I once had the opportunity to reduce my expenses by living in a house, without roommates, rent free.
It was in the country-club neighborhood of Lincoln, Nebraska — with tree-lined streets of beautiful homes spread across gently rolling hills. BMWs were parked in many of the driveways. The house was a brick 1940s Cape Cod on a quiet street. It had its original hardwood floors. The kitchen and bathrooms had just been remodeled.
I lived in that house rent free from 2012 to 2014, after I graduated from college and began working for a financial technology company.
But enough about the picturesque neighborhood and house. You want to know how I got to live there rent free.
The story starts with, “I knew a guy…”
I knew a guy when I was in high school. He owned a vineyard, and I worked for him when I was 14. That’s how I spent many nights and weekends when I was in high school — working at his vineyard and eventually in his restaurant. He was a mentor to me.
He had previously bought a house for his mother, but she became ill before she could move in, so the house was sitting empty. My boss didn’t want to deal with tenants, so he asked if I would like to live there and watch over the place.
He didn’t want me to pay rent — he just asked me to paint a few rooms when the time came to sell the house. He was actually grateful to have me there!
I didn’t want to feel like a freeloader, so I cared for that home like it was my own. I loved the arrangement. I didn’t even have to take care of the lawn — a neighbor did all of that in exchange for parking his car in our driveway. My boss eventually sold the house after giving me plenty of notice.
Other Ways to Live Rent Free
My cousin’s friend found a similar money-saving opportunity: He lived in a woman’s basement. He would run errands for her in exchange for not paying rent. The errands never took him more than an hour each week. He gave roughly four hours of his time each month, and because of that, he lived rent free.
There was another man who lived rent free in a swanky New York City neighborhood. His story: He “kept an eye” on an older woman who lived in the house. Her family loved his being there, and he got to live in a fantastic neighborhood at no cost.
My sister lived rent free in a beautiful home just for babysitting a younger cousin. The only thing she had to consider — as everyone should — was the value of her time.
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How to Reduce Your Rent: Top Tips
Trying to live rent free tends to be a way to help tackle lifestyle inflation. This occurs when an increase in income leads to more expenses. Though it can be a vicious cycle to get into, there are ways to reduce your expenses to help avoid it.
Here are some of the best to find a house or apartment that doesn’t drain your entire paycheck.
1. Sublet Your Apartment or House
An easy way to save money on rent is to sublet your apartment or house. Find a building with more than one bedroom and find someone willing to pay to live in the building with you.
It may be uncomfortable having a roommate sometimes, but it will certainly be worth it when you see your bank account at the end of the month.
If you plan to live in a house, try to see if you can sublet an entire floor. This way, you will basically have an entire section of the house to yourself, so the change won’t be too jarring.
To use this option, rent out one of your unused rooms and start saving. All you need to do is take pictures of your home, create a list of rules that you want visitors to follow, and come up with a price that you think will help you pay your rent. Be sure to list the things about your home that makes it unique and desirable for visitors.
And, in case you’re worried about damage to your home, each booking comes with damage insurance worth up to $1 million, according to Airbnb. So, while the visitors are enjoying your home, you can rest safely knowing your residence will be protected in the event something goes wrong.
3. Become a Landlord
In the current low-interest real estate environment, it may be a good idea to buy property yourself. See if you can save enough for a down payment, then seek out renters to help you pay the mortgage and reduce your expenses.
Though this will add the headache of having to worry about repairs every once in a while, it’s a great way to save money. You can also choose whether or not to live in the house you’re renting. If you decide not to, this supplemental income could be a big help in affording your rented home, as well as the second home.
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4. Move Back Home
Though this may be a difficult option, moving back in with parents could be a good idea to help you get some stability and reduce your expenses. About 52 percent of young adults currently live with their parents, according to Pew Research Center, so it is a viable option that many people have taken advantage of before.
Your time living with your parents could be spent doing job searches, catching up with work, or even looking for a new and cheaper apartment. If you want to, you can even choose to help your parents with chores or bills, so that you don’t feel too bad about moving back in.
5. Live Abroad
This may seem like a drastic option, but living abroad can be a way to severely reduce living expenses. A remote worker could save thousands by moving abroad, especially if they can maintain the same salary. It isn’t even all that hard to do.
“You can cut your monthly expenses by up to 70 percent just by jumping on an airplane,” says Nomadic FIRE finance coach Marco Sison.
“For example, I currently live in a large two-bedroom furnished apartment, a 15-minute walk from the beach in Split, Croatia,” Sison says. “My rent, including utilities, is less than $600 per month. A similar-sized apartment in a medium-cost-of-living city in the United States would cost $1,800, no beach included.”
Rent isn’t the only thing you’ll save on by living abroad.
“Everything can be significantly cheaper,” Sison adds. “Earlier this year, I lived in the Philippines, spending roughly $1,500 per month for all my expenses. The low cost of living in the Philippines [meant] an active social life, a nice apartment in a trendy part of town, frequent dining out, and maid service — all luxuries I could not afford in the States.”
Living abroad is probably more drastic than renting out a room in your apartment, but it can be the difference between living well and living wealthy.
6. Work for Your Rent
If you can’t afford the cost of your apartment, some landlords will be willing to let you work for reduced rent — or even no rent at all. You may be asked to work for their small business, do repairs around the complex, or even work on a farm, but it may be worth it if you don’t have to pay much for your apartment.
White-collar workers could also offer help with in-demand tasks around the complex. A few hours a week helping the landlord work out numbers or pore through documents could mean a huge reduction in rent.
7. Housework for Rent
Sometimes, all you need to do to reduce your expenses is to barter. I lived in another home dirt cheap. I got a good deal because I was willing to care for two border collies. Dogs are a big responsibility, and people will pay for dog walkers, dog sitters, etc. Having a live-in dog sitter is a good deal for everyone.
This is also an option for babysitters. Many parents are overstressed and would gladly take in a live-in babysitter.
If you do choose this option, it is important to consider the number of hours you’re willing to spend working each day.
Let’s say you save $500 on rent each month. How many hours are you working?
If you value your time at $20 per hour, you should be babysitting no more than 25 hours per month, unless the task gives you great joy and money isn’t your main motivator.
The Bottom Line
So how can you reduce expenses by getting a sweet arrangement of your own? Consider using Craigslist to find different opportunities. Otherwise, networking will be the best option.
By far the best opportunities come from knowing the right people. Make sure to network with older people, as well.
Show them you’re responsible. Tell them about your work. Who doesn’t like associating with someone who has a good work ethic? Tell them about places where you volunteer. Talk about your family. I stayed in one house for cheap rent a few years ago. The homeowner said it was “refreshing” to know a “young person” who was family-oriented.
These opportunities can be a win-win for everyone, whether it’s minding a border collie or providing a helping hand to a human resident. So reach out and see if you can find a good arrangement for yourself. You can never know how it’ll work out, and the worst that could happen is they say no.
Additional reporting by Lauren Shayo.