7 Tips to Simple Urban Living in DC
January 2, 2016
If you’re a “normal” twenty-someone living in DC, you probably work for somewhere between $30,000-90,000, have a car payment, and have somewhere between $15,000-150,000 of student loan debt (and you probably have $2000-5000 of credit card debt… but hey, you’re “building credit” right?).
Just two weeks ago I heard someone in a doctoral program at GW nonchalantly remark that he had a quarter of a million dollars of student loan debt… The struggle is real. While I believe there are systemic problems in our society, I’m not waiting for a politician to fix things. At this point in my life, I’m working to dig myself out of “normal” by living a simple life.
What is simple urban living? For me, it’s living a meaningful, financially sustainable, and enjoyable life with the ultimate goal of serving others and the world. These tips won’t work for everyone but I thought I would share them with the hope of continuing the conversation and hopefully hearing what you do to live a simple life in DC. Like everything, take them with a grain of salt.
- Be radically aware of your finances. I check my bank account and student loan balances often. I have a budget on my phone and every time I make a transaction of any kind I document it into one of my preexisting categories. Awareness if the first step to simple urban living.
- Measure stuff. Whether it’s laundry soap, what you’re putting into you body, or how much time you spend doing a particular activity – try measuring it. Again, awareness is key. My housemates make fun of me because I make a plate of food that is carefully measured out (8 crackers, 10 almonds, etc.). Granted, it’s also because I stink at cooking… And yes, I bought my own sectioned plate.
- Drink less beer. In many ways, urban life these days seems to center around happy hour. My “Restaurants” category in my budget is always busting at the seems. Try keeping track of how much you spend on beer in a month and you be the judge. Is that how much you want to spend on beer per month? Have a budget and a plan, then adjust accordingly. Simple urban life requires being proactive, not reactive.
- Be intensely responsible for everything you own. Whether it’s shoes, books, phone, jeans, car, mug, carpet, or computer. Know your things. Respect them. Take care of them. Use them as long as you can.
- Ride a bike. Hear me out. In most cases, riding a bike is cheaper (no pesky $2.15 metro rides, $8 for 2 hours of parking, $14.75 Ubers). Riding a bike is better for the environment. Riding a bike is better for your body. Riding a bike in DC is faster than riding a car or riding the metro to most places from most places. For me, getting to work from Park View (outside Columbia Heights) to Foggy Bottom (a 3.5-mile trip) is 20 minutes door to door. The only way to beat that is if you’re a faster biker (Landon…). The only disadvantages as I see it is you have to save a little money to buy a bike ($200 for a good used starter bike look on Craigslist), and it can be a little cold in the winter and a little hot in the summer. If you can pull it off, it’s totally worth it.
- Find bits of extra work. If you have too much month at the end of your money, look into getting a second (or third) job. I wouldn’t recommend working at a fast food place if you can avoid it, but find a way to make some extra cash. Walk dogs, cut grass, tutor, write, edit, bartend a couple nights a week (this would cut down on beer costs), start a small scale business based on your passions, etc.
- Discover the love of reading and learning. Cheap hobbies are important. For me, this means learning to love and read books of all kinds! Borrow a book from a friend or library, or buy a cheap used one. Learn to love words, stories, and characters. It’s wonderful! And in DC we have tons of free lectures, concerts, museums, and movies in parks! Even the gyms in DC are now free!
What about you? What are your simple living tips? Obviously I am immensely privileged in this society as an educated white man from a supportive family but my hope is to use my gifts to live a simple, meaningful, sustainable, and enjoyable life, and help others do the same!