When I mentioned our low rent ($733/month for a 1-bedroom within .1 miles of DC), a number of people commented on the amazing rate. It’s true! That’s fantastic compared to a lot of things we saw.

The trade-off is that we live in an area we’ve affectionately nicknamed “the ghetto.” Our apartment complex is pretty decent and our apartment itself is great. However, the overall area isn’t that impressive. Lots of low-rent housing, fast-food joints, just a general look of poverty. It comes and goes, depending on which neighborhoods you drive through.

So living in the ghetto saves us money on rent. But it’s also pretty decent for other things as well.

For example, the closest gas stations (Exxon and Texaco) are currently selling for $0.31 cheaper than in the posh section of town where I work.

Our “ghetto Giant” (to distinguish it from the nice one a few miles further) sells groceries for much less than the Safeway by my old work in Arlington.

There really isn’t a disadvantage for the gas, except that you have to pay at the kiosk instead of at the pump.

The Giant is a little more annoying—products are often suspiciously close to their expiration date, fruit and veggies often seem like rejects, they don’t sell brown rice in bulk, and they’re less likely to have whole-grain breads. But a little perseverance and a few trips to other grocery stores (as well as a sharp eye for expiration dates) have kept us well-fed and happy. And the payoff is slightly lower prices, which is good for our budget too.

We’re not in the worst parts of DC by any means. Technically, we’re actually in MD. And we like the area, so I’m not trying to be down on it. However, I’ve realized over the last few months how much lower our cost of living is than across town. Sure, it’s not as pretty and it can be scary after dark (though where in DC isn’t?). But it helps us save money, which is a big plus in my book.


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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily February 5, 2008 at 12:06 am

I totally understand your sentiment. We live in what we affectionately call Redneckville down here in the south. Our neighborhood is definitely on the transition end of the areas where we are. But the house was REALLY inexpensive compared to other neighborhoods and the neighborhood is changing FAST – new houses going up all around us and lots of new businesses. I say just enjoy your inexpensive frugal coup of a find and make it work for you!

Minimum Wage February 5, 2008 at 12:18 am

I find fascinating what might be called the economics of poverty.

Neighborhoods like yours, which are economically below-average, but above the bottom, often afford excellent opportunities for frugal consumers to save money.

The worst neighborhoods have too many diseconomies and disamenities (e.g. more crime, fewer/lousier shopping and banking options) and should be avoided at all costs. If it looks like a great deal, it will cost more in the long run.

SJean February 5, 2008 at 12:33 am

I live in a relatively “upscale” neighborhood (though not the MOST ridiculously upscale areas, just a nice area in L.A.)

It is mainly for safety reasons. I was looking for a cheaper place, but when I saw that rape was 600% more likely in that area than the rest of the city, I couldn’t do it.

But, I’m a young female and I do not live with my boyfriend, so… I wouldn’t feel safe in the ghetto. Plus I’m a mile from the ocean… but boy do I pay for it!

Looby February 5, 2008 at 12:54 am

We lucked out with a cheap apartment in a good area for our current place, but previously I have lived in a few more ghetto areas. They can have their advantages, cheaper groceries and in my experience good, cheap restaurants if there are a lot of immigrants in the area. Of course I always avoided the really dangerous areas, my safety is worth more than saving a few dollars. My partner’s sister was mugged close to her flat a few months ago and paid extra to get out of her lease early as she no longer felt safe, costly but her piece of mind was worth it.

Simple Tam February 5, 2008 at 1:11 am

I was faced with the same dilemma when I was looking for an apartment here in Allentown. I was getting stuff for much cheaper than what I pay for a one bedroom and there were places which were much more upscale. I settled for a place which is not very upscale but which was in a less ghetto locale and which had decent security (One key to enter the building and 2 keys yo enter the house). Its not a fancy place but it serves the purpose and the public library is pretty close.

plonkee February 5, 2008 at 7:19 am

I live in a working-class area with a predominantly recent immigrant community. I’m not sure whether you’d describe it as ghetto or not, it’s certainly cheap, but it’s not one of the places in my city known for shootings.

I like it, it’s near enough to work that I can walk, and in the other direction it’s pretty near to the trendy trust-fund type suburb. Sure the postcode is wrong, but I couldn’t afford to buy anywhere else as nice.

Fiscal Musings February 5, 2008 at 8:36 am

People at work often scoff at me when they find out where I live, but I sure do pay a lot less for my house than they do for theirs. I actually think the area is pretty nice, but for some reason it has a bad rap.

Alvi the Small February 5, 2008 at 9:20 am

After 4 years of living in an apartment in a not – that – great part of town (but not the worst), it was the car theft that finally got me. Too expensive to keep filing insurance claims and deal with rental cars, and keep re – buying my car jack. I split the difference and moved to a room in a nicer neighborhood.

Wooly Woman February 5, 2008 at 11:25 am

We live in a bit of a crack house area – it is starting to have more and more young families and get cleaned up, but certainly is the “less desirable” area. Saved us $50-100k on buying our house though, which was affordable, and brand new. We are close to our little downtown and the people we have met in our neighbourhood are great, and often buying here for the same reasons!

RacerX February 5, 2008 at 12:38 pm

As long as crime isn’t rampant, you can save a lot of money. I did that when I lived in Hollywood many, many moons ago. Not the greates part of the city, but I was young with no kids.

Now with kids, I am paying to make sure they are safe.

Shifting priorities!

Bilingual Blogger February 5, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Do you have kids? If so, are they homeschooled? It’s one thing to live in one of these on the cusp of being gentrified areas. It’s another sending your children to an academically-challenged public school just to live in a bigger house than you could afford in the suburbs.

Beany February 5, 2008 at 12:50 pm

I too live in the ghetto and have a giant house that is far too big for my husband and myself. We pay $700 in rent. We found the place somewhat by accident but have loved the space. Since Philadelphia is so compact it takes me about 15-20 minutes to walk to center city and less to bike there. There are many many sources for groceries, so depending on what it is we want we go to the closer Acme, or the further away farmer’s market.

Catherine L February 5, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Hi Mrs M, I lived in one really rough areas when my ex was in the forces. But as Racer said – so long as it’s not a high crime area.

When you’re young it’s fine. A better area is more important once you have kids.

Becky@FamilyandFinances February 5, 2008 at 1:19 pm

Hey, I’m going to DC in April on vacation! My husband and I are going to stay with his best friend in North Carolina and the three of us are going to drive up to DC. It will be the first time in our nation’s capital for both my husband and I. We’re really excited. :) Maybe we’ll pass by you on the street!

Becca February 5, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Yeah, I have to say my roommate and I really like our area. [Which, again, I'm getting the feeling is suspiciously close to yours.] We didn’t get quite as good a deal on our apartment as we only had one day to look and when all of the ones that we scheduled appointments weren’t right for us, we ended up stopping in places that were open on that Sunday. We’re mostly really pleased with our apartment complex. I have friends that are living in Arlington and paying double in rent what we are–that trade off would NEVER be worthwhile for me. We’re a 15 minute walk to the metro and only once (when walking at 11pm, so it is understandable) did I ever not feel safe walking home. Plus, the cops always travel in threes.

By the way, my roommate and I did end up checking out the co-op; it is our favorite place in the world now. Their curry spice powder was amazing.

Money Blue Book February 5, 2008 at 2:00 pm

I lived in the ghetto (Greenbelt, Wheaton, MD and Baltimore) for many many years as a student and into my mid adult life…it’s a great way to save money…but ultimately the rats, roaches, crime, and the crazy transvestites led me to move on up. I’ve had my fair share of car break-ins, and burglaries (when you have druggies breaking into homes to steal canned food you know it’s time to move).
I have so many wacky housing stories – I’ll share them one day :)

Single Ma February 5, 2008 at 9:46 pm

No liquor stores? No check cashing? Doesn’t really sound like the ghetto to me, but interesting nonetheless. I’ve always wondered why grocery stores in lower income neighborhoods don’t have healthier selections. what’s that about? I guess it’s safe to assume your Giant doesn’t have a dedicated organic aisle either.

mrsmicah February 5, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Plenty of check cashing. I don’t know about liquor stores…I don’t really notice the ones we don’t use.

Brip Blap February 6, 2008 at 9:53 pm

I live in a gated community (which is gated for a reason). The nearby stores, streets, etc. – all hardcore urban Jersey. Not a pleasant area.

All of the arguments about cost, etc. just go *poof* once you have kids. I realized that if we stay in this area, my son (and daughter on the way) will go to schools that score in the bottom 25% on every ridiculously easy state exam, have gangs and substandard facilities. I know that’s more of an indictment of our educational system than anything, but I want my kids to have a decent PUBLIC education. I want them to be able to take the bus to school without worrying about them getting the crap kicked out of them for being the only two Jewish kids in school. I know these problems can exist in ‘better’ neighborhoods, too, but we all know that good schools and good neighborhoods are out there – they just cost a premium, for a reason.

What RacerX and Catherine L said is dead on – once you have kids, you want a nice neighborhood. Period.

Tanya February 7, 2008 at 10:27 am

Hi, Mrs. Micah,
I’d love to talk with you about the neighborhood you live in off-site, if that’s okay with you. I live on the Dupont Circle/Georgetown border in a rent controlled (utilities included) studio for $895/mo, and I couldn’t justify moving to any of the close-in suburbs based on prices for what I’d found. But I’d love to find a cheaper, more spacious place and would be willing to deal with a less gorgeous neighborhood. I don’t want to infringe on your privacy, but if you could give me an idea of neighborhood and how you picked it, that would be much appreciated.
Thanks!

James July 29, 2012 at 4:20 am

I recently purchased a cheap home in a what we call the “ghetto” in LA. We got govt financing and with about 100$ more than paying rent in an average area, I can park about 4 cars on my property have a garage and a private gate for cars/guests etc. We are about a mile from freeway, 10m to downtown. 20m to beach(traffic also factor) In a few years i’m going to sell it and actually have a down for a house in a nicer area. The saying is no pain no gain. For my son I’m looking into charter school and or home school for a few years or so. He’s a baby but as i see it i’m living life on life’s terms, and am enjoying the day! ps If your a scared/timid type person I would not recommend this technique just keep paying your landlord in a non “ghetto”. lol

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