My experience living in a tiny “home” office
When I graduated from college I was completely broke. I traveled from Seattle to Boston to start my first job as an engineer. I had about $100 dollars in my pocket when I landed in Boston, and spent $20 on the taxi from the airport to my hotel. The hotel was $50 a night and I realized the next morning I was quickly running out of cash. As I closed my hotel room door to go to orientation, I realized I would be broke if I spent another night at the hotel. After orientation, I petitioned my fellow co-workers in an attempt to find a spare bed or couch I could sleep on. Thankfully, a really awesome engineer agreed to let me stay at his place for a month!
A place to call home
While renting a room at my colleague’s apartment, he gave me rides to work and back. I knew I needed a place of my own so I looked around Boston for a place to stay. Unfortunately, most of the apartments I was looking at were over $2,000 and didn’t even include utilities. I was still paying off my student loans at the time so I couldn’t afford a large housing allowance. With financial urgency, I went on the hunt for more affordable housing.
I saw an ad on craigslist that said “350 sqft room, all utilities paid, $400”. On the map I noticed it was just 2 miles from my job, so I called the landlord and made an appointment for the next day. I didn’t have a car so the landlord picked me up from my job and took me to the place he had the room. To my surprise, he took me to a 350 sqft. room in an office building.
As we walked up to the office building, I started thinking, “Why did he bring me here? doesn’t he know I need a place to sleep? Wait…could I sleep in this office building?”. It became more obvious this “landlord” was actually a “building manager”. As we walked into the office he was showing me, I noticed an attorney’s office to the left, and an accountant’s office to the right.
I felt slightly out of place but kept quiet so he didn’t think I was wasting his time. After he showed me the room, he showed me where the restrooms were down the hall and explained that all the utilities were paid with the monthly rent of $400. I thought to myself, “$400, wow I could really get out of debt and save a lot of money by moving here”.
With the thought of paying off my student loans, I quickly told the building manager I would sign a one year lease. I was still unsure how I would make it work, but I knew for a $400 rent I would find a way.
While my engineering buddies rented what I would call “expensive” apartments, I was living comfortably and affordably in my tiny “home” office. I was saving about 70% of my income and was able to keep my expenses extremely low. Instead of buying a car, I decided to buy a used bicycle for $100 and used that to commute to work. I ended up having to get ALOT of snow gear to ride my bike in the snow. Yep, you heard that right, I rode to work when it was snowing. I was determined to pay off my student loans! Never doubt the power of determination and perseverance.
With the amount of money I was saving each month, I quickly paid off my student loans and noticed my savings start to grow substantially. Fortunately, the place I worked had a gym and a shower. Since I couldn’t shower at “home”, I took a shower when I got to work. I also joined a gym near my “home” office so that I could take showers on the weekends. Keeping mostly to myself, I didn’t go out with any friends during lunch or after work. Riding my bike to work helped me save a lot of money by r and always had fun on the weekends as I rode to different places around the city. I noticed that during that time, I began to find freedom in living simply.
My joys and hobbies began to be simple and often free experiences. I would spend my Saturday’s riding around the city, visiting shops and enjoying local sights like the Freedom Trail. After church on Sunday, I would learn how to work on my bicycle, cleaning and prepping for the week of snowy Boston weather. I eventually used my skills to work on bikes to buy and sell bikes on craigslist, including an electric bike!
Q & A
A lot of people have questions as to how I lived there, got out of debt and saved so much of my income. For those that are curious, here are some of my top questions and answers:
Q1: Didn’t you spend alot of money on food because you couldn’t cook?
A1: I bought a mini-fridge / microwave combo and an electronic skillet to make food.
Q2: How did you bike in the snow?
A2: I wore thermals, ski pants, ski goggles, 3 jackets, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of gloves, a ski mask and rain boots.
Q3: How did you sleep?
A3: I bought an air mattress with an electronic pump on Amazon and had it shipped to my “home office”.
Q4: How did you carry anything on your bike?
A4: I bought a rear bike rack and affixed a crate to it with bungee cords. I typically went shopping twice a week.
Q5: What was the most important thing you learned?
A5: I learned the power of living below my means, and how that financial success doesn’t equate to happiness.
Looking back on my experience
Overall, I enjoyed my time in the tiny “home” office. As I watched my savings grow I knew I had made the right decision. It really wasn’t that hard either. Coming straight out of college, I was used to living in a dorm room that was about the same size. I was willing to sacrifice my social life and having a nice apartment / big space for financial freedom.
One of the hardest decisions some people will have to make is to NOT rise to the level of their income. I have seen many people, working in the U.S. and overseas, use their raises, promotions or bonuses to buy a nicer car, bigger house, or blow it on a lavish vacation. One of the most powerful tools in your financial tool belt, though, is to live below your means and use your raises and bonuses to increase your savings rate. As you stay at the same level of expenses, when you DO get that promotion / raise / bonus, invest that money into your freedom fund and watch as you get that much closer to financial freedom.
Do you live below your means? What sacrifices have you made to get further financially? Was it hard when you saw others live at the level of their income?