What Is the Cheapest Way to Live? 15 Low-Cost Housing Alternatives

This page contains compensated links. Read the disclosure for more info

Figuring out the cheapest way to live can be a game-changer for your finances. I know it was for mine.

If you have wondered how to live cheap, you need to consider ways to slash the costs of the big three expenses – food, accommodation and transport.

These expenses are where people spend most of their money and therefore can make the biggest savings.

In this post we will discuss the largest of those expenses – accommodation, and how to figure out the cheapest way to live that best suits your lifestyle.

What Is the Cheapest Way to Live? 15 Low Cost Housing Alternatives

In this post I am going to explore the details of living cheap, mobile and comfortable without having to sacrifice too much luxury such as toilets, beds, cooking facilities and heating.  

Once you have figured out how to live cheap then you have an opportunity to save a lot of money .

1. Living in an RV

RV living is not always cheap but it can be

Often people think that RV living is cheap. While it can be, paying for the RV in the first place is a huge expense. That said, if you can get a manageable RV payment and earn income whilst living the RV dream, it can be affordable.

There are also many places you can go to live in an RV for free, from national parks to campsites and boondock. 

The cost of living is also lower if you can get services or things provided for free. Many communities provide dump stations and water connections for RV’s.

Even a few hours spent volunteering at somewhere like this will help secure these benefits. Access to cheap gas is another benefit that some places offer to RV’ers, as there are often cheaper prices available at bulk fuel locations than local gas stations.

As with any location, one must remember that the seasonality of weather in colder climates will drive up utility bills during those months so keep that in mind.

Jill and her family shared their real life, full time RV budget with me on this blog post

2. House sitting

I worked with a professional house sitter a few years ago. By day, she was a graphic designer and by night she would look after peoples homes and pets.

She stayed with family in between house sits and admitted that it did take some time to get started, but once she had her first review, it got easier.

This woman was offered so many house sits that she didn’t need to pay rent, or utilities. Her only expenses were travel costs to get to the house sits.

As she lived in a major city with lots of people who travel, this was not an issue as most of her sits were within the metropolitan area.

The super smart thing was that she actually owned an apartment but rented out the 2 bedrooms in it as she didn’t need them. Genius!

Even if you aren’t at that level of house sitting prowess, you can still do this without paying rent. The math will take a little time and there are some risks attached, but it’s a serious way to live cheap and is worth considering.

We personally used house sitters when we took a long trip a few years back. The house sitters we used travel for months each year looking after other people’s homes in exchange for free accommodation and sometimes utilities. They recommend joining websites like trustedhousesitters.com

3. Living in a tiny house

A tiny house is a small house on wheels with the smallest being about 8×10. You might think that this sounds very similar to RV living, but some people elect for more of a permanent residence which you couldn’t do in an RV.

Tiny homes on wheels don’t have to be connected to utilities as they are usually off the grid with composting toilet and solar power.

This makes them cheaper to manage when it comes to ongoing costs.

However, if you want to enjoy all of the benefits of tiny house living then you will also need access to a regular residence that has utilities and internet. This can mean renting land from someone who has a lot of space.

From my perspective, tiny houses have many of the benefits of RV living but are a little more permanent and can be an excellent way to reduce housing costs while still having a comfortable home.

4. Living in a shipping container

Shipping container homes are super-fashionable right now. That’s because containers can usually (past-tense) be used to make apartments and houses that cost much less than conventional housing because of their prefabricated nature.

However, for the average person, living in a shipping container isn’t a cheap way to live. According to DC from  ShippingContainerLab.com, container prices have skyrocketed with the recent crisis.

DC says shipping containers that would usually be at the end of their life in transporting cargo are now being used for longer, resulting in fewer containers being available to turn into homes.

shipping container house
This cute cabin is a converted shipping container.

Combined with the cost to insulate and turn a container into a home, shipping container living is just not an option if you are on a really tight budget. Hopefully, this will change in a few years time.

5. Becoming a live-in property manager

A live-in property manager is someone who makes a business out of managing other peoples properties. They live in the home while they manage it on behalf of the owner.

The key to success with this type of living arrangement is to build a relationship with the owner. When you first start out as an entry level live-in property manager, it is common to not be making much more than minimum wage for doing the same tasks as any other good property manager would do. 

But if you go above and beyond your duties and show initiative in your work, you can quickly move up the food chain and become a valuable part of the owners team.

This type of work can be risky though. It’s necessary to have an exit plan in place if things start to go south with the property owner.

You will need to build a strong relationship with them so that they realize just how valuable you are, but you don’t want to burn any bridges if they decide that your services are no longer needed.

I’ve seen people lose everything when their job suddenly ends because the owner decided to sell the property. A better plan would be to build up your resume and get a few good relationships under your belt before taking the plunge to living rent-free.

6. Live in a guest house on someone else’s property

Guest houses are becoming quite popular, especially with people who own multiple properties or travel frequently.

A guest house is typically smaller than a main home but has all of the amenities that you would expect. A guest house is perfect if you need somewhere short term to live, or if you are only visiting for a few weeks or months.

7. Living in a van

Van life has been glamorized as a way to simplify your life and have freedom. Living in a van is not something everyone could do, but if you want to save money, it’s an option to consider.

You’ll need somewhere to park every night and access to utilities, water and washing facilities.

You may also need to consider paying for a storage unit if you have furniture and personal items you want to keep.

8. Living in a shared house or apartment

There are many affordable options out there where you could rent a room, sharing with other people who have similar lifestyles. This is a cheap way to live but still have your own bedroom and all the comforts of a regular home.

The most important thing to take into account when you are deciding on places to live is that you like the people you live with. I’ve lived in many share houses and it can super uncomfortable living with someone you don’t get along with.

9. Live with the elderly

An interesting option that you might want to explore is living with the elderly.

There are lots of sites available where people who need home help allow younger people to move in with them for a discounted rent.

You will need to get a background check and likely be interviewed by family members, but when it works, it’s a great solution.

Most of your tasks will be things you were going to do anyway such as things like shopping, meal prep or taking out the bins. their company then it can be a beneficial housing option for all parties.

You get cheap housing, your elderly room mate gets a companion and some extra income.

Another option is to get a job as a live in carer. This obviously isn’t something that would suit everyone, but if you like the elderly and want to work in healthcare, this can be an interesting housing solution for you.

10. Rent a room in your house out to friends or a family member

If you have a spare room and are comfortable with someone living in the same house as you, why not rent it out?

This can help you make money to reduce your own living expenses. Having room mates is one of the easiest ways to live for cheap.

Just make sure you have a rental agreement in place in case they damage your home or do not pay rent. You can give them a set amount of time, or decide to have it on a month by month basis.

11. Rent in a flat market/negotiate

Negotiating rent is only possible in a flat or saturated market. If you are search for a place to live and find lots of options available, you may be in a position to negotiate with the landlord or real estate agent.

They may be willing to give you a discount in exchange for your signing a longer lease. Some landlords will take an tenant who pays less just so they have their property filled and don’t need to put any effort into advertising or finding someone else to live there.

For a landlord, vacancy = lost money. If you are a stellar applicant, you could be in a great position to negotiate rent on the place you want to live.

12. Move to a cheaper area

Another way to save money on rent if you are flexible is to move to a cheaper area. This can be hard if you have obligations such as a job or school in your current location, but it’s still an option to consider.

Doing local research will give you an idea of what the average rental prices are in that area. This option is perfect for people who work remotely or are willing to get a new job in their new area.

Plenty of people move to less expensive areas to improve their personal finance situation – it’s a valid option!

13. Downsize your home

Downsizing is the cheapest way to live for my family and I think more families should consider it. When we decided to downsize (to an 80m2 or 860sq ft) 3 bed, 1 bath home with two kids, people thought we were crazy.

We had our eyes on the prize though – financial freedom has always been our goal and a smaller, cheaper home has allowed us to save money and invest for the future.

Downsizing your home can save a lot of cash . It’s important to realize that the bigger your home, the more you’ll pay for it each month.

Not just in mortgage or rent, but in the utilities to heat and maintain it.

A small home forces us to be resourceful (we rarely buy anything new, preferring to borrow or make do), keep living expenses low and save money for the future.

14. Purchase a double or triple

duplex or triplex homes

Triplex houses are a good investment for people looking to hold housing costs down.

The properties have multiple units and allow you to put tenants in the spare extra space, helping you pay off your property bill each month.

Unfortunately, many multi-family buildings require a lot of maintenance and cost more than single family homes. If you can make the numbers work though, it can be one of the cheapest ways to live while owning an asset that grows in value over time.

15. Buy a mobile on land

Mobile homes may not always be within your budget, but with the potential of building a mobile home on land or purchasing one for much cheaper than the average brick home, they are ways to find affordable housing.

Final thoughts

These are loads of ways to reduce your housing costs if you are prepared to think outside of the box. The cheapest way to live won’t be the same for everyone, but everyone can find a cheaper way to live if they are willing to compromise and do some research.

Once you’ve figured out the housing situation, these are the best tips to reduce your living costs further.

Related guides: 

About Emma Healey

Emma is a recognised family finance and budgeting expert and founder of Mum's Money. Her advice has been featured in Readers Digest, Yahoo Finance, Lifehacker, The Simple Dollar, MSN Money and more.