Experts once advised spending a maximum of 30 percent of our income on housing. Today that figure seems like an impossible dream. In 2018, the median income in the United States was around $60,000 a year. What’s 30 percent of that? When it comes to housing, not a lot.
And housing is just the beginning. Car expenses, health insurance, and school loans quickly eat up whatever income is left. There has to be a better way. And there is. In fact, there are many ways to cut down on your living expenses. You might even be able to eliminate some of them altogether.
What Do We Mean By Living Expenses?
The cost of living has many moving parts. If you want to learn how to live for free, or at least for a lot less, you have to know where your most significant expenses lie.
How Much Do You Pay For Housing?
Whether you rent or buy, housing is probably your number one expense.
Wait a minute. Buy? Who can afford that?
Possibly you. It’s true. And, under the right circumstances, it might even be cheaper than renting.
Under the right circumstances, it might even be free.
What About School?
More education means a higher salary. Fact. But university costs money — on average, between $17,000 and $44,000 per year, and prices are rising.
The great news is, you might not need a four-year degree…or another one. You might just need an upgrade of specific job-related skills.
And that you can do for low cost or even no cost.
But what if a university degree is part of your plan? There are ways to do that for less, as well.
Or even for free.
What Are Your Transportation Expenses?
For many of us, our car is our lifeline. But it’s also a money drain. From repairs and maintenance to fuel costs and insurance, your car costs you money — a lot of money.
Fortunately, there are ways to turn that vehicle from an expense into an asset that works for you.
And don’t discount public transportation. A surprising number of communities will help you to get around for no money at all.
Are Your Healthcare Expenses Under Control?
According to the Urban Institute, medical debt is the most common kind of debt in the United States. It’s also the most common cause of bankruptcy. Avoiding medical debt often means buying medical insurance. But medical insurance doesn’t come cheap, and it doesn’t cover everything.
Fortunately, there are a few easy, common-sense ways to lower your healthcare costs. And yes, there are even some ways of getting health care for free.
And Free Time?
Who has time for fun? You do, and it’s more important than you know.
We all need to relax, unwind, and spend time doing things that we enjoy. Downtime isn’t wasted time. It’s self-care and an excellent way to bond with your loved ones.
Stress release and social connections are crucial to health and longevity. And, believe it or not, there are many, many ways of entertaining yourself and your loved ones for free.
What Do We Mean By Free, Exactly?
There are very few pure giveaways in life. Even freebies come with a cost. Occasionally you’ll get lucky, but most of the time, you’ll have to get creative instead.
‘Free’ can take many forms, including:
- Fee or tax waivers
- Loan forgiveness
- And more
You might not get exactly what you want when you want it. Sometimes you may have to compromise.
But in many cases, the compromise is well worth it.
Do you want to know how to live for free? Opportunities and resources to help you reach your goal abound. But finding them takes a bit of work.
So roll up your sleeves, and let’s go.
You Can Cut Your Housing Expenses to Zero
Yes, you heard that right. If your housing costs are out of control, there are several sound ways to cut them down to size, or even to cut them out altogether.
We’re glad you asked.
Some Places Will Pay You to Live There
Did you know that there are places in the United States that will pay you to move there? This payment may take the form of homebuyer incentives, tax waivers, land giveaways, or even cash on the nose. However you slice it, though, they’re paying you to come.
Why would they do that?
The main reason is population. In some places, people have moved away, and they’re not moving back. When the population drops, businesses lose money, and local governments lose their tax base. Services dwindle, which means that new people are reluctant to move in. Towns die.
Some of these areas are urban, and some are rural. If you pick your place carefully, you can make a sweetheart deal that benefits both you and your new community.
Consider Urban Homesteading Programs
The word ‘homesteading’ brings to mind brave pioneers conquering new territory and making it their own. Urban homesteaders also have that pioneering spirit.
A typical urban homesteading program, such as the one in Buffalo, New York, allows people to purchase land or property at a very low price, usually in exchange for renovating it and living there.
Other programs offer financial incentives — big ones — for buying vacant or blighted properties and fixing them up.
Some cities offer homebuyer incentives, and even cash, for certain types of people to move there.
St. Clair, Michigan, for example, is offering college graduates in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) money to set up house there. Hamilton, Ohio, has a similar program. North Platte, Nebraska, wants skilled workers.
And the State of Alaska pays every resident a share of the state’s oil revenues just for living there.
So, where do you go to find more such programs? Government websites for urban communities are an excellent place to start.
What About Rural Homesteading?
If the country life is more your style, there are several programs aimed at small-town and rural development that may interest you.
Well, if you’re thinking of starting a business, Flagler, Colorado, may have some free land for you.
Also, the Rural Opportunity Zones program in Kansas may waive your income taxes for up to five years if you move into one of 77 specific counties. The program may also help you pay off your student loans.
Kansas also has numerous programs that provide free land in rural and suburban areas for people who want to build a home. There are similar programs in Minnesota.
These programs primarily exist in the midwestern United States, though it’s worth researching other underpopulated areas as well.
Have You Considered Property Sharing?
Whether you own a place or rent, it’s simple arithmetic. Live in part of your dwelling and rent the rest out to cover your monthly rent or mortgage payments. Job done.
But what’s this about owning a place? Isn’t that out of reach for a lot of people?
Buy for No Money Down
One of the U.S. government’s best-kept secrets is the incredible array of no-money-down, low-to-no-interest housing loans for people in different circumstances, specifically:
- Service members and veterans
- Low-income buyers
- Homebuyers in rural areas
- Native Americans and Alaskan Natives
- First-time home buyers
- People interested in renovating a property
- Buyers with bad credit
Think you don’t qualify? Are you sure? Why not take a moment to check out the home finance programs the government has to offer.
In some cases, provided you’re using your property as your primary residence, you may be allowed to rent out part of your house to others. And this means that you could potentially use your rental income to make your monthly payments.
It’s important to note that some federal loans, particularly the VA Housing Loan, expressly prohibit this. Other mortgages, however, such as the FHA loan, allow it, provided you’re living on the property.
In all cases, it’s essential to know the rules and follow them.
Then There’s Subletting
But what if you’re renting? You may be able to rent out part of your own rental to someone else, or even sublet the entire property while living somewhere cheaper.
Some leases allow you to do this. Others specifically forbid it. Still, others allow subletting with certain limitations, such as obtaining consent from your landlord.
As always, it’s important to know the rules of your lease and your state and to obey them. After all, the last thing you want is to lose your home.
You Could Also Become a Professional House Sitter
Admittedly, this takes a particular type of individual. But yes, some people do this for a living. And they love it.
First, you have to travel light. You also have to be flexible about dates and places. Is this you?
As you might expect, there are dozens of websites devoted to hooking up house sitters with the people who need them. Here are a few:
A lot of people use housesitting as a way to travel cheaply and see the world. What’s it like to be a housesitter in a foreign country? You can read a first-hand account by the Travelling House Sitters here.
How to Live for Free, Education Edition
Next to housing, education is one of many Americans’ most significant expenses. Student loans can hobble your financial progress for years. They can even follow you into retirement.
But there are ways of getting a free education.
Upgrade Your Current Skill Set
If you’re happy in your field and want to move up, coursework can help. You can also find classes to help you break into a new field altogether. And the great news is, you might not even have to go back for that four-year degree.
Certain fields want skills more than letters after your name. And if you want to upgrade your skills, you do have options. Free options.
Stanford University offers a variety of online coursework in in-demand fields such as internet security, health care, and statistics. Many of these courses are free, and quite a few of them can lead to professional certification.
Khan Academy is a non-profit educational website with a vast array of completely free courses in pretty much anything anyone might want to learn, including computing, arts, sciences, and math.
And if you are thinking about a four-year degree, Online Degree offers free, college-level coursework. A lot of it counts toward degree programs at different universities, too.
Make a Fresh Start With Job Corps
Do you want to know how to live for free while receiving a free education?
If you’re between the ages of 16 and 24 and meet specific criteria, you may be eligible for free housing and career education through Job Corps.
Job Corps is a federal program that offers free room and board to young job seekers. Program participants also receive up to three years of education in one of the following fields:
- Information technology
- Health care
- Business and finance
- Energy and renewable resources
- Automobile and machine repair
- Homeland security
No high school diploma? No problem. In fact, Job Corps can help you to finish high school, too. Transportation and child care? Job Corps can provide that, as well. And when you’ve finished, they’ll even help you to find a job in your new field.
How About Free University?
It’s possible. But you may have to adjust your plans. Specifically, you’ll have to think about the kind of work society needs, rather than the kind of degree that you want. But if those two things coincide? Then you’re a lucky individual, indeed.
We’re used to thinking of medicine and law as high-ticket degrees for high-powered careers. But the truth is that some specialties just don’t attract enough students. And that leads to shortages.
If you’re willing to think outside the box — think rural medicine, public service law, or teaching in an underserved area — you could just pick up that degree for free.
‘Free’ takes different forms. Some programs offer free tuition outright, such as the medical schools at The University of Arizona and New York University. More common, though, are loan forgiveness programs through state, federal, and local governments.
These programs will repay your student loans in exchange for your working for a few years in a particular area or specialty.
For medical graduates, these include:
- Indian Health Service
- National Health Service Corps
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness
- National Institutes of Health
- Numerous state-run programs
- Nurses can apply for federal loan forgiveness, too
If you study law, several organizations offer loan repayment or forgiveness in exchange for working in the public interest, including:
- The U.S. Office of Public Management
- The U.S. Department of Justice
- Various state-level schemes, such as this one in New Mexico
Graduate teachers can also apply for loan forgiveness if they meet specific criteria. Check these out:
- Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation
- Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness
- Various state-level loan forgiveness plans for teachers
If you choose your career path wisely, doing good can do you some good, as well.
How to Get Where You’re Going For Free
You have your education, and you’ve found a place to live. Now, how are you going to get around? Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a free ride.
Get Paid for Using Your Car
You’ve seen it before: a car wrapped in ads. Did you know that the owner of that car might be getting paid to display that advertising?
If you spend a lot of time on the road, companies like Carvertise will pay you to put removable advertising on your car. How much will you earn? That depends on the specific advertising campaign, and whether you use a decal or a full car wrap.
At this writing, Carvertise drivers earn a standard $100 per month, but some companies pay even more than that.
Other car wrap advertising companies include:
Be careful of car wrap scams, however. A legitimate company will never ask you for a sign-up fee or any other kind of payment. Legitimate car wrap programs will never ask you for money. Instead, they will pay you. Read company reviews, and never work without a contract.
Is There Really Free Public Transportation?
Yes! Quite a few cities in the United States and around the world offer free public transportation options. These include:
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Salt Lake City, Utah
- Scottsdale, Arizona
- Tacoma, Washington
- And many more
As with everything, these options are subject to change and limitations. ‘Free’ may only apply to certain forms of transport, specific populations, or limited areas of town. So always check before you travel.
Fancy a Free Road Trip?
If you have a clean driving record, some free time, and aren’t too choosy about your final destination, you could get a road trip out of it.
How? By working for an auto delivery company.
Sometimes someone needs their car moved from Point A to Point B. This could be an individual who is moving to a different city or one car dealership, sending a new car to a different dealership.
Either way, someone needs to deliver that car. That someone could be you.
You have to be reliable, flexible, and ready to go at a moment’s notice. What do you think?
If this sounds like fun, then companies like Auto Driveaway and Transfercar might just want to meet you.
Can You Really Score Free Health Care?
Health care coverage in the United States can be expensive, even with insurance. But there are ways to get around that.
No Insurance? It’s Not the End of the World
Although many of us have a health plan through work or the Affordable Care Act, people can and do slip through the cracks. Fortunately, there are government programs that can help.
The Children’s Health Care Insurance Program (CHIP) provides free health and dental care to children and teenagers. It’s part of Medicaid, and it’s funded and administered jointly by the federal government and by individual states. Learn more about CHIP in your state on their website.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) runs clinics around the country that serve vulnerable people needing high-quality primary care. HRSA clinics provide medical care, dental care, mental health services, immunizations, prenatal care, and more.
HRSA clinics operate on a sliding scale, which means that for the most vulnerable, services are free. You can search for a HRSA health center near you at the HRSA website.
Charities Can Help
Numerous charities help people to get needed care. Some of these include:
- Eye Care America, which provides free eye exams
- New Eyes for the Needy, which can help you get an exam and glasses
- The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides free screenings
- The National Association of Free Clinics can help you find a free clinic in your area
- Dental Lifeline Network offers free dental care in all states for those who qualify
Hospital and Industry Programs
Many hospitals have charitable foundations devoted to helping people get needed medical care. In addition, numerous pharmaceutical companies can help you to get free or discounted medicines and medical supplies.
Here are just a few:
- You may qualify for free diabetes medication and supplies through Novartis. (GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Merck have similar programs).
- This tool from the Partnership for Prescription Assistance can help you figure out how to afford your medications, or even get them for free.
And if you do find yourself over your head with medical debt, non-profit debt counseling services like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling can help you get your credit back on track — that’s right — for free.
Medical care can be expensive, especially if you’re uninsured. But don’t put off going to the doctor just because you think you can’t afford it. Help is out there. You just have to know where to look.
Yes, Free Time Can Really Be Free
Now that you know how to live for free, it’s time to learn how to play for free. There are really fun, truly free things going on around us all the time, and most of us don’t even know it. So, how can you find the best free activities and events in your area? Here’s how.
Head to Your Local Parks & Rec
Your local Parks and Recreation department is a great place to find exercise facilities and special interest classes. But many departments also have a yearly schedule of free events for the whole family.
Here’s just a sampling:
- Free outdoor concerts
- Cultural and ethnic celebrations
- Holiday celebrations
- Kids’ events
Check Out the Library
For parents of small children, the library is often a home away from home. But in addition to toddler storytimes, many local libraries host free events for a wide range of ages and interests, including:
- Book discussion groups
- Film screenings
- Classes for all ages
- Art exhibitions
- Local author and artist events
- Holiday celebrations
- Plays and puppet shows
- Craft demonstrations
- And more
Fancy a Night at the Museum?
Or even a day? Many museums have open days, where they open to the public for free. Museums also host other free events, such as:
- Meet-ups and discussion groups
Visit Officer Friendly
Police and fire organizations often host open days to introduce the public to their services. You might get a tour of the station, see demonstrations of firefighting equipment, ride in a police car, or meet a police or firehouse dog. There may even be free food and activities.
It’s fun for kids, but it can be just as fun for adults, whether you’re looking for wholesome entertainment or a unique idea for a first date. You might even find some new job leads.
Make Some New Friends
With our busy lives, it can be hard to meet people. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s an app for that. Actually, there are several.
We’ve all heard about dating apps, but there are also apps for people who want to meet others with similar interests. And guess what? A lot of them are free.
No matter where you are in the world, Meetup.com can introduce you to new people and new activities, from hiking to book clubs to going out on the town. Are you looking for a new bestie? Bumble BFF can help you find one. And these are just a few.
Most importantly, though, these resources are, well, do we really need to say it again?
Where Will You Start?
Very few things in life come entirely free of cost. But with a little flexibility and a little ingenuity, you can pay a lot less for some of life’s biggest expenses. You may even have some fun along the way. So, are you up for the challenge?