Super inexpensive alternative housing

Updated Oct 12 2015
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By: Nicolás BoullosaCC BY 2.0
[blockquote]My fiance and I are having a terrible time finding an apartment or other traditional living space here in New Jersey, and I am looking for inexpensive alternatives, but am not sure where to start.

He is in the Army Reserves and neither of us make a lot, so we would like to save as much money as we can.

I spent several childhood years living in an RV, and it was an amazing experience, but there aren't really any trailer parks in our area… does anyone have any thoughts on other extremely low-budget alternative housing options for us?


Ok, Homies. If there's no RV parks and something like a Tumbleweed tiny house is too expensive, who's got tips for uber-low budget micro-housing?

  1. I spent a summer living in a vanagon westfalia with my partner. It was awesome. Although there are risks inherent in stealth camping in certain areas. If parking is an issue, try posting on craigslist, or putting ads up in coffee shops, and asking around to see if anyone with a big enough property would "rent" you parking space for a van, RV, or trailer. Or a yurt. Everyone loves yurts.

  2. Apartment managers often get free on-site rent. Also seasonal workers at resorts (at least out where I live in the Southwestern U.S.) get free apartments. A friend of mine and her partner did maintenance at a ski resort year round and had free housing and use of the resort equipment (snow mobiles, lift tickets, etc.). At some of the National Parks, people are hired seasonally and provided with cabins to live in. If you have an R.V., often you can find someone with a lot that you can share. I have known people who have fit 3 R.V.s on one lot and they split the lot payment.

    • Just be careful of zoning laws around R.V.s. Where I work a. you can't live in an R.V. more than 28 consecutive days in 1 year and b. no more than 1 single-family dwelling unit per lot. In this case, an R.V. would be classified as a single-family dwelling unit.

    • Along the same lines as Apartment Management is Storage Management — Here in Seattle, there is one franchise of self-storage facilities that have on-site management. The Managers get free rent, and run the rental office/supply store just downstairs from their apartment. Also — free storage!

      I've also had a friend who worked at an inn as a Manager, and lived in one of the inn's rooms for free with her family. Both of these options obviously include the need to change careers for one of you, though.

  3. Have you tried searching for guesthouses? Out here in the west, it's not uncommon for houses in older neighborhoods to have a rental cottage in the back yard, but I don't know if that's an East Coast thing, too.

    Sometimes the correct search term is "cottage." Either way, rent is often cheap because these houses are small, often similar to studio apartments.

  4. Another solution is the opposite of going small – rent the biggest house you can find and sublet the bedrooms. This can be much cheaper per room than a 1 bedroom place. You could find permanent roommates or do something like Air B&B (assuming your landlord is cool with that)

    • My husband and I did this for the last two years, and it worked out really well — as long as you're both ready & willing to live with roommates (which I, admittedly, was not as ready or willing as I could have been).

  5. I love many of these ideas! We're both pretty young (early twenties) and have always lived at home, or with grandparents (me), so this is a very new thing for us. And and all ideas on this subject are helpful! <3 Thanks so much! It means a lot.

  6. One solution that I may suggest is an intentional community. Ariel has written about them before and I submitted my home tour of the one where I used to live, located in an old convent.

    An intentional community requires that you buy-in to the community aspect, meaning you are accountable to all of your roommates, not just your fiance. They can be wonderful and incredibly supportive. My experience in one made me a better negotiator, more assertive, and more empathetic.

    That said, my boyfriend and recently looked into one and determined that we did not want to have that level of accountability to others at this stage in our relationship. Some communities do not allow couples to move in, others do. It is worth looking into if you have any interest in living communally rather than individually. Shared space and resources will save you money too.

    • Thanks so much! I do like that idea, but I will have to see what T says. lol He's not used to a lot of people around. I, on the other hand, have ten younger siblings and have lived/stayed with plenty of random people before. ^_^

  7. This isn't as Offbeat, but have you looked into your region's Affordable Dwelling program? The way it works for us is that applicants must make less than a certain amount to qualify for homes that are sold at lower prices. It's to help even out the distribution in salary. The income levels are high enough that most people are well employed yet unable to afford most places currently for sale. I once qualified for one of these in a once-rough DC neighborhood. The building itself was nice and a relatively new development. I declined but that was because my job relocated to the burbs.

    I don't know the specifics of your situation, but it sounds like you're hoping to own (or have some permanency). There are downsides and upsides to the program and since I'm not an NJ resident I'm reluctant to comment on those!

  8. My friends bought the tiny tumbleweed plans and built the house themselves for about $20k, splurging on good materials. Just wanted to put that out there as an option! Good skilled friends went a long way if I do say so myself.

  9. Living in a place with roomates is usually much cheaper than getting your own place. Sublet a room or two, or join a cooperative/collective house.

    Bummer you can't find any trailer parks, we lived in an Airstream once for almost a year and it wasn't bad at all (until our plumbing started to freeze). Have you looked into campgrounds? I imagine if you don't have trailer parks nearby there won't be campgrounds either, but they are often listed differently but if they have hookups for RVs or camping trailers they usually offer monthly rates.

    • Yes, I looked into it, and as someone who lived in an RV for several years, I can say the lifestyle agrees with me, but not so much with what my married life will be. Also, my fiance is ify about RVs, since he's never been in one. I'm thinking of renting one for a weekend road trip so he can see how fun they can be!! ^_^ Thanks so much for the info… I'll keep looking!

  10. Hello from New Jersey 🙂 We make it work by living with another couple. For the price of two efficiency apartments in a bad neighborhood, two couples can rent a decent house. Housing costs are high around here (south Jersey; I don't know if you're in the north, where things are even more ridiculous), but there are a lot of rentals on the market because people can't sell. At the moment, we have 4 adults and 1 infant in a tiny two bedroom cottage that's falling down, but … we can pay the bills! Alternatives are great if you can find them, but … things that are technically illegal or sketchy take on new aspects when kids are involved!

    • Yep, Morris County, the mother county of all things overpriced! T.T And sadly, we have to stay here for a while. We both hope to move out of Jersey someday, but for now, this is what we've got! I love your suggestion, and I will seriously consider it and run it past my fiance when he returns from training! ^_^

  11. Where in Nj are you looking? I live in Central NJ in an Airstream at a campground. It's me, my husband, our 6yr old and 2 dogs.

    • Hi! Wondering where in central NJ campground is located and you can live year round? looking for suggestions need to get out of unhealthy living situation;like ideas of tumbleweed like homes but where can you put them is the big question&;Appreciate any helpful suggestions Thanks Jane Maria

    • Hi! I just read your post. I'm in central NJ also. I would consider living in an Airstream. Can you give me some idea of what this costs you. How does it work in the winter? Thanks so much! Maria

  12. You can look into houses that are for sale but that the owners have a hard time selling. (Let's say, the house is on the market for over 6-12 months). Maybe they are willing to rent it to you for a low(er) fee/rent in exchange for moving out quickly when it sells. We currently live in a building that is going to be demolished, but it is not clear when. Our contract states that we have to move out within 28 days of a notice. That's short term (a normal contract would state 3 months), but the rent (technically, we do not pay rent, but a fee for looking after and living in the building) is really low.

    • So true! I once lived in a tent growing up, and it was good fun! There were only eight of us kids then (11 now!), plus my parents and our two cats, so we had some really interesting times! I'd do it again, but I think it'd give my fiance's parents heart attacks…. lol 😛

      • Then you fiancés parents need to lower their expectations and give him a leg up so he can afford housing… or keep their traps shut!

  13. Along the same line as Guesthouses, check for Basement Apartments. In certain neighborhoods in Atlanta, a lot of houses have a tiny studio apartment tucked into the basement. If you're willing to live small, they could be a good option. The one my Dad rented in Midtown was about $500 a month, which is significantly cheaper than anything else I've seen in that neighborhood.

  14. Hullo from the midwest! I don't know if NJ has these around, but in MN there are a bunch of housing cooperatives in the Twin Cities; its like intentional community, but with way more privacy. A friend, her partner and son lived in a three bedroom for half the market price, plus benefitted from free community childcare, a sustainable garden, and bike share. Good Luck!

  15. my husband and i got married in december we both had debt prior to the wedding and living in an apartment we couldnt afford.
    we bought a caravan for $700 and a pantech (back of an old moving truck) for $1300. We rent a room in a share house which is used as my husbands man cave and live in the van in the back yard, we share the bathroom in the house. By making this sacrifice we now pay only $180 per week which includes power and water, with the money were saving on rent and utillities we have managed to pay of hubbies debt in one year and now working on paying mine off. Its not exactly palace royal but it works for us.

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