Living in Washington DC can feel very expensive, especially if you are paying off debt or are on an otherwise restrictive budget. Depending on the terms of your loan, you might feel like you are trapped in a whirlwind of monthly expenses or like you have to sacrifice daily luxuries while paying off your debts.
A lot of people living in the area on a budget went to one of the many amazing schools near the District. Some of these grads might have a good handle on ways to save money without sacrificing enjoyment in the area.
But for a lot of residents, living in DC is a completely new and unique experience. After all, the District is a highly-transient city, which is why we like to give advice to newcomers. DC can be an amazing city to live in if you bring the right attitude — and it doesn’t have to break the bank and stop you from sticking to your budget!
We’ve found that a lot of people are lost when trying to figure out how they can live in DC while being smart about their budget. With that in mind, here’s our 4 keys to living in the District without breaking the bank or giving up the luxuries that make the city so much fun.
1. Find DC’s free luxuries
Here’s one of the best parts of living in Washington DC: there are a ton of amazing things that you can do without spending any money! The most well-known options are the free federal museums, such as the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History or the National Gallery of Art. These amazing collections house some of the most breathtaking artifacts and artwork in the world. It’s no surprise that they draw so much attention — or so many tourists! In fact, some DC residents can find the experience overwhelming, particularly during the busy holiday seasons.
However, there is no shortage of things to do in the DC area without spending cash. DC was recently named the top city in the United States for parks, both in terms of square acreage and public access. So be sure to check out free parks like Huntley Meadows (located near Alexandria) or Rosslyn’s Theodore Roosevelt Park.
It’s a good idea to periodically check in on upcoming events across DC. Although there are a lot of free, permanent activities to enjoy in the capital, there are just as many seasonal and temporary events. Pop-up markets, public art exhibits, seasonal concerts — there’s always something new to do around Washington DC! Here are a few of our suggestions…
Explore some of our favorite free activities:
Enjoy a free theatre show in Washington DC — every single day
Are you a fan of the theatre, but don’t want to adjust your budget to fit expensive performance tickets? The highly-lauded, nationally-recognized Kennedy Center has the perfect solution! Every single day, at 6:00 PM, the Kennedy Center puts on a free performance, which you can watch from anywhere via their livestream! This means that you can always get access to free, high quality professional theatre, either online or in person. The Kennedy Center, home to the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera, is one of the premium centers for fine arts in the District — so make sure to take advantage of these daily free performances! To see their upcoming events, make sure to check their performance calendar.
Say “yes, and” to a new world of comedy
Love to laugh, or looking to try something new without too much commitment? Check out Washington Improv Theater’s Harold Night! The Washington Improv Theatre, often abbreviated as WIT, has a long history of bringing side-splitting laughter to DC residents with their long-form improvisational comedy. In particular, WIT specializes in an improv structure called “Harold,” where the actors weave together multiple scenes out of a single audience suggestion.
Harold Night, named after the iconic improv format, is a weekly event where WIT performers and audience members alike can practice their comedic skills — at no cost for attendees! Harold Night takes place every Tuesday, at both 7:30 and 8:30 PM. Tickets are free, though WIT offers a “pay what you choose” structure for people who want to give back to the DC comedy scene. This awesome weekly event is a great chance to dip your toe into the world of improv comedy.
Harold Night, like many of WIT’s programs, is held in the SOURCE Theatre — a storied venue located in the iconic 14th Street Corridor.
If you end up wanting to learn more, the Washington Improv Theatre has a ton of options for free or low-cost comedy workshops, where you can continue to learn about the art of improvisation. Check out their Improv for All program to learn more!
Bust a move without busting your wallet
Get moving and improve your best dance moves at one of Cafe Citron’s free dance classes! Located in Dupont Circle, this affordable eatery turns into a bustling nightclub when the sun goes down. On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the club hosts free dance classes, so you can practice and improve your groove without breaking the bank on expensive dance tutors.
From 5PM to 9PM on Wednesdays, resident DJ Piojo leads Citron’s Salsa Happy Hour, with the free dance lesson beginning at 7:30.
On Fridays and Saturdays, DJ DNS takes the helm for the 8PM dance class, where you can learn both Salsa and Bachata dancing.
No matter what you enjoy doing, odds are that you can find some way to enjoy it without breaking your budget in DC — so get out there and find it!
Bonus Tip: Don’t limit your search for entertainment! The Washington DC area has plenty of amazing, interesting neighborhoods — and each has something to love about them!
If you need some inspiration on things to do in DC, make sure to check out the Keri Shull Team’s YouTube page for more dining, leisure, and nightlife recommendations!
2. Take Advantage of Metro Passes
If you’ve been living in DC for more than a few minutes, you’ve almost certainly noticed that the traffic can be pretty crazy. A lot of people choose to take Washington DC’s Metrorail system to avoid sitting in traffic. The Metro offers convenient travel between the DMV’s diverse neighborhoods, and the trains arrive rapidly and regularly during the peak hours. Unfortunately, Metro fare can quickly balloon in cost, making it seem like a fee that you need to cut.
There’s an excellent way to cut down on this cost, however. The Washington Metro Transit Authority offers monthly passes, which remove the necessity of paying for each fare. After a flat fee every month, you can take unlimited trips on the Metrorail and Metro bus system.
Many employers take advantage of the transit authority’s SmartBenefits®, which allows them to offer tax-free transit credits to employees. Usually, SmartBenefits® can be used to get a monthly pass for a severely discounted rate — so speak to your employer about any transit incentives they might offer!
If you don’t feel like taking the Metrorail, there are a ton of other great options for getting around DC and the surrounding cities. In addition to being supremely walkable, the DMV is very bike-friendly. Take this opportunity to stay fit while exploring one of the nation’s most beautiful cities!
3. Save on rent — buy a home
One of the most common misconceptions about home ownership is that it is more expensive than renting a home. In reality, purchasing a home can save you money! Depending on how your real estate agent structures your offer — and the loan agreement you make with the lender — you can easily pay less owning a home than you would be renting.
It gets better, too — many states include government programs to help people with student loans purchase a home. For people living in the Washington DC area, plans like Maryland Smartbuy & DC’s Home Purchase Assistance Program can provide special loan options and student loan relief, so you can enjoy living in the area without sacrificing your financial security.
Buying a home, especially in a rapidly-growing real estate market like Washington DC, is a great opportunity to build wealth. Many people think that buying a home will chain them down to a single place, but that isn’t the case. In general, if you plan on staying in your home for 3 years (or more), it is financially wise to purchase, rather than renting.
If you purchase a home in an up-and-coming neighborhood in DC, you stand to make a very good return on your investment — and that money can go a long way to paying down debt and securing your financial situation!
Think DMV, not just living in Washington DC
Although Washington DC has the reputation of being very expensive, you can get access to DC’s luxuries without busting your budget by finding a home outside of the District. There are plenty of communities in Maryland and Virginia that offer much lower costs of living, without restricting your ability to enjoy the amenities of Washington DC. There’s a reason that people often refer to the DMV — the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area — as opposed to strictly DC. Many people who work in the District (or nearby metropolises like Arlington, VA) live in more cost-effective communities nearby.
If you want to explore some of our suggested communities, click here!
Bonus Tip: Purchasing a home can be very good for your day-to-day expenses, but it can be even better for your long-term finances. If you want to learn about just how valuable home ownership can be for securing your financial future, check out the Keri Shull Team’s free Home Buying Seminar!
4. Spend money to save money
There are some things that are too important to do alone — so you need to work with the right people when it comes to your finances! Washington DC is a city full of experts who can help you become financially secure, without sacrificing the good things in life!
It might seem wiser to always try to save your money, but there are a lot of times when you are better off spending money to get long-term value (or just to enjoy the little things in life!). For instance: if you are stressed out about your finances, you might be better off spending some money and working with a financial planner to get a handle on your money situation and create a plan for the future.
If you follow us on social media, you know that we believe strongly in the power of wise investments. This doesn’t just apply to investing in real estate — we believe that you should invest in yourself, too!
Bonus Tip: Not all experts are worthy of your business, so make sure you are working with the right people! When you have your first meeting, remember that you are interviewing them — so make sure it’s a good fit!
If you want to learn more about living in any of the neighborhoods of the DC area, you need to work with a team that knows the city better than any other! The Keri Shull Team is the top-selling real estate team in the entire DC Metropolitan area — so we can help you find the perfect home for you! Click here to schedule your free home search consultation today!