Hi! Melanie here! At ATWS we’re interested in challenging the norm of debt and spending. In the “Tiny Living” column, we interview people who who have gone to (what some would say) extreme means with their living situations to get out of debt, save money and live a simpler life. Today we have Ethan with us. Ethan is a writer in Vermont. Take it away, Ethan!
My name is Ethan Waldman and I’m a writer and tiny house owner. I live in my tiny house in Vermont. My girlfriend often stays there with me too. I finished building my tiny house around September 2013. I have been living in it ever since.
On June 1, 2012, I left my corporate job to work on my business (Cloud Coach) and to start building my tiny house. I’d never done any real construction before, but by September 2013, I had successfully built my very own home, which I have lived in ever since. In September of 2014, I published my first book, Tiny House Decisions.
Back when I was working my traditional 9-to-5 job, I took a month off for a bicycle tour, and when I returned, I knew I couldn’t last in the corporate world much longer. There just wasn’t enough flexibility to accommodate the life that I wanted to live. I didn’t feel inspired by the work that I was doing, and I felt like time was just accelerating. I could envision myself ten years later on this trajectory: a little older, a little weaker, a little bit more tired, sitting in the same cubicle, doing the same work, and for what? There was no way that I was going to let my life continue down that track.
I knew that I wanted my own business, too. I had already been working with a business coach for close to six months. Cloud Coach, my technology coaching business, was already up and running. I had even launched my first product with reasonable success. I was resolute in my desire to get out of the corporate world altogether.
But there was still something missing from the picture. I knew that being in business for myself could mean fluctuation in income- the feast-or-famine business cycle and general uncertainty of being on my own. My main worry was having to come up with $1,000 each month for rent and utilities. Even though I felt really good about my new business and its potential, I didn’t feel responsible quitting my job without some more stability. I also knew that my current lifestyle, though not extravagant, would be threatened. I enjoyed (and still enjoy) skiing in the winter, bicycling in the summer, eating organic food, and traveling periodically to visit family that’s scattered around the country.
So, I built my tiny house. At the start, I bought the plans for the Tumbleweed Fencl (now called the Cypress) – a popular tiny house on wheels. There were some things I wanted to change about the design and a close friend of my parents, Milford Cushman, offered to help me change the plans.
Milford decided we should actually start from scratch, starting with a blank piece of paper and drawing exactly the house that I wanted. I wasn’t sure what I wanted and Milford taught me about the concept of Wabi Sabi. Each design decision has a trade-off and there is no one perfect design. I found this to be true throughout the build, and now help others to understand these trade-offs in my book, Tiny House Decisions. Finally, after a whole series of design sessions, reams of paper, and lots of decisions, we came up with a design for my tiny house.
I then worked 1-3 days a week on the house and hired a carpenter that I found on Craigslist to help me build my home.
My tiny house is on wheels and the trailer itself is 8′ wide. The house is built between the wheel wells, which makes the interior width about 7.5′.
I have an eleven-foot sleeping loft with a queen-sized bed. Our loft is actually quite a bit longer than most tiny house lofts. This means we have room to sit, get dressed, and put our clothes away in the closets, which are conveniently located right at the end of the loft. In my tiny house, the dormers are in the loft. They let a lot of light in and provide us with a great view.
I also have another storage loft, a living room area with a desk and a couch, a kitchen, and a bathroom with a copper shower, which I love!
I estimated the materials and plans I’d need would cost me about $20,000, but I only had about $5,000 in savings. I was earning around $60,000, but I pretty much spent everything I earned. I started a tiny house fund and went into what my girlfriend called “hobo mode.”
My $8,000 end-of-year bonus went into the fund. The side income I made from my business went into it, as well. I temporarily stopped putting 5% of my pay towards retirement. I sold a few items I didn’t need. I lived with my girlfriend for a while, to save on rent. I cut down my outgoings, spending money only on things that were necessary. By March 2012, I was able to hand in my notice at work, knowing I’d have my $20,000 by June.
I did underestimate the cost of the materials, and I also decided to hire help to built it. Those additional expenses added up to $22,000, so the house wound up costing just over $40,000.
I also forgot to budget for all the expenses related to getting the house situated on the land that I found. Things like hooking it up to electricity and plumbing all cost money and time!
Since living in the tiny house, I’ve managed to save $5,000 for emergencies. I put 10% of my pre-tax income towards retirement. I have other savings goals too, like my goal to save up for a new car. All this while living exactly how I want, traveling, buying kite surfing gear, and so on.
I live mortgage-, rent-, and debt-free. My only real expenses are my utility bills, which are also tiny compared to what they were before. My tiny house is hooked up to a spring, so I don’t pay for water. My energy bill is $30 a month for propane at the absolute highest, when it’s freezing here in Vermont. It’s between $100 and $150 when I use electricity. Plus I don’t need much in the summer.
I work from home, but where “home” is depends on the day of the week. I’m not at the tiny house every day. I spend about half the time with my girlfriend at the condo that she owns, and the other half she’s with me back at the tiny house. I hate waking up to an alarm, so I usually sleep until I wake up, usually around 7:30 or 8. I make a fruit smoothie and a strong cup of coffee and I usually try to work until about noon. After lunch I either go back to work or do some kind of outdoor activity. Even something as simple as taking a walk. It’s so great to get outside and breathe some fresh air!
The best part is how little the house costs me now that it’s done. I don’t have a mortgage so I’m free to spend my money on experiences now, instead of things! The worst part? I’d love to have a dishwasher to get all the dishes done after having people over for dinner. Oh well!
In terms of advice for other people wanting to live this lifestyle, you can’t start planning too soon! Tiny houses require a lot of forethought, so do your research before you start building.