Sure, you could downsize your living situation to reduce your housing expenses, but with house hacking you can live for free while building equity.
While I’d love to get a multi-family home where the rent covers all of the expenses so I can live for free while building equity, that hasn’t worked out with my lifestyle. I spent most of my adult life in New York and now live in Toronto, two areas where the prices are high and the competition is fierce.
After I bought my first apartment, I converted my (huge) one-bedroom into a two-bedroom so I could have a roommate. I used the money I saved to renovate the apartment. When I first moved to Toronto I had roommates and the rent they paid covered the condo maintenance fees. That was one way to house hack, but it required having roommates.
Not everyone is up for the prospect of roommates or can afford a place big enough to share. It might seem like house hacking is off the table.
But then there’s house sitting.
I signed up for Trusted House Sitters without high hopes, since I’d tried another house sitting site in the past and failed.
This time was totally different. I was able to get fantastic sits right away. A two bedroom in Manhattan with stunning views. A renovated Victorian in Cambridge. An artist’s house in Birmingham. A townhouse in a hip neighborhood in Chicago. All for free.
Having weeks to spend in each city gave me plenty of time to visit friends and explore, while still keeping up with work.
When I decided to return to Toronto for a few weeks, I quickly lined up sits there, too. I loved getting to experience life in different neighborhoods.
If a multi-family property is out of financial reach, you can buy a single family home or a condo and rent it out. You get the same benefits as a traditional house hack — your tenants are paying your mortgage while you live for free.
What about the pets?
Sure, I wouldn’t want to spend my vacation planning around dog walks or pet medication.
But this isn’t vacation. I work remotely, so I’m already tied to my laptop. I absolutely hate working out of a hotel room. Having conference calls when I’m traveling can be a nightmare. I obsess over spending too much time in coffee shops and find that I can rarely focus on deep work there. Some libraries are great work spaces, but most aren’t.
With house sitting I always have a space with steady wifi, power outlets, and unlimited coffee. Most houses have a variety of spots I can work in and I’ve become an expert at DIY standing desks. I’m free to hop on a call whenever I want. I can work weird hours if I’m in the zone.
Having pets is an easy way to keep myself on a schedule. Plus, I love animals. I’m thrilled to have animals to hang out with. I love taking long walks and now I have a new neighborhood to explore every few weeks — usually with a pup.
You can still house sit even if you don’t want to deal with pets. Some sites specialize in homes without pets. These tend to be long-term sits in rural settings.
But house sitting is expensive!
Sometimes other house sitters complain about how expensive it is. If you’re using it as an alternative to a vacation rental, it can be pricey. People fly across the country or to another continent. Rent a car for a weeks long sit. Go out to eat every night. Pay admission fees for a bunch of attractions. They’re still paying all the bills for their place back at home. In short, they go on vacation.
It may not be a free vacation, but I imagine people who are doing this are still saving thousands of dollars on a hotel or the house they would have rented.
That’s not what I do.
Live rent free and have someone else pay your mortgage
Not only is your tenant covering your mortgage and maintenance costs, you’ve eliminated your normal housing expenses.
All the money I’d normally pay for housing goes right into savings.
House sitting is the real sharing economy. I take care of their home (and pets and plants and whatever needs taking care of) and I have a free place to stay. Many of the homes I stay in are quite a bit nicer than my own home.
This is especially helpful if you live in a city with rising housing costs. I could afford to buy in Toronto when I did, but with the way costs are increasing, it’s unlikely I’d be able to afford to return to the city if I sold my apartment. Renting my home while I travel means I am free to move back, no matter what happens with the housing market.
It’s more than free housing
Sure, I don’t pay for housing, but I also save money on other things.
Many people who embark on long-term travel will sell their home first. Even many people who rent out their home clear things out to put everything in storage.
Because my place still furnished, I’ve eliminated my housing costs without having to sell everything I own (and eventually replace them) or pay for storage.
Turning your home into a temporary investment property saves you the transaction costs of selling. Plus, you don’t have to actually buy an investment property. Just make sure you know the tax implications of renting your home before you do anything.
If you’re renting your home, furnished or not, make sure you have insurance coverage.
People seem a little uncomfortable when I joke that I haven’t bought toilet paper since October, but it’s true.
Paying for housing is more than just rent (or your mortgage, maintenance, and utilities). It’s also buying lots of little things (that are so often missing from vacation rentals!). Think of how much you spend on cleaning products and household items.
When you’re staying in someone’s home, all these things are there for you. I aim to be a good guest, so I replenish things I use up, but household items are part of the deal with short-term house sitting. How much olive oil, detergent, or windex will I really use in two weeks? Not much.
This isn’t always the case for long-term sits, but it’s normal for short-term sits. If I’m staying in someone’s home for less than a month, they typically supply me with all the essentials. If I’m staying long-term, I’d supply more of these things for myself.
Coming from a family that doesn’t waste food, it can be shocking to see what’s in people’s refrigerators. Did they not realize they were going away?!
I eat or toss whatever perishables they’ve left, because no one wants to come home to a fridge full of funky food. Several homeowners have even encouraged me to eat whatever I wanted or gone so far as to pick up groceries specifically for me.
I’ve also gotten to enjoy the fruits of people’s gardens, chicken coop, and even their farm shares.
I have yet to have a homeowner who hasn’t told me I’m free to use their spices and condiments. I’m happy to buy my own food, but it’d be a little weird to travel with spices and pretty bland without them.
Even if I’m not eating other people’s food, simply having access to a kitchen means I can cook. I’m learning the art of cooking based on the length of my stay, so I’m not leaving food behind at every sit.
There’s a surprising variation in prices from place to place, even within North America. I adjust my cooking to whatever happens to be inexpensive in that area and season, which is a fun way to mix things up.
I wasn’t ever much of a shopaholic, but there’s really no need to spend money on clothes when I’m traveling. I went personal item only for six weeks and haven’t looked back.
I aim to be able to blend in at a conference, so everything in my bag passes for business casual. It’s easy to come up with a few outfits that are appropriate for just about any situation I might find myself in.
It’s amazing to realize how little I care about what I’m wearing, because everything in my bag is something that’s flattering and comfortable. Everywhere I stay has laundry facilities, but I’ll wash dresses and panties in the sink between loads. It seems silly to do a load of laundry every time I run out of clean things!
The only people I see multiple times in the same week already know I live out of a backpack.
So far I’ve been back to Toronto often enough to swap things out from what I already own whenever something is starting to look worn or the season changes. It helps that I have a few things stashed at my dad’s and in my office.
Even if I were buying new items, it still wouldn’t amount to much, since not much fits in my bag.
Things I wouldn’t normally pay for
I eliminate plenty of (significant!) items from my budget by house sitting. I also get access to things I wouldn’t ever normally pay for.
When I’m renting a place, I would never splurge for a huge house in an exclusive neighborhood. Or even a fancy condo in a building with tons of amenities. House sitting gives me the opportunity to stay in places far nicer than anything I’d choose if I were paying. They have gorgeous kitchens and the same type of coffee machines you’d find in a nice coffee shop.
I generally shy away from renting a car, never mind a luxury car. However, I’ve driven some really nice cars in the past few months because the people I’m house sitting for hand me the keys.
While I’ve watched TV once since I’ve started house sitting (that’s not bragging, that’s confessing how strange I am), I almost always have access to enormous TVs with hundreds of channels and Netflix.
I’ve also been gifted museum guest passes and tickets to events, which is a nice perk!
It’s supposed to be fun
When most people think about saving money or budgeting, they imagine making sacrifices. I shy away from doing anything to save money that feels like suffering.
The best ways to save money feel like a game. I love finding something interesting to do that’s free, rather than thinking of things to give up.
House sitting is by far the most fun way I’ve discovered to save money. Instead of cutting back, I’m traveling full-time and staying in gorgeous places with adorable pets.