5 Ways to Live on a Budget in D.C.

Posted on Friday, Oct 15, 2021

When our intern coordinators told us that we would spend double the amount we initially planned, they were not kidding! When you arrive in D.C., everything is expensive, from high gas prices to groceries, to food and drinks. You will honestly miss shopping at H-E-B and Buc-ee's. However, do not fret! Here are five ways you can survive and enjoy your time in D.C. on a budget.

     1. Buy in bulk

  • As a D.C. intern, you will probably be in this program for 4-5 months. When you first meet your roommates, take inventory of what you have currently in terms of food, cleaning supplies, and toiletries. Get enough cleaning supplies and toiletries to last you a good semester. If you want to share groceries, pool your money together to buy those items. Since groceries are expensive, I would suggest sharing essentials such as milk, eggs, meat, etc., with each other and buy groceries once every two weeks to keep food fresh.


     2. Cook and eat as a family
  • Food prices and restaurants in D.C. are almost double what you pay for in Texas. Going out often will take a toll on your wallet. Our apartment cooked family-style meals nearly every day to save money. Each person in the household had a specialty in cooking that they could offer to the apartment. For example, one person cooked a delicious chicken parmesan with grilled zucchini. Another cooked fried chicken with homemade fries, and another cooked an assortment of Filipino dishes. Cooking and eating as an apartment also develops that familial bond that you share. And, the dinner table stories will always be memorable.

     3. Find a plug

  • A plug is a slang for a person who can get you anything, whether cheap tickets to the Nationals Ball game, a tour of the U.S. capitol building, or an interview at a prestigious office. Getting to know your plug is where networking comes into play. A plug can be anyone; it can be your roommates, your coworkers, and even close family and friends who live around the area. Introduce yourselves and talk about your interests. Make new friends and find new hobbies. Who knows, maybe they can get you a ticket to a ball game, take you to new places in the area to visit or arrange a visit with a member of congress.


     4. Take advantage of Free Admission
  • Most museums in the D.C. area have free admissions; the National Archives Museum, National Art Museum, Museum of American History, National Air and Space Museum, to name a few. Arlington National Cemetery has no admission, and every thirty minutes on the hour, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier changes guard. If you exhausted your options, just hanging around the monument's area with your friends could take a good amount of your day.


     5. Metro and carpool are your best friend
  • If you are working in the Pentagon or the Capital area, the metro is your friend. Although DC is a large city, everything is within walking distance of either your apartment or the closest metro. Navigating the metro is easy, and many interns have blogged about it here. Additionally, if you plan to go outside the D.C. Area, say another state close by, such as Pennsylvania or New York, or even in Virginia and Maryland, carpool as much as you can. Not only is gas expensive, but everywhere you go, you have to pay for parking. It saves time and money to pile everyone in one or two cars. The best part about road trips is the car shenanigans you share along the way.

Finally, have fun regardless of price. If an event means much to you, you will budget accordingly. If you plan and budget wisely, you should have enough money to do the things you want to do around the D.C. area and then some. Allow some spending for spontaneity since those will be the moments that will make your D.C. stay memorable. But overall, enjoy what D.C. has to offer.

Joshua Rillera
Air Force Public Affairs
Washington, D.C. | Fall 2021