Everyone would like lower housing costs. But what would it take to live rent-free?A lot of homeowners are running smack into financial troubles these days. Roughly 900,000 U.S. homes are in foreclosure -- up 71% from a year ago. Overall household finances aren't much better. More than 800,000 Americans declared bankruptcy in 2007 despite tougher bankruptcy laws now on the books -- an increase of nearly 40% from 2006. That means a lot of people are looking for ways to slash their housing costs as a way to shore up their finances. You can live rent-free if you are flexible and think beyond typical home ownership and renting. Sure, this calls for sacrifices and isn't feasible for everyone. It helps to be single or married without children to find free housing, although in special circumstances it may be possible to do so with a family. Being flexible with where you live is also important since those who can live anywhere have more opportunities to live rent-free than those who need to live in a particular city. Consider these eight alternative ways to get housing and you mayfind that your bank account has never looked better:
1. Live on the WaterIf you live in a city that has a waterfront, your best bet to find free housing may not be on land. You may not at firstimagine that a boat would be a place you could live, but the fact isthat these are expensive pieces of equipment that rarely get used. A growing number of boat owners prefer having someone on board to keep the boat clean and to make sure that it doesn't suffer damage from vandals or thieves. We're not talking dinky motorboats and shoddy houseboats. Many are luxurious vessels that can compete with any apartment and are docked year round. Most harbors have shower and toilet facilities a short walk away. These arrangements are best for singles who have few belongings since you will need to vacate a few times a year when the boat is being used by the owners. It also helps to have basic boating knowledge for upkeep. It's also onearea where you are on your own to find the opportunity since thereisn't a central place on the Internet to find these positions. If youare willing to do some legwork and put the word out in local papersand at boat docks, however, it can be a way for someone witha bit of a sense of adventure to have a place to stay at no cost.
2. Share a PlaceA number of cities across the country such asSeattle offer free home-sharing programs. These programs match tenants with elderlyhomeowners who have a spare room, but need a little help with basicchores around the house such as cooking, cleaning or providingtransportation. The Seattle program, for example, considers "an averageof 12 to 15 hours a week to be a fair exchange for a private bedroom in a Seattle home with a shared bath."
3. Be a House-SitterIn exchange for performing basic maintenance such as taking care ofthe yard and keeping the house clean while the owners are away, a house-sitter gets to live in the house rent-free. People need a house-sitter for two main reasons: They have multiplehouses and some aren't occupied much of the time; or, their work keeps them away from their home for long periods. In both cases, owners feel better having someone live in and take care of the houses rather than have them sit empty.
4. Travel the WorldHouse-sitting and other free rent exchanges are notlimited to the U.S. If you are looking for free accommodations aroundthe world, the Caretaker Gazette ($30 membership), offers up a list of opportunities in all parts of the world where people can take care of homes, do basic chores for the elderly or do a work exchange for free rent.
5. Work and LearnWorld Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (may be a small fee for access) and OrganicVolunteers ($20 membership) both cater to organic farms, gardens and ranches. In exchange for your help in running these enterprises, you receiveaccommodations and food. In addition to basic gardening skills, youwill also receive on-the-job training in many of the skills thatare helpful in most free-rent positions such as cooking, maintenanceand handy work.
6. Move Back HomeGranted, this option is heavily reliant on yourrelationship with your parents. But it can be an excellent way to liverent-free while you build up your finances. This is a common way for college graduates to get on their financial feet after graduating, but should also be considered as an option at other ages when finances dictate it and when it's appropriate. It's important to remember thatthe parents are doing you a huge favor and you should perform the samework that you would in any other arrangement where you don't pay rent.
7. Take in BoardersIf you can't move in with others, consider havingothers move in with you and pay rent. Their payments can cover your mortgage payments meaning you live in the place at no cost. If you are considering a purchase of a house,looking for ones that can accommodate boarders can be a way of payingoff the mortgage from day one without a penny of your own money. Thiswill help ensure you have a positive cash flow no matter how thecurrent economic troubles affect you, and you'll continue to have aplace to live even when income is lost.
8. Manage an ApartmentIf you are handy with basic housing repairs, you have a good chance of being able to land an apartment managerposition. In exchange for being on call when residents in theapartment complex have troubles, you can get your housing for free.The amount of work this will entail depends heavily on the quality ofthe building and residents, so it pays to do your homework beforecommitting to one of these rent free opportunities. These offers canbe found in local papers' job listings as well as on Web sites like Craigslist.
For those with the flexibility and sense of adventure, free housing can be aperfect way to drastically cut one of the most expensive monthly costsfor most people. It also shows that, while maybe not the perfectsolution, there are more ways to survive the current economicturmoil than most people have probably considered.