11 Ways to Live Rent Free

FT Contributor  | 

When you pay your rent or mortgage every month, you probably have at least a momentary fantasy of living rent-free. Although conventional wisdom states that you should only spend about 30% of your income on rent, many people spend more than that. In fact, surveys indicate that millennials spend about 45% of their income on rent costs.

Living rent-free allows you to put the cash toward other purposes, such as saving and paying down debt. This is especially important for people living on minimum wage or in other low-income situations. Not having to pay rent can also reduce your other living costs; for instance, you won’t be responsible for utilities, you won’t need to come up with security deposits or late fees, and in some cases, you might even have your food taken care of, too.

1. List Rooms Online

If you have extra space in your home, don’t let it go to waste. Instead of using a spare room for storage, you should consider renting it out instead. Although you may not be able to completely eliminate your rent expense by bringing in a roommate, you can trim the bill significantly when someone else takes on a portion of the monthly rent. Living with roommates also reduces your overall monthly expenses, since you won’t be responsible for footing the entire bill for utilities, either. Just make sure the lease agreement allows you to sublet the extra room.

2. Live on a Boat

If you love the water, living on a boat could be a good option for saving rent money. You don’t even need to own your own floating abode either. In coastal areas, people who own large boats often hire people to live on their vessels when they aren’t there during the off-season. Most of the time, you’ll be on the boat while it’s docked in the harbor or marina, but there may be times when you need to move it to safer waters when a storm is in the forecast. These gigs may also include responsibilities for maintenance, but they are a small price to pay for a free place to live on the water.

Another option for free rent while you live out your seafaring fantasies is working on a cruise ship or private yacht. Although working on cruise ships can be demanding, and you have limited time off and cramped living quarters, the benefits could far outweigh the drawbacks.

In addition to room and board, you’ll earn a salary and tips, which might add up to hundreds of dollars per voyage. Also, many ships have crew-only areas where you can spend time when you’re not on the clock, enjoying sundecks, swimming pools, and dining areas. You’ll also have the chance to explore the world, as you’ll often have free time or days off when the ship is in port.

A private yacht offers a similar working environment, but on a smaller scale. It could actually be even more demanding, as you may be on call for the entire voyage and your top priority is meeting the guests’ every expectation and catering to their every whim. Private yacht crew often earn respectable salaries, plus tips, and receive free room and board. If you’re trying to save money, travel, and build your resume, working on ships could be the ideal situation.

3. Find a Rent-to-Workplace

You might already feel like you live at the office, but you may be able to find a job where you can earn free rent in exchange for work — or as a benefit. For example, working with an organization such as the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms allows you to negotiate with farmers around the world for farming jobs in exchange for free room and board.

Campgrounds, ranches, and small inns or bed and breakfasts also commonly hire people as live-in help, exchanging room and board for your work, often with an additional salary.

In addition, when you work for a large company, there may be times when your company will send employees to different regions or even countries for extended periods to open new offices, manage large projects, or collaborate with clients. Usually, when this happens your company will put you up in a corporate apartment or extended stay hotel. Depending on how long you stay, you may be able to give up or sublet your own apartment, eliminating your housing costs in the short term. Just be sure you know how long you’ll be away, and make sure you have a plan for housing when you return.

4. House-Sit

House-sitting is a great way to live in a house that you might not otherwise be able to afford, without spending a dime. For example, snowbirds who spend their winters in warmer climates often hire house-sitters to care for their homes while they are away. Depending on where you live and the specific arrangement, you may be able to house-sit for six months or longer, ensuring you have a place to stay.

Although house-sitters get free housing in return for keeping an eye on the property while the owners are out of town, some also receive a salary or stipend for their work. You will likely have responsibilities, such as taking care of plants or arranging for snow removal, cleaning, and handling any emergencies that come up. And there will probably be restrictions, such as no partying allowed. However, when you are on a tight budget and want to trim your housing costs, house-sitting might be one of the best gigs out there.

To find opportunities, sign up with an online matching service, or reach out to contacts to let them know you are available. You could also have good luck finding house-sitting jobs in college towns. Professors often go on sabbatical or take on guest teaching roles at other universities, and need people to watch their homes while they’re away. To make the most of these jobs, work to have new jobs lined up every time one ends, so you’re never left without a place to live.

5. Become a Caregiver/Live-In Nanny

If you don’t mind being on call all hours of the day, working as a live-in caregiver or a nanny may be an ideal situation for you: Not only do you get a place to live rent-free, but you’ll also earn a salary. Although this isn’t always easy work, if you are good with children or have experience working with the elderly, ill, or disabled, it can be very satisfying.

To find opportunities, turn to your network, or use a reputable service such as Care.com. You can create a profile noting that you’re looking for live-in work, or respond to listings for caregivers. Expect to undergo a thorough background check, and be able to provide evidence of your qualifications, including education, work experience, and training.

Because some families prefer nannies who can help their children excel, be sure to highlight your special skills, such as fluency in other languages, musical instruments you play, or sports you’ve played. You may be able to find higher-paying jobs when you offer your expertise to families that need nannies.

6. Manage an Apartment/Condo Complex

Often, managing an apartment building or complex equals free rent. You’ll be responsible for handling tenant problems, overseeing the rental process and unit turnover, coordinating maintenance, and other important tasks, but in exchange, you can live there for free.

Keep in mind this isn’t always the case. There are complexes that only pay a salary without providing housing. Before you accept any type of management position, confirm that you can live there for free or discounted rent. Also, note that you may be responsible for paying taxes on this benefit. 

It’s more likely that you’ll nab free rent when you work for a smaller, privately owned property rather than a corporate complex, but there’s always a chance. You might also be able to score discounted rent by offering to help the property owner with maintenance or other tasks. For instance, taking on snow removal or lawn care in exchange for a rent discount could save you hundreds of dollars a month. It never hurts to ask.

7. Couch Surf

While it’s not always the most ideal situation, if you are broke and need to shore up your finances, couch surfing and relying on the generosity of family and friends might be your only option for a rent-free life. It’s important that you approach this as a short-term solution, and do everything you can to avoid mooching off your loved one. This means returning the favor to your hosts by offering to clean, buy groceries, tackle yard work, or babysit their kids to say thanks for giving you a place to crash.

8. Move Back in With Your Parents

You were probably eager to move out of your parents’ house when you were younger, but heading back to the old homestead looks a lot more appealing when you are running low on funds. There are some big drawbacks to moving back home (bringing dates back to Mom’s house isn’t always ideal) but they may pale in comparison to the free or significantly reduced rent. Chances are, your parents won’t charge you anything to stay at home, and even if they do, it probably won’t be nearly as much as the cost of living on your own.

You can make the transition back home a lot easier by communicating with your parents ahead of time and setting the ground rules and expectations. For example, your mother might want a heads up if you aren’t planning to be home for dinner, and you may need to let them know if you plan to have overnight guests.

Don’t be a sponge when you move back home. You might be back under your parents’ roof, but that doesn’t mean you are a child and can leave dirty dishes in the sink and laundry on the floor. Take care of your own messes, pitch in with the chores, and don’t forget to hang out with your parents once in a while. They’ll appreciate it, and living at home won’t be quite so awful.

9. Join a Commune

When you hear the word “commune” you might think of secretive cults, but in reality, communes are communities of like-minded individuals who work together for the good of the community. They share resources — including housing and food — and work cooperatively to keep everything running.

There are different types of communes, including fully self-sustained collectives that craft art or other goods, spiritual or religion-focused groups, and those that cater to specific sexual preferences or political views, such as anarchist collectives.

The defining feature of a commune is that it’s focused on pooling resources and sharing them equally. Living in a commune often means giving up reliance on anything you own individually, such as your car or savings account, and sharing with the group. You can also expect to work for the organization in some capacity.  

10. Become a Residential Assistant for a Dorm

If you lived in a dorm while you were in college, you had residential assistants and directors who supervised the building and made sure everything ran smoothly. From mediating roommate disputes to planning activities to, yes, handing out discipline, RAs and RDs essentially serve as the “adults” in the house.

While RAs are typically students who work in exchange for free or discounted room and board, or tuition, RDs are typically hired from outside the school and have more administrative tasks. In exchange for this 24/7 role, RDs often get free housing on campus, usually in an apartment. Depending on the school, housing staff may also receive tuition discounts as well, so if you’re thinking about grad school, this could be a way to do it affordably.

11. Airbnb Your Room or Whole House When You Travel

Getting a roommate isn’t the only way you can reduce your housing costs with a spare room. Renting out your extra bedrooms — or even your whole house when you’re out of town — through Airbnb might bring in hundreds of dollars per month, which could pay for most or all your rent or mortgage.

If you rent, check your lease to make sure you can sublet space, as some landlords won’t allow you to list extra rooms for rent and you could get evicted for doing so. If you’re allowed to sublet rooms, renting them out by the night is a great source of extra income. This is especially effective when you live in a major metropolitan area, or close to major attractions where people look for bargain accommodations.

You can make even more money by renting out your entire place if you’ll be gone for a week or longer. Depending on the size and location of your home, you could earn several hundred dollars or more. Keep in mind you’ll incur costs when you offer your home as a vacation rental, including cleaning, listing fees, and taxes where applicable, but even with those costs, renting out your space can help you live free, or close to it.


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