When people think it's strange that our family of six lives in my in-laws' unfinished basement, I want to introduce them to Sarah, who has a way more interesting living arrangement! I'm excited she's sharing her story here today!
It was my husband’s idea to build a house. I would never have come up with such a far-fetched notion. I tend to be the practical one and building a house is expensive, complicated and time consuming.
No, building a house was not my idea – living in a bus on the land during the process was.
It made sense: after becoming completely debt-free we wanted to avoid taking on a bigger loan than would be absolutely necessary and if we could eradicate our biggest living expense (rent) we could significantly decrease the amount we would be required to borrow for the project.
Regular expenses – Rent = at least $1200 saved per month!
Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity when it presented itself in the form of a 1970 International double-decker ‘skoolie’ conversion posted on Craigslist for only $1000?
Well, lots of people. The reactions we get when people hear about our unusual living arrangement vary from looks of surprise to notifying social services (true story). Most, however, are simply intrigued and want to know more.
It’s not all roses
In practice, living in a converted school bus with six people (or five, when one was an extremely pregnant woman) isn’t as simple as the math might make it seem. Also, the math isn’t as simple as we thought it would be either – living rent-free can cost a lot more than one might imagine.
First, we had to fix up the bus itself. It had been sitting for over a decade in the mountains and was in sore need of an upgrade both for aesthetic and practical purposes.
We then had to invest a significant amount in set-up expenses for making a vacant piece of land habitable. We bought a solar panel, charge controller, wire, batteries and an inverter for electricity and PVC for water lines (a water meter was already present on the lot). We also had to purchase an outdoor water-heater, clothes line and various other miscellany to make things workable for our situation.
On an ongoing basis, we pay monthly for a storage pod that we keep on the property containing all of the earthly possessions that wouldn’t fit in the bus (that would be most of them). We have to buy propane for things like hot water and cooking, which is more expensive than the natural gas we were using in our rental. Our space for food storage is minimal, so we need to go to the store more often for groceries. We now live farther outside of town, so we use more gas to get places. We also occasionally use gas to run a generator for electricity if we haven’t been able to harvest enough energy via the solar panel on cloudy days.
As far as the ease of day-to-day living is concerned, things vary with the weather: a spring morning with the windows open and a nice breeze blowing through your handmade curtains while the kids play outside is completely different than a summer afternoon in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave while you’re eight months pregnant. It just is. Rainy days with no electricity for curling up and watching movies with the kidlets are also rather trying.
It’s not the easiest lifestyle – almost every task requires extra steps to accomplish (even just turning on the stove). It’s generally pretty dirty and occasionally gross (e.g. we have to dispose of our own waste every week) and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for everyone.
There are some pretty big benefits, though. Our lot is over an acre, which means that neighbors aren’t squished in on either side of us. We have the peace of mind of being on our own land where we will be able to be closely involved in the building of our home. Downsizing all our possessions has given us a very good idea of what we can live without (90% of our belongings, apparently!) and we have definitely developed a sense of gratitude for those everyday conveniences that so many take for granted today.
In addition, although our expenses are a bit higher than we had originally anticipated, they still don’t come close to the amount that we were paying monthly in rent. Now that the initial set up is over with, we are managing to stash away a significant amount of money from each paycheck and have built up our savings account to a respectable 4-6 months’ worth of income. Due to the way construction loans work, we are now in a position to potentially start paying down our mortgage before it even begins.
Perhaps one of the biggest items on the “pro” side of things is the fact that being in an uncomfortable situation is a very large impetus to reach our goal!
Living in a bus may be unusual, to say the least, but it is enabling us to work toward a huge goal and keep our debt much lower than what it would otherwise be.
How About You?
- Would you be willing to live in a bus to save money?
- Have you gone to great lengths to put a large amount of money toward a dream?
Sarah is a wife and mom to four living in San Diego, California. She’s raising chickens, homeschooling and is otherwise completely normal (aside from the whole living in a bus thing). You can follow along with her family’s journey into full-time bus-living and house-building at www.littlebusontheprairie.com .