Seattle Moving Guide: Living in Seattle on a Budget

Living in a big, up-and-coming city can be expensive. And while there’s no getting around the reality that Seattle’s cost of living is higher than smaller cities like Portland or Boise, there are plenty of strategies to save money and even live in Seattle on the cheap. If you set your priorities and put in some time and effort you’ll find yourself living more comfortably in Washington’s largest city. Here are our best tips for enjoying living in Seattle on a budget.

How much does it cost to live in Seattle?

As with many larger cities, Seattle’s cost of living varies significantly based on what part of the city you choose to call home, as well as your housing and other lifestyle choices. Why? The housing prices for both renting and buying swing from reasonable to astronomically expensive from one area to another. As you might expect, the cost to live in a trendy downtown high-rise  is as breathtaking as the view, but living in multifamily housing in a less central part of town can be much more affordable.

Seattle’s cost of living ranges from 19% to 50% higher than the national average, depending on the factors you’re measuring (housing, transportation, food, etc.) and how much territory you consider as part of the area.

Is it expensive to live in Seattle?

The answer depends on where you’re coming from. Compared to San Francisco, Los Angeles, or the Manhattan borough of New York, Seattle is an affordable city — even a relief for your wallet! Moving from a small town or a medium-sized city? Seattle will be pretty pricey, especially in the housing department. Want to feel prepared for specific price differences compared to where you live now? See how things stack up with this cost comparison tool from NerdWallet, which will show you how Seattle differs from your current home city in housing, transportation, and other factors.

Here’s a quick look at three key expenses:

  • Housing: Average rent in Seattle overall is just shy of $2,000 per month at $1,965. This average rent represents different areas, sizes, and types, so it’s possible to find an apartment ranging from $1,400 to well over $2,000.
  • Transportation: Depending on the part of the city, Seattle can offer good access by public transportation. While bus fare is $2.75, gas prices trend a little higher than other regions.
  • Food: According to Salary.com, you can expect to pay about 8% more than the national average on your food bill. You can help combat this by comparison shopping the grocery stores near you. Several discount and budget-oriented grocery chains have plentiful locations in the Seattle area, including Trader Joe’s and Costco, which was founded there.

Cheap Apartments in Seattle

The number one way you can keep your Seattle cost of living under control is by reducing your housing costs. There are a few ways to accomplish this, but the most common strategy is to live in a more affordable part of town. While the Seattle real estate market is hot, it’s possible to find an affordable Seattle apartment.

Affordable Neighborhoods in Seattle

Ready to move to a cheaper neighborhood? There are plenty of great options to choose from around the city. To help get your search started, here are a few of our favorite areas that are considered to be more affordable neighborhoods in Seattle:

South Park

Located on the Duwamish River, South Park is a pocket of the city full of personality and much more affordable than the rest of the city — averaging under $1,400 a month. What you gain in rent savings you may give up in convenience: South Park isn’t centrally located, so commuting to the city may be difficult if you work downtown.

Columbia City

Long one of Seattle’s best-kept secrets, more and more people are discovering diverse and vibrant Columbia City in the Rainier Valley. With popular local eateries, summer farmer’s markets, and a loyal community spirit, Columbia City is a great place to call home. The neighborhood’s average rent runs a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the city’s average — about $1,700 per month.

Pinehurst

North of U-Dub (University of Washington) and west of Lake Washington, you’ll find the Pinehurst neighborhood to be a quiet but well-connected enclave with rents hovering around $1,600 per month.

Greenwood

Located northwest of Green Lake, Greenwood has an eclectic mix of older historic homes and new construction, with outdoor spaces nearby for you to enjoy, and lower rent (around $1,770) your wallet will appreciate, too! Greenwood is also a great neighborhood for families.

Looking for more ways to save money in Seattle?

We’ve got you covered. There are all kinds of tactics for living on a budget in Seattle and still having fun. Here are several tips you can try:

  • Get creative to snag lower rent: If you’re looking to save money on housing, there’s more to it than just looking in more affordable areas. Look for apartments during the slower season (any time but summer), which means a steadier market and slightly lower rent costs. Searching at the right time of the month can make a difference and give you an edge, too! For more ideas, check our guide on finding an apartment in Seattle.

  • Get a roommate (or two!). Aside from scoring an affordable apartment in the first place, the best way to save money on housing is by choosing not to live alone. You’ll be able to afford more space or even a more desirable neighborhood by choosing to search for housing with another person or two. Immediately, you’ll cut costs significantly, allowing you to allocate money to other areas of your budget or save for the future. If you’re relocating to the city, consider moving into an apartment or a house advertising for a roommate. This will also help you save on move-in costs.
  • Do the math on your transportation costs. It will take some research to figure out if public transportation or driving will be the most cost-effective or efficient way to go. While public transit may be cheaper than gas for some commutes, know that some Seattle neighborhoods are much better connected via public transit than others. Use the King County Metro Trip Planner to check commute times and costs. You should also check the Metro Transit website for ways to save on fares with the Orca pass and other options like commuter vans. Your proximity to work might make public transit a perfect option! Either way, take the time to calculate whether gas and parking or transit fares make more financial sense for you.
  • Get a bike. Live close to where you work and play? Ditch your car and ride a bike instead. For those times when you wish you had a car, you can try one of the car sharing services or peer-to-peer car networks, as both options have a strong and growing presence in Seattle.
  • Find the city’s free activities. Seattle is full of fun that doesn’t cost a dime. Research the museums’ free days and search for free summer events like concerts or movies in the park. Many of the city’s best attractions, like Pike Place Market and countless farmers markets, are free to browse and enjoy. You’ll just need to exercise self-control to keep your spending to a minimum.   
  • Enjoy the outdoors! One of the best things about Seattle is the bounty of outdoor possibilities. From Puget Sound to Olympic National Park, to the mountains and rivers and beyond, exploring Seattle’s natural beauty will give you joy and exercise while saving money on a gym membership!
  • Join the sharing economy. In cities like Seattle, people come and go all the time, leaving possessions and excess in the process. Join groups like Buy Nothing in your neighborhood or download apps like Next Door to score free and cheap furniture, home goods, and anything else you might need.
  • Make eating out a special occasion and plan around happy hour. We get it — it’s tough to get home from a long work day and commute and still have energy to get a meal on the table. But eating out in Seattle can make a huge dent in your budget. To keep things in check and spend your money where it matters most to you, strive to make dining out a treat, not a norm. Dying to try a new place or celebrate a success with your coworkers? Check for happy hour specials.

Living in Seattle on a Budget

It’s true — Seattle is not exactly a city designed to help you stay on a budget. With new restaurants opening all the time, abundant shopping opportunities, and an enticing entertainment scene, you can spend way more than you need without thinking. But with patience and prioritization, you’ll be able to meet your goals without sacrificing a fun lifestyle in Seattle.

Want to learn more about Seattle? Find out why so many millennials are moving to Seattle and check out our guide to the best neighborhoods in Seattle.

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