How to Save: On Housing
I think one of the most difficult things for people who are trying to get their money in order is figuring out how to save. They know the road to follow but they have bills to pay and feel stuck with how things are. It’s difficult to save 10% of their income, much less 50%. So, I’m going to do a series of posts on ideas that relate to saving on people’s largest and most common expenses. What better place to start than housing?
One of the great things about technology is the interconnectedness it can create between complete strangers throughout the world. Computers and the internet alone have changed the way we consume information and interact with one another. It has also provided us with more options when it comes to nearly anything. Like I mentioned in the last post it would be stupid to not take advantage of the things at our disposal.
Housing for many people takes up a ton of their budget. It also happens to be something we all need. However, there are certainly ways out there to save considerably on this expense and find major discounts or even live for free. Some of these apply even if you’ve been living in the same place for a decade, you don’t necessarily need to be moving. Here are a few ideas…
Search online with a budget in mind – I’ll start with one of the more boring, but still effective ways to save. If you do happen to be moving, or even just looking this is a great place to start. Simply go to a realtor website, like zillow.com or mls.com, and start doing some searches. I’d recommend setting a top end budget for your home or apartment at roughly 30% of your monthly income. But the lower you can get it the better, I’d say shoot closer to 20% if possible! Go for as much value as you can, although this is easier said than done. Think about how much room you really need and how often you’ll actually “have guests over”. If it’s a lot, then get some extra square footage. If it might be once a year, they can squeeze or tell them to hang outside.
Be open to re-location – Although change can be tough, switching the area you live can have a profound impact on your well-being and the price you pay for housing and even transportation. But, before you take off or switch jobs, be sure your income doesn’t drop, or at least not significantly. Often places with a lower cost of living will have jobs that pay less but if you can keep your salary the same and get a house at half the price, you hit the jackpot. Consider looking at areas a little outside of your range for great deals you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And the closer you can get to your job(s) the better. Less money on gas and maintenance means more money in your pocket.
Workaway.info – If you’re a travel junkie like me, you’ll appreciate this site. Essentially, it pairs up travelers and hosts who provide free housing and often food in exchange for some volunteer work. There are hosts throughout the world with a wide variety of tasks to be completed. Some may ask you to only come for a few days, others require a minimum stay of 3+ months. It’s interesting to check out at the very least but I think it requires you to pay to get full access. If you want a completely free version or are not interested in the volunteer aspect check out couchsurfing.com for a free stay around the world. These are much shorter term stays though, often not longer than a week.
Live-in Flip – Ever watched HGTV and seen them flip a house? It seems so easy right? Well, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it but you can make some serious money if you do it properly. If you can stand moving into a less than pristine house and having ongoing construction projects there it will likely pay off in the end. Plus, if you stay for at least 2 years and then sell for a profit, you can get a major tax break compared to selling within 24 months of the purchase date. Do some serious research before you get involved with something like this though. That being said, do it right and you can come out even or hopefully ahead with housing costs during this period.
Craigslist – For as sketchy a site as it may be, it has a very active community that can offer up great opportunities. We’re talking apartments for dirt cheap, free furniture, movers for hire, you name it. If you can get over the fact that not everything from that site will be wrapped in gold, you can save some serious money checking out the deals there. It’s best especially if you’re looking for something more short term or need roommates to fill/split an apartment. Something at least to consider.
Buy for rent – If you’re going to purchase a place in a city or densely populated area, see if there are any duplexes available or homes with a building out back that could house other people. Put out a couple ads letting people know you have space for rent and you could be covering your mortgage payment or even making money off of your place in no time. Too often people get emotional when it comes to housing but it should be looked at as the large investment of your money that it is. Why not try and squeeze every dollar out that you can?
Generate income – Much like the suggestion above, there are other ways to put your home to work. Add an art studio in your shed and charge a couple bucks for people to use it. Clear out a room and put it up for grabs on Airbnb. Expand your income potential over just the annual property appreciation. You could be sitting on a gold mine! Along this same line, if you have a vacation home I’d recommend renting it out when not in use or auction off weekends to use it amongst your friends for a little extra cash.
Tiny Home – I’m sure this won’t be the most popular recommendation but it’s a great option for the right people. You can literally own a house that can be moved anywhere in the country for under $50,000. Generally they don’t come larger than 500 sq. feet so just make sure you like the person you’re sharing it with.
Negotiate – Whether you’re buying a new place or renting an apartment from a friend, it doesn’t hurt to make a lower offer. Like I said, there are plenty of options out there so you can always find somewhere else if need be. Many times people will be willing to work with you on the price even if that didn’t appear to be the case originally. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
Although I wasn’t specific here to just homes or apartments, buying vs renting can be a major discussion to have before finalizing any decisions. Each certainly has their own pros and cons. I’ll likely put together a separate post detailing when one is more appropriate than the other, but for now we’ll keep things simple. If you plan on living in an area for less than 2 years and are okay with spending a little more for quite a bit less hassle and maintenance I’d recommend renting. If you see yourself settling down for 3+ years then you should look more into buying a property instead. The major tradeoffs as previously mentioned involve significantly more upkeep but generally lower month to month expenses. If you’re happy where you are, congrats! You’ve got nothing to worry about except saving a few extra bucks.