The Free Housing Experiment
The first apartment we lived in together was affordable. For $500/month we had a one bedroom apartment, walking distance from campus and downtown with free heat and garbage!
I had hunted high and low, and found this treasure on Craigslist for $200 under the going rate. I also was able to convince two of my best friends to live in the same building. It was great, but then the owners sold the building and the new owner raised the rental price by 30%!
This meant year two of grad school would include paying higher rent, right?!?! Wrong.
Initially, I feared that we would get suckered into paying higher rent, and I started asking around. Fortunately, we found a family friend that had recently moved 15 minutes outside of the city onto a property with a few acres and an old pony barn.
Most people would run the other way at this point, but we were intrigued.
The Free House Agreement
The barn had been converted into a guest house in the 1970s, but had been abandoned. There was faux paneling everywhere, subfloors, drafty doors and windows, and old school heating registers (not from the hip school). We met the family, looked at the place, and discussed the deal.
The owners offered to pay for the renovation if we did the labor. In exchange we would also get free rent for six months! They actually did the painting and plumbing too!
We were extremely excited for this deal, especially since we’d also learn a variety of home renovation skills including:
- Installation of vinyl plank flooring
- Claw foot tub wielding and installing
- Window replacement
We had the goal of buying our first house within a year, and getting to try out our handyman skills on someone else’s dime was very exciting.
They also gave us a portion of their large garden, and I tried my hand at growing food for the first time (it wasn’t pretty).
The downside of moving out to the country was that we now needed cars to get around. We also found a used car for under market value and lived with one car for four months. We had saved through grad school and were able to pay cash for the first car. By the time we wanted to buy our second car I had been reading about personal finance, and was falsely under the impression that a car loan would help my credit, so we bought the second car with a fully financed loan. Fortunately, the interest rate was low, but I don’t think it helped my credit score significantly. Sometimes more research doesn’t help to make the best decisions, but, thankfully, I don’t count that as a big mistake.
Not everyone will be able to find free housing for six months, but I think this does demonstrate the benefits of asking for things. We were looking for an affordable housing option and people in our lives directed us to this wonderful opportunity.
We were flexible, and considered moving a little farther away to save money (only 15 minutes, we would not have signed up for an hour long commute).
Frugality may not be the norm, but if you are saving for specific goals tell those you care about. There may be some closet frugal-weirdos in your tribe.
Also, don’t be scared of living in an ugly house. I love living in simple clean spaces, and with a few touches you can make ugly manageable. Plus we were next door to a park with miles of trails and had a yard for our puppies. We can live in an ugly house if it comes with adventure!
Challenging and reducing the large expenses makes the biggest impact on your savings rate. People love dissing lattes and avocado toast, but if you set yourself up with affordable housing and transportation you will immediately see big benefits without making daily sacrifices.
How have you hacked housing?