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The Cost of Living in Washington DC

If you’re thinking about moving to the nation’s capital you’re probably wondering whether you can afford to settle in the city. Home prices in the District are notoriously high, but there’s more to the story than that. Let us walk you through the ins and outs of the cost of living in Washington, D.C., from housing to healthcare.

Washington, D.C. Home Prices

D.C. real estate prices have soared as the city has started attracting wealthier residents. Homes in our nation’s capital are no bargain. According to trulia.com, a one-bedroom home carried an average price of $392,500 during the period of June-September, 2015.

In the same period, two-bedroom homes averaged $599,277, three-bedroom homes averaged $620,000 and four-bedroom homes averaged $800,000. The average home price for all properties was $545,000. Back in 2010, the average home price for all properties was $400,000. That means there’s been a 36% increase between 2010 and 2015. Finding an affordable home to purchase may be challenging.

Washington, D.C. Rent

The Cost of Living in Washington, D.C.

When deciding whether to rent or buy, renting may seem like a more affordable option, at least in the short term. In Washington, D.C., though, rent is expensive. Check out the chart above to see how much you can expect to pay for apartments of different sizes in our nation’s capital.

D.C. Utility Costs

Housing is a big part of the cost of living in Washington, D.C. but it’s not the only factor. For one thing, you’ll have to pay utilities for your house or apartment. According to numbeo.com, a basic utilities package for a 915-square foot apartment in Washington, D.C. will cost you $120.37 per month. That includes electricity, heating, water and garbage, at a price that’s 23% lower than the national average. If you want to add internet, you can expect your monthly bill to increase by around $51.28.


Everybody’s got to eat, right? Eating in D.C. isn’t as expensive as it is in New York, but it’s still not cheap. Numbeo.com estimates a recommended minimum amount of money for food in D.C. at $12.29 per day, $380.95 per month.

Of course, that’s just the minimum, and it assumes that you’re getting all your food items from the grocery store and preparing them yourself. If you want to eat out at a restaurant, expect to pay around $14 at an inexpensive place. A three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant in Washington, D.C. will cost you $72.50. That’s 45% above the national average.


Real talk: D.C.’s monthly transit pass is expensive. A 28-day Fast Pass with SmarTrip will cost you a whopping $237. A one-day pass goes for $14.50 and a seven-day pass goes for $59.25, unless you go for the seven-day short-trip pass at $36.

Why the difference? Because in D.C., unlike in New York, the fare for a ride on the subway isn’t flat. You’ll pay more the farther you go. If you don’t buy a multi-day pass, your public transit costs will vary based on the length of your journeys.

If that sounds too complicated and you’d prefer to drive, here’s what you should know. To have a car that’s compliant with the rules of the D.C. DMV you’ll have to pay an annual registration fee. These fees range from $72 to $155 depending on the weight of your vehicle. Got a hybrid or electric vehicle? You’ll only have to pay $36.

If you buy a car in D.C. you’ll pay an excise tax of between 6 and 8% of the car’s value. According to gasbuddy.com a gallon of gas in Washington, D.C. carries an average price of $2.53 per gallon. Not bad, considering the national average is $2.30.


The Cost of Living in Washington, D.C.

D.C. healthcare premiums on the Affordable Care Act marketplace seem to be holding steady in the mid-200’s, as you can see in the chart. The lack of a dramatic year-over-year increase in health insurance monthly premiums is a good thing for anyone considering a move to the District.

What about the actual medical care? According to Castlight Health, a preventive primary care visit in D.C. costs an average of $141 but prices range from $93 to $234. A lipid panel carries an average cost of just $24, a head/brain CT scan is $681 and a lower-back MRI is $1,391.


If you look carefully at D.C. license plates you’ll see that some of them say “Taxation Without Representation” on them. D.C. isn’t a state and only has a non-voting representative in Congress. Bummer, right?

D.C. residents still pay federal income taxes. They also pay a progressive District Income Tax. Marginal District tax rates range from 4% to 8.95%. The District also has a sales tax of 5.75%.

Property taxes in the capital are quite low, with an average effective property tax rate of just 0.57%. If D.C. were a state it would have one of the lowest property tax rates in the Union.


D.C. prices are high, but the capital helps take the edge off the high cost of living with plenty of free museums and monuments to keep you occupied. The free entertainment on offer includes the stirring and historic (Lincoln Memorial, anyone?) and the fun and family-friendly (think: the National Zoo). If you’re on a budget and bored in Washington, D.C. you’re doing something wrong.

Next Steps

  • So you’ve decided you’re moving to the nation’s capital. You probably want to see how your budget will be affected. SmartAsset’s D.C. paycheck calculator can help you determine how moving to the District of Columbia will impact your take-home pay.
  • A financial advisor can help you navigate big life changes like a move, or just identifying and meeting your financial goals in general. There’s no shortage of financial advisor firms in D.C. A matching tool like SmartAsset’s can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you answer a series of questions about your situation and your goals. Then the program narrows down thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who meet your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while doing much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: ©iStock/Sean Pavone

Amelia Josephson Amelia Josephson is a writer passionate about covering financial literacy topics. Her areas of expertise include retirement and home buying. Amelia's work has appeared across the web, including on AOL, CBS News and The Simple Dollar. She holds degrees from Columbia and Oxford. Originally from Alaska, Amelia now calls Brooklyn home.
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