See What It Takes To Live On $30,000 A Year In Washington D.C.

White House

DC is no stranger to the high cost of living you often see in New York City, Miami and Los Angeles. 

But can you live on $30,000 a year there? 

This question came up on a listserv I frequent and the responses were equally divided amongst those who felt it would be damn near impossible and others saying it’s hard but doable.

Here’s how it started and I’d like your thoughts on the matter.

Here’s the job posting:

Job Title: Festival Assistant @ The Kennedy centre
Department: International Programming
Job Type: Full-Time, Regular
Salary: $30,000 – $33,000 / Yearly

This position provides administrative and logistical support to the Festival Manager and the Office of International Programming to support planning and implementation of international festivals that take place at the John F. Kennedy centre for the Performing Arts.

The first reply which sparked the debate stated that while she would love to work at The Kennedy centre since she is applying to graduate school for the performing arts, but the salary is too low for anyone to live on comfortably.

I agree that the salary is low.  But your ability to survive on this salary really depends on your ability to manage your finances appropriately and live below your means.  When I graduated college and moved here I didn’t even make 30k and I worked at a major university, but the position unbeknownst to me at the time was a stepping stone. 

It’s only when I got a raise bumping me up to not even 30k was I able to get a better apartment and a car.  My bills were paid, but still things were tight.  Luxuries are relative given your goals at the time.  So while I wasn’t shopping like I am right now, I remember being cool with my finances at the time.  I then got a job in the field I wanted to be in and the salary was barely over 30k and you couldn’t tell me nothin’!  I made it work and while I hated it, that position alone is the backbone of my resume now even after finishing grad school.

I feel that if the position might help your career but it would require sacrifices then look into it further, yes it’s low for someone who has been in the field, but if you can show commitment to your field by taking a job in your area, then hey, it wouldn’t hurt. Just my two cents.

By the way here is the breakdown of expenses based on my post about this issue last year: This is based on someone who has no real financial responsibilities like a mortgage, student loans, credit cards — this is a very lean estimate as we have a low salary to start with…

Here’s the breakdown of taxes and take home from for someone who is single with no dependents:

Picture 39
  • $700 Rent: this varies greatly depending on where you choose to live and however so within your means.  Given the monthly take home of roughly $2300, your rent shouldn’t be more than 25-30% which is at most $690.  Here you can go with a studio or find roommates.  Personally, I would go with a studio in the best area I can find closest to transportation.
  • $150 Utilities:  You can find an apartment where utilities are included but if you do pay utilities on a small 1 bedroom or studio then it’s not likely to be more than $60.
  • $75 Cable/Internet/Phone: bundled through RCN.  I realise that cable might be considered a luxury so it’s really optional.
  • $200 Transportation: for the metro. Here in DC it probably on average costs between $7-$10 per day depending on the distance traveled from point A->B.
  • $300 Food/Groceries: (including bringing your lunch to work). $250 (coupons obviously cut this down significantly) My grocery bill for two people is around $400 with no coupons so this is doable for a single person.
  • $250 Health Insurance



This leaves $625 to put towards savings, credit card bills, student loans (work out a lower payment if needed), shopping (makeup, clothes etc) and eating out.

  • $200: Savings
  • $100: Credit Card — this really depends on your balance, if you have one.
  • $150: Student loans — again this depends on your balance and what you work out with the lender.
  • $175: Discretionary — shopping, eating out, gym membership; essentially play money for you.



Maybe I am being idealistic, but it can be done.  Obviously things like prescriptions, emergencies and unplanned expenses come into play here.  Check out this post for even more tips on how to cut your costs on a low salary.

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