Why I Live in a High Cost of Living Area & My Tips for HCOL Life

Almost two years ago, after I paid off all of my debt, I decided to move from a cheaper, suburban area to Washington, DC, a notoriously expensive city. My rent increased by over $300/month, and my other expenses, such as food and dining, increased as well.

You might be thinking that I could do a lot with another $300 per month, and you’re right. I play that game with myself too, sometimes, calculating how much faster I could reach financial independence. But I’ve found that I always need to balance my future goals with my life here & now. There’s no sense in reaching FI and retiring early if I spent all the years leading up to that goal having regrets or making sacrifices that are just too big. I could see myself moving someday, but for now, DC is home.

Here’s why living in an expensive city is worth it to me:

  1. Access to everything
    • Food. DC is such an amazing city for food of many different cultures and all price ranges, and I have loved taking advantage of this access. Tons of my favorite local spots are in walking distance, and others are a short drive or metro away.
    • Events. Last year especially, I couldn’t have put a price on living in the city. I could join protests right outside my apartment with no friction, and when Biden won the presidency, I was able to head outside to celebrate and walk to White House that same day. Before last year, I had never been to a single protest, even living in driving distance from the city. As a super busy teacher with side jobs, there always seemed to be too many things in the way. Obviously you don’t have to live in DC or even protest to be an active participant in democracy, but it’s definitely an amazing experience and a good way to show solidarity. There are also events happening all the time, like festivals for the cherry blossoms or the different neighborhoods.
    • Museums, monuments, and parks. These are mostly free and some of my favorite things to see & do.
    • Nightlife. I’m not sure where the world will be when this video and blog post comes out, but right now we’re in the middle of the pandemic and going out to bars is not an option for me. Before quarantine, though, being able to walk to bars and not have to worry about pricey Ubers or figuring out parking was a huge plus.
    • Friends. I live walking distance from some of my closest friends, and a short drive/metro ride from others. Because DC is where so many of my people are, it’s where I want to be.
  2. The ~vibe
    • I love the way it feels to live in a city. I love being surrounded by people in a fast-paced environment. In DC specifically, there is also just so much beauty and history on every street, and that’s not something I’ve been able to experience anywhere else I’ve lived.

Here are my tips for anyone considering moving to a HCOL area:

  1. If you’re wanting to move somewhere more expensive, set a goal you’d like to achieve first.
    • In my case, I was debt free before I made my move to DC. That’s definitely not realistic for everyone, but maybe your goal is to pay off your car first, or build up your emergency fund, or something else. Whatever it is, have something in mind that will make your transition easier by freeing up some money in your monthly budget.
  2. Planning trumps frugality every time.
    • Keep a budget instead of trying to cut corners at every turn– seriously. Don’t make the move to a HCOL area without at least an idea of what your monthly spending and saving will look like.
  3. The best location = where you’ll need the least Ubers
    • Be walkable to as much as possible. I was able to find a location where I was walking distance from a few of my favorite neighborhoods, and this has saved me tons of money in Ubers, parking fees, and even metro rides. This has probably made the biggest difference in my spending habits each month.
  4. Keep a list of your favorite free & cheap go-to activities
    • Refer to this if you’re in danger of going over budget for the month, or if you’re just looking for something to do on a slow weekend.

I hope these tips are helpful to you! Comment below if you live in a HCOL area or are thinking of making the move to one!

🙂 Rachel


If you need more guidance with goal setting, mindset shifting, and budget brainstorming, you can purchase my Money Map Workbook for just $9 🙂

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