Life Ain’t Easy Livin’ for Free

This blog could have be called many things. First World Housing Problems, Life Ain’t Easy Livin’ for Free, or my current favorite, Tiny House Whole Lotta Work.

Sun up to Sun Down

Because we’ve chosen to live where we do and build a simpler, cheaper tiny house that is not yet completed, the price of our housing lifestyle is paid not only in money but in work, time, and unending surprises.

When we first installed “Blast Off” the washerdryer, it shook so violently that we’d run around catching​ books and trinkets jiggling off top shelves during the spin cycle.

Every second or third day, we lift the Loveable Loo bucket, our sawdust toilet, into a wagon along with a bucket of water and pull it up the hill to the compost pile in the north pasture.

Farm work two Amish men in wagon

Once or twice a day we hook up the hose from the hydrant to our house’s inlet and fill the tank, watching carefully that it doesn’t shoot a geyser of water into our kitchen.

And as anyone who has camped or glamped with their family knows, things just get dirty! Vacuuming the floor, the couch, the bed, the counter top, and around the sawdust potty . . .

In winter there is wood chopping, tending the wood stove, and shovelling off our un-garaged truck.

We run extra errands for sawdust from the mill, propane tanks from the grocery store, and our mail from the post office.

And this is all the normal, everyday maintenance of living, aside from our main job here on the farm, the 587 or so free-range chickens and assorted odd jobs. Wading through the waist-high grasses to feed, water, and gather eggs, we all have farmer’s tans, including the baby!

We now have farm clothes and town clothes, and muddy boots fill the landing. The kids’ dress cowboy boots are safely tucked away for when we venture into public.

Cooking over a fire pit

We were having lunch with friends from church a couple months ago, and I think she hit the nail on the head.

“Your family feels it all. You don’t just run the water from the tap, flush the toilet, turn up the heat unthinkingly and pay the bill later. You fill the tank, dump the compost, and chop the wood. It must be tiring at times, but at least you’re feeling how much life costs and are done paying for it at the end of each day.”

So if we’re done paying for our housing expenses at the end of each day, what is that worth?

Playing around with creative housing hustles a few posts back, we found that the average home price in our city, Fort Collins, Colorado, currently stands at $350,200.

After 10% down, this comes out to around $1490 for the monthly mortgage payment, plus a ballpark $1043 for utilities, PMI, property tax, maintenance, HOA, etc., totalling $2533/month.

But let’s face it, this number is largely meaningless to those of us who don’t always earn this much per month and would never buy a house this expensive anyway.

And we can’t compare these numbers, apples to apples, to the living expenses of a tiny house because the entire housing experience is so fundamentally different.

Big house vs. tiny house

Oh well, let’s do it anyway!

Right now, our entire housing expenses average out to 2.7% of the average Fort Collins house, or $70/monthly.

Another way of looking at it, this amount pays for three quarters of a day (19 hours) per month in the average Fort Collins house.

The breakdown:

  • Rent $0; paid in farm chores
  • Wood $0; given by friend
  • Electricity $25
  • Propane $15
  • Water and trash $12
  • Sawdust $10
  • P.O. box $8

Why so low?!

First, the location. Our friends’ parents welcomed some help on their farm in exchange for a parking spot on their property. Our target goal is working around 10 hours a week, although it can vary widely. Truly, surprises arise almost daily, and the work on a farm never ends.

What’s the location worth financially? If we had to pay for a camping spot in one of the nearby parks, this would be $500-750 each month that we’d be further from our goals. Very significant.

Apart from these benefits, living on the farm here is both rugged and picturesque. We contend – I mean commune – daily with all the nature around us. Taken as a whole, the tiny house’s current location is a blessing.

Second, utilities. In a small home, we use less. Fewer rooms, fewer lights, fans, and appliances.

Despite enjoying an efficient propane hot water heater, we try to conserve by wearing clothes twice before laundering and taking short showers.

Heat is achieved through kindling and logs too small for our friend to use or sell himself, fed into the wood stove.

Cooling right now is through fans and opening windows. To improve our often-balmy home this summer, we would choose to orient our house on the east-west axis with the door to the south. Shade trees and an awning would help immensely as well, but we’re getting through. At least the evenings and mornings are delightful!

Internet is through our phone’s mobile data as well as through the farmer’s house, as he graciously let us plug in an extender and use his signal. So far, it works sporadically.

Farm mailbox

Third, the house itself. We paid for the construction of the tiny house with blood, sweat, and tears (ours and others’) as well as savings accrued while living for cheap or free for 11 months.

On top of that, we put a hefty amount of construction costs on credit cards. Yikes!

However, with full knowledge of how wasteful interest payments are, it has been our number one priority to pay them off aggressively. As of this writing, we carry a $2904 remaining balance (down from an all-time high of $15,500 six months ago), with hundreds coming off every paycheck. Nearly there, and then on to the big wild student loan payoff!

I cannot exactly recommend this course of action to someone else. Having a credit card balance is ridiculously foolish, right?

On the other hand, this was no ordinary consumer debt. In completing our house sooner and having an almost-free place to live, we have chosen to spend hundreds in interest to save thousands in housing. A calculated risk.

Scenic road from A to B

The Motorcycle Analogy

Somehow, this reminds me of riding a motorcycle all through college. I bought my beautiful Honda Rebel for $1000 and sold it seven years later for the same. It went a whopping 70 miles to the gallon, and I parked right off campus for free in a space with a light pole that could not otherwise be used for cars. As an older bike, it required an average of $50/month in maintenance and with liability only, insurance topped out at $11/month.

Savings compared to a car in depreciation, gas, parking, maintenance, and insurance? Almost incalculable, definitely into the $1000s. And plus, I had the time of my life, and it’s probably what convinced Big Country to marry me. Now how could you put a price on that?

But could I safely recommend riding a motorcycle day in, day out in a traffic-choked metropolis to an absent-minded 20-year-old girl protected by only a helmet, denim jacket and youthful optimism?

A resounding NO! 

But would I do it again?

Liberty on motorcycle

Absolutely!

This is essentially the attitude I have taken toward the tiny house. It is not a “regular” house and does not try to be, just as a motorcycle is not a car and does not pretend to be one, either.

But at the end of the day, the tiny house is a safe, warm place for our family to live, just as a regular house is. A motorcycle was my way, in one season of life, to get from A to B. The tiny house is our way, in this season of life, to get from A to B.

Is it worth it?

So has all the head scratching, stuff chucking, uprooting, designing, building, problem-solving, chicken chasing and compost dumping all been experiences I would recommend to others?

Has this crazy adventure that has tested, taught, broken, and strengthened us wildly beyond our expectations been worth it?

I guess this entire blog is my attempt at figuring this question out.

There’s really no such thing as living for free, just as there’s no such thing as a free car, horse, or anything else.

But we’re doing the closest thing to it that we can, and perhaps we’ll be able to evaluate the depth and breadth of our time here from future eyes.

Motorcycle by the sea

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *