My wife (and business partner) says that I would love to sell everything and live in a hut.
While that’s (mostly) true, I do like my electronic devices, wifi, and climate-controlled air.
But that doesn’t mean that I can’t think about the past where I lived in Guatemala for 6 weeks or dream about the future where one day I hope not to own a primary residence and move from Airbnb to Airbnb for months at a time.
There are plenty of cheap ways to live, and in this article, I’ll discuss some strategies for the cheapest ways of living, whether it’s in your own country or abroad.
And if you’re looking at cheap places because you’re low on cash, I’ve got heaps of articles on ideas to make extra money.
Let’s get to living.
Live in an RV
Our family took an RV trip to test out the waters of an RV.
I, for one, thought it was pretty amazing that we didn’t hurt each other.
It was tight quarters, but we had a blast.
We were on the road for five days, and I can see how living in an RV would be beneficial and affordable.
The campgrounds where we stayed ranged from $25-40 depending on the location and amenities.
The rate includes power and water hookup (and sometimes wifi).
So having your rent and utilities covered for $900 or so per month is definitely an affordable option.
We also saw lots of pull-behind trailers and fifth wheels. Based on what we’ve seen, they’re much more affordable, especially if you already have the appropriate truck or vehicle to pull one.
If you’d like to test an RV out to see if it’s the right fit for your lifestyle, get $50 on me to try out Outdoorsy.
But what if you don’t want to be on the road all the time and you happen to like helping people?
Become a Live-In Caretaker
Do you have a medical background or want to train to be a caretaker? If so, you might be able to land a live-in gig. Why not?
There are lots of aging people in the US, you could make a great new friend, and it’s definitely one of the cheapest ways of living.
It takes a particular personality, as I’ve personally seen caretakers get mistreated by the patients and families.
But if it’s something the patient wants, it could be a cheap way to live and be a win-win situation.
Often, a caretaker is given free room and board and meals in exchange for taking care of the person. And while you’re there, you can be working on other ways to make money.
Ok, you want to live for cheap, but maybe you want your own space.
Rent a Guest House
We have plenty of these where I live in Alabama. They are often a converted garage apartment or a mother-in-law suite that has its own amenities. The spaces are typically well under 1,000 sq. ft. so the rents generally are more affordable. Smaller spaces can also mean lower utility bills, so this is helpful when you’re looking for the cheapest way of living.
Your house will be on the same property as someone’s primary residence, but you’ll often have your own parking space and should also have a private entrance.
“Honey, let’s get a trailer instead!” Yep, that’s a cheap way to live too. Let’s discuss that option.
Live in a Manufactured House for Cheap
Down here in Alabama, we call these trailers. But the proper term is a manufactured home and is cheaper than buying a traditional house. You can get this in a single wide or a double-wide (stop laughing). The pricing will range from $10,000 up to $70,000 or so, depending on your upgrades.
And while you’re assuming that I live in a trailer because I’m from Alabama, I did!
When I was at college at Auburn University, there were several trailer parks that students loved to rule and roam. In fact, we boasted the largest trailer park in the Southeast (I’m wearing a proud smile).
While many students lived in dorms or college apartments where they paid $600-900 per month, my parents purchased a trailer for $10,000. We paid $265 per month for ‘lot rent’. At the end of my 4 years of college, we sold the trailer for $12,500. Trailers typically don’t appreciate, but we had installed 2 decks and done an excellent landscaping job. This property was one of the cheapest ways to live during my college experience we could have done. Well done, parents. Well done.
But maybe you’d rather float. In that case, perhaps you can find a boat to live on.
Live on a Boat
Live on the water or close by? Some boat options are cheap ways to live. Many people have sailboats on that they pay to dock. Maybe they would like to recoup some of their cost and rent to you.
Maybe you can buy a sailboat for less than $5,000 and pay the docking fee and live on your boat.
If you live near multiple marinas, there may be other boat options like yachts.
Or again, down here in Alabama, we are on the delta, and there are houseboats in the area.
You can find these to rent at much lower rates than traditional single-family homes.
If you live near the water or could consider living near the water, try out a houseboat. Some houseboats are pretty expensive, but you can rent one or buy one used.
Maybe you’re just desperate, and you need options.
A Storage Unit
Ok, living in a storage unit isn’t exactly recommended, but I remember reading a story of folks that needed to do it and the managers of the storage facility let it slide. But it’s a cheap place to live.
If it’s a climate-controlled unit and there is room to set up a cot, go for it. It might cost you $200 or less and be a safe place to stay until you can get back on your feet.
But if you’re looking for more of an investment for the future, try one of the following ideas.
A Duplex or Multi-Plex
Purchasing a duplex or triplex is just a smart financial move in general. Not only is it a cheap housing option, but it’s financially savvy.
Often, you’re able to get a tenant in one side of the building that completely pays your mortgage so that you are living for ‘free’.
You’re also able to deduct half the expenses since half of the property (in the case of a duplex) is treated as a rental property.
If you do this for 15-20 years, you can have the tenants pay your mortgage off for you. Talk about a cheap way to live life!
But if you’re more of a flip this house renovation type person, then try a reno.
Are you about that equity? I definitely am.
I have purchased both of my personal homes at an extreme discount, completely gutted the homes, and then fixed them to my standards.
It’s a lot of work, but each time I added substantial equity to the homes.
Here’s the home we purchase in 2015 before gutting and moving in.
We sold the home in 2020 as our local real estate market was pretty hot.
If you need to work on the project while you live there, go for it.
I have friends in the home-flipping business that lived in the homes that they flipped for the first few years until they found their dream home that they slowly renovated.
Do whatever works for you.
Not only will you be able to have a dry roof over your head, but you can work from room to room.
If you’re able to do a lot of the smaller jobs yourself, like painting, then you’ll be able to save thousands of dollars in costs.
The key to making this work is knowing the values and finding the right type of financing to make the purchase happen.
What about Airbnb? Let’s look at some options there.
Live-in Airbnb Property Manager
We have rented our home on Airbnb since 2013. Sometimes Airbnb hosts don’t want to deal with communicating with guests and managing their properties. They might want to travel themselves.
Maybe you can work out a deal with the property owner of an Airbnb. You can manage the guest communication and clean in exchange for living at the property yourself. Get creative, as this can be one of those cheap ways to live.
[if you own a property and haven’t tried hosting on Airbnb, give it a go].
But maybe you want to go small. In that case, let’s look at Buses and Tiny Houses.
These have become very popular and the costs keep getting lower. I think they are great short term options and folks who just don’t want the debt of a mortgage on their hands. I’m always amazed at how they can maximize the amount of space used in a small footprint home by design.
You will need to get rid of 90% of your items, which I promise, you’ll find freedom in, I promise.
Tiny homes aren’t as cheap as you’d think. They can easily run $50,000-$80,000, but it may mean that you never have to think about a mortgage payment again which could totally be worth it.
Let’s wrap it up with a school on wheels.
School Bus Home
You can buy school buses in good condition for $3,000 all day long. My friend did it here in Alabama. Then he got free labor from all of his friends by suckering them (like me) with an incredible opportunity to work on a cool bus project.
It helps that he’s one of my best long-time buddies, but the idea was cool enough to attract free help.
Then he traveled around in the bus for months and ended up in Austin, TX where he sold that bus for a profit! Genius move.
[D, you can mail me my check any time].
Wrapping up on the Cheapest Way of Living
These aren’t the only ideas. I’ve seen people live off the grid and create homesteads with solar power and compost toilets where they can self sustain. I also didn’t detail simple ideas involved with just moving abroad to a less expensive country in general. But this is very real. Many less developed nations still have all of the luxuries that you would ever need that cost half price of US-based prices.
Whatever you choose, remember that life is a giant adventure. And what makes you happy isn’t acquiring more, more, more. It’s being present in the moment. It’s loving those around you and generating experiences. So the cheapest way of living doesn’t matter if you’re not willing to be present and love others.