Paying your first rent check after graduation is a great feeling — until you realize what it really means. You may 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. College prepares you for everything except, maybe, this terrible injustice we all suffer. You’ll trade stories about friends who have been able to avoid 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. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard, in 2013 there were 43 million renter households in the U.S., representing 35 percent of all households. In fact, rates of renting in 2013 were at their highest in more than a decade for all age groups — and at their peak for those aged 25-54 — since record keeping began in the 1970s.
According to the study, rental housing is home to a disproportionate share of the nation’s lower-income households, with nearly half of all renters earning incomes below $30,000. If those statistics have left you wary of renting and eager to avoid paying rent altogether, you’re not alone. After all, who could blame you for not wanting to write expensive rent checks to stay in a cramped apartment, fighting to use the washer and dryer, and having to deal with loud neighbors? You’ll have to get creative, but there are a number of living and employment situations that offer relief housing benefits. Here are 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 far to be a WWOOFer, because there are opportunities available right here in the United States. There are nearly 300 WWOOF farms in California alone. And some farmers let guests stay for up to a year. It costs just $30 for access to the U.S. 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, paying high rent.
2. Yellowstone National Park
While plenty of resorts likely offer hous to their employees — see No. 3, below — few are as majestic as Yellowstone, with its geyser, waterfalls, bears, and basalt formations. And Yellowstone, which straddles three states and is unimaginably massive, offers housing benefits to its employees. According to the website, housing is not quite free. The 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, it’s 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 the world. There are very few jobs like that, so 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 sea at all because your entry-level data 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.
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, are infirm due to their age, or come 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 work 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 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 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 a few months when you move back home.
6. Crew a yacht
Much like working on a cruise ship, manning a yacht is a cheap way to see the world from the deck of a boat. But unlike working on a cruise ship, you won’t be surrounded by hundreds of tourists and will have to partake in some manual labor. In general, knowledge of seamanship is necessary, but even if you just possess culinary, navigational or mechanical skills you might be able to score a paid position on board.
Of course, with great opportunities come costs. A six-month membership at the website CrewSeekers, for instance, will cost you more than $100. Still, that beats paying high rent and working a thankless job back home. Plus, you can set sail for several months at a time, helping you see the world at an affordable cost.
7. Get a fellowship or scholarship
OK. Technically applying for fellowships or scholarships isn’t a job — but it can certainly feel that way if you’ve got to fill out a ton of paperwork. You might have applied for scholarships to help pay for college, so why not apply for more when you leave? There’s a lot of funding out there, you just have to find a fellowship or scholarship that you qualify for and apply. Of course, you’ll be competing with potentially thousands of other students for the award so don’t count on receiving any funding just yet.
Ideally, you’d be awarded a scholarship that will help pay for your housing costs so you can avoid paying for lodging yourself. But even if you’re awarded a scholarship for only $2,000 — that’s money that can go towards your post-graduation expenses. Remember: Sallie Mae might soon come knocking on your door looking for you to pay off your student loans, so every little bit helps.
If you love taking care of kids and helping around the house, you’ll love being an au-pair. An au-pair is a young foreign person who helps a family with childcare or housework in exchange for food and accommodation and a monetary allowance. It can come with incredible perks — traveling around the world, staying in fancy homes, and time off to explore among them. Plus, you won’t have to pay rent or worry about finding work for the time being.
But make no mistake about it, becoming an au-pair isn’t all roses and daisies. Taking care of kids can be a lot of hard work and you will be spending an awful lot of time with your host family. So you want to be sure that you choose a host family that you get along with and whose values match your own. If you think you’re cut out for the au-pair life, there are a ton of websites available where you can get an idea of the opportunities available to you.
As suggested by some of our readers, the military is certainly a job that will help you avoid paying for rent. Of course, if you’re thinking of joining the military, avoiding rent is probably the last thing on your mind. Eligibility requirements can be a little confusing and there are different rules for enlisting and for officer programs. Visit a local recruiter if you’re thinking of enlisting.