Freedom Chevalier - The Penny Hoarder

Rent is often the single biggest chunk of a monthly budget. Having a roof over your head is money well spent — but handing over hundreds (or thousands) of dollars every month hurts.

While paying rent is a necessary evil, the good news is you can reduce how much you have to pay by $100 (or more) with a little creativity. That’s more than a thousand dollars every year to put toward student loan repayment, getting rid of consumer debt or fattening your emergency account.

At its heart, a rental agreement is a contract, and contracts often have wiggle room for those who think outside the box. Here’s how three renters made it happen.

Offer Work in Trade

Last July, John Arnow was trying to figure out how he was going to pay his next month's rent. A series of “bad builds” hit the construction company he’d been working, forcing it to let workers go.

“I’d always sworn I’d have an emergency fund,” said John. “[I] saw my mother work too hard without one, but there I was, two years of steady work and fifty bucks in the bank.” He laughed, reflexively rubbing the knuckles of his left hand. “It was tough.”

Despite selling everything “that wasn’t nailed down,” he still came up $100 short. The building owner, Robert, a fellow Bronxite, lived on the main floor of the three-story building.

“I saw him one day in the hall, trying to fix a light. I just thought, 'I gotta go for it.'” And he did. After rewiring the light, John approached the landlord with a trade idea: He would do the “backbreaking” work, allowing Robert more time to deal with the tenants.

Within a few hours, John was unclogging drains and installing the new fire detectors that were stacked, waiting, on the landlord's desk.

John's initial goal had been to drop his rent by $100 for one month while he looked for a new job. But by the end of the week, he’d made such an impression that the owner hired him on as the assistant manager of the small apartment building. Thanks to a little creativity and hard work, John is now living rent-free, earning his exposed-brick bachelor apartment in trade.  “And now," he's quick to point out, "I got a nice emergency fund.”

Lower Energy Costs

Rent for one of the six apartments in the Minato-ward (Tokyo, Japan) multiplex runs high. “I don’t mind paying a fair price, but I hate paying more than I have to,” Jason Xu confessed, sipping his coffee. “I started getting interested in cutting back wherever I could, especially utilities.”

Jason opted for bulky knit sweaters and an extra comforter on the bed during the winter chill. "I like to keep the thermostat lower." He sealed up spots where heat was escaping and after a few months, began seeing a return on his hard work. "My bill dropped by nearly sixty dollars."

But every time he looked at the other units, he saw gaps where the doors met the frames. "I could just see money flowing away through it."

Jason reached out to his neighbors to bring them around to his way of thinking. With a little coaxing, the remaining five tenants got on board and soon dropped their monthly bills. But it didn’t stop there.

“We became interested, interconnected, sharing whenever possible, and reducing waste, too. It started out because I was cheap,” Jason laughed, “but we created something really good.”

They even got together to purchase an energy-efficient washing machine and a large freezer they all could use. “We are all saving over 11,000 yen (roughly $100) every month by coming together and we’re helping the environment, too.”

Renegotiate the Lease

When Gabe Franklin moved into his new two-bedroom apartment in Toronto, he didn’t realize there was a problem with insulation in the back bedroom. The recently purchased duplex was still undergoing minor repairs the first time Gabe saw it. “I knew I wanted it right away.”  And it wasn't long before he was enjoying the last long rays of autumn sun as they stretched across his new deck.

When the temperature began to drop, though, Gabe noticed a difference in the back bedroom. “It was just colder back there.” Through discussions with his landlord and a home inspector, he learned the bedroom had significantly less insulation in the outside wall.

“It wasn’t unbearable, but you wouldn’t want it for a bedroom.” With winter barrelling down on Toronto, home renovations would have to wait until spring. “I didn’t like the idea of paying full price for an apartment if I couldn’t use each room equally.” So he did something about it: He renegotiated his lease.

Gabe calculated the size of the back bedroom to be 10% of the entire apartment's square footage. And since the landlord knew about the lack of insulation in the back bedroom, Gabe knew finding another renter would be challenging -- if not impossible. "A little leverage can go a long way."

He reached out to the landlord and asked for a 10% rent reduction to compensate for the 10% less living space.

For Gabe, who was happy to light a fire in the bedroom’s fireplace and use it as an office, it was a simple way to save $120 on his monthly rent.

No matter where you live, a little creative thinking can turn into real savings. Renegotiating a lease, lowering utility costs or working in trade for a reduced rent are all inventive ways to chip away at your monthly expenses. So go on, get creative.

Freedom Chevalier is a writer, journalist, and content creator specializing in finance, business, & HR. An anti-bullying advocate and human to very special little dog named Tallulah, you can tweet her @ReallyFreedom