Cheap Living: 20 Best Alternative Housing Options

Cheap Living: The Best Housing Alternatives


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Are you interested in cheap living? According to Harvard, a report from their Joint Center for Housing found that more than 10.9 million Americans are spending more than 50% of their income on housing alone!

If you know how to budget, you know that you should spend 30% of your monthly income on rent at maximum, including additional rent expenses.

With that said, even if you make a decent living or find ways to cut expenses, only spending 30% of your income on rent can certainly be a difficult task.

Fortunately, there are many ways to live on the cheap, which is exactly what we’ll discuss in this post – the 20 best alternative housing options, cheap living tips and much more.

Whether you want a temporary or permanent change, you’re sure to find the perfect option on our list.

Cheap Living – Alternative Housing Options

Are you tired of the ridiculous price tag that comes with conventional houses? If so, here is a list of the 20 best housing alternatives and a summary of each:

Note: Some of these housing alternatives may be seen as a bit extreme and are not a fit for everyone. We have included them to provide the most comprehensive list as possible.

1. Live In an RV

Living in an RV is one of the most popular alternative housing options. If you already own one for the purpose of vacation, you can choose to live in it for all 12 months out of the year instead.

If you don’t already own an RV, you can expect to spend between $10,000 and $300,000, depending on its condition (new or used), size, features, etc.

Not only is living in an RV much cheaper than the average conventional home, you will have the freedom to travel whenever and wherever you want. However, I recommend you minimize travel to save money.

Here are a few other ways to save money while living in an RV full-time:

  • Use an app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas
  • Subscribe to RV memberships like Boondockers
  • Use an RV app like Ultimate PUBLIC Campgrounds to find free or inexpensive services
  • Cook your own meals

Bob Wells over at CheapRVLiving.com lives in his RV full-time on just a $1,100-per-month-pension. He has said that he knows, “dozens of people who live in their vans and make much less than $1,000 per month.”

2. Become a Full-Time Caretaker

Do you have a background in the medical field and enjoy taking care of people? If so, becoming a live-in caretaker may be a wonderful housing alternative for you. It’s also a great job opportunity.

There are a lot of elderly people that are in need of full-time assistance.

As a live-in caretaker, you will look after someone on a full-time basis by helping them with their day-to-day tasks.

Because of this, you may be given free room and board, meals, etc., in addition to full-time pay.

With that said, if you want your own space, becoming a full-time caretaker may not be your best option for alternative housing.

3. Live in a manufactured Home

Buying a manufactured house, also known as a mobile-home or trailer, is much cheaper than buying a conventional home.

According to MobileHomeLiving.org, the average cost of lot rent for a mobile-home is anywhere between $100 and $800, depending on location.

This is much less than the average $1,690 to rent a studio apartment and upwards of $2,017 for a three-bedroom unit.

If you do buy a manufactured house, you can expect to spend between $5,000 and $50,000, depending on condition, size, features, etc.

While a manufactured home typically doesn’t appreciate, if you make significant upgrades, you may be able to end up selling it for more than you bought it.

4. Convert a School Bus Into Your Home

Cheap Living

Another great alternative housing option which is similar to living in an RV, is to turn a school bus into your home.

Depending on where you live, you should be able to purchase one in decent condition for anywhere around $4,000.

Once you buy one, you can do a DIY project, if you have the basic tools and skills, to turn some of the space into a living area and so on.

Living in a school bus is also quite popular. If you do a simple Google search for “school bus living” you will find countless videos and articles of people that have converted one into their home.

For example, Kyle over at GearJunkie.com left his apartment, moved his belongings into a storage unit, and chose to live full-time in a school bus that he converted into his home.

5. Live in Your Truck

Somewhat similar (not really) to living in an RV or school bus, you can simply live in your truck.

I say it’s somewhat similar to living in an RV or school bus because it has many of the same advantages and disadvantages. However, depending on the type of truck you use, it will offer a lot less space.

With that said, you will be able to save a lot more money upfront living in a truck than you would an RV or school bus because you won’t have spend a lot of money to make modifications.

While you will need to convert the truck into your home, it won’t cost nearly as much as converting an RV or school bus would.

According to Business Insider, a Google employee named Brandon, lives in his truck because he only really needs a place to sleep. He uses the Google campus for the rest of his needs, such as showering.

He goes further in depth about his experiences living in a truck on his blog, FromInsideTheBox.

6. Live as an Airbnb Property Manager

Thousands of people make great money renting on Airbnb, but what happens to the property when there isn’t a guest?

If an Airbnb host doesn’t want to manage the property, communicate with guests, or is even worried about their place getting damaged, they may sometimes hire a full-time, live-in Airbnb property manager.

As a live-in Airbnb property manager, you will schedule guests and manage the property by cleaning after a guest leaves and so on. This means making an income while also living on the property for a fraction of the price.

So, if you enjoy working as a scheduler and don’t mind cleaning up after people, being a live-in Airbnb property manager may be a great alternative housing option for you.

7. Live as a Nomad

Alternative housing? How about no housing? A nomad is someone who has no home at all and just travels from place to place.

This option is certainly not a fit for everyone and is only a good idea for the most adventurous of us. It may also be a good idea if you work remote.

One of the main benefits of being a nomad is that you can constantly travel wherever the cost of living is less, where jobs pay the most, and so on. All while having a lot different experiences and meeting new people as you do.

Britany Robinson over at TheCulureist.com has taken the nomadic lifestyle to a whole new level.

She has said, “I’m addicted to the freedom of renting over buying, as are many of my friends and peers.” Britany is currently living in hotels as she travels the United States.

8. Live in a Van

Saving Money With the Van Life

#VanLife! Super similar to living in an RV or school bus, you can choose to live in a van as an alternative housing option. Van-life, also known as vandwelling, refers to the lifestyle of living in a van full-time or even part-time.

If you do a simple Google search for “van life” you will find countless videos and articles of people sharing their experiences living the van-life.

For example, the top search result is a complete guide to living in a van written by John and Jayme over at gnomadhome.com. They cover everything from what exactly the van-life is to how you can succeed doing it yourself.

With that said, if you’re interested in the van-life, I highly recommend you check out their guide.

9. Live in a Duplex or Multi-Plex

If you’re interested in a more traditional alternative housing option, but still want to live on the cheap, moving into a duplex or multi-plex is a great option. In fact, purchasing a duplex or multi-plex is a super smart money move in general.

For example, if you have the capital to invest, you can buy a duplex and live in one side and have a tenant in the other side, earning you passive income.

Depending on how much you charge your tenant, you may be able to pay your entire mortgage. In this case, you would be practically living for free.

However, the downside of doing this is that you may end up being a landlord/property manager, which most people have no interest in being and want nothing to do with.

10. Live in a Storage Container

A bit extreme, I know. However, many people are living in storage containers as an alternative housing option and it’s not too much different than living in a tiny home.

However, most people aren’t living in them as a permanent alternative housing solution. Instead, they’re using it as a super cheap place to live while they get back on their feet.

For example, Becky over at BeckyBlanton.com, lived in a 10-by-20 foot storage container for four months while she saved up money to find more conventional housing.

With that said, you should be able to live in one for $100 or less per month. If you decide to purchase one, it can cost anywhere between $1,000 to $6,000. Depending on changes you make to turn it into a suitable living area, you may also have to invest a little up front.

11. Rent a Guest House

While you could rent out a bedroom in your house to help it pay for itself, maybe you don’t want someone living with you as a roommate. If so, you can add an efficiency apartment to your property.

An efficiency apartment is simply a living area with everything needed contained in one room, such as a bedroom, bathroom, dining area, kitchen, and so on. An efficiency apartment is usually under 1,000 sq. ft. Considering this, it’s very similar to a micro-apartment.

Adding an efficiency apartment to your property can help you pay your mortgage and is a great long-term investment. However, keep in mind someone’s primary residence will be on your property.

12. Build Your Own Tiny House

Saving Money With the Tiny House Trend

Tiny homes have become super popular in the last several years and I’m sure you have heard of them one way or another.

A tiny house is exactly as it sounds – a very small home that is often portable. Many people opt for a tiny house because they don’t want the debt of a mortgage hanging over their head. A tiny house also has a lot lower maintenance cost.

However, they may not be as cheap as you would assume. A tiny house can range anywhere between $40,000 and $70,000.

If you move into a tiny house, you will also have to give up a majority of your possessions or move them into storage. Considering this, it will be important that you live light and are super organized.

Also keep in mind that you will have to find a lot for your tiny house to sit. This may be private land owned by you or someone you know or property that is specifically designed for tiny homes.

13. Buy a Condo

Another option that is similar to conventional housing is buying a condo. While it’s somewhat similar to a duplex, it’s not the same.

Simply put, a condo is a home you buy on a piece of land that other people also own homes on. Because of this, you’re likely to share an entrance, walls, utilities, and more with the other owners.

With that said, condos are typically less than single-family homes. This is largely because they have lower maintenance costs, insurance cost, and lower property taxes. However, you will have to pay an HOA fee.

They also usually come with amenities that you might not get otherwise, such as a fitness center, pool, hot tub, and so on.

14. Buy a Co-Op Unit

Co-op, which is short for co-operative, is another option that is similar to conventional housing. Co-op housing is similar to condominiums, but you can’t actually buy and own the co-op apartment.

Instead, you will be purchasing shares in the corporation that owns the building rather than the individual unit you live in.

A co-op unit is sometimes cheaper than a condo because they are hard to finance, which drives down the price. However, you will still be paying a monthly maintenance fee.

With that said, if you buy a co-op unit, you will save thousands of dollars every year compared to renting an apartment or a single-family home.

15. Rent a Bedroom

If you’re single or just don’t mind people living with you, consider renting out a bedroom. While renting out a room in your home isn’t necessarily an alternative housing option, it’s a great way to cut housing costs.

One of the easiest places to find someone you can rent out a bedroom to is Craigslist. However, I highly recommend you vet the person before you let them move in.

Make sure you have compatible personalities, lifestyles, and so on. The last thing you want is to rent out a bedroom to someone you have nothing in common with.

With that said, I highly recommend you rent out a bedroom to a friend or someone you already know. This way, you don’t have worry about who exactly it is moving in with you.

16. Live on Your Boat

Cheap Living

Believe it or not, there are many people that live on their sailboat full-time. For example, Chad and Leann over at HoboSailer.com write about their experiences living on their sailboat.

Their lifestyle only cost them about $1,000 per month and it includes a large-screen TV and their cat!

They credit their ability to keep their monthly expenses low to budgeting well and sticking to places that are free to anchor.

Chad recommends that you live on a sailboat if you have a partner, as it involves a lot of work. He has also said that it’s not easy and living on a sailboat is a “great pre-marriage test that I would recommend to anyone.”

17. Live With Roommates

While this isn’t necessarily a housing alternative, a great way to reduce housing costs is to simply live with roommates.

For example, if you find a place to live with rent that costs $,1,750 per month, you can cut it in half by living with just one other person.

If you live with two other people, you could reduce it to just $583. Add another person, and you’re rent is now only $437.50 per month!

If you work together to cook cheap meals and incorporate leftovers, you can save a lot of money on food by living with roommates as well.

18. Live With Your Parents or a Sibling

Are you not interested in living with people you don’t know? If your parents or a sibling have an extra room, why not ask them if you can move in?

Again, while this isn’t necessarily a housing alternative, it’s a great way to reduce housing costs.

According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2020, “A majority of young adults in the U.S. live with their parents for the first time since the Great Depression.”

“Why?” you may ask. Well, it’s due to the pandemic, low wages, rising cost of living, massive student loan debt, and so on.

With that said, If they have a room that they don’t use, they may be willing to rent it you on the cheap. This is a win-win opportunity, as it will help them pay their mortgage.

However, keep in mind that this will only work well if you both have similar lifestyles, personalities, etc.

19. Join the Military

This is much different than the other options on our list, but if you’re single and have no children, you may want to consider joining the military as a housing alternative.

Although military housing varies by rank, location and your family situation, regardless of which branch you join, you will always have a place to live.

For example, you will still receive basic allowance for housing (BAH) even if you’re not living on-base. The military will also pay for much of the travel and other expenses required for you to make a move.

You can learn more about military benefits on Military One Source’s New to the Military – Benefits page.

20. Live In Your Fixer-Upper

Cheap Living

Do you happen to renovate homes for a living? If so, why not live in one of your remodeling projects as a housing alternative?

There are many people that have a home-flipping business who live in one of the homes they are currently renovating.

Not only will you be making your income as usual, you will also be able to significantly reduce your housing expenses and more. If you’re able to live in one of them for a significant amount of time, the benefits get even better.

For example, according to the IRS, you can sell a home without paying tax on capital gains (up to $250,000) if you live in it for a minimum of two years.

If you don’t renovate homes, but this is something you’re interested in, the key to being successful is understanding the value of a home that needs a lot of work and knowing which type of financing is best to make the purchase.

Other Alternative Housing Options

Here is a short list of other housing alternatives, which didn’t make our list:

  • Move abroad
  • Live in a shed
  • Couch surf
  • Live in a tipi
  • Live in hostels
  • Rent a motel room
  • Live in a tree house
  • Live in your office
  • Go camping
  • Live in a commune
  • Live in a shack

While some of these may be a bit extreme and definitely not for everyone, we have included them to provide the most comprehensive list as possible.

Cheap Living – Tips

While reducing what you spend each month on housing is the biggest step to living on the cheap, it’s only part of the process. You should also find ways to reduce expenses on other costs by making the best decisions.

Now that you know about the 20 best housing alternatives, here are cheap living tips to save even more money.

1. Make Your Own Food

Food may just be the biggest budget category in which you can cut back on your monthly expenses.

While the cost of dining out or ordering takeout once or twice may not seem like much, it can add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a month.

With that said, if you stop eating out, you may be surprised at how much you save over the course of a year. Cooking your own food is also much healthier, so it’s the best of both worlds.

Additional ways to save money on food:

  • Follow a budget meal plan
  • Buy food in bulk
  • Use a cash back app
  • Always make a list before you go grocery shopping
  • Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry

2. Cut the Cord

If you’re serious about living on the cheap, you should consider canceling your cable package, as it may be taking up a significant portion of your budget.

In fact, according to U.S. News, a study by DecisionData.org found that the average cable package costs $217.42 per month.

Instead of paying for a cable package, explore cheap alternatives like a Hulu or Netflix subscription. It’s likely you will get just as much out a streaming service as you will cable.

3. Use Public Transportation

Depending on where you live, you may want to consider taking public transportation instead of owning a car. While owning a car may be nice, it’s far more expensive.

Taking public transportation is also usually faster for getting from one place to another. You also don’t have to waste time finding a parking space, and so on.

With that said, an even cheaper option than owning a car is simply walking or riding a bike.

While this obviously isn’t an option for everyone, if you live super close to your work, you should definitely consider it. Not only will your wallet thank you, your body will as well.

4. Switch Your Phone Plan

Do you really need all those useless perks and benefits that come with your phone plan? If not, consider swapping your current phone plan for a cheaper one.

For example, if you’re at home a lot, instead of using cellular, you can use your phone over Wi-Fi. In this case, you wouldn’t need much data every month.

Additional ways to save on your phone bill:

  • Use a prepaid cell phone
  • Switch phone carriers
  • Join a family plan
  • Look for deals
  • Check for discounts
  • Sign up for autopay

5. Be Cautious of Memberships and Subscriptions

Do you have a gym membership but never find yourself going? Do you have a Netflix subscription but never actually have the time to watch a movie?

Take time to review your monthly memberships and subscriptions and cancel any that aren’t absolutely necessary and you could go without.

Depending on how many you cancel, you can easily save over $700 per year.

Additional Cheap Living Tips

Here is a list of additional cheap living tips:

  • Lower the temperature setting on your thermostat
  • Brew your own coffee
  • Lower the temperature on your water heater
  • Buy second hand
  • Only drink water (except coffee)
  • Shop store-brand
  • Install energy-efficient light bulbs
  • Break any bad habits that are costly

Cheap Living FAQs

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about cheap living:

1. Is it Possible to Live for Free?

Yes, you absolutely can live rent free. In fact, there are quite a few ways to do so.

For example, as mentioned above, if you have a background in the medical field and enjoy taking care of others, you can live for free by becoming a full-time caretaker.

With that said, here are a few ways to live for free:

  • Become a full-time caretaker
  • Rent a house and then rent out the rooms
  • Become a live-in Property manager
  • Live as a nomad
  • Join the military
  • Live in your truck

2. What Is the Cheapest Living Option?

Here is a list of the 5 cheapest living options:

  • Live in your truck
  • Live in a shed
  • Go camping
  • Live in a shack
  • Couch surf
  • Live in a tree house

Yes, these housing alternatives are a bit extreme and are not a fit for everyone. Again, we have only included them to provide the most comprehensive list as possible.

With that said, here is a list of more realistic options:

  • Live in an RV
  • Build a tiny house
  • Live in a van
  • Become a full-time caretaker
  • Live in a school bus

3. Where Is the Cheapest Rent to Live?

To little surprise, you will find the cheapest rent in the South and Midwest. This is mostly due to a lot of it being rural. However, it also has a lot to do with the job market.

With that said, according to Rent.com, the 10 cities in the U.S. that have the cheapest rent are:

  • Springfield, MO
  • Fargo, ND
  • Greensboro, NC
  • Tucson, AZ
  • Grand Forks, ND
  • Mobile, AL
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • Des Moines, IA
  • Bentonville, AR
  • Omaha, NE

4. How Can I Afford to Live by Myself?

Are you not interested in living with others, whether it’s your parents, siblings, or roommates but still want to live on the cheap? Maybe you’re even forced to live on your own.

The best way to afford to live on your own is to downsize to a smaller place. By doing so, you will be able to save quite a bit on housing costs. You should also consider moving to a place with a lower cost of living.

With that said, here are additional steps you can take to afford to live by yourself:

Final Words on Cheap Living

As provided above, there are many housing alternatives. Whether it’s living in an RV, building a tiny home, living on a boat, and so on, thousands of people use one of the options on our list to live on the cheap.

Whatever option you choose, remember that everything in life is give and take. While the idea of cheap living may sound attractive, the cheaper the housing alternative, you more comfort, space, etc. you will have to give up.

Prior to making any extreme change to your lifestyle, make sure you consider everything it will mean to your life and not just your financial situation.

What is you favorite housing alternative? Whether or not it made our list, we would love to hear about it in the comment section below!

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