Survival in the Garret—Gimme Shelter

Finding suitable housing on a low budget can be an adventure in itself, and an abode needn’t be expensive to satisfy your need for comfort, safety, privacy, health, and beauty.

Being a distance learner opens you up to a vast realm of possibilities.  Because you can access coursework and tutors online and your materials can be mailed to you nearly anywhere, you’re no longer tied down to any one location.  And despite the title of this series, the bohemian tightwad has many more possible living arrangements at their disposal than the dismal attic room.  Today we enumerate some of these to help you with your current situation as a student and to prepare you for an uncertain future (don’t kid yourselves, potential investment bankers; nothing is guaranteed).

One of the smartest things you’ll do is get rid of all your extra stuff and find someone who doesn’t mind storing your essentials for you.

  1. Couch surf. It’s not easy to crash on a friend’s couch, and neither is it easy for them to put up with you indefinitely, so this should be seen as a temporary choice unless you have many friends with couches and can just keep moving around.  Sometimes good things come of couch surfing: I know a few bands that formed this way.  (“We gotta find a sitar player!” “Really? There’s a sitar player crashing on my couch!”)
  2. Launch a whirlwind world tour of everyone who’s ever offered you an invitation to come visit. A more advanced form of couch surfing is touring the world accepting all invitations you’ve ever received to come visit (how were you to know the standing invitation wasn’t really sincere?).  If you’re a digital nomad who studies or works online, all you need wherever you go is internet access.  If travelling to these places is cheaper than staying put and paying rent, what’s stopping you? Surely some of those people will welcome your visit, and the others, well, that’s what they get.
  3. Look after somebody’s place in exchange for free lodging. The Caretaker Gazette offers international opportunities to look after someone’s property while they’re gone, allowing you to live rent-free while minding a ranch, feeding the pets, keeping a house clean, or just making sure the plants are watered in a city apartment.
  4. Share an apartment with a crowd. When you co-rent a big house or apartment the rent is a fraction of what it would be if you had a cramped apartment all to yourself.  Living with a bunch of people isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds, even if you’re the quiet, introspective type.  Just make sure you find roommates who make an effort to be tolerant and respectful.
  5. Become the live-in help. Sometimes older people living alone just need someone to help with cooking and housework and be there in case of an emergency.  Once you’ve made sure the situation is safe from every angle you can start saving a bundle on rent by moving into their spare room.  These kinds of positions can be found online on sites like Kijiji and Craigslist.
  6. Apply to a housing co-op. If you’re looking for a long-term arrangement, many towns and cities have housing co-ops that offer low rent if you’re willing to pitch in and help look after the property.  Applications take time, but most denizens of housing co-ops report that the experience is positive and saves them money.
  7. Build a tiny home. Tiny homes are not just living spaces, they’re a way of living out the wisdom that less is more.  If you know someone who’ll let you use a piece of their land to place a tiny house (many of which are mobile and can be moved around) you can enjoy a high quality of life at very little cost.
  8. If you really are committed to staying in one place for a while and you’re lucky enough to have access to a piece of land on which you can raise small livestock and vegetables, this can go a long way toward reducing your need for money.  Be sure to do a cost-benefit analysis before doing any farming, as sometimes the price of raising your own food is higher than the money you’ll save.
  9. Live in your storage container. This isn’t normally allowed but if you’re renting a room-size storage container and the property owners are willing to look the other way, you could sneak in every night and crash while you’re looking for something more homey.
  10. Live in a tent. If you think this sounds crazy, look up the stories of people who’ve done it, loved it, and remember it fondly, even those who’ve lived in tents all through a Canadian winter.
  11. Go underground as a homeless person. Not only saves on housing, you can later write a book or do a documentary about your experiences.
  12. Go ahead and buy that house. If you can afford to purchase a home and if you have the time, skill, and motivation to do all the repairs and renovations yourself, buying a home is an investment.  It’s also an investment if you have a family too large to fit into a reasonably priced apartment or rented house.  Otherwise buying a home is not an investment.  Why? Because the costs of upkeep, including hiring people to fix it for you, outweigh the financial rewards of owning your own property.
The aftermath

After living the life of a frugal bohemian for a while your life can go in either or both of two directions.  You can either remain financially challenged and content to live within your means or you can do so well at saving money that you begin to prosper.  When the latter happens, stay humble and rest where you are, even when you can afford better.  More money doesn’t have to mean more spending or a more outwardly seemly existence, though you’ll certainly be pressured to find something fancier.  If your current el cheapo living arrangements satisfy your basic needs for survival and quality of life, why change? The financial market being so uncertain, an expensive house now may mean you’ll have to downsize in a few years.  Continuing to pocket the extra cash will ensure that you’ll be ready for more substantial quarters later on, should your needs dictate.