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Recent data shows that renting is cheaper than buying almost everywhere in the U.S.
In Florida you’ll pay 33% more (on a month-to-month basis) to buy a home than to rent one.
The premium for owning versus renting is 93% in New Jersey.
So renting might not be such a bad deal.
But rent is still likely to be your largest single expense, so how can you reduce what you pay?
You could live in a tent for half of each year, a trick used by my friend to avoid the high-rent season in a resort town.
But you don’t have to go to that extreme.
Here are ten or more comfortable ways to save on rent.
1. Fire Your Landlord
The most obvious way to save on rent is to find a cheaper apartment and tell your landlord “you’re fired!.” On second thought, be nice to the landlord — she may be called as a reference. And wait until the end of your lease.
Moving costs money of course, even if it’s just across town. You can keep it cheap by renting a van and doing it yourself, or perhaps with the help of a friend. But you still need to consider those moving expenses when comparing your options.
For example, if you can rent a new place for $125 less per month, and you expect to be there for two years, you would save $3,000 on rent. But if the move costs $1,400 your true savings would be only $1,600 over two years. That amount may or may not be worth the trouble of a move, but in any case it’s not a decision you can rationally make until you run the numbers.
2. Rent a House That’s for Sale
Why would someone give you cheap rent and no lease? To make some income while waiting to sell their house or condo. Of course you have to agree to keep the place presentable at all times, allow easy showings by real estate agents, and move with only a few weeks notice once there is a sale.
In the past you had to present the idea yourself to homeowners or real estate agents. Now it’s easier with the help of Caretakers of America. They say they can set you up in nice homes for “…far less than the cost of rent for a comparable home.”
How much less? Caretakers says you’ll “pay a monthly fee that is 30% to 70% of the typical rental rate.” With luck you’ll get enough warning before you have to move so they can arrange your next cheap stay.
If you live light and find moving more exciting than tedious this might be an interesting way to cut your rent expense in half.
3. Become a Property Manager
Landlords sometimes offer reduced rent to onsite property managers. You might even get a free apartment (and even a small salary) if the complex is large enough.
These opportunities are not always advertised, so ask around. You might even want to suggest the idea to a potential landlord.
Another possibility is becoming a resident manager of a self storage business. These positions show up regularly on job websites like Indeed.com.
4. Move to a New Town
House Beautiful’s data on average one-bedroom rental rates for major U.S. cities shows huge differences. The cheapest on their list of 50 cities is Wichita, Kansas at $470 per month. The most expensive is San Francisco, California, where you can expect to pay $3,600 per month.
So one of the most effective ways to reduce your rent is to move to a different city, unless you already live in Wichita.
Of course, unless you have a home-based job or business, you have to consider job prospects and wages. But a move from Seattle Washington ($1,795/month) to Albuquerque, New Mexico ($715/month) could save you almost $13,000 annually on rent, so you could take a fairly large pay cut and still be better off.
5. Pay Your Rent With Work
Can you paint or fix things? Make a deal for cheaper rent!
Google various phrases like “trade rent for work” or “rent work exchange” plus the name of your city to find opportunities to renovate a house in exchange for cheaper rent. Or approach owners of houses that need work to make them an offer.
The Caretaker Gazette also has free places to stay in exchange for work. It’s primarily a house sitting website, but listings often include opportunities to manage campgrounds and self storage businesses, or work a few hours weekly on a ranch, in exchange for a free place to stay (and sometimes a salary).
6. Rent a Room in a House
If you’re single, it’s usually cheaper to rent a room than to rent an apartment or whole house for yourself. It’s also simpler, since some or all utilities are typically included in the rent.
Craigslist is one of the best places to look for a room to rent. If you’re uncomfortable about the idea of living in someone else’s house, look for a room that has its own bathroom and a private entrance.
7. Get Government Help
“Section 8” housing, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program subsidises your rent if your income is low enough to qualify. Funded by the federal government, it’s administered locally by Public Housing Authorities (PHAs). HUD has a page where you can locate your nearest PHA.
Basically, you pay a portion of the rent according to your income, and your landlord is paid the difference by the program. Many landlords are willing to participate because they know they always get at least the program portion of the rent.
8. Buy a Mobile Home
There are some good reasons to buy a mobile home. The relevant reason here is that it can be cheaper than renting, especially if you don’t have a loan payment.
The key is to buy an inexpensive mobile in a park with low lot rent. In many areas of the country there are parks with old mobile homes that sell for as little as a few thousand dollars. If you can pull that much together (perhaps at tax refund time), your primary ongoing expense will be lot rent.
What about depreciation? An old $4,000 mobile home won’t drop much more in value and it may not matter anyhow. Suppose you pay $950 per month for an apartment and you pay $4,000 cash for a mobile in a park with $400 monthly lot rent. Even after some maintenance costs you might save more than $5,000 per year. You could give the thing away after a couple years and still be thousands of dollars ahead.
9. Break Your Lease
If you’re in an expensive apartment find a way to break the lease so you can move to a cheaper place. Some contracts have language specifying how you can break the lease (usually with payment of some sort), but do it in a way that doesn’t affect your credit score.
What if you can’t find a way to break the lease? Pay your landlord to let you cancel it.
Of course it has to make sense for both of you. If your $950-per-month apartment can be re-rented in a few weeks the landlord might be happy to take a $1,200 check to cancel the lease. But does it make sense for you?
That depends on how long the lease runs and how much less you’ll pay for rent at the next place. For example, if you have eight months to go on the lease for that $950 apartment, and you can find a decent place for $700 per month, you’ll save $2,000. In that case, paying $1,200 to get out of the lease would still leave you $800 ahead.
10. Move in With Your Parents
Recent census data shows that Americans age 18 to 34 are living with their parents in record numbers. It makes sense. It’s tough to handle high rent with low income jobs.
Consider paying your parents a reasonable amount. In exchange you might ask for a little more privacy, like a room with its own outside entrance.
If this really doesn’t work as a long-term solution, you might consider it as a short-term way to save money. In fact, staying with your parents might be a way to save up for a downpayment on a house, so you can stop renting altogether.
11. Compare the Total Cost
Paying less for rent doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saving anything. You have to look at the whole picture.
For example, some places include water in the rent, while others do not. A bigger or older place, even if the rent is less, might cost more to heat and cool. You’ll have to guess about some of the expenses when considering a new place, but once you add it all up you should have a good idea if the savings are there.
Also, consider the location and its effect on your other expenses. A place that’s closer to work and shopping might save you money even if the rent is a little higher than an apartment on the other side of town.
12. Become a House Sitter
Most house sitting gigs are short term, but some can run for months. Typically you pay only for utilities when you house sit, which means you save a fortune versus renting.
Of course you have to balance that against the need to constantly be lining up the next gig before your time runs out on the current one. Also, you have to live light and/or keep your stuff in a storage unit, since most people do not want their house sitters to really move in.
13. Live in an RV
Whether you save money by living in an RV depends on how you do it. Parking on a friend’s property is a cheap way to go, but staying in nice parks can be more expensive than renting an apartment.
If you collect a retirement check or have a mobile business you can travel and stay at places with cheap monthly rent. Along the way you can park overnight for free at Walmart and other places. There’s even an an overnight parking app to help you out.
For a fee of $180 you can stay on BLM land near Quartzsite, Arizona for up to seven months. Other public lands allow free parking for up to two weeks.
If you need to work for a living and stay in one place for a year or more, you can probably still save money versus renting. Depending on where you are, RV parks have spaces that run as little as $300 per month with utilities often included.
14. Negotiate Lower Rent
You don’t have to pay what the landlord is asking. In an article on how to negotiate your rent, Ramit Sethi suggests offering the landlord several months’ rent in advance in exchange for a lower rate. Here are some other things you might offer in exchange for lower rent:
- An extended lease (so he can avoid vacancy)
- An extended termination notice (90 instead of 30 days)
- A promise of no pets, even if they’re allowed (saves him money on cleaning later)
- A promise not to smoke inside (saves him money on cleaning later)
- Give up your parking space (he can offer it to other tenants for higher rent)
Also, a landlord might lower the rent if he’s having a hard time renting a place, so look for places that have been on the market for awhile and make an offer.
You can also ask for lower rent right where you are. If you’ve been a good tenant and the rate is higher than average (check current rental listings), point out these facts when your lease is up, and ask for a lower rate.
15. Get a Roommate
Want to cut your rent in half? Find a roommate. Get two and you can split the rent and other expenses three ways. You can use Roommates.com to find a compatible match.
Just be sure that it’s okay with the landlord and be very clear about the arrangement (who pays which bills and when, how can the home be used).
What have you done to save money on rent? Tell us about it below, and keep on frugaling!