Skip to content

7 Alternatives to Traditional Housing for the Motivated Saver

alternatives to traditional housingTired of hopping from one rental home to the next, but not quite at the point where you can own, or maybe even want to own a home? It may be time to consider venturing off the beaten driveway and start exploring some other backyard options.  It’s time to start exploring alternatives to traditional housing! And, believe it or not, there are quite a few options!!

7 Alternatives to Traditional Housing for the Motivated Saver

This is a guest post written by Kerah Kemmerer

Housing costs are one of the greatest expenses in our society and it often feels like you’ll never be able to jump out of the monthly rent cycle and pursue your dream of home ownership – or, investing, if that’s where your passion lies. But it’s not all hopeless. Whether you are single, a couple, or just starting your family, here are seven alternatives to traditional housing that you can try instead of throwing your money down the rent-hole.

1) Finish an unused space

Are you even the slightest bit handy or know how to use Youtube to learn a new skill? It’s time to start hustling! Reach out to family and friends to see if anyone is sitting on some unused space within their own home. We’re talking attics, basements, spaces above a garage and old barns or outbuildings. Spaces that are just sitting empty, but have the potential to make a pretty sweet living space with a little bit of elbow grease.

Once you find someone who is excited about your vision and likes the idea of increasing their property value without the hassle of building onto an existing structure, it’s time time to get to work!

You’ll both need to be on the same page about the logistics, but you can work out the deal any way that works best for all parties involved.

One idea is to have the homeowner provide the supplies while you complete the actual work. It is highly recommended to have professionals check in along the way if, say, plumbing or electrical work is needed and it’s not really your strong suit.

Keep track of the hours put into the project and work out an arrangement where hours = rent for an agreed upon time. Or, maybe you are the one that provides all the supplies in addition to the work. You could be looking at a year or two of paid-off rent at a lower rate than you would have paid in a traditional rental agreement.

When it’s time to move on, not only will you:

  • have gained some solid references,
  • boosted your confidence in your renovation skills, and
  • saved up a decent down payment or investment…

…but you will also have created rental income opportunity for the homeowner. Or, at the very least, provided them with the space to host their out-of-town guests! Everybody wins!

alternatives to traditional housing2) Become a live-in caretaker

This option is not for the faint of heart. However, if you are a naturally inclined caretaker, stay-at-home worker or really need to get the ball rolling on income, becoming a live-in caretaker for the elderly or disabled is a viable solution.

There are at least two ways to do this:

  • One is to move in with an elderly or disabled family member and offer care in exchange for room and board. This is a great option as it not only provides housing for you, but alleviates loneliness and outside care costs for the individual in need of the assistance.
  • The other option is to look for individuals hiring full-time live-in caretakers for their own family members. These positions often require some basic on-the-job-training or certification classes, but will provide a salary in addition to having your housing needs met. Salary for this type of role will vary and provides national averages to consider. Requirements and housing stipulations also vary from state to state, so it is important that you check with your state’s government website for more detailed information.

While it is a little more of an off-beat option, it’s one that is completely viable and provides flexibility in hours and living arrangements.  

3) Become a live-in property manager for your landlord’s AirBnb

This is one of the alternatives to traditional housing that has the potential to be a great fit for both parties involved!

Let’s say you have a friend – or a friend of a friend…of a friend – that just happens to own a decent-sized AirBNB and only wants to rent out rooms. Maybe that friend wants to keep his property management costs low because he’s already out there managing a few other properties and continuing to snatch up more real estate deals each year.

So you say,

“Hey friend, I see you have this decent-sized property with rooms for rent, but not a whole lot of time to focus on the guest experience. You’re also having to coordinate and pay for more services than you’d like in order to maintain the place. How would you like if I/we moved into one of those rooms and took care of the property for you in exchange for free room and board? What do you say, friend?”

Hopefully said friend is now grinning from ear-to-ear because not only will he be helping someone out, but he will also have:

  • 24/7 care for his property,
  • on-the-spot guest interaction, and
  • increased guest satisfaction…which hopefully means an influx in rave reviews.

Now, not only has he reduced his costs, but he has practically guaranteed an always-booked and highly-recommended AirBnb.

I know, I know. If you are the friend, you may be horrified at the loss of potential income for that lived-in room. Hear me out here.

Depending on the area you live, rental income can range from $45-$95 per night per room.  At an average of $70 per room, per night, two of three rooms can bring in just over $4k each month (minus any taxes and fees) when they’re booked solid each month, plus you have peace of mind that the property and guests are being taken care of 24/7.

Seems like a pretty sweet deal for everyone involved.

alternatives to traditional housing - rv4) Purchase an RV!

Seriously! Older models are often priced under $10k and generally need just a touch of decor updates. You can give it a pretty solid facelift for about $2k-$3k even if you aren’t the most creative or handy. But, you DO need to do your research by shopping around and asking a lot of questions when considering an older, used rig.

It’s important to make sure all systems are functioning – heat, AC, generator and engine – and to test all appliances, especially a refrigerator as you could be looking at around $2k to replace one! Finally, scour that rig for any unrepaired water damage. If there are noticeable water stains on the ceilings, floors or behind the cabinets, you should run away from that rig FAST! Unless, of course, someone gave it to you for free and you plan to gut it anyway.  

Once you secure your rig, the next step will be deciding where to park.

You have several options here:

  • You may know a friend or family member who has a nice long driveway or a small patch of land. Ask if they would be willing to rent it to you for a low cost while providing electric, water and, if you’re lucky, sewer hookup.
  • You can also check out Boondockers Welcome  – a subscription-based site where former RVers and RV enthusiasts offer low or no-cost parking options on their own properties. Although there is a small fee to search the database and many of these only offer short-term parking, if you are into changing up your scenery this may be a great option for you.
  • Finally, you can go the the more traditional route of parking in a mobile home community and paying a lot rent. While this is still a cost-effective option, it tends to run on the higher end as rent can range from $400-$800 a month depending on the area. For rigs parked on a monthly basis, there is often an additional charge for electric that can range from $30-$50, again depending on the area.

When done right, this living option has the potential to help you sock away money pretty quickly, while also still enjoying most of the comforts and privacy of your own home. And an additional bonus? You can hang onto the rig for future adventures or sell it for a small profit since it’s now been “renovated.”

5) Become a house-sitter

While house sitting is far from a new concept, there are plenty of people getting to travel the world while having their housing costs completely covered. In fact, Pete and Darlene Heck have made an entire career out of traveling via house sitting.

Not only will you have virtually no housing costs, you will have the opportunity to live locally or almost anywhere in the world! Many house-sits require that you also take care of pets and sometimes you’ll be asked to maintain the property. Each agreement is different and it is extremely important make sure you and the homeowner are on the same page before you move in. Everything should be in writing and expectations about who is responsible for paying for what should be clearly outlined.

Curious about this option and looking for even more info?  Check out this interview with Pete and Darlene from travel blogger Nomadic Matt to learn even more about the pros and cons of this living option.

alternatives to traditional housing6) Become a live-in paid staff member for various hotels and resorts

Ever wanted to work from home? Well, what about just living where you work?

The hospitality business is often looking for staff members that are willing to work and live on site. Granted, while this option may not be as viable with small children, you just never know what sort of deal you can work out with the hiring manager of a smaller or privately-owned venue.

Job options range from:

  • working as wait staff,
  • front desk personnel, and
  • housekeeping…to roles as such as…
  • ski instructor,
  • tour guide,
  • technician, and
  • program coordinators

This option is not for everyone, however. You ideally need to be a people-person, willing to clock 12-16 hour days on your feet, and not expect a lot of downtime during peak travel seasons. The pay is usually just ok and rooms are often shared.

On the positive side, you will get to live in some beautiful locations that guests pay quite a bit of money to experience, have your housing costs covered while enjoying discounts on food and activities, meet a lot of interesting people and make solid friendships that could last a lifetime.

Interested in how this lifestyle has worked out for others? Check out some first-hand experiences here and here.

And if you’re ready to dive in, check out CoolWorks for current opportunities!

7) AirBNB with friends

The last of these alternatives to traditional housing is for the more adventurous type! If you have the option of being somewhat location independent, or even just want to explore different housing styles around your area, grab a few friends and book an AirBNB for a month or two at a time.

Renting an Airbnb for a month or more often provides the advantage of monthly discounts. These discounts can range anywhere from 25-50% off the total cost. While the reduced price is certainly great, considering that you’ll have a fully furnished home with all utilities included and you’re not locked in to a lease, the cost is still often higher than you would pay in a traditional rental situation.

However, if you don’t mind housemates, you could easily get a house big enough for several people and split the cost two to three ways. Keep in mind there may be an additional cost for extra guests per day…

…But you could still be coming out ahead.

  • Let’s say you rent a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home for $3,000 per month and there is an extra $10 per guest, per day fee, after the first two guests.
  • It’s you, your partner, a single friend and another couple with a child under 2-years-old renting with you.
  • The three extra guests will cost a total of $900 extra per month – assuming no extra fee for the kids under twelve.

Now you can split $3,900 three ways for a total cost of $1300 per room. The only additional living cost will be groceries that you can split amongst each other. Heck, if you really love each other, you can even get on a family share plan for your phones!

The perks of this arrangement include:

  • Living in a community setting where no one is locked in beyond a month or so if things aren’t working out, and
  • All items are shared because none of you technically own anything.
  • You can also work on piling up cash since a chunk of your living costs are rolled into one set payment and the house already comes supplied with every item you could need.
  • You also get the advantage of checking out a neighborhood before committing to living there and get a feel for the style of home you would like.

The downsides are, of course, the lack of privacy, the variable nature of costs per area and the risk that not all parties will want to stay involved. However, even if everyone bailed on you, you’d still have the option of finding rooms for rent in other AirBnbs and get to make new friends in the process!

So, there you have it!

Seven alternatives to traditional housing that may or may not work for you. They all have their pros and cons, but when the goal is to get yourself out of debt or to build up a pile of cash as quickly as possible, one of these options may be just the thing to get you to that goal as quickly as possible.

Are you ready to try one of these alternatives to traditional housing? Do you have other ideas? Tell us in the comments below!

Money Save Money


My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. I’m currently in a long-term house-sitting agreement. I made it known to my extended network last may that I was looking for housing options and was open to alternatives to “normal” rentals. A couple near retirement age who go to the same yoga class said they had a couple options and I should take a look. One worked perfectly for me (3 miles from work) and while I was expecting them to quote me a monthly rent, they surprised me and said I could just reimburse them electric and propane. They are an extremely giving couple and wanted to help me out during this time when I’m still trying to find my path.

    I am 2 years out of a divorce and trying to save as much money as I can. I have the option to stay in this place for at least 2 years, which just happens to put me at the time my contract is up at work (I’m a federal contractor). I had already decided I wanted to be able to walk away from the next contract if it doesn’t fit. This situation comes at the right time in my life. It allows me to sock as much money away as I can for this potential outcome.

    After about 7 months of spending a little more than planned to get some things I needed to make this place comfortable, I’ve decided I’m going to “pay myself” rent starting in January. This will be on top of the other considerable saving I already do and will put me much further along to stability once my contract is up.

    As for actually house-sitting, there have been a few bumps along the way. The water stopped working a month or so ago. I have a well and we’ve had a serious monsoon year, so some of the electronics got wet and needed replaced. Went off without a hitch. The few other minor problems also have been fixed with no problems and as far as I know they are happy to have me there. I’ve made a few minor improvements, too. It’s not my dream house, for sure, but it fits right now. And I even have a vegetable garden!

    • Hi Jody! Thank you for sharing your personal story and how you managed to find an alternative living situation! Any place where you can have a veggie garden is a win in my book! 🙂 I also love that you have a long-term plan in place and are diligently preparing for the next step. Kudos to you!

  2. I live in Denver and ADUs are all the rage these days. ADU stands for Accessory Dwelling Unit (like turning the garage in your backyard into a studio apartment). The city has made it very easy to get zoning approval, so that helps. I was talking with another investor friend a while back about how we both would eventually like to “retire” in one of the ADUs while we rent out the larger, main houses on the lots. We simply don’t need or want all the extra space! Considering how many retirees are in the process of downsizing, I don’t think we’re alone in this thought.

  3. Hey Jon – thanks for adding this idea! Honestly, that arrangement sounds pretty much ideal. You get to live on your own property, reduce expenses with the smaller space AND make money off of the main house. The fact that the city makes it so simple is a huge plus. Appreciate you adding to the alternative options!

    • Hi Derek,
      My partner and I have spent a bit of time house sitting and agree that it is a great way to save on rent, utilities, while getting to spend time with furry friends!
      We are looking at purchasing an RV in the next 12 months, even considering fitting it out ourselves to save some money. Can’t wait to transition into that lifestyle!
      I love the idea of asking hotels/resorts if they have any jobs available. Something I had really only thought about for hostels. Great to know this is a possibility in other accommodation styles. Do you have any pointers on how to approach them about jobs available?
      Thanks for your insight – Mrs FDU

      • Hi Mrs FDU. Thanks for the comment!

        I’d say check out their website first of all – see if there are any positions available. Then regardless of that result, reach out and attempt to speak with the manager. There is a great win-win opportunity there for both of you!

Comments are closed for this article!

Related posts