses aren’t as bad.

When you take housing out of the equation when looking at the cost-of-living index, Washington, DC, isn’t as bad.

It’s the complete inverse of Honolulu, for instance, where housing costs are fairly reasonable but groceries, transportation, and energy bills are ridiculous (see below). The most costly type of expense in Washington, besides housing, is food (which is only 10 percent more than the national average).

The average meal at an inexpensive restaurant is $15 per plate. In this foodie city, you can spend a ridiculous amount on fancy foods; take your time to find more affordable groceries.

cost of living in washington dc

Image source: bestplaces.net

Living wage exceeds minimum wage in Washington, DC.

According to MIT’s Living Wage Index, one adult living alone would need to make at least $14.78 per hour (or $30,745 per year) to make it in the wider Washington-Arlington-Alexandria region.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, on the other hand, one adult with no children would need a salary of at least $42,119 to get by in the city of Washington, DC. Cost of living averages haven’t really kept up with wages; we’ll get to that later.

Here's a preview of the research featured on the MIT Living Wage Index.

cost of living in washington dc

Pro tip: Negotiate your salary!

The average annual salary in DC is $84,523, which is way higer than the national average (around $50,000). As such, you'll definitely want to make sure your employer is treating you fairly with your compensation and adjusting it to fit living in one of the more expensive cities in the U.S.

If you need some help navigating how to negotiate your salary, check out our Ultimate Guide to Relocating for Work, which has a bunch of insights on how to handle salary negotiations.

cost of living in washington dc

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