I have personally become a very big fan of people who are opting into smaller housing options to live frugally. Something about actively deciding to live blow your means is a powerful mentality. That being said, some people have taken small housing completely too far. Shipping container housing, mobile cabins on trailer as full-time housing, etc. Many of these extremely cheap housing alternatives do not even have plumbing. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sacrificing, but plumbing has a fairly high dollar value to myself. Furthermore many of these individuals do fairly questionable things to make sure they don’t have to pay taxes on their structures, and many of them flat out hide and lie about their occupancy rate (some counties have limits to how long you can reside in some of these small housing options.)
So where is the balance in finding a smaller home? Is there a formula for what is acceptable like (per person) x (square footage)? Sadly there is not. Although I cannot give you a magic formula for the size or price of a home, I think you should have no problem assessing your family’s needs and honing in what is the minimum.
When I look at this alternative living style, I see a few ways to make small and cheap housing viable.
1) Find very cheap land in the middle of no-where and build a cheap structure.
Downside to this? You have kids or plan on having kids, good luck with schooling. Now if you plan on home schooling your children in the middle of no where, that’s a personal decision – but for many that’s not very viable. You plan on living there until you have children? Well just a quick head’s up, that structure you just built in the middle of no where is probably would about 0 to 40% of what you put into it. You also have to remember building structures is expensive, and getting utilities to your structure can be painfully expensive. Some people have started using solar panels and alternative methods of energy and water, but usually these alternatives are fairly capital heavy. This method of going out in the middle of no where also tends to be viewed as the “more granola” way of approaching cheaper housing.
Seems like a relatively straight forward plan, but finding a cheap existing structure in a good location can be near impossible. We have nearby cities in Cincinnati that have 1000 – 1200 sq foot homes for $30k or less, but they usually tend to be a little questionable and/or crime ridden.
Normally you are going to have to settle for poorly kept properties in good areas, but don’t forget those repairs can be costly. Also remember that people almost always under-estimate repair costs. Make sure you factor in something for your time as well (unless your time is worthless).
This whole discussion is relative as well. Maybe you currently live in a 500k house and your idea of downsizing is to a 300k house. It’s hard to say what is right for your family, but with the way things are with employment and the housing market, many people are searching for a new lifestyle. A lifestyle without the worry of a giant mortgage and the burden of needing to sell your home. To the people who explore these options, I applaud them.
A great site to checkout is tinyhouseblog.com for more examples of tiny housing alternatives.
More to come on this trend.