The Cost of Tiny House Freedom

The Cost Of Tiny house Freedom
Originally Featured in Issue 41 of Tiny House Magazine
Written by:
We all keep hearing about the freedom that tiny living comes with, the simple lifestyle with less stuff to maintain and of course, saving the big bucks! But how true is it? Is it realistic to think going tiny will give that much more freedom or is it just a pipe dream? Here’s what we have found with our experience. But first, a little background.
When we set out to go tiny, our main priority was at that moment to get out of of paying crazy San Francisco Bay area rent. We had a cute house with a hefty monthly rent and the worse landlords ever, We needed a relief and fast. When we got hooked on the tiny house idea it took over and became the only thing we could think about. We researched day and night and it seemed like the perfect solution. Save money? Yes please. Less to clean? Double yes, please. And we get to have more freedom with our big savings and even travel without worrying about our huge monthly house rental payment to cover while away? Yes. Yes. A million times yes!
Of course we weren’t sure of the reality of it either but we we’re certainly gonna go for it and figure it out as we went. So we did just that and built one and have been living in the little bugger for almost 2 years now and here’s what we’ve experienced:

It’s not as cheap as we thought it would be to build a tiny house.


It’s hard to narrow down where the mysterious low numbers of $10k, $20k and $30k for a fully finished tiny house came from but we have learned that is just not the case. I’m sure tiny house TV shows don’t help either when they state these too good to be true budgets with incredible finished builds that leave you wondering how on earth they pulled it off. With what we knew and researched back in 2014, we felt a $35k budget would be plenty if we did all the work ourselves. So that is what we went with. Our first step was to design our trailer. Being that we are manufacturer reps for 4 long standing trailer manufacturers we designed and had our tiny house trailer built for us. So now with the trailer portion out of the way we had almost $29k left in the budget which still seemed plenty at the time.  For the record, we had to sell off most of our personal items, furniture and even cars to help fund the build as we went along in addition to continuing to pay our monthly expenses at our overpriced little rental house.
In the beginning when we first decided to go tiny and do our own build we reached out to a lot of friends and asked if they would be interested in helping with our build. We happened to have a lot of friends with trade skills so we had a huge advantage in keeping expenses down. Just after we ordered our trailer we were contacted by Tiny House Nation and went through the casting process and were ultimately cast on the show for its second season. We already had our design set and our plan laid out. We had our crew and so basically the television cast and crew were going to join and just assist with the build. This expedited our timeline and we found ourselves having to accommodate a television production schedule.
For what it is worth, the build went smoothly on our timeline with only a few hiccups here and there in regards to coordinating our friends, the show, and our own lives, in order to make the build possible. The biggest shocker to us was the real cost of a custom build. We thought a $35k budget was plenty for our 28” tiny house, but we couldn’t be more wrong.
Lumber and building materials are both very expensive and that $35k came and went very quickly. Of course we had lofty design aspirations for our home and we had things we wanted our build to accomplish so our budget had to be extended exponentially. We knew when we decided to build a tiny house that we wanted to go with higher quality materials and finishes and those decisions too, came with a price tag. Par for the course though. We wanted a custom design with high end finishes and it was priced appropriately.
One of the things we didn’t account for when we went tiny though was how long it would take us to recover from the build financially once we were finished and actually living in the house. We thought we would see an instant increase in our savings account once we were able to live in our tiny house. We expected lower rent and lower overhead but neither of those were truly the case. It took us a solid year to really get back on our feet and adjust to not only living in a tiny house but get back into a groove financially and have the house fully finished where we could actually see the benefits of the lower cost of living.
A majority of the first year living in our tiny house was really focused on finishing and fixing the things that needed attention. We like to say it was a dollhouse when we moved in: it looked great but nothing worked so it took time to go through and finish the build. An important lesson we learned is that most DIY tiny houses, when built from the trailer up, take a year on average to complete. We thought it would be possible to knock it out in a few short months but the reality is that is takes much longer. This was also a big part in why we decided to help other tiny housers speed up the process by teaming up with our builders and offer them custom built tiny house shells.

What about that freedom?


One of the main draws of living in a tiny house is the freedom it can create in other aspects of your life. Of course if you are building it yourself you won’t have much freedom until the build is finished. Once it is through and you have bounced back financially a number of avenues of freedom open to you. Some people plan to travel with their tiny house. Some people plan to keep it put for longer terms. We never meant to travel with our tiny house at all. We meant to travel because of it. We view our tiny house as our base camp, a base camp that can be moved but usually stays put for longer durations. That is what we have done.
We built our tiny house in one location and moved it to our current spot, which we love more each day. Once we settled in (we will refer to the first year as the settling in period) we were able to have the freedom to spend more time doing what we love. During our settling in period—and even now—we live very busy lives despite our life being more simplified, We have been able to focus on the more important things in our lives and give them priority rather than striving after the wind to make money to afford a higher cost of living. We have been able to increase our volunteer efforts that brings us much joy and draws Shelley and I closer together as a married couple, and we have been able to take more downtime and even travel. Even though most of our travel is related to delivery of tiny house trailers to our customers it still is a freedom that we had never had before. We actually just got home from a 6 week cross country road trip where we got to spend more time in different cities across  the 33 states  we traveled in and really enjoyed every minute of our time together. Living in our tiny house has really drawn us closer together as a couple and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It never feels cramped or small. It is just perfect for our needs. Plus we have less to clean, adding to our quality time together and adding to the time of activities and leisure. Who doesn’t love less cleaning and more leisure time?

Would we do it all over again?


Absolutely! We learned having patience is key and to keep our expectations and timelines realistic. Going tiny is a process. It is not about instant gratification. The tiny lifestyle opens up a significant amount of time to us and is 100% worth it. We love our little house and the life it has opened up to us but we love to share our experiences and some of the realities with others in a way to help simplify the process of getting back to basics;