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5 Off the Menu Housing Options

Save hundreds of thousands of dollars with these budget-sensitive housing options.

Photo By: Chris Cooper

For most people, housing is the single biggest line item on their budget. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of a single-family home in 2016 across the United States was $235,500. And in the west, the median price is $342,900. That’s a lot!

People take on astronomical amounts of debt, and then work long hours in order to be able to make the payments.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Just because most people choose to do this, doesn’t mean you have to.

In fact, more and more people all the time are turning to alternative housing options to avoid taking on soul-sucking amounts of debt.

If you are one of these people, you are in luck. There are lots of options on the menu. Here are five worth considering:

1. Cabin Kits

Like the name implies, cabin kits are an all-inclusive bundle of materials that can be assembled in as little as a few weeks. Many cabin kits are made to be assembled with only a couple of people using basic hand tools. And the best part is these kits can be purchased for as little as $10,000–$20,000. Find your land, purchase your cabin kit, and invite a couple of friends over for a work party. (Pro tip: odds of them accepting your invitation are significantly greater if cold drinks are involved.)

A word of caution: As with any time you want to build a structure, most municipalities still have zoning and permitting restrictions. Make sure you understand what you're up against with kits before biting off more than you can chew.

2. Tool Shed Homes

If the expense of time required to build a cabin kit is still more than you want, how about retrofitting a small tool shed to be livable? You know, the ones that you see outside Home Depot in the parking lot? There’s a whole community of “tool shed housing” enthusiasts that has sprung up in the last few years.

Tool sheds can be purchased through big box stores or ordered online. Prices start at about $2000 and often include delivery and assembly. Add insulation, a small solar electricity kit, and possibly a wood stove or other heat source that could make these quite cozy. Lest I suffocate in a pile of “Yeah, but…” emails, I should point out again that your mileage may vary. As always, breaking laws, hurting people, and in general, doing bad things are bad.

Photo By: Pexels

3. DIY Log Cabin

If you are a serious DIYer at heart, why not consider building your own log cabin from the ground up? The folks at the Log Home Builders Association have been teaching people to build their own cabins for over 30 years. According to their website, many of their students have not had any prior construction experience whatsoever.

The cost of building your own log cabin be remarkably low. One of their students built their cabin for $8000, INCLUDING plumbing and electrical. Another student reported building their cabin for only $7500. Still other students report being able to get logs to build the home for only $0.50 after learning a few tricks from the LHBA. This option clearly isn’t for everyone, but for those up for the challenge, it could be incredibly satisfying (and potentially financially rewarding!).

4. Shipping Containers

In recent years, the trend of building with shipping containers has been on the climb. People are using them for offices, restaurants, bug out shelters, swimming pools, and more! And for good reason too! Shipping containers are durable, cool looking, and... CHEAP!

Due to the “net import” status of the US and several other Western nations, there is a glut of shipping containers arriving daily, never to make a return trip. These containers can be had for as little as $2000 or $3000 and can be shipped easily on a truck [duh! :-) ].

On the flip side, however, most shipping containers will require a fair amount of modification before they reach a standard that most average Joes would consider a livable house. And the more “modifying” you do, the less of a good deal it becomes (check out this elaborate shipping container mansion).

5. Solar Cabin

If you’re not enamored by the other options, perhaps a small “solar cabin” is a good option. A popular YouTuber named Lamar built a tiny solar cabin by hand (and outfitted it with solar) for $2000. He purposely kept the size extremely small (a mere 200 s.f.) because doing so allowed him to be able to build without a permit. Using materials available at any big box store and an extremely simple plan, he built a home that he has lived in quite comfortably for the last several years. If you are creative, and don’t mind a small footprint, why not follow suit?

You will notice that a repeating theme throughout these five houses is that they aren’t fancy. While it is possible to dramatically reduce your housing costs, it doesn’t come without sacrifices somewhere (and likely an altered lifestyle). When it comes to housing, however, if you have the inclination, and you’re not worried about keeping up with the Joneses, the possibilities are endless. 

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