Rent or mortgage payments swallow up between 25 – 35% of a person’s or family’s income. That’s a huge chunk of dough, especially for a renter whose rent money is gone forever. In contrast, at least a home owner has the potential to earn some of that income back when they sell their home. But does that mean renters get the short end of the stick and will forever be financially inferior to a home owner? According to Suze Orman, not necessarily; it’s what you do with your extra income that matters.

Suze Orman’s response to the caller’s question got me thinking, “What if you could live rent-free?” That would definitely be superior to mortgage payments – take that 25% or more of your income that would generally be applied to rent/mortgage, and invest that money in something else. (I personally like mutual funds, but to each his own.)

Researching this topic lead me to few ideas that seemed viable. Sure, I could house-sit (a frequent rent-free solution that kept popping up), but then where would all my stuff go? House sitting might work out great for a 20-something without many possessions, but the nomadic lifestyle just isn’t for me. I think it would also be a little uncomfortable feeling “at home” in someone else’s home.

Another popular rent-free idea is to become a barter roommate. Receive a room rent-free for services such as cleaning, lawn care or elderly care. Again, someone with few possessions and single might like this idea for a little while giving them time to save money.

Living in an RV or houseboat might be a solution that makes a little more sense. Actually, I visited some people living in an RV recently and they recommended we do the same while saving up money to buy property. They absolutely love their RV and even when they go home (to an actual house) they continue living in the RV while renting out their house. Some RV’s are quite large with ample storage space below the living space, but it’s not for everyone – and not for me right now.

The best idea I found for rent-free living was to become an onsite apartment manager. You get the best of both worlds – your own apartment and free rent. Of course, there’s some work involved like showing apartments, submitting paperwork, dealing with tenants and handling maintenance issues, but depending on the size of the building, it’s not a bad gig. Depending on the building, managers may be required to hold a realtor’s license or have specific handyman skills, but it’s definitely worth looking into for the right person or couple.

Though rent-free living might not be in my immediate future, it’s something I often think about – finding solutions to reduce that 35%.

Have you lived rent-free? Do you pay less than 35% for rent/mortgage? How do you do it?


  1. When I downsized 15 years ago, my cost of home ownership is less than 15%! In just a few years , I will retire and my mortgage will be paid off and my costs will be below 5% based on projected retirement income.

    • That’s awesome! I think that it’s more difficult in today’s market to find a house that’s below 20% of one’s income, but I guess it’s not impossible.

  2. When we first bought our house, our monthly mortgage payment (of course including property taxes and home insurance) was around 30% of our monthly after-tax income. We have been ramping up our income since and now it’s less than 10%.

    • That’s a good point. If you can apply more towards the mortgage in the beginning, the payments go down eventually. I think that’s a great strategy.

  3. Michael @ The Student Loan Sherpa Reply

    When I was in college I worked as a Resident Advisor. Two years of undergrad were rent free as a result. Sure, it was a very time consuming job, but I loved it and avoided rent for two years. Its one decision I’ve never regretted. I’m glad to say I’m in less student loan debt because of that choice.

  4. Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter Reply

    When we rented, our property manager lived rent free and actually got paid to take care of the property. She didn’t do a good job but that’s besides the point, haha. Rent is usually a fact of life but it’s cool when people can avoid it.

    • Our most recent onsite manager also lived rent free. We ogled her position until she was let go and they decided not to fill it. We’re still trying to weasel our way into helping out and getting paid for it. I love the idea!

  5. Deacon @ Well Kept Wallet Reply

    I haven’t lived rent free since I was a teenager. However, if I could do it over again, I would live rent free for as long as I could 🙂

  6. Unfortunately we do not live rent free, but paying a mortgage. It is awful amount of money going out every month and I am looking at two options:

    1) keep my house fully indebted and invest the rest (since my mortgage is only 3.5% and my investments bring me 14.5% in average, so it is better to invest all surplus rather then pay it towards the mortgage)

    2) pay more every month and end up paying the mortgage off faster in lieu of 30 years…

    Which is better? That’s the famous Hamlet’s question.

  7. Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter Reply

    It depends how you look at it, but we sort of live rent-free. We paid off the rent house and rent out a couple of rooms in our new house, so we spend about $2000 a month on a mortgage and two sets of property taxes, but we bring in $2300. Can’t wait to pay off the current house and take that to $1000 a month or less for property taxes that the rent house can cover by itself…

    • @Crystal – That’s awesome! We’re currently working a deal with our building to help out a bit for a reduction in rent. We’ll see how that pans out. 😉

  8. We have been considering renting out a room but have some concerns. Doing this would really help with the mortgage and allow me to put away so much more toward retirement!

    • @Charlotte – Maybe you could rent it out to a friend of a friend? That way you’d have some background history on them. Good luck!

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