When you’re trying to save money or pay off debt, you can (and should!) do some crazy things.
For my new wife, Tracy, and I, crazy looked like packing up most of our things into storage, loading up our car, and becoming “house-less.”
Housing makes up the single biggest expense item in the average American’s budget. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, Americans spent 33% of their income on housing costs. We knew that downsizing could allow us to supercharge our savings, so when an opportunity presented itself in December 2016—we weighed the sacrifice—and went for it!
How did we take our monthly housing cost down to $0.00? House sitting! Nearly a year later, and we haven’t looked back! Here’s everything you need to know about how we got here, how we make it work, and how you can, too!
Setting Big Goals
We have a history of setting big goals together as a couple. When we (Dan and Tracy) started dating in 2013, we both made average salaries and were drowning in debt.
Early in our relationship, we discovered YNAB and it completely changed our outlook on our finances and our future. Once we got engaged, we set out to pay off $50,000 in consumer debt before the wedding. Oh, and save enough to pay for the wedding in cash. Like I said, big goals. 🙂
Those are big numbers, but with YNAB, we were able to pull it off. It required hard work, discipline, and lifestyle changes, but it felt amazing—worthwhile in every way. It opened our eyes to what was possible.
New Challenges, New Goals
Shortly after we married and moved into a rental townhome together, Tracy found out she would be laid off. Thankfully, we were given enough notice to prepare, both emotionally and financially, and when the time came, we’d built up a solid, six-month emergency fund.
Nevertheless, one income was a hard pill to swallow. I knew this transition meant that it would take us a lot longer than we’d hoped to meet our next big goal: paying off our student loans.
At the time, I was working from home, and with Tracy not working, it dawned on me, that we could live anywhere. And then my wheels started turning…
Time to set some new goals.
Why House Sitting?
Tracy and I love to travel. Someday we hope to see every corner of the world, but in the meantime, there are plenty of pockets of the US that we haven’t explored. We began dreaming, “What if there were a way we could still save money and travel?” It sounded too good to be true… Wait, was there a way we could save money and travel?
First, we considered full-time RVing. If you’re not familiar with “full-timing,” it’s exactly what it sounds like: living in an RV full time.
Full-timing would give us the freedom to travel wherever our hearts desired but the numbers just didn’t make sense. We’d still have to buy an RV or truck/camper, not to mention the costs of campgrounds, fuel, maintenance, etc.
That’s when we stumbled upon another type of “full-timing”—house sitting. We found some bloggers who were using house sitting as a means to travel long-term.
We thought if we could string together enough house sitting assignments, then we could ditch our rent expenses completely, and wouldn’t have to buy any new vehicles.
We even had experience! While engaged, and living at our respective parents’ houses to save money for the wedding (we’re crazy, remember?!), a few friends and family asked if we’d be interested in watching their homes and pets while they were away. Those friends and family agreed to be references for our new endeavor and we were off to the races!
Then, we kept a close eye on the ads being posted. We decided to look for longer-term “house sits,” to provide some stability. Initially, we didn’t have much luck—never hearing back or losing out to more experienced sitters—but persistence is a powerful thing.
Eventually, we found a perfect opportunity: four months in Durango, Colorado, beginning in January 2017. We quickly applied, and were fortunate enough to score an interview with the homeowners. The homeowners felt comfortable with us, and we felt comfortable with them….it was a match! We had our first house-sitting gig!
Taking The Plunge
Yes, we’d scored one house-sitting assignment, but ending our lease and packing up all our things still felt very risky. We didn’t know if or when we’d be able to line up another assignment—or if we’d even enjoy house-sitting…
I won’t leave you in suspense—we loved it!
And not only did we line up another assignment, we’re fully booked through April 2018! Along the way, we’ve met so many great people (and pets!) and we’ve been able to take a few more risks.
Our initial intent was to save money and pay off our student loans, but we didn’t factor in our lower expenses overall. Even though we initially started house sitting to save money and pay off student loans, there was another benefit to the lower expenses.
This additional margin gave me the confidence to explore a career change. Tracy got a job that could cover our bills and with our monthly expenses being so much lower, I decided I could quit a job I wasn’t passionate about, and pursue a financial planning business full-time.
Our income took quite the hit, but ultimately, I work for myself, doing something I love.
Many full-time, traveling house sitters, including ourselves, don’t charge for their services. In exchange for free accommodations, we provide our services (house and pet sitting) for free.
If the homeowner will be gone for an extended period of time, they can save hundreds or thousands of dollars in boarding costs, plus their pets can stay at home in a comfortable environment. The house-sitter(s) get to experience life in a different part of the country without paying a dime for rent or utilities. A win-win all around.
But Is This Realistic?
It really is! One of the best parts of house-sitting in exchange for free housing and/or pet-sitting is that it can work for almost anyone! You don’t have to do it full-time or work from home to benefit.
Imagine a dream vacation to Europe, Australia, or somewhere as simple as the coastal United States. It can take a long time to budget for such a trip, but imagine if you didn’t have to pay for a hotel or Airbnb? There are homeowners looking for someone like to you look after their pets while they are away.
You might have to sacrifice a more active vacation schedule to care for the pets, but in return, you’ll save money and experience life as a local.
Even if you have kids or pets of your own, don’t completely write-off house sitting. Yes, you’ll have a harder time finding a homeowner who is OK with you bringing your pets or kids, but it’s not impossible. It’s also a great option for retirees to travel long-term without investing in an RV.
If you’re the type to set big goals and step outside your comfort zone, I highly recommend you consider how house sitting could work for you.
Dan and Tracy Kellermeyer are long-time YNABers who are currently traveling the country and living rent-free as house sitters. If you’re interested in learning more about their travels or how to become a house sitter, visit their blog, Sitters On Tour.