Paying your first rent check after graduation is a great feeling, until you realize what it really means. You will be doing this for the rest of your adult life: signing away a substantial portion of your hard-earned money every month just to have a roof over your head. They prepare you for everything in college except, maybe, this terrible injustice we all suffer. You’ll trade stories about friends who you’ve heard have been able to withhold rent due to awful circumstances in their homes — no heat, plumbing issues, etc — and deep down, you’ll really just be jealous that they got to hold on to all that extra cash every month.
That’s how bad paying rent is, especially the high rents so many young people are subjected to in the best job markets in the country.
So maybe you want to avoid paying rent entirely for a year or so? Who could blame you? You’ll have to get creative, but there are a number of living and employment situations that offer relief from the tyranny of rent. Here’s a few:
The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program allows adventurous and environmentally-conscious people to visit farms all over the world, and trade their labor for accommodations and food. It has chapters on every continent, so you can work in Australia, Cameroon, Portugal, China, West Virginia — really almost anywhere. In fact, some backpackers use WWOOF as a way to travel around the globe on a shoestring. All you need to do is pay for passage from one place to another, which can be quite cheap in less developed corners of the world.
But you don’t need to travel to be a WWOOFer, because it’s also right here in the United States. There are 236 WWOOF farms in California alone. And some farmers let guests stay for up to a year. It costs just $30 for access to the United States chapter’s online directory, and you can start contacting farmers yourself. You won’t technically save any money when you work for free on a farm, but you’ll likely learn a whole lot more than you would as an entry-level claims adjuster. Also, you will almost certainly be happier than you might be spending your most able-bodied years in a dimly lit cubicle.
2. Yellowstone National Park
While plenty of resorts likely offer cheap or subsidized housing to their employees — see #3, below — few are as majestic as Yellowstone, with its geyser, its waterfalls, its bears, and its basalt formations. And Yellowstone, probably owing to the fact that it straddles three states and is unimaginably massive, offers company housing to its employees. According to the website, housing is not quite free. Its cost is based on hours worked, but it cannot exceed $42 in a two week period — so, at a maximum of $3 per night, it’s basically free. That’s insanely cheap, even in Wyoming.
Meals don’t come free at Yellowstone, however. Again, the cost of your dining plan is based on the number of hours you work, but it cannot exceed $151 for every two weeks for all-you-can-eat three meals a day. At $14 a day maximum for room and board on top of a presumably decent paycheck is not bad for living on one of the most beautiful nature reserves in the world. Look out for that caldera, though.
3. Cruise Ships (and resorts in general)
If David Foster Wallace’s essay on the despair-inducing aspects of cruise ships hasn’t turned you off, cruise ships offer a non-Navy way for you to see the world, get fed, and get a room. Of course you’ll have to wear your Professional Smile at all times, and probably put up with a bunch of corporate service employee nonsense. But if Wallace’s story is still accurate, you should have the chance to meet people from all corners of the globe, while traveling all over the globe. There are very few jobs like that — the Professional Smile is a small cost.
It’s certainly not the best way to see the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, but it beats never seeing either because your entry-level data entry job hardly pays the bills for your bedbug-infested studio. Think about it.
Similarly, you could probably find work at a summer camp, yoga retreat, casino or resort as a caretaker in the offseason. These jobs likely go to locals, so it might be helpful if you’re, say, from Hawaii. But it’s been known to happen for out-of-towners. There’s a great upbeat comedy film about the life of a caretaker and his family by Stanley Kubrick.
4. Intergenerational Housing/Group Homes
This option is the least mercenary of all. It will require an actual commitment to helping others who cannot take care of themselves, infirm due to their age, or from broken homes. It likely attracts those that, for religious reasons or a sense of societal obligation, want to help out — not just those seeking a free bed. That said, as an employee of intergenerational housing or a group home, you’ll certainly have the opportunity to learn from the residents, and, yes, you’ll have a free room.
This is not a choice to take lightly; it would likely be trying for those not totally committed to the cause. That said, for those who are committed, it’s likely an incredibly fulfilling working life. That’s better than you can say for an entry level job cold-calling people about their cable packages.
5. Peace Corps
Maybe you don’t want to live in this country at all, but you would like to export two of its greatest resources: iodine and literacy. Then the Peace Corps is for you, friend. All you need to do is be ready to give up everything you’ve ever known and loved for two years, including (probably) indoor plumbing, (maybe) the Internet, and (definitely) reasonably-sized insects and spiders. It’s certainly not a gig for the faint of heart — indeed, heart conditions will preclude your ability to serve in the Peace Corps, along with a long list of other ailments.
You’ll come back a better person. Representing our nation’s interests in the Third World in a fashion that involves neither guns nor hamburgers is incredibly rare in the 21st century, so relish that experience. You’ll see a completely different mode of living, and you’ll have your living and housing expenses covered by Uncle Sam — in all likelihood monthly rent on a small house in rural Burkina Faso is quite cheap, if not practically free. After your 27 months of service are up, you’ll get a bonus stipend of $7,425 (pre-tax!) for getting transitioned back to the States. That would be a paltry sum for more than two years of service to your neighborhood Ralph’s or whatever, but it’ll help you pay rent for maybe a couple months when you move back home.