In a world where the cost of living is getting scarily higher by the day but wages aren’t… erm… quite increasing at the same rate, and the thought of getting a mortgage any time soon is a pipe dream to most, it’s no surprise that many people are seeking out ways to save money on their rent, or, even better, live a totally rent-free life. With almost 30% of our wages going on rent and bills, quirky alternative living arrangements, which see tenants exchanging some form of labour (not THAT kind of labour), their time, or sacrificing personal comforts for free or subsidised rent, are becoming more and more popular.But while living without the stress of rent and bills looming over you seems like an absolute dream for most of us, is it worth what you give up in return? To find out, we talk to four women for whom this is a reality.
“I live in a studio apartment in Mayfair rent-free, which is included as part of my current work contract. I’ve worked as a nanny for years and I found this particular job through an agency that set up families with nannies. The families pay a large fee to use the agencies, whereas for the nannies it’s free.
The best thing about it all is living in central London, which would be near impossible to do otherwise with the rent prices around here. I have a concierge who collects my post when I’m out, the building is absolutely stunning and it’s lovely to have the space all to myself, living on my own – another thing that wouldn’t normally be possible.
While it seems like the dream scenario, there are, of course, downsides to my situation. None of my neighbours in the building are particularly friendly or, should I say, ‘on my level’. I feel like they look down on me. Also, there isn’t an average-priced supermarket nearby, or even a local corner shop. The closest ‘supermarket’ is the Marks & Spencer food hall on Oxford St…
I’ve been a nanny for multiple families for over six years and to be honest, when this contract is up, I’m unsure if I want to continue doing it. The further I progress within the industry, the more I find I’m compromising myself. Although living somewhere I wouldn’t normally be able to afford for free is amazing, it’s becoming apparent that the higher up I get (which means amazing apartments and added perks), the more demanding the families feel they can be. When they provide you with accommodation close to their home, it’s so that it can benefit them – to enable you to work longer hours, to call on you last minute and so on.
It’s definitely given me a taste for the rent-free way of life though. I’ve been looking into how I can make it work for other jobs, like working the festival season. I’m undecided as to whether to continue to work as a nanny in the future… I’m going to have to weigh up if the compromise is worth the benefits.”
“I live in a Christian community house in Bristol, paying £475 a month which covers absolutely everything – food, bills, cleaning products and so on. No deposit or formal checks needed. It’s actually a very popular way of living with church communities across the city. I was looking for a way to save money, and as a member of the church, this just seemed like the perfect option.
I’m originally from Devon and had heard about the Bristol community houses through friends who had moved to the city and done the same. There are five adults in my house, but some of the bigger ones house up to 20 people! We live very near four other houses, so it’s like a big network. It’s definitely more intentional than your usual houseshare, as it’s largely focused on serving each other and personal growth, as well as serving the city.
We eat together Monday to Friday, and take it in turns to cook for the house. Cooking once a week is the dream! We try and buy all our food from local businesses and use the Bristol pound. Monday night is ‘house night’ – intentional time spent hanging out and going over house practicalities. Once a month, we do soup run – we make sandwiches and another community house down the road make the soup. We’re also a registered night-stop house, meaning young people in need sometimes come and stay for the night.
I love to eat with people, so this is my favourite thing about my living situation! I’m a firm believer that food shouldn’t be eaten alone, especially evening meals. There’s also something really special about feeling a part of a much wider network of community houses in Bristol. It’s very social (we have Facebook groups for ‘Wine Wednesdays’ and Friday drinks) and there are plenty of opportunities to meet people from all walks of life! But without a doubt, the most significant part is the friendship – my housemates really care about me. It took me a while to adjust to community living and they’ve been so patient and loving. I really feel that I’ve grown not only in maturity, but also in my faith.
This whole experience has taught me a lot too. Community living has revealed to me that I’m a bit of an introvert – I love being with people, but sometimes I find it challenging when I just need space to recharge and be on my own. I particularly find it hard when we have lots of new guests over and I’m just not in a ‘meeting people’ mood.
The whole communal-living situation has actually been really helpful to me career-wise. My housemates are all very creative, and they’ve inspired me to take a much more vocational and creative route into floristry!
It’s been a wonderful experience that has been more than a money-saving opportunity – there’s such an emphasis on sharing faith, character development, and hospitality. Having said all this, I’m actually going to be moving to Bath in a few weeks’ time, mainly as I used to live there and want to be close to my friends and boyfriend again. If community living were a popular thing in Bath, I’d definitely consider it again, but I’m also quite looking forward to a change, less commitment and more independence.
“I live above the pub I work in with my manager, Sam (who also happens to be a friend) and his dog, Stella. In exchange for reduced, affordable rent, I take care of Stella – like a live-in dog-sitter!
I started working at The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker in January, when the pub turned vegan. Sam runs the place, and it’s the perfect job to fit around my studies. A room became available in his flat upstairs, he needed help with Stella, and I was in need of somewhere to live that wasn’t expensive. I’m extremely fortunate that it all just fell into place like that.
The best thing about my situation is Stella – 100%. She was rescued a few months ago after being used as a breeding dog. She’s having to learn to trust humans again, but she’s smashing it. The transformation we’ve seen in such a short amount of time is incredible. We’ve formed such a tight bond. She’s great.
I really can’t complain about such a great living dynamic, the flat is beautiful, my room is spacious and I’ve been close friends with Sam since I was 16. If I had to pinpoint something that was more of a downside, I’d maybe say the noise from the pub. It’s quite hard to switch off when you’re so close to it all.
I really plan on doing this as long as I possibly can! This experience has been so great for my mental health – it’s financially feasible, which is a huge relief because money worries can be such a stress, and it feels good to operate outside of the conventional letting system.
Living like this facilitates all of my projects and studies. I only work part-time in the pub, which enables me to make the most of my time and take care of Stella.”
“For the last six years, I’ve been splitting my time between my nan’s house in my hometown and my boyfriend’s parents’ house about an hour away.
I never went looking for a way to live rent-free – before this, I was renting with some girlfriends, but the tenancy ran out and I moved back in with my nan, and started commuting for about an hour to work, which turned out cheaper than renting somewhere in the city. It was pretty tiring though. My boyfriend and his parents suggested that I spend a couple of nights a week at theirs, to reduce my travelling time as they live closer to my work.
I now split my time between both places. My grandfather passed away a few years ago, so I go back to my nan’s one night during the week and also on the weekend to keep her company and help her out. Neither of my hosts wants any money for rent, because they don’t feel like one more person for half of the week is making a difference to their household. My boyfriend’s family have been so accommodating, allowing me to stay here whenever and even call it my home – we even have a WhatsApp group discussing the houseshare and upcoming events that may affect each other.
There are so many good aspects to how I’m living. Even though I feel like it’s my priority to look after my nan, she still feels like she needs to look after me too! Even though I’m 29, she insists on doing all my washing (thanks Nan!) and cooks my tea. Then at my boyfriend’s, we all take it in turns to cook. The house is amazing too – a massive, cosy family home in a great location. I also work part-time as a beauty therapist, and his parents have given me their spare room to use as a treatment room.
I really can’t complain, as I know how much my friends seem to struggle with rent and bill worries. But there are, of course, downsides to my situation. It took my boyfriend four years to even offer me a drawer of storage in his room! And anyway, I pretty much live out of a suitcase as I’m back and forth so much – so if I forget something in my ‘other’ home, or someone springs some impromptu plans on me, like a night out, I’m screwed. Plus, both my nan and boyfriend are massive hoarders, which doesn’t exactly go with how I like to live my life… but it’s not really my place so I can’t say anything.
Neither feels like MY home, really. I still feel I’m a guest and that I have to ask permission to do things, like watching TV (even though I probably don’t).
It’s been six years of living like this, which isn’t ideal, but it’s enabled us to start saving for a place of our own – something that a lot of my friends haven’t been able to do. Plus, if anything happened with my nan and she needed me to stay with her, I have nothing restricting me from being able to instantly drop everything and move in with her full-time. So, for those reasons, I’ll probably continue this arrangement for a little while longer.”