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12 Things U.S. Presidents Have to Pay for on Their Own

Not everything comes for free with the (White) house.

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The White House. It is the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States. It has been the residence of every U.S. president since John Adams in 1800.
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Benefits of being president

Being the president of the United States is a tough job. Though it comes with a few perks—living in the White House, traveling in Air Force One, and the $400,000 annual salary—not everything is included as part of the job. Here are 12 things U.S. presidents have to pay for on their own and 10 everyday things presidents aren’t allowed to do while in office.

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grocery bag
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Groceries

Though the White House comes with its own chef—which comes with the residence—presidents and their families must pay for their own food. First Lady Michelle Obama confirmed this in a 2018 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Here are 8 perks U.S. presidents get to keep after leaving office.

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michelle obama inagural gown
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Designer clothing

If the president or first lady wants to wear designer clothing, it’s something they need to pay for themselves, Katie Vigilante, senior lecturer in political science at Oxford College of Emory University, tells Reader’s Digest. There is a loophole, though: designers can gift presidents and first ladies outfits, but they have to be donated after one wear and that includes many of these inaugural gowns worn by first ladies.

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Dry-Cleaning
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Dry cleaning

Not only do presidents have to pay for their own designer clothes, but they also have to cover the dry cleaning, according to CNN. This means that some Washington, D.C. dry cleaner is entrusted with the president’s dirty laundry—literally. Find out the 13 presidents with the highest IQ scores.

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white house party
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Staff for private parties

Whenever a president holds a private party in the White House, they are responsible for paying the hourly costs for waiters and cleanup crews, Vigilante says. This aspect of the festivities is not covered by taxpayers. This may deter some presidents from hosting private events in their government residence.

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Romantic celebration, lifestyle and birthday present concept - Luxury holiday gifts on marble
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Gifts for foreign dignitaries

When other heads of state or government visit the United States, there’s an expectation that the president of the United States will give them a gift. But according to Jennifer Capps, curator and historian at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis, presidents must pay for these gifts out of pocket. Not only that, but there’s a special Gifts Unit within the Office of the Chief of Protocol, which works closely with the staffs of the president, vice president, and the secretary of state to help select the gifts presented to foreign dignitaries from the United States. Find out 12 of the strangest gifts ever given to U.S. presidents.

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donald trump on airplane
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Vacation accommodations

When a president goes on vacation, they have to foot the bill for the hotel or rental house where they stay with their family, Vigilante explains. The exception to this is Camp David, which is covered, as are the costs of security and travel to and from the vacation. This is what happens if a president refuses to leave office.

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food
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Private events outside the White House

If a president wants to hold a private event outside of the White House or Camp David, this is also an expense they must pay for on their own, according to Vigilante. However, unlike private parties held in the White House, the staff are paid for through taxpayer dollars. Do you think you could decode these clever code names the Secret Service used for past presidents?

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laura bush
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Hairstylists

Former First Lady Laura Bush was keenly aware of all the attention that previous women in her position got for their hair. To help her look the part, she hired her own hairstylist to give her a daily blowout, which the Bush family paid for themselves, CNN reports. For more presidential trivia, check out these delightful little-known talents of U.S. Presidents.

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White toilet paper rolls on the gray background. Hygiene concept.
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General household items

Most households need certain things to function, like toilet paper, toothpaste, and garbage bags. And while the house itself—that would be the White House—is a perk of being president, the stuff inside is paid for out of pocket, according to the Reeves Law Group. Find out the items that used to be banned in the White House.

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South corridor of the White House in Washington D.C.
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Some interior decorating

Although the president is permitted a $100,000 stipend to redecorate parts of the White House, anything beyond that is something they have to pay for themselves. According to the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class, the Obamas didn’t take the stipend and used their own money to redecorate instead. Find out 12 facts about the White House you missed in history class.

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bill and hillary clinton
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Some legal fees

In some instances, the president has to pay for their own legal fees. This was the case for Bill and Hillary Clinton, who left the White House $16 million in debt, NBC News reports. Between the defense attorneys’ fees for scandal investigations and the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, the legal costs mounted throughout his eight-year presidency, according to NPR. Find out 13 things most Americans get wrong about impeachment.

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Door-knocker
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Their personal homes

Despite the fact that presidents and their families won’t live in their personal residences for at least four years, they are responsible for paying the mortgage and any upkeep of the houses themselves, according to ThoughtCo. For example, the Obamas continued to pay the mortgage on his Chicago home throughout his time in office, Business Insider reports. Another thing presidents have to pay for (or raise money for) themselves? Presidential libraries. Next, learn the rules every First Family is supposed to follow.

Sources:

  • Katie Vigilante, senior lecturer in political science at Oxford College of Emory University
  • CNN: “White House living not total free ride”
  • Jennifer Capps, curator, and historian at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis
  • The Reeves Law Group: “FACT OR FICTION: THE PRESIDENT PAYS FOR THE FIRST FAMILY’S GROCERIES”
  • NBC News: “Bill Clinton: I wouldn’t have done anything differently in Lewinsky scandal even in #MeToo era”
  • NPR: “The Clintons Wrote The Book On How Politicians Climb Out Of Middle Class”
  • ThoughtCo: “Presidential Pay and Compensation”
  • Business Insider: “How Much Does President Obama Still Owe on His House?”

Elizabeth Yuko
Elizabeth is an award-winning journalist and bioethicist from New York City covering knowledge, culture, politics, history and lesser-known facts about holidays and traditions. In addition to Reader's Digest, she writes for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Architectural Digest, the Atlantic, Bloomberg CityLab, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Teen Vogue, the History Channel, Real Simple and Lifehacker.