By Brad Beckstrom
Who knew? That’s what I keep telling myself. When I was in my 20s, I drew a circle around the Washington DC Metro area including Northern Virginia, Baltimore, the Eastern Shore, and surrounding areas. I said, “This is where I will live. This will be my zone of influence.” (I actually said that. Not sure why, maybe it was business related, or I was reading some Dale Carnegie books at the time). Little did I know that red circle I drew encompassed 4 of the 5 richest counties in the United States and 6 of the top 10. Literally, all within a one hour radius of Washington, DC. This area really does make San Francisco and Silicon Valley look like chump change. LA, New York, Honolulu, forget about it. Washington, DC is where (a lot) of the money is. Not convinced? Just take a look at the U.S. Congress and the money machine that supports it.
There are some advantages to living in a wealthy part of the country: jobs, great schools, museums, sports franchises, bays, lakes, rivers, beaches, mountains all nearby. So, it’s a great area to live right? Unfortunately, a lot of people feel that way. So, not only are we beating LA and New York in spendyness, we also regularly beat them with some of the worst traffic in the country. Real estate is equally ridiculous, along with property taxes. High-paying jobs and expensive real estate spillover into everything. Most restaurants are fancier and more expensive. Real dive bars and affordable local spots are getting harder to find, often being priced out of their locations even in the close in suburbs. Everybody, grocery stores, retailers, parking garages, jacks up their prices because they can (or need to.) Good deals become harder to find.
When I start comparing Arlington, Virginia to cities like Raleigh, North Carolina, Tampa, Florida or Boulder, Colorado using online calculators (links below), I start to see a trend. Housing is really driving the majority of cost-of-living differences on these these calculators. I’ve tried to use other online comparison calculators (see list) but once they add housing, it throws everything off. For instance, it might say something like a $100,000 salary in DC is worth $170,000 in Raleigh, but this has very little to do with the price of milk or taxes and everything to do with the fact that house in the DC area will cost you 3X.
Arlington, VA. vs. Raleigh NC. From CNN Money, Cost-of-living calculator.