Cheap Housing - or perhaps just frugal

Cheap housing could be a rented apartment, but you have no control over rent increases.

Whether you call it cheap housing, low cost housing or affordable housing, it all adds up to the same thing - an excellent way to slash your cost of living. If you look at the average household budget in America, you'll see housing at the top of the list at around 30% of family income. And that represents a big chunk of money.

A figure around 30% is nearly double the amount associated with the second and third largest expenditures of take-home pay -- transportation and savings/investment/retirement -- both at about 16%.

So, if you can slash the cost of housing, you'll be taking a huge step towards reducing your cost of living. As an individual who is completely debt-free, I can tell you without hesitation, that when you don't have to make a mortgage payment, your income goes much farther. And, you can choose to reduce the amount of time you spend working simply because you no longer have a mortgage hanging over your head.

I've been doing some research lately into homelessness. It's a tough thing to watch. Many individuals are facing it out of necessity. Some appear to be victims of the economy, while others are victims of their own poor decisions. In any event, when you can't make payments for housing, that puts you in a tough situation.

It's best to get some cheap housing now so you don't wind up homeless. It has to be the worst situation to try to work your way out of.

From my perspective, the #1 objectives of my efforts are to keep a roof over my head. I just can't see any sort of normal life without a place to call home.

One of my readers asked about "housing" as a topic for discussion, and after giving it some thought, I decided to get some of my ideas out there with respect to cheap housing alternatives. Many of us simply follow in the footsteps of our family, but there are other alternatives that may be better for us in terms of our lifestyle as well as our budget.

Some of these ideas may seen a bit out there, but they all are worth at least some consideration. The last thing you'd like to be faced with is circumstances forcing you to make a decision with respect to housing. It's much better to deliberately make that decision yourself. You'll likely land much more comfortably. If you wait until you're forced into a situation, that will likely put into an adverse can turn your world upside down.

Here are some of the cheap housing options that you may want to consider if you're hesitant to get into the real estate market, or you just need to direct a larger portion of your income elsewhere. In no particular order, here they are:

Renting a room is cheap housing. It's not a home of your own, but it sure can be inexpensive.
  • Rent a room - this can be a win-win situation for an individual who is looking for cheap housing, with all the bells and whistles, and homeowners who would like to earn some money on the side. It's not too difficult to find a room to rent even if you have no experience in the matter. This is an especially attractive alternative if you'd like to live in a residential neighborhood and get out of the high density apartment lifestyle. A room in a house will likely be much more quiet.
  • Rent an efficiency apartment - the smaller you go, the less you'll likely have to pay. Efficiency apartments put everything into one living space, except for the bathroom, but they can be comfortable enough. This is an especially attractive form of cheap housing for singles and those who do quite a bit of traveling for a living.
Living with roommates can be a way to have cheap housing, but you need to select your roommates carefully.
  • Live with roommates - with the right roommates, this can be a good alternative that allows you to rent (or buy) more house, yet pay out less each month than you normally would. The challenge here is getting together with individuals who can live under the same roof and coordinate their lifestyles and schedules harmoniously.
  • Move in with family - a little less desirable in some respects, but it could be very similar to living with roommates. It seems that two siblings that are without family could live quite well together. As an alternative, a son or daughter could live at home to help elderly parents, especially if one were in failing health. Or, simply create an immediate or extended family living under one roof.
  • An unimproved lot and a tiny house - something that is very different for many of us. You've probably seen these tiny homes that are around one hundred square feet, with a small sleeping loft above. It's a bit like living in a very large dollhouse, but if you're a minimalist, and you can spend much of your time outside or away from the house, these can provide a cheap housing alternative that is also mobile.
A simple cabin can be a great way to have cheap housing, but you need to be mindful of its location in relation to employment.
  • Land with a simple cabin - an alternative for those of us with unimproved land and a desire to put some distance between us and our neighbors. Depending on how "distant" the land is, and what is allowed, there may be expenses like septic system, phone and power, and water that will add to the expense.
  • Live on a boat - my experience doesn't include living on a boat for more than a few days at a time, but there are people who use a boat (and I don't mean a house boat) as their primary residence. A CEO of a former company of mine lived on a boat, and probably still does today.
  • Modular home - an old standby and something that is popular by necessity here in Wyoming. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to move into place, and can be settled into a mobile home park or placed on your own unimproved land.
I've lived in a travel trailer. It works as cheap housing goes, but it's best for areas with mild weather.
  • Travel trailer - it's something that I've done out of necessity, but you might choose a travel trailer as a form of cheap housing that allows you to live on less. Read about my experience living in a travel trailer, and see if it appeals to you.

  • Cooperative living arrangement - a cheap housing alternative that is closely related to having roommates. I can see this possibly as being a viable alternative for families that want to pool resources to help one another. Think of it as a smaller version of a commune. Such an arrangement could be conducive to homeschooling, saving money, and living a lifestyle that is much more simple and removed from the rat race that many of us know today.
  • Rent a cottage during the off season - if you're the type of person who likes to move around a bit, you might be able to find some great deals on cottage rentals when the demand is very low. In the winter, if lakeside cottages aren't rented, they sit empty and make no money for the owner. Besides, that's part of the reason cottages rent for so much during the summer season...they're in high demand. So, it makes sense that the off season has much less demand and therefore should command a much lower rent. This cheap housing alternative awaits those who take the time to investigate.
Cheap housing could mean you negotiate a great rate for a cottage during the off season.
  • Living arrangements associated with work - think of an apartment superintendent who gets his/her apartment as part of the compensation package. Talk about cheap housing! How is it that you get less expensive than free?
  • Small business living arrangement - in some cases, you may be able to incorporate your work life with your place of residence. The idea of a laundry service, restaurant and motel come to mind. Business is conducted on the ground floor while the owners live in the apartment directly above or adjacent to the office.
  • Funeral home - saving the most unusual for last. The idea of living at a funeral home might give you the creeps, but it's almost as common as funeral homes. Being traditionally a family owned business, the "homes" on the upper level are sometimes available for rent - often at rock bottom prices. State laws often require the "home" to be occupied so the deceased are never left "unattended." This is a preventive measure to help deter necrophiliacs and their unusual proclivities. I've heard of some apartments above funeral homes being offered rent free. Certainly, this form of cheap housing isn't for everyone.
Some folks are squatters, but I'll bet that some banks would be interested in a caretaker for some of the nice foreclosed homes they have to sell.
  • Be a caretaker of a foreclosed home - this isn't something I've heard about, but it's worth exploring. You could create your own situation where you might be able to occupy a home just for the cost of keeping the grass cut and keeping the property occupied and presentable. Talk about cheap housing! Why might this work? Vacant properties are subject to vandals.
  • Be a house sitter - this is an idea that can be combined with other housing arrangements. A friend of mine used to be a house sitter. She would make arrangements with executives to watch their homes while they were away on vacation. They would fill up the refrigerator with food, and she would live in the house for a week or two while they were away. She had the best accommodations possible, living in the lap of luxury, all expenses paid for, and when the house sitting job was finished, she went back to her apartment. Combining this approach to cheap housing with others could allow you to enjoy great accommodations, while renting or owning an inexpensive home base elsewhere.
  • Land with under-the-radar improvements - one form of cheap housing that I'm familiar with, at least through conversations with others, is small structures on otherwise unimproved land. The small structures are off the radar in terms of building codes, so the building departments aren't concerned about permits. They might also fall off the radar in terms of improvements for purposes of property taxes as well. The maximum size for such structures varies according to your locality, but I know at least two people who live this way. It's cheap housing indeed. Land can be had relatively cheaply, and small structures might only cost a couple thousand to build, and they don't have to meet code requirements...just your requirements.
An old bus can be converted into a type of cheap housing. The major issues assoicated with such a house is where it can be parked. If you have your own land, then the problem might easily be solved.
  • Living in a van or bus - this is the last cheap housing alternative I'd like to address. I've known people who lived in an old school bus, and I know of others who basically live in a travel van, step van, or other converted vehicle. It's all possible, it all avoids property taxes, but you'd have to be someone who enjoys spending time away from home or outdoors because you wouldn't have much of a home to return to. In the case of the man who lived in a school bus, he did this during a time when he was building his own home.
A small motorhome might be good cheap housing, but it will be cramped. Folks live in vans too, and some do just fine.

So, there you have it, a dozen ideas of how to create cheap housing for yourself. Any one of these ideas could be combined with others to create a unique solution to your need for housing that meets your budget. The key to success often lies in being creative and willing to think outside of that "box" we often place ourselves in.

I've lived in several forms of cheap housing, including forms that I haven't suggested here. I've also been homeless for more than a year, so in my mind, any form of cheap housing is often much better than any form of homelessness.

Good fortune to you as you attempt to whittle down the single largest part of a typical household budget - housing.

Done with Cheap Housing, take me home

I can't think of anything more important than a place to call home. It's a big expense, but often a necessary one. Loosing your home is way worse than loosing a job, and loosing a job can turn your world upside down.

Others have suggestions for cheap housing. I offer their perspectives in this column as a resource for my readers.