Rent Eating Your Paycheck? Here’s How to Pay Less, Without Moving

Image: Lawn mowing
sean hobson under Creative Commons

Raise your hand if the biggest expense on your monthly budget sheet is rent. Yup, you and everyone else.

I’ve been renting since I graduated college four years ago, and my boyfriend and I are currently looking for a new apartment. We’ve done this before, so we know what questions to ask. How much should I expect to pay in utilities? Is water included? Where’s the closest grocery store? What’s the crime rate?

But is it okay to ask if the price is negotiable? Sure! It may be easier than you think to talk yourself into a lower rent — even if you’re not moving to a new place.

Consider what you have to offer your landlord in exchange for a break on your monthly rent payment. Here are five ways to trade your skills for discounted rent — plus a couple of bonus discounts.

1. Bring Your Work Home With You

My boyfriend is working towards becoming a police officer and was just offered a community watch position at an apartment complex — along with a hefty 20% discount on the monthly rent.

Always be sure to mention your profession to your landlord.

Do you have special skills like bookkeeping? Offer to keep track of your landlords’ finances. It’s a pesky task that they may not enjoy, and they may be happy to give you a discount on rent in exchange for a few hours of your time. Plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople should offer their expertise as well. Why should the landlord outsource this work to other businesses when you live right there?

2. Create Valuable Amenities

Apartment communities are always looking for new, exclusive services to brag about and help land new tenants. Perhaps you could teach a fitness class onsite or offer your time as a babysitter for residents. In pet-friendly communities, offer to walk dogs. You barter your time for a discounted rent and your apartment complex offers hot new amenities that their competitors cannot — it’s a win-win situation.

3. Become the Resident Farmer

Ask your landlord if there is a piece of the property where you could build a garden, then trade them fresh fruits and vegetables in exchange for reduced rent. To sweeten the deal, offer to do your landlord’s grocery shopping for them and sneak in some of your freshly grown foods.

4. Build Sweat Equity

Getting your hands dirty could net you a solid return on your investment of time and effort. Offer to maintain the yard and landscaping or to keep up with painting the property. When other residents move out, roll up your sleeves and help clean the apartment so it’s ready for the next habitant.

5. Ask About Odd Jobs

Is there a part-time office gig available? Offer to sort mail, vacuum the carpets or even tidy up the fitness room. These odd jobs take just a couple of hours each week and may save you a decent percentage on your monthly rent. Apartment complexes love to hire residents because who knows the property better than you?

Are You Eligible for These Additional Discounts?

Asking about current or upcoming specials can reduce or eliminate your upfront costs. If any of these situations apply to you, check whether your landlord offers reduced rent.

  • Are you or your roommate active or former military? Let your landlord know. Military discounts on rent are common and could save you a bundle.
  • Are you a student or a recent grad? You may qualify to eliminate application costs or up-front deposits, or get discounted rent. Your school’s resource center may be able to help you find student-friendly housing.
  • Are you looking for housing during a slow season? This might be when college is out or during cold-weather months. During these times, your landlord may offer reduced rents or eliminate application fees to entice new tenants.

Never be afraid to ask. Everyone, including your landlord, is looking for a way to save money. Trading your skills or time for reduced rent could help make that monthly payment just a little less painful. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it).

Your Turn: Have you traded your time or skills for reduced rent?

Erica Rath (@ericajrath) is a freelance journalist and blogger who enjoys black coffee, her dog Juneau, and road trips. She blogs about her adventures, job hunt, and inspirations at