Living on $28K a Year in DC

I make a lot more than $28K a year. That’s not a flex. I mention this because it is so important to live below your means if you want to have any sort of financial success. Many people say it is impossible to live in a high cost of living area (HCOL) and still save money, but I have to whole heartedly disagree, and I hope this post inspires others to spend less and save more money. Now you may start creating preconceived notions about my lifestyle, and I’ll counter that right away by saying I do not deprive myself, as I live alone in a 1 bedroom apartment that can see the Washington Monument outside his window. There are no dumb tricks that I see other bloggers and YouTubers use such as having large inheritances or having their parents pay for their apartment or car. In fact, the amount of money I make is irrelevant because how much you make should not impact your spending by a large degree. I also spent the same amount for the past 4 years, so it is definitely repeatable and not a 1 time success.

There are 5 major categories I breakdown my expenses in. Food, Living, Transportation, and Miscellaneous expenses. Never mind, that’s just 4 because we are already cutting down on expenses.

Just to note, DC is what is called a High Cost of Living Area (HCOL). If we do a quick search on the most expensive cities in the US, DC ranks number 5, with 2 neighboring cities in the top 15 list we see from Quicken Loans. In fact, if we take a look at the richest counties from US news, 6 of the top 15 surround DC, including the 3 most expensive. I’ve found that despite all this, it isn’t too terrible to spend a modest amount and still live a good life. Let’s get into how I do that.

Food Expenses

First let’s cover food. I budget by Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Meal Supplements (fruit, protein powder, drinks, and desserts), and booze. I budget $4 for lunch, $4 for Dinner, and $1 for breakfast. For meal supplements I budget 1 dollar, and I do not spend money on alcohol because it just isn’t good for your health. This gives us a total of $10 for food per day, $300 per month, and $3,650 per year. While it is almost impossible to track how much I spent on each meal, I just track my spending based on how much I cook and how much I eat out.

Year2020201920182017Average
Cook-2,221.49-651.70-611.46-702.40-1,046.76
Out-1,070.41-2,864.60-3,748.42-2,906.51-2,547.49
Total-3,291.90-3,516.30-4,359.88-3,608.91-3694.25
Food spending for 2017-2020 in Washington, D.C.

Just as an FYI, if I took a vacation, the money I spent on food would still show up here. I averaged around $600-$700 dollars per year on cooking food from 2017 to 2019 and spent around $3,000 eating out. Since restaurants were closed in 2020, I ended up spending more on luxury foods to cook such as steaks, lambchops, and exotic fruits. In total, this totals to an average spending of $3,694.25 per year, which is a little above budget. In 2018 I ate out a ton more which caused this difference. Whenever I tell my colleagues in DC how much I spend on food, they always are surprised at how low it is. When I talk to people in the Financial Independence circles, they say I am around average spending. Let me know in the comments if you think this is a lot or a little.

Living Expenses

Under Living expenses, I separate it into Housing, Internet, Phone, Laundry, Home Supplies, Health, and Maintenance.

Housing

I haven’t moved in all these years, so I can’t really budget for housing because it’s just however much you have to pay that year unless you move.

2020201920182017Average
-23,048.72-22,599.84-22,274.14-22,310.26-22,558.24
Housing Expenses in D.C.

My housing averages to around $1879.85 per month. Housing gets pretty pricey in DC. The money I spend here is pretty much the entire year’s spending, but at least this includes my utilities. It is what it is, which is why I want to move to a new city. Let me know if you have any suggestions. While my apartment is nice, it isn’t a luxury apartment by any means. Those run about $2100 or more depending on how luxurious it is, and often do not include utilities.

Other Living Expenses

Since all the other expenses are pretty minor, I’ll just do a quick run through here.

Living2020201920182017Avg per Month
Internet-412.32-382.49-311.28-482.80-33.10
Phone-20.00-275.00-431.00-566.34-26.92
Laundry0.00-23.75-28.50-27.50-1.66
Home Supplies0.00-31.550.00-61.23-1.93
Health-60.48-1.47-61.46-166.81-6.05
Maintenance-179.090.00-15.950.00-4.06
Total-671.89-714.26-949.19-1,304.68-73.73
Numbers should add up, but I had to copy paste from excel into wordpress, so LMK if they don’t and I’ll try to recopy them

Internet is just internet, I do not have cable or a landline. Phone bill I have my company pay my phone, but honestly I have paid around $25 for a phone and $25 for a plan in the past, which would be $50 per month with a new phone and $25 when the phone is paid off. I guess I lied about no tricks before, but I honestly don’t use much data. For Laundry, I don’t spend that much because I don’t exercise much, and I don’t sweat, so my clothes don’t really get dirty when I wear them. I didn’t spend any in 2020 because I had a prepaid laundry card that I kept using from the year before. I think my Laundry card broke a few times, so my apartment gave me a $20 card for free to replace it. If you want to cry about how I ‘lied’ about not getting freebies, feel free to do so in the comments. Health expenses are doctor/dentist fees after my insurance, medicine, condoms that expire, toothbrushes, lotions, all that stuff. I sign up for a lot of freebies for skincare, which leads to a lot of spam, but I just create a separate email address for all of these to get lots of free samples for lotions and all that. Now for the women in the audience. Yes, I am aware of the pink tax where living as a women costs a lot more because of personal maintenance. I have spoken to some women who are super into personal finance, and while a health cost of $6 a month is low, you don’t really need much more than $10-20. I have a redemption for the pink tax later on in the article. Maintenance is fixing or replacing random appliances that break.

Transportation

Now this is where everyone is going to hate me. “OMG YOU DON’T HAVE A CAR? HOW DO YOU LIVE?” Well, first off, I spend a lot of money on my apartment so that I live within close distance to supermarkets, restaurants, and social locations, so I do not need a car to go to interesting places. Second, if I did, I take public transportation, walk, or take a car service such as Uber or Lyft. Even if I Ubered everywhere, it would be less expensive than insurance alone. I budget $60 a month on transportation which includes Taxis, Public Transportation, Trains/Planes to visit people in different cities, and buses. I also sometimes rent cars to do things.

Year2020201920182017Avg per Month
Car00000
Insurance00000
Gas0-46.49-9.92-17.1-1.53
Car Rental0-51.160-47.59-2.06
Parking00000
Tolls0-39.75-200-1.24
Taxi0-93.32-38.12-268.83-8.34
Plane00-51.41-537.02-12.26
AAA00000
Public-11-147.7-80-42.25-5.85
Bus-16.72-53.97-5-76.25-3.17
Train-58000-1.21
Bike0-7.9800-0.17
Total-85.72-440.37-204.45-989.04-35.82
Transportation Expenses

Transportation here includes daily transportation and for vacations.

Miscellaneous Expenses

Now let’s cover everything else. I will list out my expenses for Entertainment, Haircuts, Donations, Clothes, Hobbies, Credit Cards, Vacations, Gifts, Tax Preparation fees, and Other expenses.

Year2020201920182017Avg per Month
Entertainment-172.7-7-132-38.5-7.30
Haircut-66.44000-1.38
Donation-100-5-50250-106.88
Clothes-183.29-625.04-143.54-35.88-20.58
Hobbies-98.06-97.190-4.98-4.17
Credit Card0-550-5500-22.92
Vacation-711-113-89.80-19.04
Gifts-240.77-233.16-60.73-29.14-11.75
Taxes000-23.31-0.49
Other046.08179.9504.71
Total-1572.26-1584.31-5821.12-131.81-189.78
Rewards430.851,479.63401.9122.1648.64
Total with Rewards-1,141.41-104.68-5419.21-1,693.74-141.14
Misc Expenses

Here it all is. I’ll try to run through all of them the best I can.

Entertainment expenses can be something like going to a movie or some social activity. If you want to reduce this, you need to use things like Groupon for certain events. I started YouTube Premium in 2020, so I now spend on that. I do have streaming accounts such as Netflix and Hulu that I borrow from various friends and family. Go ahead and ding me for this one as well, but you can also maybe ask your friends and family to see if you can share with you instead or there are ways to watch anything for free 😉

For haircuts, I cut my own hair. I recently had to buy new hair clippers because my old ones broke, and I also bought an outliner with a gift card from credit card points. If you are a guy, cutting a buzz or undercut is super easy. I recommend Issac Yiu to learn how. You get better over time, and since I’m not a model, my hair doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Now, remember when I mentioned the Pink Tax? Here is where women can fight back. For guys, haircuts are almost a must every month if not more. Guy haircuts are also a lot harder than a woman’s haircut because short hairstyles are more difficult and require a lot of maintenance. Most women have long hair, most guys have short hair. I can guarantee, and all the guys out there can attest–we do not care about you having perfect hair and we will not be able to tell the difference between a bad and good haircut. Our haircut preferences are mainly just short, medium, or long. If you really want to pay for haircuts, the only advantage is having your girlfriends compliment you. If that is worth $70 a pop every time you want to cut your hair, be my guest. When you do, message me on Instagram, and I’ll type a comment on your post saying “Yas girl slay.”

For donations, I made a big donation in 2018, but I won’t really count that in my expenses because it’s not a consistent donation for that year, so I guess I lied again. Also I want to flex? I also donate in the form of stocks, which isn’t listed here because it’s not cash.

For clothes, I don’t buy designer clothes unless it’s forced. For example, I had the AMEX Platinum card, so I used the Saks 5th Avenue semiannual $50 credit to buy some overpriced clothes and accessories. For the most part I just get clothes on sale from Uniqlo or H&M which generally means I pay around $5-10 per shirt and pants. I know “fast fashion is bad for the environment,” but contrary to what people say, clothes from these two brands actually last a very long time, and I do get compliments too. Again, you do not need high end designer clothes because 99.9% of you are not models (truth hurts). Physically attractive people will look good no matter what. Physically unattractive people will not look good no matter what. It sucks, but it’s just how life goes. I will note that I do spend a bit on shoes for work because I’m an idiot who wants leather on the bottom of multiple dress shoes. Leather soles offer no advantage in terms of comfort or usability, but they look nice to flex on people when you put your foot up at work.

The credit card fee of $550 is for my AMEX Platinum that I mentioned before. I’ve now cancelled it because I’m not travelling for work anymore. I’ll go into details for why and how it was worth the $550 in a separate video. In fact, the $5,000 donation was used to get the signup bonus for this card. For vacation expense, I have some of these included in the Food and Transportation category, but sometimes my friends or family just do a Venmo request if they paid for multiple parts of the trip such as hotel, food, ski passes, etc. I can’t break them all down, but this is what it came out to.

For gifts, I buy the occasional gift, but in general I have no gift policies for birthdays and Christmas. If I need something, I’ll just buy it myself during the year. If you need to give a gift to someone, you can make one or just buy something, but I’ve found that personalized gifts go a longer way.

For taxes, I know that TurboTax or Taxact are the most popular, but recently I don’t pay any service to do my taxes. For my federal taxes, I use FreeTaxUSA, which is free. For my state taxes, I use FreeFillableForms from my state. There are even more free ways to do your taxes, but mine are a bit complicated, so I have to do it using this method. Many people qualify for free tax preparation due to US subsidized tax prep, but even if you don’t, there are many services that offer to do it for free–I think Mint or CreditKarma do it for free if I remember correctly.

Last category is “Other” which is just my catch all category. These numbers are positive meaning that I gained money from this because so far they are reimbursements. I got one when I ordered a product that is broken, for example. I include it here because it is money I saved because I got the product I bought, had it reimbursed, and got some extra cash. It’s not much, so it shouldn’t really affect much.

Rewards are credit card cashback. I do not count ‘points’, only actual cash and I redeem all my accounts at the end of the year.

Totals

This brings my total expenditures to $27,978.38 per year.

Year2020201920182017Avg per YearAvg per Month
Total without Donations and with Cashback/Other-28,139.64-27,370.45-28,080.87-28,322.54-27,978.38-2331.53
Total with Donations and without Cashback/Other-28,670.49-28,901.16-33,687.73-28,344.70-29,901.02-2491.75

I did not include the donation of $5,000 in 2018. If you really want to call me out on that, go donate $5,000 right now. I’ll review my credit card strategy in a separate post because cashback and churning is really good and easy. Another item that isn’t included here are business expenses such as for my YouTube channel or items I get reimbursed from my employer. Another thing I do not include here is Health and Dental insurance. I get these through my employer and they are taken out of my paycheck already. My health insurance is $0, my dental is around $50 per month (I have a premium plan because of bad teeth), and my company gives me $800 for free in my HSA, so count that however you wish. These are all purely expenses from living. If I had a girlfriend I lived with, I could split the housing costs, which would honestly be huge because I would only spend around $17k per year total in that case.

For the savvy financial video watchers, you will notice that I formatted this video very similarly to Millennial Money from CNBC. What I found so dumb about is how they list out “Savings” in their budget. Budgeting is about spending. When you save, you don’t spend. Don’t even get me started on how terrible the math is in these videos because the common person doesn’t actually do math. Unfortunately, finance is 100% math. The average viewer of Millennial Money doesn’t know how to do math, so most YouTubers ignore math. Spending breakdown is also represented in monthly increments instead of yearly, which is a poor mindset that I will describe in a different video. Essentially, the richer you are, the longer time horizon you look at.

But there you have it, this is how I spend $28,000 living in the heart of the nations capital. If you enjoyed this, share this with one of your friends who could use some personal finance inspo. Let me know in the comments how much you spend per year and what city you live in. If you think I can make drastic improvements somewhere, let me know too! I do plan on moving in 2021, so my housing expense should either go down, or my quality of life should go up while spending the same amount and getting a nicer apartment.

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