It would be wonderful to make six- or even seven-figure salaries, but when that may not be possible the next best bet would be to save as much as possible. Clipping coupons, car-pooling, lunch bags, cooking at home, and other time-tested strategies are very popular, but now there is a daring breed of individuals who would go to the extreme to save some extra cash — and in some cases, survive without having to pay any bills whatsoever.
Living close to nature would be perfect, but an isolated cave dwelling is not for the faint hearted. Yet, many have adopted this lifestyle. Some have gone to the extreme of giving their caves urban makeovers and have incorporated modern, solar-powered urban amenities in their naturesque homes.
A rent-free lifestyle is van-tastic
We are not talking about recreational RV lifestyles, many van owners are converting their large-hearted vehicles into everyday living quarters. While large-sized RV-type vans and Ford Econolines are obvious choices, Toyota, Nissan, and other minivan owners are converting their vehicles into makeshift homes as well. A little creativity, some basic amenities, and proximity to gyms (for showers) and public bathrooms is all it takes to make this way of living work.
Sure, there are temperature extremes, security risks, street noises, and other concerns but the lure of saving anywhere from $12,000 to $36,000 every year in rent alone is reason enough for many daring van dwellers.
How do they make it work?
One burner propane stoves help with basic cooking. Food choices that allow minimal cooking, and, of course, economical restaurants.
Public libraries, free Wi-Fi access, and places that allow you to charge your phones and small appliances.
Gyms for showers, fast food joints for rest rooms, cat litter boxes, bottles (for emergency nature calls)—necessity is truly a mother of invention for a van dweller.
Solar-powered lamps and flash lights.
Car cooling/heating, battery-powered fans, and similar devices.
Camp grounds, 24-hour shopping areas, publicly-designated parking areas, and street parking.
Local ordinances vary, but living in a car, except in designated areas, is generally not encouraged. There are many stories of individuals who have escaped legal scrutiny. The regulatory environment is becoming tougher, though, as rising unemployment rates have forced many individuals to adopt this lifestyle as the only resort. Some counties have regulations that prohibit car owners from staying in their cars for more than six hours at a time. Police scrutiny has increased in neighborhoods where van dwelling is likely to occur.
In fact, one Duke grad lived in his van to complete his education debt free. His social experiment did draw some scrutiny subsequently and laws were eventually passed to prevent students from living on campus, but that did not deter this enterprising young student to pursue his choices. You can read more about his “van days” here. Ken used the campus gym ($34 per month) for showers and for the purpose of collecting water for drinking and cooking.
If you decide to adopt this lifestyle, be sure to ensure adequate ventilation. Poisonous gases can quickly accumulate in small spaces.
Walk to work, become a social media hero, win a new car
Many of us walk to work daily, especially if we are fortunate enough to live close to work but in the case of a dedicated Detroit man, Mr. Robertson, his walk wasn’t just the customary few blocks. He walked 21 miles on a daily basis—every single work day. It wasn’t that he didn’t have access to public transportation. To the contrary, the bus routes simply did not have stops close to his house, leaving him to walk nearly twenty miles (both ways). Twenty miles! That’s more than what I would walk every month — and this gentleman was 56 when the story was covered. That’s motivating.
Mr. Robertson’s unwavering commitment inspired a highly-publicized crowdsourcing campaign that ultimately raised $350,000 toward a new home for him. A suburban car dealership decided to donate a car for his commute as well.
Despite his new-found fame, Mr. Robertson did not give up his $10.55 per hour job. You can read more about his inspiring story here.
Study in an Ivy school — tuition-free
Doesn’t always work (and is probably illegal), but that did not deter Mr. Dumas, 28, from attending classes and networking at some of the nation’s most prestigious schools, including Yale. He would literally show up for lectures, participate in classes, and genuinely contribute toward project discussions as if he were actually enrolled and registered for the courses. His enthusiasm was contagious and no one suspected his unique experiment.
Not only did Mr. Dumas accumulate a vast body of learning from the world’s most sought-after professors, he also managed to make valuable connections that, hopefully, will do him good as he progresses in his career. The Atlantic covered his unique story in full detail.
Forget shipping; now, you can live in shipping containers
Let’s admit building materials have become expensive. The cost of building strong, durable exteriors is not only prohibitive, it is causing a new generation of home builders to look at reasonable alternatives. From reconstructing dumpsters to converting shipping containers into homes, the trend is picking up nationwide.
If you own some land (or can rent it), a shipping container can be purchased for as little as $2,000. One shipping container can provide enough room for an entire family, but if you are picky about space and need more, you can buy extra containers. Add more rooms or inexpensively build a multi-storey dwelling. Looking for more ideas? Look at some eye-catching homes built by creative homeowners.
If you consider that a mobile, pre-built home costs tens of thousands of dollars, a container home doesn’t sound like a very bad alternative.
Fire your utility company; hire Mother Nature instead
Creative lifestyles appear to be on the horizon these days. Escalating utility costs, multi-layer taxes, and a preference for living a completely natural lifestyle appear to be the primary reasons why a rising breed of naturalists are adopting off-the-grid lifestyles. Despite their natural lifestyles, they appear to be holding on to some of their urban comforts. In fact, their approach is a unique blend of urban comfort and natural living.
For off-grid home dwellers, solar panels and wind energy appear to be popular choices for generating electricity without the help of hyper-expensive utility service providers. Some families take this concept to a much higher level, though, and have adopted lifestyles completely in harmony with nature. Natural septic tanks, organic home-grown food, natural heating and cooling sources — there are so many ways to go completely off-grid. In case you are interested in learning more about the science behind off-grid living, HowStuffWorks has some great tips on the subject.
Grow your veggies on your own window sill
Love your fruits and veggies but don’t like the grocery bills? Your background or even your own window sill (if you live in an apartment) could replace your walk to the grocery store. In fact, urban farming is the new craze these days. Not only are these fruits and vegetables cheaper to cultivate, they are healthy and sans any dangerous pesticides or chemicals. Sure, you need to consider local weather conditions to adapt your produce, but if you are dedicated enough you could grow not only for your own needs but also supply extra produce to local stores or sellers at the local farmer’s market.
I tried growing some tomatoes once. The squirrels did take a bite (literally) out of my hard work but the results were encouraging and I had enough left over for a freezer full of lycopene-rich vegetables. After a season of dedicated monogamy with pasta sauce and tomato-flavored food, I was a little bored, though, and decided to call it quits on the home-grown produce craze. I may have given up a little early, but there are others who are capitalizing on the ability to farm in-house, even on a commercial scale.
In fact, a New York restaurant decided to conduct a very successful experiment. The restaurant grew its own produce on a Manhattan terrace and used the fresh products as ingredients in exclusively organic à la carte menu. Now, if you can grow your commercial-scale food requirements on Manhattan’s skyline, you can pretty much replicate the experiment anywhere.
Forget the controversial punch line that lighted up many social media discussions. We are not talking about cavemen, but the very opposite here. Some daring urban dwellers decided to resort to natural habitats to save a bunch — and then some more.
The Shangaiist covered the story of a caveman — actually, a 35-year-old Chinese national who decided to live in the cave for six months so he could save enough for his family. There was another story of an American who lived in the cave for ten years. Now, if you are thinking this style of living was foreclosure-proof, think again. The Sleepers family was in for a hard surprise when they discovered their 17,000-square-foot home is up for auction.
Dumpster diving for food and business
One morning, I left for work at 4 AM and was surprised to see a group of elderly people on bicycles. At first, I thought they were on their way to a biking event or an exercise class, but I was surprised to see them stopping in front of every home. These seniors would dive into recycled trash to find cans, water bottles, and other recyclable treasure. After collecting their treasure, they would visit the local supermarket and deposit their digs in exchange for cash. A few-hour shift on a lucrative route would earn them an extra $20 to $30 per day — add to that benefits of exercise.
Homeless people often resort to the dumpster to find food for their next meal but there was the story of a man who would actually dive into dumpsters to find electronics. In fact, he is not alone. There is an entire breed of technically-savvy individuals who dive into the dumpsters of big retailers to find electronics (and parts) that they later sell or auction in exchange for thousands of dollars. The shift is hard, though, and often requires 2 AM commutes. Not to mention the hazard of contacting unwanted germs, diseases, and injuries that could result from the hazardous venture.
One more reason to thoroughly sanitize your digs from online auctions. For all you know, they might have been sourced from commercial dumpsters.
Collecting neighbors’ coupons
Those annoying magazine inserts, coupon leaflets, and store flyers that you throw away are actually sought-after commodities by passionate coupon lovers. These are individuals who offer to collect their neighbors’ newspapers and other material just in order to get more coupons — and it works.
The neighbors benefit from not having to take care of their unwanted items while the collectors get coupons worth hundreds of dollars for less than a few hours of work every month. Not bad.
One man’s throwaway is another man’s food
Some years back, a local television channel interviewed a unique family. This family had started a foundation that would collect leftover food from restaurants. After collecting a substantial amount, partner airlines and transportation companies would provide logistics to enable delivery of usable food items to needy individuals in developing countries.
There are many individuals who receive food supplies from local restaurants and bakeries who are finding it difficult to manage their excess food.
Food joints and sample giveaways
Those little sample giveaways you were avoiding are actually a source of full meals for many cost-conscious consumers. An elderly gentleman in Queens, NY, regularly visits different wholesalers every week. Every single day, he visits one discount wholesaler. His motivation? Free samples. Hot dogs, pasta, ice creams, cookies, samosas, you name it … at least one meal a day is arranged through free samples.
If his strategy piqued your curiosity, how would you react to those who source their daily supplies for sugar ketchup, napkins, and other items from generous fast food joints? On every visit, they collect extra sugar packets and ketchup pouches. Eventually, there is a cumulative effect.
Forget apple picking, go Metrocard hunting instead
New York has a Metro Card program that allows you to swipe your card in lieu of tokens. The cards come in many dominations and the unfortunate math behind these cards is that sometimes you will have $0.50 left on the card after a few swipes. Since you can’t ride for that amount, passengers often toss these cards away as trash. This is where card hunters come in. They pick up a large stack of these cards and often visit the counter to combine many cards for a larger amount.
Sometimes, an hour of work (on a good day) could net you $20 in fares. Every day is not good for business, though, and like any business card hunters have their peaks — not to mention competition.
Ever seen a determined person picking up a penny from the road? If you walk a block around Manhattan, you are sure to find at least a few dollars’ worth of pennies.
In case you are wondering — what did they do with the extra savings? Some went on to build their dream homes or get a college degree without loans, while others just used their nomadic lifestyle as an opportunity for more adventure and fun.
What do you think about their choices? Which strategy do you think is the craziest? You be the judge and let us know in the comments below.
Nimish Thakkar is the founder of DontSpendMore.com. (c) DontSpendMore.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved.