The Pros and Cons of Living in An Expensive City

Mr. FAF and I bought our first home in the DC metro area in 2016, but I have lived in the city for almost four years.

While I love Washington DC for all the unique perks it offers, the city is not perfect.

If you are thinking of living, working or studying in DC or are just curious about what it’s like living in the capital city of the United States, then this post is for you.

Below are the pros and cons of living in the DC metro area.

Pros

1. Free tourist attractions

In DC, you have free access to world-famous tourist attractions. Life is never boring in the city. Examples include:

Museums: National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Monuments: the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, National World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorials.

Politics powerhouse: the White House, U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress, and National Archives.

Sightseeing: the Tidal Basin, Cherry Blossom Festival, and Virginia beach.

If you want to see what DC has to offer, check out these 100 free & almost free things to do in DC.

2. The best public transit system in America

DC has the nation’s best public transit system, and many DC residents ride it every day. If you want to avoid the headache of traffic, car payments, car insurance, gas, and accidents, then the sprawling DC metro system can definitely help you with that.

I have lived in DC for almost four years without relying on a car. Mr. FAF and I own one car, and he used to be the only one driving it in another city.

3. Abundant internship/job opportunity

DC is the city for young professionals. If you’re passionate about a career in politics and/or policy or want to change the world, DC is an amazing place for you to pursue your lifelong passion.

The city houses various international non-governmental organizations such as the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund. You can see a more comprehensive list here.

I was once told by the career services at my graduate school that employers in DC generally prefer local hires. Believe it or not, when people move to DC from other places, they face a culture shock and can get disoriented. That can definitely affect their job performance.

Where can you find the White House where the US President lives and works? In DC. Where do most of the major decisions affecting the United States and the whole world take place? In DC.

Have you ever experienced that feeling when you know the presidential inauguration is taking place right in the city where you live? That’s exactly what I’m talking about: a vibrant city that also serves as an economic and political stage for the whole world.

4. Plenty of networking opportunity

If you ever feel bored, want to meet like-minded people, or want to network for job opportunity, you can join various meetup, LinkedIn, and Facebook groups to do so. Unless you want some down time, there’s always an event or a group of people you can join to enrich your life.

5. Healthy eating options

If you’re in DC, you don’t have to worry about how you can eat healthy. You will find Whole Foods and restaurants with health-conscious menus everywhere. Wegman’s, Panera Bread, Sweet Green, and Power Supply are just some of the places where you can get organic food and a special diet for your lifestyle.

6. The dating scene

Given the high number of young, ambitious, and successful professionals in DC, the probability of you finding a compatible partner is higher. You can go to a meetup group or a networking event and find a lot of like-minded people.

Some people may argue that it is more difficult to find a partner in DC since everyone is so focused on pursuing their careers. How many potential dates you might have also depends on your work environment and how often you go out of your way to meet new people.

The beautiful White House

Cons

1. Heavy traffic

The traffic in DC is a nightmare for a lot of commuters and residents given the large workforce in the city. A 15-minute drive can easily turn into 45 minutes, an hour, or even longer. I know some people drive into the city at 5 AM and leave at 2 PM to avoid the traffic.

2. Expensive and limited parking

Early bird parking can easily cost you $16/day. It’s really difficult to find a parking spot on weekdays. Parking is free on Sunday, but the competition is fierce.

3. Expensive public transit

Riding the Metro rail one way during rush hour can cost you up to $5.90. If you live far from work and have to ride the Metro, you will pay $11.8/day or $259.6/month (22 work days).

You can get a discount if you’re a senior citizen, work for the government, or are disabled. There’s no discount for students. American University (AU) and Metro have worked out a deal for AU students. Other than that, you’re left to your own devices.

Metro is currently experimenting with Metro SelectPass where Metro customers can get a discount based on their commute distance, but it’s limited and is being tested on a small scale.

Many people drive to the metro station and have to pay at least $5 to park and then take the train. It’s $5 on top of the train fare. It can add easily add up to $350/month for commuting.

4. Long delays at the Metro

The Metro system is usually on time. Trains arrive at the platform every 6 minutes on weekdays and 15 minutes on the weekends. However, when there’s a mechanical or technical problem, the delay can be excruciating. A 20-minute train ride can easily turn into an hour or longer.

DC recently implemented an accelerated track work plan called Safetrack from June 2016 to April 2017 that severely prolonged the commute time for DC residents. During this period, my commute time increased from 1.5 hours to more than 3 hours a day.

5. Expensive real estate

DC is one of the 26 most expensive cities in the world. It comes as no surprise that the real estate market in the DC metro area is also pricey. In May 2017, the median housing price in the area was $558,500 – more than double the national median home value of $232,200.

If you’re a young professional and want to buy a home in DC, you may find yourself priced out of the real estate market. It took Mr. FAF and me a long time to navigate the housing market in the DC metro area and to find an affordable area. The long search was partly because our first realtor wasn’t a perfect fit for us.

6. Expensive rent

The median rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in DC is $2,000. A 2017 study conducted by London-based real estate firm Nested finds that DC boasts one of the world’s most expensive rental markets.

If you’re a student and need to find housing near campus in the DC area, it is not rare to find two or three people sharing a studio or one bedroom apartment to cut costs.

Conclusion

Despite all the cons, I’ve been really enjoying living in Washington DC. The city has so much to offer, especially in terms of career opportunity and entertainment.

I’m confident to say that I wouldn’t be who I am today without living in this beautiful, vibrant, and powerful city.

How about you? Do you also live in an expensive city? What do you think are the pros and cons of living in a metropolitan area?

Related:

How To Save on Rent in Washington DC

How to Save on Transportation in Washington DC

How To Navigate the DC Metro Housing Market

7 Lessons From Our 1st Realtor Experience

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28 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Living in An Expensive City”

  • I’m not a big city person, but all the pros are the big reasons I want to visit DC. I couldn’t handle the overload of people, but I do think it has huge pros for many individuals and families.
    Once our kids are older, I’ll have to hit you up for all the best tips for enjoying DC on a budget!

    • DC doesn’t feel like a big city in the way NYC feels like a big city. You will never stand among skyscrapers on every side and feel dwarfed, because all buildings are required to be a great deal shorter than the Washington Monument. There is hustle and bustle but nothing like NYC.

  • I don’t live in DC, but I live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, Toronto. House price here is also crazy and you can easily spend a million bucks just to get a fixer upper.

    Living in a big city has its advantages like more high paying jobs and more opportunities. However, the pace of life and the stress level is also sky high too.

    I heard a lot of great things about DC, especially the cherry blossoms. This is one of my to do list- go see the blossom in DC.

    • Believe it or not, I have never seen the cherry blossom although I’ve been in DC for a couple of years. It’s always “I can do it next year” that gets in the way. But I heard it’s beautiful!

  • I would love to visit Washington, DC one day. Mr 99to1percent has visited and he says it’s amazing over there.

    We also live in Toronto, Canada and currently for a $1M+ you get a fixer upper tiny little house.

    To get something decent for $1M+, you have to move 1hr+ away into the suburbs and have to commute 2hrs+ a day if you work in the city centre like most people.

  • I live in the Minneapolis area now, but used to live in Los Angeles, about two blocks from the beach. It was awesome, but we really couldn’t do what we wanted to in life – like buy a home – without moving waaaay outside the city, or buying in a ‘meh’ (or worse) part of town. Home ownership just wasn’t something we could afford, and we were bringing in 6 figures a year.

    I loved our place and my time out there, but I’m so happy to be out. I’m healthier (no smog anymore), making more money, and spending less. We were able to build our own house for a reasonable price, and the job opportunities here are better than they were for either of us in LA. Minneapolis is rising in price, but with 22 corporate HQ’s here the job market is incredible, it’s culturally diverse, lots of fun (and free) stuff to do, and the springtime here is among the best places on the planet, IMO.

    Never been do DC but I hear nightmare stories of the traffic in recent years. 🙁

    • Traffic is definitely a nightmare for a lot of people here. It can get really frustrating since you feel like you’re just wasting time sitting in traffic (that’s what other people told me hehe). I’m glad you like Minneapolis. I’ve never been, but one day!

  • I live in Baltimore and honestly feel like living in Baltimore and using the MARC train to commute from near Penn Station is one of the best options for people in DC who work near Union Station in DC. You get a much cheaper COL (A 1br near Penn station in Baltimore is probably like $850 and you can find a studio for $650, and split a house for probably $1200 with 2 other people). That commute is less than 40 minutes on an express train…and you can live in DC and have an even longer commute, and pay more!

    DC also has one of the most beautiful metros in the world! I can’t believe they are painting the concrete white…horrible!!!

    Another benefit of DC is that jobs are pretty secure. During an economic downturn, there are still government jobs. Plus, as a result of government jobs, the wage gap between men and women (in tech specifically, I don’t know about other fields) is the lowest in the nation.

  • I live in an expensive city. I love the walkability, access to different types of food, and close proximity to so many smart people (lots of universities in the area). On the other hand, I could *never* drive here– traffic is terrible and it’s constant mayhem on the streets– and I silently weep every time I go back to my childhood middle-cost city and find everything from toilet paper to spinach costs half of what you’ll find out here.

  • Interesting – I used live in Dublin, Ireland and one of the biggest reasons for our move was the ridiculous cost of accomodation – at least relative to our wages. I now live in the South East of Ireland and am comparatively much better off. It’s all relative of course. I cycle everywhere when possible and larger cities can be lethal for cyclists if there is not a proper cycling infrastructure. I find with my lifestyle I have a higher quality of living outside of the big cities

  • You really can’t put a price on the dating scene in a robust city. What if you can meet Mr. Right? Who also happens to be Mr. Millionaire? That doesn’t happen often in a small town. I love quiet expanses of land where I can be alone but something tells me I’ll always come back to the city.

    You forgot the restaurants!! Can’t get sushi in the middle of nowhere 🙂

  • I’d love to visit DC for a few months, but probably not stay. I like smaller cities. Portland is getting up there, though. I think we are not quite in the top 10 most expensive cities in the US, but very close. Low teens. I really hate traffic jams.

  • I haven’t been to DC since I was a kid, didn’t know there is a cherry blossom festival. The rent is so expensive for a 1 bedroom! I’m from Vancouver where it’s also very expensive to live.. For a townhouse or a half duplex in the city it is $1 million and up!!

  • Good post. I used to live in northern Virginia (DC metro) area for 1.5 years, then moved to central Ohio and settled down happily. I’m not a fan of big cities, partly because I grew up in a village in China. Traffic and living costs are the main things I care about.

  • I was having this same discussion with someone earlier today! The cost of living here is insane, but there are also so many great things about being here (including job opportunities that allow us to meet that cost of living). I’m definitely staying for a while, but not sure if I’ll stay here forever.

  • I moved to an expensive city for work 12 years ago, which turned out well as the extra money I could earn was more than the extra cost of living. This helped me save extra to let me retire young aged 47. But living in an expensive city on our retired early budget doesn’t make financial sense because we don’t now have the high income to offset the high costs of the city. It’s therefore time for us to move, so we need to think about what country/city or town match will be the best fit for our new phase of life. That’s not an easy question to answer – at the moment, I don’t know where we’ll be heading to.

  • Hey Ms.Frugal
    it’s really nice post , and great idea to writing about pros and cons about expensive city
    i like pros , museum and other things
    Thank you for sharing

  • I love living in a big city (Miami), but admit that it has its drawbacks. Housing is very expensive, and traffic can be brutal (especially during rush hour). But, for me, the pros are far more than the cons. I love that there’s always something to do, at any time. Restaurants, shops, museums, concerts, sports games, theater and more abound.

    One thing I really like about Miami is that it has many urban “clusters” surrounded by large areas filled with single-family homes. This means that it’s possible to live in a detached house with a yard and still be 10-20 minutes away from amenities. Also, IMHO, it makes the city more beautiful because you have large neighborhoods with lots of trees in between urban cores.

  • I’ve lived in the DC metro area (currently in MoCo Maryland) my entire life. I’m not sure I would like to live in DC proper, but I do enjoy brief visits downtown. The museums and memorials are fantastic (most if not all are free admission). As you point out, there are plenty of corporate and government jobs in the area.

    That said, we will be leaving the area once we exit the 9-to-5 world. Taxes are too high, way too much traffic and congestion, and well… I’ve lived here my whole life. Time to explore the rest of the world. I think we will eventually settle down in a more rural area.

  • Good post FAF!

    We lived in DC for about a year & loved the vibe. And the opportunities are enormous, for so many different fields. But traffic is just insane. And I think it’s also not as safe, especially Prince George county.

    The public transport is unimaginably bad. If you take a train from Baltimore to get to Silver Spring or anywhere outside the city, you might as well walk to get there faster.

  • I live in Houston, which is expensive, but not as expensive as DC. The pros there’s a lot that you can do (concerts, sports games, etc.) and the economy is stronger than more rural places.

    The cons are that there is always a ton of traffic. Last time I checked, there are about 100,000 people moving to Houston each year, so I imagine the traffic will continue to get worse.

  • I have great respect for you to be able to live in the DC area. I live in a small place with subsidized rent. The advantage being – we are able to save up to 75% of our income. Curious to see how much you guys are able to save living in DC.

  • Nice post, i am not living in expensive city but i agree any city their pros – cons. but lots of cons in there expensive cities ! thank so much !

  • Interesting conclusion! We live in a city that’s neither expensive, nor cheap. It’s “financially balanced”, so to say. At times, my parents used to insist we move to the bigger cities in the area. Like you said, there are more job opportunities and many other advantages. But I have to say, living in a small urban area is so much peaceful! I don’t know if I could ever live in a big, busy city.

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