home · Step 4: Cutting Costs

How To Avoid Paying Market Rent

Often, we compare the cost of owing and renting. We aim for a paid-off house, anticipating free shelter. Then we learn it costs anywhere from $300/month to $1000/mo to keep the home we “own.” We comfort ourselves with the fact that $300-$1000/mo (depending on the region we live in) is cheaper than “renting at current rates.”

But is that our only alternative?

For the last several years, I’ve lived in the most expensive parts of one of the most expensive areas in North America. For the last five years, I haven’t paid typical rent. In fact, I’ve spent about a third of what is generally expected.


1. Share. I shared a 950 square foot suite with another single parent and her two kids. Why not? This is how most people have lived through the last several generations, and was still far more luxurious than most people have lived throughout history and many do today. Rent: $650/mo for me and my kid, including utilities and internet. Key to maintaining beauty and ease was minimalism on all our parts and strategic use of space. For me, strategizing for optimal organization is fun, so I’m all over it!

If you like to have more freedom than control, move in to a place someone else has established. If you prefer to have more control than freedom, set up a place then invite a great roommate in.

2. Housesit. In my current region, approximately half of the luxury homes sit empty for 10-12 months of every year. Some people arrange to housesit those for free (or even for income!). When the homeowner wants the house back—usually just summers—the housesitter does one of several things: moves on to another housesit; camps locally until the summer ends; parks an RV on that or other land; rents a motel room until the next sit is available; rents a room from a local friend; or finally grabs a market unit. In the meantime, they’ve saved a good $20,000 over what they would have had they been paying market rent.

3. Exchange. One of my sweetest deals was a partial exchange. Low rent in exchange for being present (a security factor) most of the year and some light maintenance of the property. Deal! In my book, I provide some thoughts about how to locate a potential fit, make a pitch, and secure a mutually-beneficial arrangement.

Some folks need help with light personal tasks, such as transferring out of bed in the morning, meal preparation, or supervising medication, thus offer free shelter in exchange for having someone nearby regularly.

A family might need an au pair.

Many apartment buildings seek an on-site resident. One fellow I know has a fancy, ground floor apartment at the beach for a couple hundred dollars a month in rent. He cares for a dozen suites with quiet, long term tenants in it.

4. WWOOF. If your income is location-independent, you might consider volunteering through the international WWOOF program. You might work 3-6 hours per day to receive your free room and board, while pocketing the income from your usual sources.

5. Mobile subsidy. Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for a government program which pays some of your rent, leaving you with just the remainder to pay. Depending on your region, such a program might be available to a person with neurological (“mental health”) symptoms, addiction, or other challenges.

6. Job-Provided. Take a job that provides housing. Folks from the US, Canada, and other regions accept jobs in China, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and so on that offer high wages plus a free or cheap apartment. They save up the difference for their long-term plans. Individuals travel from Australia to work in tourism-based industries in Canada, some of them enjoying lovely suites at low cost. Other people move around within their home country to access such a deal.

Of course, there are other cheap suites. Government-subsidized apartments, Habitat for Humanity, and so on are solid options. But there are far fewer of those available than the number of people who need them, so most of us must access other solutions. Above are among those that have worked extremely well for me.

Slashing our shelter costs can prove key to achieving financial stability. All of the above can be done solo, with a partner, or with kids. For more details and additional tips, please check out my book.

In a later post, I’ll talk about reducing shelter costs while owning a place.

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