You will remember, that I am endorsing the idea of living WAY below your take-home pay. When you’re young and your income is probably at its lowest point for your earning life, that probably seems nearly impossible. However, there are ways. . .
The first one I want to mention has to do with reducing (or even eliminating) your housing costs. “How can this be??” you ask. Let me share some time-tested ideas.
When my husband was in graduate school we lived exclusively on my piddly secretary income. We were determined to only use student loans for tuition. My annual salary was about 1/3 of what we now make every month. Ha! Of course, money was worth a bit more back then and life in the mid-west is always cheaper than in the west. But still. We were living on extremely limited funds. To say the least.
That meant no money for rent.
So, we had to figure out some other way. Let me interrupt myself here to say what a blessing it was that my father-in-law insisted that David and I put together a budget for our 4 years of graduate school before we got married. He wanted to make sure that we had a plan for how we were going to survive until we were done. This exercise was when we realized we couldn’t afford a roof over our heads. At least not a very nice one in a safe area of town. So, like I said before, we got creative, and this is what we did:
- House sat for an elderly woman who was serving a religious mission for one year. She didn’t really need rent money, and was mostly wanting a clean, responsible couple to watch her house and keep the heat on while she was away. We paid her $50 per month – that was really cheap even back in the early 1980’s. Since her house was fully furnished, we also didn’t have to buy any furniture.
- House sat for a couple that took an extended vacation. They actually paid us to keep their house looking lived-in while they were away. I think we fed their cats too. This was a beautiful home and she was an incredible housekeeper. I learned a lot from living in her home. I still fold my towels like she did.
- House sat for a couple who were selling a 2nd home. This 2nd home was the MOST DARLING little bungalow. It was cozy and cute in a nice neighborhood. This was our first non-furnished place, so we finally had to break down and get some furniture --used, of course. It was fun to finally have a few things of our own. The house sold because a potential buyer loved that I was baking bread and knitting when she came over. We lived there rent-free for several months.
- House sat for a woman who was beginning to shows signs of senility. She was sweet and lovely, but extremely forgetful. Her two grown children wanted someone in the house to make sure she ate her meals and could call for help if something went wrong. She lived in a very upscale neighborhood right on Lake Michigan, and we lived in her lovely attic for free for about a year and a half. Right through graduation!
- We had other friends who were grounds keepers on a medium sized estate just on the edge of town. They lived in a darling little carriage house with only minimal duties of mowing the grass and watching over the property while the owners were frequently out of town. They not only lived rent-free, but made a decent little salary. All while the husband was in school.
- Another friend of ours was a single fellow who lived with a very elderly gentleman who needed someone around to help him with daily tasks and just wanted some company in the evenings. This friend not only lived rent-free, he also had free groceries. He had this job through 4 years of dental school. And amazingly when the sweet man passed away a few years later, he left his beautiful house to our friend. Tom still lives there with his own family.
After school was done, we still didn’t have any money. And we had a baby. We moved to a small town in the middle of nowhere for David’s first job and amazingly found more opportunities to house sit. Because we had learned that word-of-mouth is the best way to find rent-free opportunities, we started asking around. Within a week a businessman in this small town called us up (sight unseen) and wanted us to live in a house he had been trying to sell for over a year. It was a large ranch-style home on a beautiful street. We stayed about 4 months until the house sold. Word spread that we would make a house look nice and smell nice, and we got a 2nd house-selling gig right away. That house never sold, but I don’t feel responsible for that failure J -- it had a bad location. We lived there for many months.
By now we had our 2nd baby on the way and it became difficult to convince people how clean and attentive we could be with TWO children running around their house. But we weren't ready to pay rent yet, so we turned to the time-tested apartment manager job. This opportunity came through the newspaper. We managed a small complex with about 20 units. This was certainly a lot of work, but I learned a lot and we enjoyed the free rent for another 10 months. Finally, we moved to a larger city for a new job and managed a complex of 100+ townhouses for about 4 months. I found that VERY hard to handle with 2 tiny children. But by now we felt we could afford rent and found a nice duplex (where we negotiated the rent price down a few hundred dollars per month – we’d learned as apartment managers that all rent is negotiable) and lived there until we finally bought a house.
The bottom line here is that we lived in BEAUTIFUL places that we could never have afforded -- for nothing. We saved thousands and thousands of dollars over an almost 5 year period of time just because we thought outside the box and asked around. You just never know. . . Living frugally is a lot more exciting than you'd guess.