7 Ways to See the World and Save on Housing Costs

by | BiggerPockets.com

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They say when one door closes, a window opens.

If skyrocketing housing costs have you feeling like the door to traditional homeownership has slammed in your face, you’re not alone. Homes in the U.S. have been appreciating at twice their normal rate, as the American economy continues its (incredibly) long bull market run.

And who’s to say that we all even want the “worker bee” suburban house with 2.1 children, a white picket fence, and a dog named Fido?

Over the past decade, several windows have opened for anyone feeling less than thrilled about the traditional success sequence.

First, more Americans than ever before have the opportunity to work remotely. That creates a flexibility almost inconceivable a generation ago.

Second, the Internet has given rise to a slew of creative options and niche industries supporting alternative housing options and mobile lifestyles.

Here’s a quick overview of seven ideas that you may never have considered. I’ve done several of these myself, and continue to do so today.

It’s allowed me to visit several dozen new countries in the past 30 months!

1. Lift Your Anchor & Move onto a Boat

I was reminded of this option by a fellow personal finance blogger, My Money Wizard, who explored the pros of living on a houseboat in detail.

Yes, in most cases you will sacrifice square footage. But you can buy a houseboat inexpensively ($15,000-$80,000), and you gain both mobility and a waterfront lifestyle usually reserved for the wealthy elite.

Years ago, when she was living in Fells Point (an historic waterfront neighborhood in Baltimore that’s part cobblestone charm and part pirate-port-wharf-rat), my sister Lauren dated a man who wanted to move closer to her. He bought a used houseboat and rented a slip in one of the many marinas along Fells Point’s gorgeous Promenade.

He paid around $40,000 for the houseboat and around $500/month for the slip, which included water and electricity. It had two bedrooms, bathrooms with hot showers, a comfortable living room with a 46-inch LCD television, and a deck and prow for outdoor space.

When I’d ask Lauren what she was up to on the weekends, she’d often say, “Rich and I are taking the boat out; wanna come?”

Moving onto a boat could be as mainstream as Rich’s example or it could be as extravagant as buying a yacht—or you could go extreme frugal. Consider Chad and Leann, who sail around the world living on a tiny income.

Not such a bad lifestyle, right?

Related: How to Use Airbnb to Travel & Live for Free in Retirement

2. Take Tiny on the Road

Tiny houses are often engineering and design marvels. They draw inspiration from the living spaces of boats to maximize the livability of small rooms and spaces.

What appears as a bench against the wall may unfold to create a dining table. Underneath the bed is of course storage space, and every other piece of furniture either serves double duty or can instantly fold away.

Even the exterior can often unfold to create patios or other outdoor living spaces.

But to me, the best feature of tiny homes is their portability.

Many tiny homes can be towed behind your car (no truck required!). Often, they’re not even tethered to the grid for water and electricity. Instead, they utilize rainwater-reclamation systems and solar panels.

That means that you could literally pick up and go anywhere. And with price tags as low as $10,000, the price can be right, too.

3. The Other Road Option: RVs

Gone are the days of the hideous beige boxes of the ’70s.

Like moving onto a boat, today’s RVs can be whatever you want them to be. You can buy an older bare-bones model dirt cheap, or you can buy a $500,000 mobile mansion.

Want an example of the former? Paul and Nina live a frugal life on the road, living beautifully on what most people would consider poverty-level income. They even take their cats and dogs with them everywhere they go!

And then there’s my father-in-law, who takes off with his wife for months at a time in his luxury RV. It has slides galore (a slide is an additional room that slides out and pops into existence when the RV is parked), and every comfort you could ask for in a moveable home.

Some of today’s luxury RVs feature jacuzzi tubs, queen-size beds, fully appointed kitchens—you ask, it’s available. For a price, of course.

And if you think of bottle-strewn trailer parks when you think of RV parks, think again. Many of today’s RV parks are high-end, with standards to rival the stiffest homeowner’s association.

Related: Ashley’s Story: How to Retire by 30 While Traveling the World

4. Short-Term Options for Today’s Nomads

Airbnb, HomeAway (click here to list your place for free on HomeAway—only pay when you get a booking), and similar short-term rental websites are an incredible option for living anywhere in the world in comfort or frugality (or both). My wife, Katie, and I spent a month last summer renting an apartment in the heart of historic Prague, and we paid around $775.

But the options don’t end at short-term rental websites. There remain places in this world where it’s still affordable to live in a hotel! Tim Ferriss repopularized this notion in the Four-Hour Workweek, when he described his time living in a hotel in Buenos Aires for $500/month.

Or you could stay for free in other people’s homes, just by caring for their pets and home. Entire online communities exist to help match house-sitters with vacationers, such as HouseSitters.com. But don’t stop there—other options include local pet-owner’s groups, Craigslist, local realtors, and probably other options I’ve never heard of.

Get creative!

5. Plop Down a Prefab Home

Prefab homes have become diverse as well. You have options ranging from cabins to modular homes to shipping-container homes.

Some are cheap. Some are luxurious. They could be rustic or modern looking, large or small, grid-dependent or self-powered with solar.

Sound familiar?

If you own a piece of land but homebuilding costs are exorbitant in your area, consider dropping in a prefab home. My father and uncle did this—well, sort of. They bought a plot near the Madison River in Montana (they’re fly fishermen), then bought a cabin kit and built it themselves over a few summer vacations.

The cabin my dad built, after a summer rainstorm

And lest you assume it’s a dive, it has several stories, solar-powered electric, and running water from a large underground tank (which is heated by an on-the-fly propane water heater). They opted to keep it a seasonal cabin, but a wood-burning or pellet stove would have been a simple and inexpensive addition.

I believe they paid around $58,000 for the cabin kit, and of course they put in plenty of sweat equity by building it. But it’s a beautiful cabin that even the biggest snob couldn’t dismiss.

6. House Hack!

As a BiggerPockets reader, you’re probably familiar with house hacking, at least in the multifamily sense. For a fun and detailed case study, check out this 28-year-old insurance underwriter’s story about buying a duplex to live for free.

But house hacking doesn’t have to involve buying a multifamily. I’ve used housemates to pay the bulk of my mortgage before. My business partner Denise has house hacked no fewer than three different ways. (Her latest is my favorite—she brought in a foreign exchange student and the stipend covers over half of her mortgage! Feel free to message me if you want details on the service she uses.)

You could use income suites. You could rent out storage space. Or you could rent your home on Airbnb whenever you’re not staying there (even while you are staying there, if you rent out rooms).

Once again, the possibilities are myriad.

7. Teach Abroad & Enjoy Free Housing

I’ve done this as well. And it’s awesome.

OK, OK, it’s actually my wife who works for an American school here in Abu Dhabi. But they’ve provided us with a luxury two-bedroom apartment in a building with a pool, jacuzzi tub, gym, and a beach behind the building.

We have a range of American, Canadian, Irish, and South African friends who live in the building with us. Every other night someone sends a WhatsApp message asking if we want to swing by for a glass of wine or a movie.

Reem Island (where I live), just after sunset

Nor do you have to move to the Middle East, of course. We have friends who have lived for free while teaching in Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia.

Remember Ashley and Kevin Thompson, who have now officially retired by 30 using rental properties? They were able to save up and buy their rental portfolio by teaching in Japan and Korea (and living for free).

What’s that you say? You have children, so how could you possibly uproot them?

Many of our friends here in Abu Dhabi have children. The kids have traveled the world with their parents, picking up languages as they go, and they go to school here at the American school where their parents work. Some of these families move every three years or so to mix things up, others stick around for ten years at a time for more stability.

For nearly everyone in the world, housing is their greatest expense. If you can reduce or eliminate it, think about how much faster you could reach financial independence! Which says nothing of the richness of being able to see the world in a way few people do.

The world is your oyster. Go enjoy the pearls that everyone living the staid, “normal” life has ignored!

Would you ever consider one of these alternative housing options? Why or why not?

Tell me in the comments below!

About Author

Brian Davis

Brian is a landlord and long-time rental industry expert, who offers a range of free landlord resources through his company, SparkRental. Grab a state-specific lease agreement or take our free mini-course on buying 2-4 unit rental properties while you’re at it.

Message me if you’d like me to write for you about real estate or personal finance!

9 Comments

  1. Rachel Bier

    Here’s another one…I spent 8 years during my twenties working on private yachts, we worked like crazy, but played hard too, were paid amazingly well and traveled all over the world. More people know about this type of work now thanks to the tv show Below Deck, there’s some similarities, but it’s not as dramatic in real life! This allowed me to save a lot of money, pay off my student loan within one year of leaving college and meet my husband! We now live in the US and are Estate Managers for a 60 acre property in CA. We live on site and have all living expenses provided for…another fantastic way to live somewhere cool and save money to invest in real estate!!

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