What is the real cost of living in Washington D.C.?

The nation’s capital stands alone: not part of any state, but more than just a city. Washington, District of Columbia, (Washington or D.C. for short), is the center of the country’s government, as well as a popular tourist destination due to its many free museums and historical monuments. Colleges like Georgetown and Howard University, along with over 175 international embassies, round out D.C.’s cosmopolitan vibe.

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Housing: Rental PricesHousing: Home Purchase PricesUtilities CostFood CostTransit CostAverage Salary
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Washington’s biggest employer is the United States government, and wages in the District tend to be 26% higher than the national average. The city’s most common high-paying fields are law, economics, and political science. High salaries and a lower cost of living compared with other major cities like Boston and San Francisco make it relatively affordable to live in the capital.

Numbeo’s cost of living index, which factors the cost of consumer goods prices, including groceries, restaurants, transportation, and utilities, scores Washington D.C. at 83.68 out of 100—meaning that it’s about 16% less expensive than New York City, the index’s benchmark city (with a score of 100). Add rent to the mix and the score drops to 79.46. If you’re considering a move to Washington, D.C., a cost of living calculator can help you figure out how your expenses might change.

Housing: Rental Prices

Washington’s toniest neighborhoods offer good value compared to the most expensive areas in the aforementioned cities. The average monthly cost to live in Foggy Bottom, Shaw, and the U Street Corridor ranges from $2,500 to $2,700. Rents in these neighborhoods are not dramatically more expensive than the average D.C. rent of $2,234. 

Apartments in more affordable neighborhoods like Georgetown and Brightwood rent for $1,700-$1,800 per month, closer to the nationwide average of $1,463. The suburbs of Washington offer good value as well, with rents below $1,800 in Alexandria, Virginia; Silver Spring, Maryland; and Columbia, Maryland. 

Even if the numbers sound high, living in Washington D.C. doesn’t have to be out of reach. Coliving with roommates allows you to spend significantly less than the average cost of solo housing. For example, Bungalow's average price for a private room in a shared home in D.C. is up to 25% less than the rent of an average studio apartment in the same neighborhood.

Housing: Home Purchase Prices

In January 2020, the median sale price of homes in Washington, D.C., was $580,000, which is more than twice the nationwide median sale price of $245,000 for the same time period. Real estate prices in the broader Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area are significantly lower than in the city itself, so buyers should look outside the city for homes that are typically priced around $400,000. 

Property taxes in D.C. are among the lowest in the country. After tax deductions and credits, the effective tax rate that homeowners will have to pay is 0.55%, almost half the national average of 1.08%. 

Utilities Cost

A single person in an average size Washington, D.C. apartment can expect to spend $147 per month on utilities, a rate which is 8% lower than the national average.

Food Cost

Dining out in the D.C. area is fairly expensive, especially for dinner. A meal at a full-service restaurant, not including alcohol or tip, averages $40 for one. Lunches are less expensive, at around $15. A 10% sales tax is added to restaurant meals and takeout, which is higher than the usual sales tax of 6% on most other items. 

At the grocery store, D.C. residents can expect to pay 10% more than the national average.  The average monthly grocery bill in Washington is $304. If this sounds like a lot, consider that grocery prices in D.C. are 27% less than in New York City, and similar to prices in Seattle and Chicago.

Transit Cost

Commuting costs are especially high for Washingtonians, who spend more money getting to work than residents in any other US city. Average transportation costs in D.C. added $13,095 to households’ annual budget in 2018, significantly more than the national average of $9,669. Commuting takes up time as well as money, so paying higher rent to live closer to work may be worth the cost for an improvement in quality of life. 

Almost two-thirds of workers in D.C. drive to work alone. Gas prices in the capital are comparable to the national average (from $2-$2.80 per gallon over the last year), but the 43 minute average one-way commute makes the costs add up. For full coverage car insurance, DC drivers can expect to pay $1,527 yearly, which is one hundred dollars more than the national average, but less than drivers pay in California and New York.

One quarter of D.C.’s population uses public transportation to get to work. The most popular option is Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metro rail system. Metro subway ticket prices vary based on time and distance travelled. Travel during off-peak hours costs from $2 to $3.85, which bumps up to $2.25-$6 during commute hours. These prices are similar to other distance-based systems like BART in the San Francisco Bay Area. Commuter rail from Maryland is slightly more expensive per ride. 

Bus lines supplement the subway system within the city. Bus tickets are $2 per ride. Unlimited passes for bus and subway trips range from $13 for a one-day pass to $58 for a week-long pass. Compared with the $33 price of a weekly pass for the New York City public transit system, Washington’s unlimited pass is significantly more expensive. 

Average Salary

Overall, workers in the Washington, D.C. area earn an average wage of $35 per hour, which is 26% higher than the national average wage of $26. This works out to an average salary of almost $73,000 per year. The only places where US workers can expect higher compensation are in Manhattan and in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Washington, D.C. has a high concentration of jobs (44%) in the sectors of government and business and professional services. These jobs pay more in D.C. than they do elsewhere. Lawyers, who are necessary in the political lobbying process, can expect to make $180,000 annually in Washington, versus $145,000 elsewhere. Political scientists earn more than $125,000 on average per year.

High earners do pay relatively high taxes to the government at their doorstep. Income taxes in the District are progressive and range from 4% to 8.95%. This puts Washington, D.C., in the top ten states with the highest income taxes. And, residents of the District pay these high taxes without representation in Congress—an ongoing gripe that is even displayed on local license plates. 

Economically and culturally, life in the nation’s capital revolves around politics. If you work in this field or want to be closer to where the big decisions affecting American life are made, Washington, D.C. is the only place to be. With above-average salaries, a stable job market, plenty of free attractions, and lower rents than other major cities, Washington is also an attractive and affordable place to live and work. 

Bungalow offers private rooms in shared homes that are more affordable than solo housing options in the same neighborhoods. Wifi, utilities, and monthly cleaning are set up before you move in so that coliving is seamless. Unlike other shared housing options, Bungalow vets all residents and helps you match with roommates who share your living preferences and interests. Find your next home on Bungalow

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