How we saved $160,000 in rent money by house-sitting full-time
In our late 20s, my partner and I were renting a two-bedroom apartment in Sydney. It was 2014, and we had decided to quit our jobs and go overseas for an extended backpacking trip.
We'd been saving hard for the trip and couldn't wait to get on the road. But we had a small problem: our lease ended six weeks before we were due to leave, and we had to move out.
Paying for a hotel was too expensive. And staying with my parents was too far away for my partner who is a nurse and was working night shifts.
A friend came up with a solution: her parents were going overseas and needed someone to look after their three cats. The dates were more or less exactly what we needed - so we jumped at the chance to live rent-free for those six weeks. In that time, we saved more than $3000 by not paying rent. Putting that lump sum towards our trip felt great - with Sydney living costs, we'd never saved so much so quickly.
Our trip was fantastic, and a few weeks before we were due home we were contacted by a friend of a friend who needed a house-sitter for their puppy while they went on holidays.
When we got home we moved in right away, catching the bus to their house from the airport. We were relieved to have three weeks of not paying bills and an opportunity to find our feet, find new jobs, and save for a new rental bond after our trip.
As we began discussing renting again, we wondered if we could continue this free lifestyle. We started researching house-sitting online (not that common back then) and started applying for house-sitting positions all over Sydney.
Unbelievably, we were able to house sit full-time for six years, looking after strangers' pets and homes. It wasn't our original plan - but it was a fantastic one. We started working full-time again and began saving the cash we didn't spend on rent.
How much we saved
Based on the rent we paid in our Sydney apartment, we put away $515 each week, and over six years we saved $160,000.
Over time, we put a portion of the money into our superannuation as concessional contributions; we invested some in the sharemarket, and we spent some of it on travel.
It's worth mentioning that the $160,000 we saved was just on rent - there were lots of other expenses we didn't have due to house-sitting, such as paying electricity and gas bills. On the other hand, some expenses increased. We house-sat everywhere between Wollongong and Wisemans Ferry over those six years, and with jobs close to the city, we paid extra in tolls and petrol depending on the commute.
And because we only planned to house sit short-term, we paid a friend to store some of our bigger items such as our bed, fridge and washing machine (as requested, the payment was two bottles of whisky a month).
Had we known we would house sit for six years, we would have sold those belongings. Despite the added expenses, they were nothing financially when compared with the money we were saving on rent.
The pros and cons of house-sitting
People have different circumstances, and house-sitting isn't for everyone - but for us, at that time of our lives, it was perfect. We loved the challenge of living 'creatively' to save money. It pushed us into being minimalists, and even now that we are renting again, we still keep physical items to a minimum.
House-sitting wasn't always easy. We had to move house every two to five weeks. Like everything, this life had pros and cons.
But for us, in that time of our lives, the pros highly outweighed the cons.
We weren't strangers to living creatively to save money, we loved a challenge, and we met some wonderful people along the way. Saving money is a huge benefit of house-sitting - but it's also a great way to explore new areas, especially if you are trying to decide where you want to buy or rent.
House-sitting isn't just a long-term option. Many people house sit while they go on holiday, or when they have retired and are driving around Australia in a caravan. It is also popular with digital nomads - those who can travel and work anywhere in the world.
It's a wonderful opportunity if you love pets and if you are flexible. And there are huge financial gains to be made.