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I just watched a video about a guy who spent months living on the beach in Hawaii. It made me think about some of my own lifestyle choices over the years. I’ve lived in a van, in a shed behind my own home, in a friend’s basement, without a car, without a job, etc.
I made those choices for adventure, convenience, and necessity, but all my lifestyle alternatives also kept expenses down. That was important to me because, as I’ve written here, frugality buys freedom. If you can live on almost nothing, and exercise a bit of creativity, even a small income makes life rich in possibilities.
That means not keeping up with the Joneses, of course. To live well and maintain the freedom that frugality can bring, you have to invent your own ways of doing things.
To help you out, the following are some examples of lifestyle choices others have made. They demonstrate creative and frugal alternatives to traditional homes, cars, education, and more. For example, you might…
1. Try A Traveling Lifestyle
My wife and I met Irina fifteen years ago while camping at some hot springs on Federal land in Arizona. She made and sold sandwiches at events across the west while living in her van. We were also living out of our van, although only for five or six weeks until our renters in Michigan moved out of our home.
Irina’s lifestyle worked because she parked at cheap and free places, and avoided driving too much (the van being the biggest expense, of course). The cement hot springs were clean, there were bathrooms, roofed tables at some campsites, and the charge was just $3 per night, or $30 per month.
Of course, you may be considered homeless if you live in a vehicle, but it has some real advantages. You can easily pick up and go to where there is work, or places where you can sell things, without worrying about an apartment lease or a house full of things.
And it can be cheap. When we were traveling and living in our van we found free campgrounds (with showers), and cheap ones, and we even spent a night in a parking garage in New Orleans for $7. We also learned to camp for free in Walmart parking lots.
An RV is like a small house, and can be pretty comfortable, but they’re more expensive to buy, operate and maintain, so a van is the cheaper way to go. But you don’t quite “live” in a van; you sleep in it, and eat in it, but you live outside for the most part (so go south in winter).
2. Live Outside Of Your Home
At that same hot spring we met Felix, who was living there in an old camper. He explained that he owned a house, but it made more sense for him to live in the old trailer for $30/month (or free in some places) in order to rent out his house. That way he had a place to live and an income.
I could relate. Years before lived in a shed behind my home (it had a window and electricity, but no bathroom), in order to keep all three bedrooms in the house rented out. That enabled me to work just one day per week, and the rental income funded my travels.
That might be too rough for some (trips from the shed to the house to use the bathroom were not pleasant in the winter), but there are other ways to do something similar.
For example, when I got married I built an addition on the back of the home for my wife and I. It had a kitchen and bathroom, and by using some recycled materials I did the whole thing for about $2,000 — an amount that was recovered from one bedroom rental in six months.
If living cheap by renting out rooms (with or without moving into the shed) intrigues you, see my article, “How To Pay Off Your Mortgage Renting Out Rooms.”
3. Be Seasonally Homeless
When I lived in Colorado a guy I played chess with explained to me that he was “camping” for a while, because he hated to see half of his small disability pension going to rent. I assumed he was more willing to part with the rent money when winter came.
Another friend spent half of the year living in a large tent in a state park for $5 per night, so he could afford a nice cabin on a lake when cold weather came.
There are many stories of people who choose to be homeless, at least for a while, as a way to save money for a home, or to be able to afford other priorities.
4. Eat Out For Free
Years ago, two of my coworkers told me that they regularly ate at soup kitchens when traveling, even though they were not homeless or poor. I would never do that, but it occurred to me that one might volunteer to help out at such places, and get a free meal in exchange.
What I am willing to do is eat free samples. My wife and I do it whenever we go to Trader Joe’s (try to hit wine sampling day) and Whole Foods.
We also like to get free education with a free meal, as I’ve written about in my article on free-meal seminars.
Another possibility: Regularly visit family and friends around dinner time.
5. Grow Your Own Food
Without becoming a farmer you can still grow much of the food you eat. I’ve known several people who have grown most of the vegetables they eat.
I like fruit trees, because of the minimal upkeep relative to the amount of food they produce. I used to have a peach tree that produced hundreds of peaches every year, and I never did a thing to take care of it.
For an idea of how practical it is to grow food where you are, see GrowVeg.com. They have a nice guide telling you how much you can expect to harvest of each vegetable for every ten-foot row.
6. Forage And Hunt For Food
When I lived in a cabin in northern Michigan I ate fish, clams, crayfish, squirrels, porcupines, wild blueberries, raspberries, tree nuts, and many different wild greens. It kept the grocery bill low, and it was more interesting than gardening.
The true story of Daniel Suelo shows how far you can go with foraging as a lifestyle. He gave up using money and lived in a cave in Utah for more than a decade, foraging for wild foods as well as foods discarded by people.
Without giving up modern conveniences (like a roof over your head) you can still add a lot of free food to your diet by collecting wild edibles. Use FallingFruit.org to locate the best foraging grounds near you.
7. Approach Vacations Differently
There are many types of traditional vacations, but If you look at the purposes of a vacation you can start to see the many possibilities for doing things differently.
For you, those purposes might include traveling, being in a different environment, having fun, or just relaxing. There are plenty of ways to accomplish those goals without a “normal” vacation.
One way to travel and experience new places is to get paid to take care of people’s homes. You can find these gigs on various websites, and the Caretaker Gazette has been listing them since before the internet existed. “Payment” is sometimes just a free place to stay, but some people travel the world by caretaking.
Another idea is the “staycation,” which involves staying home or near home and relaxing. For example, my wife and I like to go to a local hotel just to get out of the house for a night, and because we use credit card points, it costs us nothing but a short drive.
Visiting friends in other states is another great way to vacation on a budget. Of course you can invite them to do the same at your place.
8. Choose To Be Childless
MarketWatch says the average cost to raise a child from birth to age 17 is over $233,000. And then there is college…
My wife and I have always preferred the “child-free life” as we call it (“childless” is a word meant to elicit a sense of loss, and to encourage people to procreate). The Washington Post reports that it quickly is becoming a popular choice.
We just never wanted the limitations and obligations that come with children. But when I think about how many more hours I would have needed to work to pay an additional $233,000 in expenses, and how much I have always hated jobs, well… maybe the savings matter too.
9. Try An Alternative To A Degree
A college degree is one of the most expensive things you’ll buy in life. If you get the right degree you can make a good living doing something you enjoy. But even then you might be deep in debt for years to come.
And you may not need a degree. My previous post on ways to succeed without a college degree covered eleven strategies, including working in high-end tipped positions, building a career in commission-based sales, and investing in real estate.
Another article detailed a dozen ways to make $100,000 without a degree or a job. That list includes making money from websites (my wife and I did six figures from that for a while), investing in cryptocurrencies, and writing e-books.
But if you really need a document for the wall and another entry on the resume, there’s a cheaper way than getting a degree. There are many universities offering free classes, including Harvard and Stanford, and some of them offer a “certificate of completion” or similar document for a reasonable fee (usually less than $100).
For example, you can study data science and probability online at Harvard, and get a certificate showing you completed the course for just $49. A few classes like that from various universities will look good on a resume, and cost a lot less than any college degree.
10. Go To Free Events
Most cities have at least some free musical events, and often the performers are top-notch groups you would pay to see. For example, where we live my wife and I try not to miss the annual (and free) Tucson Folk Festival.
If you seek out and attend these freebies as a lifestyle choice (a habit) you may not have time left to spend on paid movies and events, and chances are good that you’ll have just as much (or more) fun.
Putting It All Together: Living Rich, Even On A Low Income
In addition to the strategies listed above, you can make many other lifestyle choices that will reduce your cost of living. Some examples:
- Get by without a car
- Join a barter exchange
- Learn to do your own repairs on everything from appliances to cars
- Work for a university to get free or reduced tuition
- Buy everything used (okay, almost everything; I’d never buy used shoes)
How little you can live on, and how well? I have a friend who has a monthly income of $1,060, and she’s traveling in Central America for a few months at the moment.
I have another friend here in Tucson who is retired on Social Security. He has a nice mobile home, for which he prepays lot rent annually to save hundreds of dollars.
He uses his bicycle to get around, and goes to numerous concerts, chess tournaments, and other (mostly free) events. He carries food and water with him to avoid the necessity of restaurant meals.
In fact, he uses several of the strategies outlined above, and lives a busy, happy life. His total income? Just $450 per month!
If you know of some others ways to live a little differently to save money, please share … and keep on frugaling!