How to Live on a Budget in Washington D.C.

I came to Washington D.C. to earn my master's degree and quickly discovered that living frugally was essential to maintaining my tiny budget. You don't have to scrimp and save every penny in order to make it - you just have to know a few tricks of the trade to get by on a minimal budget.

How to Live on a Budget in Washington D.C.

  1. The first step in making sure your budget lasts month to month is finding an area in which to live. D.C. can be a tricky market to find affordable housing in, but if you're willing to explore new and changing neighborhoods, you'll be able to get by. Consider looking at apartments in Columbia Heights, Le Droit Park, Shaw/Howard, Capitol Hill North or the Southwest Waterfront. Most of these neighborhoods are undergoing extenuating rehabilitation projects that are bringing in new businesses and creating more housing opportunities for those willing to relocate there. If you don't want to live in the District, consider looking at places in Silver Spring, Md., College Park, Md., or Arlington, Va. These areas offer housing that's a little cheaper - and probably a lot larger than what you could find in D.C.

  2. Learn how to buy the essentials while grocery shopping so you can pack your meals for lunch during the day and eat at home in the evenings. Doing so often leaves you open for a nice dinner or two each week or a nice brunch on the weekends.

  3. If you like to go out, consider taking advantage of the many happy hour specials offered by practically every bar in the district. You can find $1 beer and $3 hamburgers as well as $5 martinis and cheap calamari. Learn these happy hours and visit them at every chance you get. Another great tip? Make friends with bartenders and doormen. I've found that if they can recognize your face, they let you in without a wait (or cover charge) and often reduce your tab by a significant amount. It does pay to be friendly!

  4. Looking good is important in a city that prides itself on its politics and $400 haircuts. If you want to pamper yourself with a haircut and a facial, don't head to the ritzy salon downtown. Instead visit the Aveda Institute in Chinatown. Beauty school students practice the tricks they've learned in school on you - all for a very discounted fee. The outcome can be so-so, but for the price, it's worth it. Many gyms in D.C. also offer a trial or temporary membership. Washington Sports Clubs offers a two-week trial for $20. Take advantage of getting slim for two weeks. If you like it, get a membership when your budget allows.

  5. The District's public transportation services are pretty great. Eliminating a car (which you really don't need) saves you on gas money and gets you pretty much anywhere within the city. The bus and metrorail system run just about everywhere in the city - you just need a flexible schedule. Knowing bus schedules can also save you expensive cab fares too. Can't live without a car? Consider signing up for a Zipcar membership. The cars are located throughout the city and the membership fees are cheap - especially if you sign up with a few friends.

  6. Instead of buying books and magazines or going out to movies, consider visiting your local library to check out some of the New York Times bestsellers. Get movies sent straight to your home by signing up for cheap, monthly DVD delivery services. You can enjoy watching movies on your own time and a movie waiting in your mailbox is always a pleasant surprise.

  7. Want to get out of the city, but only have a small amount in your bank account? Consider booking a trip to NYC through one of the many bus services that take you from D.C. to Baltimore to NYC - all in four hours. Fares rarely cost more than $40 and the escape from the city is heavenly.

  8. If you need furniture, consider looking on Craigslist for cheap, yet nice, finds. Craigslist is also a great resource for finding housing, jobs and other services throughout the city.

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