How I Managed to Live Rent Free (and no, I didn’t live with my parents)

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I already know what you’re thinking:

Right now, you’re thinking I’m about to tell you that I bought a house, rented out the rooms, and my roommates covered the cost of my rent. (Because that’s the typical “live rent free” hack, right?)

OR…

You’re thinking that I house-sat for someone who was out of town.

Or maybe you think I’m just full of shit and this is another click-bait post that will be of no practical use to you.

And I get it!

I get why you’re skeptical. You’re tired of reading all these life hack posts that regurgitate the same thing over and over!

“Move back in with mom and dad.”

“House-sit for the wealthy.”

“Get a roommate”

And it goes on and on.

Well, I’m not here to disappoint you. The aforementioned hacks can be beneficial, BUT that’s just not how I did it.

I did, however, manage to live rent free, car free, and sometimes even food and utilities free for 4 years!

So:

If you’ll stop being skeptical for one second, I can blow your mind with this unconventional life hack that eliminated life’s biggest expense.

First, I Had to Hit RBB (AKA Rock Bottom Broke)

It all began when I was 19 years old and my mom told me that there couldn’t be two Alpha women in her house.

SN: Truth be told, mommy didn’t like the idea of me making so much money, yet living rent free in her house- she was #jelly

As harsh as it was, she was right! I was too grown, and the way my attitude was set up back then, I would’ve ended up six feet under had I remained in her house.

So what did I do?

I moved out, found an apartment near school, began to work 60 hours per week while attending college full time - all to maintain the lavish (read: basic ass) lifestyle I had designed for myself.

That lifestyle consisted of frivolous shopping, rent, utilities, eating out all the time, and then, like an idiot I went out and bought a brand new car! (See what I mean? #basic)

To make a long story short, a series of events led me to, what I now refer to as: Rock Bottom Broke (RBB) - unemployed, depressed, and practically homeless.

I was drowning in car debt, credit card debt, and student loan debt and I had no choice but to find a way to eliminate my largest expenses: housing, transportation, and food.

It Was All About the Benefits Baby…

Had I not hit RBB, I can’t say for sure I would have been determined enough to seek the job opportunities that would allow me to live rent free. In a way, I’m grateful for that painful period, because it led me to opportunities that have ironically given me a different kind of head start in life.

I guess when you’re as broke as I was, you have no choice but to seek out jobs that include your most basic needs. I researched jobs where housing was included. I came across all types of opportunities:

  • live-in nanny positions
  • au pair gigs
  • working in national parks

So many things I would have never thought of because, well… it’s not what I went to school for.

Through all that research, I finally caught a break and found the perfect job that would allow me to live a rent free life (and car free, and food free, and utility free–damn did I pay for anything!?)…

This Cruise Line Spoiled Me

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I attended a mass interview event for the popular Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America. This ship cruises the islands of Hawaii.

That day, I applied and interviewed for the junior server position because all my work experience up to that point was in the food, beverage, and retail industry.

Less than a week later, I was notified that NCL was extending a conditional offer to me. You would have thought a sista won the lottery the way I screamed!

Let me break this down for you:

NCL was offering the following perks:

  • All expenses paid two-week training in Piney Point, MD
  • Paid for background check, TWIC, and MMC (all documents needed to work officially on any ship)
  • Flight to Honolulu from Maryland
  • Free rent and food with utilities included on the ship
  • Free laundry service
  • A five months on, five weeks off contract
  • Free flight home after the first five months
  • An opportunity to cruise the Hawaiian Islands fo’ free
  • Health insurance

It was a no brainer so of course I accepted! To top it all off, I wouldn’t be making a typical stateside hourly wage for a server which, at the time, was $2.83/hour. Instead, I would be making a little over $9/hr. plus tips plus overtime. I stayed with NCL for a year and a half.

Then EPIK Made Me an Offer I Couldn’t Refuse

So, turned out, NCL wasn’t the only major employer offering the opportunity to live rent free.

EPIK (English Program in Korea) , a government-ran program was advertising their need for native English- speaking people to come to South Korea to teach English to elementary, middle, and high school students.

While working on the cruise ship was an amazing experience, I couldn’t help but think that I wasn’t maximizing my full potential.

After a year of cruise ship life, I needed a change and more importantly, I needed to feel like I was progressing in life. I thought there would be enough opportunities to advance on the ship, but the truth is, it was a game of politics and I was unequipped to play.

Because of this, I studied hard for three months for my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate, put together a killer application, resume, cover letter, video, and references and applied to teach English in Korea with their government program.

After submitting all required application documents, I was notified less than 72 hours later that I had received the job. This was another moment of obnoxious screaming.

I was offered and completed, a one-year contract in rural South Korea in the Gangwon Province.

This benefits package was just as robust as the last!

EPIK offered the following:

  • All expenses paid one-week orientation in Seoul, South Korea.
  • A flight reimbursement of $1,200 bucks from the U.S. to Seoul.
  • A one-time settlement allowance of $300 bucks
  • Free apartment (utilities not included –but cheap)
  • Lunch provided on school days
  • A contract completion bonus
  • Health insurance
  • Renewal bonus (only if you renewed after one year)
  • Extra money for teaching at more than one school
  • Not to mention, millionaire status! 😉

As you can see, the benefits were just as generous as the cruise ship benefits. I was able to save 50% of every paycheck without depriving myself. How? Because I was living my best “rent free” life! That’s How!

Again, if you’d like to know more about my experience living and working in South Korea, check out the article I wrote here.

Then Came the Holy Grail of Opportunities

While teaching in South Korea, I became friends with author, Ben Stout, who wrote the book, “How to Build Wealth Teaching English Overseas”. I never would have thought that reading a book and reaching out to the author afterwards would lead to such an amazing opportunity, but that is the power of networking my friends!

Ben introduced me to an opportunity to become a Sr. Training and Development Specialist (which is just fancy for EFL Instructor) in Kabul, Afghanistan with a defense contracting company whose name I won’t mention here.

I didn’t think the deal could get any sweeter than the South Korea deal, but I was WRONG. This company was the holy grail!

They offered the following:

  • All expenses paid one-week orientation in Orlando, Florida (flight, food, rental car, and hotel included)
  • Another all expenses paid one-week training in El Paso, TX (again flight, food, rental car, and accommodation included)
  • A flight to Kabul
  • Free work uniforms and protective equipment
  • Free rent and food provided by the military
  • Personal body guards! (I kind of felt like Whitney Houston, but the soldiers kept it professional and didn’t fall in love with me)
  • Health care
  • 401(k) with company match up to 4%
  • 6-figure salary
  • 120 hours of vacation per year plus all U.S. national holidays and some local national holidays as well
  • Extra $2,500 per year for flight reimbursements regardless of amount spent
  • Company laptop
  • Company smart phone with minutes included

Right about now you’re probably thinking,

“Why the hell did you leave!?”

The deal was THAT sweet, but living in a war zone for an extended period of time can take a toll on you. Some people didn’t even last three months! I lasted a year and a half.

The Naysayers and Habitual Complainers Will Undoubtedly Say…

” You had this or that advantage and this is not possible for me because of this or that.”

Okay. I’ll play. I will acknowledge the following privileges:

  1. I’m university educated
  2. I have friends and family who helped a little along the way (couch to sleep on, free food, shoulder to cry on etc.)
  3. A U.S. passport
  4. A healthy body (ehhh…relatively speaking)
  5. No kids

At the end of the day though, I am an African American woman, a product of a single mother of four girls. Half of my childhood was spent in the lower class category, and when I started this journey I only had $.89 in my bank account.

The best thing I had going for me was my inability to blame anyone other than myself for my circumstances, my hustle, and my ambition to be better than I was. At that time in my life, I was incapable of making excuses and that was my ultimate super power.

How to live rent free quote

The Truth Is: Living Rent Free With These 3 Companies Gave Me 5 Things…

  1. An opportunity to get back on my feet after hitting RBB
  2. The ability to eliminate life’s largest expenses
  3. The ability to travel and experience things most people will never have an opportunity to experience
  4. Time to discover what I actually want to do with my life
  5. An ability to save over 50% of my income which led to a debt-free lifestyle

What This Means For You

Remember:

I didn’t even search for these opportunities before I hit RBB. I did what everyone else does after college:

Looked for entry level jobs within my field and hoped to land something that didn’t completely suck.

I experienced the feeling of shame when I had to choose a job that had nothing to do with my major (a major I had just paid $49,000 for might I add).

It sucks!

But here’s the thing:

You can either use your time of uncertainty to pursue fun and unconventional jobs that will pay your bills and provide you with unique opportunity to live rent free.

Or…

You can continue to “hope for the best” while job searching within your field with not even a dollar to your name and no place to call home.

The choice is yours.

Don’t be in a rush to have your life figured out!

For the love of all things holy, at least meet the first two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs before you start beating yourself up about not being where you hoped you’d be.

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