Outside the Box: Tiny Living with Claudia and Garrett

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Since the spring of 2015, Claudia and Garrett have lost ten pounds apiece, and gained back years of their life. The cost of running their household has been slashed in half. They have gone from “rudderless,” as Claudia describes it, with no goals and no dreams, to being on track to reach financial independence at the young ages of 33 and 37.

Achieving such radical change in such a short period of time requires unconventional measures. For Claudia and Garrett, that meant downsizing. They looked at the math and discovered something amazing:

(Our Current Life) – (1,000 square feet) = More Time, More Money, and Regaining Control of Our Lives

Just last April, they felt penned in. “Both of us have had a bit of unsatisfied wanderlust,” Claudia explains, “but with jobs and debt, we felt stuck.” Their complacency morphed into determination when Garrett’s parents retired. They started traveling, and pursuing interests that had formerly been on the backburner. Claudia and Garrett saw their lifestyle, and decided they didn’t want to wait until traditional retirement age to have the same thing.

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Their first step was to build their 500 square foot home in their dream location: a wooded lot closer to their work in Lancaster, PA. As Claudia was researching land, she got frustrated with looking for perfection. The perfect lot was going to be expensive, and bring them further away from their goals, so she switched the parameters. Instead of searching for perfect, she started to look for cheap.

“Lo and behold, a .06 acre lot showed up in my search for $5,000, and I knew this was it–this would make downsizing in 2015 possible,” she recounts. Part of the cheap plan was to purchase a manufactured home instead of going with a traditional stick build.

“There are a lot of prejudices out there regarding housing,” notes Claudia. Garrett, an engineer himself, was not initially on board. “When he realized that manufactured homes are built in factories and constructed with parts cut on really expensive, accurate pieces of machinery (not like what is done onsite for stick-built homes,) he was sold–not to mention that the price was a fraction of what a stick-built home would be.”

The two saved over $100,000 by going the manufactured route, and couldn’t be happier. While they did lose square footage when going from the old house to the new, they found that in the bigger house they were only truly using 500 square feet of space, anyways. They had been paying to heat, cool, and maintain far more than they needed.

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Money isn’t the only thing that they gained. They also reclaimed a significant chunk of their time. Because they now only need to care for 1/3 of the space they once had, their hours are open to working towards their goal of financial independence, staying fit, exploring their hometown, and quality time together as opposed to their previous routine of cleaning and maintenance. By Claudia’s estimate, they’ve gained an entire 24 hours of free time weekly just by downsizing.

They aren’t done yet, though. They have dubbed 2016 the year of paying down debts, with 2017 dedicated to investing. With all of this newfound financial abundance, their end goal for financial independence is May 18, 2019. Living with less makes this ambitious goal attainable.

What does financial independence look like for Claudia and Garrett? It looks like 200 square feet of mobile living space, complete with two cups, two plates and two forks. It looks like lower expenses, and the freedom to work at whatever their hearts desire. “I don't think we're planning to retire in the sense that we stop working,” says Claudia. “Both of us have a lot of things we want to do, so we're focusing on the freedom that FI [financial independence] provides so that we can pursue new opportunities in our next life.”

Don’t forget that less than a year ago, none of this was on the table. The couple’s lifestyle wasn’t conducive to anything beyond the grind. While most of the world spends their time working for big houses with big mortgages, these two decided to give up the American Dream so their earnings could be used to actually live their lives.

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If you want to live outside the box, too, but just don’t know where to start, Claudia gives us her instruction manual:

”First, allow yourself to dream. I didn't allow myself to dream for a lot of years–life happened to me instead of it being the other way around.

“Second, start with a plan. We had to change our plan several times throughout the process, which you can read about in the early days of our blog. But our persistence and willingness to be flexible were the reasons we finally achieved our downsized dreams.

“Third, remember that only you live your life. Try not to let other people's opinions impact you too much, but be willing to learn from others, too.”

Dream big. Plan and be flexible. Learn from those who have blazed the path before you, while shrugging off the concerns of those who want to stay fully entrenched in convention. Using this blueprint, you, too, have an opportunity to build the life you want rather than let life happen to you.

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Femme Frugality is a personal finance writer and contributor at Invibed. She loves adventure, baseball, and naps, and hates paying full price for anything. You can learn more about her on her blog.

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