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Cost of Living in Washington, DC 2020

By: Davina Ward
December 11, 2020

Washington, DC is a major metropolitan area in the US. Like most major cities, it boasts many amenities and attractions that keep both residents and tourists enamored with the Capital City.

From the grand historical monuments to the lively city center, DC is a city with the unique position of serving as both our nation's government seat and as a bustling metropolis.

Lovely parks, the Smithsonian Museum, historic buildings, and more are just some of the distinct attributes that make DC special. There truly is something for everyone.

If you're lucky enough to be considering a move to the District of Columbia, you should work on your budget. It's essential to understand the cost of living in Washington, DC before making your move there. Not only will this set you up for a comfortable living, but it’ll also ensure that you can find the perfect affordable apartment in a neighborhood that suits you.

Here's everything you need to know about the cost of living in Washington, DC.

Washington DC Housing Costs

Washington, DC rent prices are higher than your average and have comparable rents to cities like New York and Miami. The current median cost for a one-bedroom apartment in DC is $1,582, while the median cost for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,600.

Washington, DC rent costs have decreased steadily since March of 2020. They’re down 13.6% from the same time last year. This is due, in large part, to the pandemic gripping the nation. In the past month alone, rent prices have gone down 3%. Home costs have also faced a steady decline.

Making the move to DC now might be a smart way to save money, with rent specials and falling prices becoming the norm. However, as the pandemic is brought under control and the economy stabilizes, rent prices are expected to increase. So, don't expect those savings to last too long.

Washington DC Transportation

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority handles Washington, DC's public transportation. Your fare will depend on several factors. Those include the time of day for your trip and the distance between stations. You can use the Metro's trip planner feature to calculate your fare.

The eco-friendly SmarTrip Card can be used for passage on Metrorail and buses throughout the Metro area. It's best to load these cards and keep track of your credit via the mobile app.

That said, DC is a walking and biking city. Many residents own vehicles. However, most residents get around using their own two feet.

Washington DC Food Costs

The Economic Policy Institute sets a single person's food costs at $297 a month. However, if you’re moving your family, including your spouse and two children, expect to pay $858 monthly on your grocery bill. These rates are based on assumptions that the family doesn’t eat out regularly.

With all the delicious restaurants in the DC Metro area, that's not often the case. According to Numbeo, eating for one in DC would run an average of $15, not including a tip, at an inexpensive restaurant. A mid-range restaurant with a three-course meal for two could cost $80 and up.

Washington DC Healthcare Costs

Across the U.S., health insurance costs have surged. That results in individuals and families paying higher premiums. In 2020, the approved health insurance rates increased by an average of 1.6% for individuals and 8.4% for small groups (families).

Fortunately, Washington, DC has a low rate of uninsured individuals, despite rising health insurance rates. This speaks to its easy to use the health insurance marketplace and the programs in place for low-income individuals to access affordable health insurance.

Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures demonstrates sample costs for specific individuals.

For example, a 40-year-old non-smoker bringing in $30,000 annually could expect to pay a monthly premium of $324 for the second-lowest-cost health insurance plan in Washington, DC.

This is before tax credits are applied. It would result in a yearly rate of $3,888.

However, your circumstances may be very different from the example provided. So, it's best to do your research and shop around before making a final decision about your health insurance costs. Compare plans for individuals and families via DC's health plan comparison tool.

Washington DC Utilities

Data from Numbeo puts utility costs at a low $149.04 a month for electricity, cooling, heating, water, and garbage collection for a 915 sq. ft. apartment. However, utility costs can be hard to pin down.

There are so many factors that can influence their costs. For example, you might prefer to keep your apartment cooler in the winter months and simply throw on a sweater and bundle up when you feel chilly. This could mean you save big on heating costs throughout the year.

Others snap the heat on as soon as the temperature outside goes below 65.

You may also face a situation where your apartment is older and hasn't been optimized for energy efficiency. This could mean that you end up spending a lot more than your neighbors on your utilities.

If you’re worried about the cost of utilities, opt for an apartment that has been renovated to include energy-efficient appliances. Or, search for units that offer all utilities bundled in with the cost of the rent. Either of these options can help you save on utility costs.

Washington DC Fitness and Entertainment

While DC might not be known as the entertainment capital of the world, it's not lacking in recreation, fun, and entertainment options that will keep you from getting bored.

DC Fitness Costs

The average cost of a gym membership in Washington, DC is $85.72 for a single adult. If you prefer Tennis, you can rent a court for an hour for just $13.

Fortunately, many gyms are offering virtual classes and at-home workout series at a reduced cost. You might be able to save with an all-digital membership.

DC Parks and Recreation

There are various parks within the DC area that offer an opportunity for fitness and free fun. Rock Creek Park even boasts a Planetarium to make the night sky a visage for all to see. Hiking, biking, walking, running, and more — there's so much to do.

If you prefer to head indoors for your fun, the Smithsonian offers free general admission. You can peruse various exhibits without spending a dime. It's the perfect way to spend an afternoon, or several, as the museum is massive.

Sports Lovers Rejoice!

The Capital One Arena, located in the Penn Quarter - Chinatown neighborhood of DC, is the DC sports circuit's heart and soul.

Whether you want to catch an NBA, WNBA, NHL, or collegiate basketball game, you can head to the arena.

If you're a baseball fan, you can watch the Washington Nationals play at Nationals Park in the Navy Yard, one of the best neighborhoods in DC. Here are some average ticket prices from Seat Geek:

  • Washington Capitals: $118
  • Washington Wizards: $97
  • Washington Mystics: $73
  • Georgetown Hoyas: $33
  • Washington Nationals: $53

Other Expenses to Consider in DC

Though this list has been through, there are always hidden costs to consider when moving to a new city. Luckily, these are categories that you might already have in your budget. However, it's important to consider how these items might change based on your new location.

Here's a breakdown of some additional costs to consider in DC.

  • Phone and Internet Service: The average cost of internet in DC is $62. However, it can be higher depending on the quality of service you choose.
  • Childcare: The average cost of childcare in DC is $1,684 for a child in preschool or a private daycare for the full day. This can represent the bulk of a family's monthly spending.
  • Taxes: Residents in DC have to pay the federal income tax, despite not being given full statehood and having a non-voting Congress representative. Additionally, residents pay a District Income Tax, sales tax, and property taxes.
  • Luxury Costs: Living in DC can get expensive, especially when you take advantage of all the restaurants and shops it has to offer. That's why it's a good idea to take advantage of free entertainment. Check out free museums, parks, concerts, performances, and more.

What Salary Do I Need To Live in DC?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage of residents of the DC metro area is $72,600 or a $34.90 hourly wage.

However, it's essential to estimate your personal costs to determine the true wage you should earn to live comfortably in the Washington, DC area. Starting with what is often the largest expense for individuals, let's take a look at Washington, DC's housing costs. The gold standard for budgeting is that your housing cost, such as rent or mortgage payments, shouldn’t exceed 30% of your monthly income before taxes. This is commonly referred to as the 30% rule.

The rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, DC is $1582. So, a DC resident should make at least $5,273 monthly or $63,280 annually before taxes. However, splitting rent with a roommate or two can cut the cost of DC's pricey rents dramatically.

Final Thoughts

Washington, DC has a lot to offer any prospective renter. However, to make the most of your move, it's crucial to understand the cost of living in DC.

You'll have to create an accurate budget that includes all your expenses, from your rent payment to your Netflix subscription. From there, you'll be able to find your dream apartment that fits your budget.

That's where Apartment List comes in. Get started with our quiz today to find your next home in Washington DC!

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Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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