One of the most effective strategies for living a more frugal life is to spend less on your housing.
The reason is simple; the average American or Brit spends roughly 40% of their income on their rent or mortgage.
Reducing your housing expenses by a small percentage can therefore be far more effective for saving money than all the “make your own dish soap”-type articles to be found online.
But as anyone who has considered this will attest – saving money on your housing can be hard.
Here’s my story – and how we ended up spending less on our housing (without living in horrible area)…
The Problem with Cheap Housing (In the UK)
For the last five years my girlfriend have lived in a very cheap flat (apartment) in order to save money and pay off our debt.
It was a conscious decision and has worked out well for us.
But it hasn’t been without its issues.
What we want from a home is reasonably simple; somewhere warm, dry and quiet where we can simply mind our own business.
A “safe haven” to return to at the end of a long day at work.
To help our budget we were willing to compromise on any “luxuries” that we’d dearly love; a spare room for all our “stuff”, a small patch of garden to relax on a summers evening.
Heck we don’t even have central heating at the moment or a boiler that is capable of filling the bath more than a third of the way.
Most people wouldn’t be willing to live like this, and it certainly wasn’t fun, but it has allowed us to regain control of our finances, pay off all our debt and start building up our savings.
While the same may not apply to every area and every country, I would like to take a moment to discuss the struggles we have experienced during that period…
The sad reality that we’ve discovered time and again is that cheaper properties here in the UK tend to be inhabited by “cheap people”.
People who only work part time (if at all). People who are more concerned about partying than they are about getting ahead financially.
The result of this has been a less-than-satisfactory living situation.
A few examples of what we’ve had to put up with include:
- Late night parties almost every weekend absolutely ruling out a proper night’s sleep, and essentially pushing me to the point that I dread every weekend
- The constant smell of smoke from people smoking in their properties and allowing it to drift out into the shared areas
- People actually smoking (illegally) in these public areas, leaving cigarette ends and empty beer cans for someone else to clean up
- The recycling bins being constantly filled with general waste because a subset of the people here simply don’t care
None of this has been pleasant.
Worse, this isn’t the only low-rent flat I’ve lived in; since I arrived at university in 2000 I’ve lived in dozens of flats, and have experienced similar problems in each.
Complaints to the landlord, managing agent, Environmental Health and even the police on occasions have yielded little or no response.
Frankly, nobody in power here in the UK really seems willing to do anything about anti-social behaviour.
It’s a terrible state of affairs, and one that in my experience seems to come hand-in-hand with lower-cost accommodation.
The Solution to Cheap Housing
At this point you should be noticing a slight issue; saving money on your accommodation makes a lot of financial sense for those wanting to live a more frugal lifestyle.
On the other hand lower-cost housing frequently comes with its own share of problems.
I genuinely can’t remember the last time I actually got a full night’s sleep without being woken up by some scumbag neighbour for example.
So what can you do to lower your housing costs without subjecting yourself to a home life that you’ll dread?
Move to a Cheaper Area
Whatever country you live in you will find some areas are naturally more expensive than others to live in.
In America, for example, living in the middle of New York is almost certain to be more expensive than living in a similar property in rural North Dakota.
In the UK, living in London (or the South East in general) is more expensive than living “up north”.
I’m not suggesting that you move to a cheaper part of an expensive area – you’ll probably similar experience problems to what we have.
Instead move to a state/county where all property is naturally cheaper.
In such a way you’ll be able to spend less on your housing and end up with a nice property in a pleasant area.
Opt For a Smaller Home in a Nicer Area
A second option for saving money on housing without having to compromise on your quality of life is to think “location, location, location”.
Rather than selecting a big house in a nasty part of town consider instead opting for a smaller property in more upmarket area.
In such a way you’ll be able to save money while being surrounded by green spaces and pleasant neighbours.
Find Badly-Marketed Properties
I remember some years ago hearing about a friend who was making good money by purchasing products on eBay that had been badly marketed.
Perhaps they contained spelling mistakes so they didn’t show up properly in the search feature.
Maybe they didn’t contain enough information, or had no photos.
He would buy up these bad listings and then re-list them with a better description. It wasn’t unusual for him to double his money from doing this.
The thing is; there are properties like this too if you’re willing to search hard enough.
Properties where the photos don’t do it justice, or where the agent doesn’t advertise in the normal places.
As a result bargains can be had by people with the patience to persevere and find these “golden nuggets”.
Even better, if a property has been on the market for some time then you’ve also more than likely got more chance of negotiating the property price down before signing on the dotted line.
Go Rural Rather Than Urban
Whilst there are always discrepancies, many properties in towns and cities are worth more than equivalent properties in the countryside.
This is simply because they offer extra practicalities for local workers who don’t want to commute too far.
Another benefit of more rural properties is that the population density tends to be lower, meaning fewer neighbours about and all manner of outdoor leisure activities right on your doorstep.
Find a Job That Comes With Free Accommodation
Lastly there are a number of occupations that offer free accommodation.
A few years ago my girlfriend landed a job with a charity which required us to live onsite for security purposes.
The alarms might go off once every few weeks requiring a late-night check of the site; besides that we benefited from free accommodation in a beautiful turn-of-the-century cottage.
While such jobs are few and far between (and have become less since the financial meltdown) they do still exist if you know where to look.
The Solution We Chose
So after telling you about all the problems we’ve encountered, and some potential solutions, I suppose it makes sense to tell you what we’ve done so far to find pleasant – yet reasonably-priced housing.
Yes, incase you haven’t guessed we’ve just moved out of the apartment.
Instead we have moved into a small rural property.
It’s supposedly a one-bedroom house, but in reality the one bedroom is the entire attic space – it’s huge.
We plan to use one end of the extensive space as our bedroom, and the other as our living room.
This means that the main living room downstairs can become a “spare room” for our books, for guests to stay and so on.
In essence it’s a two bedroom property being marketed as a one-bedroom.
In addition to this the photos really didn’t do the property any justice; we’d already written it off ourselves until out of desperation (after another night without sleep) we went to visit it anyway – and it turned out to be ideal.
So it’s small (but still bigger than our existing accommodation).
It’s rural, which means more peace and quiet, and fewer neighbours.
And it’s in a road filled with properties that sell for roughly £2million each (I kid you not) so I can’t imagine too many “lager louts” staggering up the street on a Saturday night.
Is it perfect?
Far from it. But it’s a huge upgrade from where we have been living – and it’s still very reasonably priced.
As a final point I should mention that this is far from the end of the story.
We’ve signed an initial 6-month lease on the property, but the house is still an expensive part of the country (down on the South Coast).
Sometime in the next year or two, therefore, we plan to upsticks and move to a completely different area, where an identical property would cost us roughly two thirds of our current accommodation – yet salaries are roughly on par.
How do you save money on your housing? Please leave your top tips in the comments section below…