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Living expenses are the highest cost we have.
By the time you factor in a mortgage, property taxes, maintenance, repairs, and utilities, a big chunk of your hard-earned income vanishes.
But what if you stopped?
What if you needed to slash your living expenses to the bare minimum?
What would you do? How would you survive? What’s the cheapest way to live?
Don’t freak out. Living for cheap isn’t as hard as you think. Here are 8 creative ways to do it.
Table of Contents
- How to live cheap by embracing your inner minimalist
- The absolute cheapest ways to live
- Other creative cheap living tips
How to live cheap by embracing your inner minimalist
If you want to know how to live for cheap, the first step is liberating yourself from unnecessary physical possessions.
You can only fit so much into a small apartment or an RV. It is what it is. After going a while without these items, you soon realize you never really needed them. Humans adapt surprisingly fast to their environment.
With less stuff, you become a master of efficiency, especially with limited living space.
The best part about this process is the money you earn purging your stuff can go towards moving expenses, purchasing an RV, or building an emergency fund.
Let’s start with the cheapest ways to live with creative housing, then we’ll move into some other cheap living tips that’ll shave down your monthly expenses even further.
The absolute cheapest ways to live
1. Live in an RV
My wife and I spent half the year last year living in an RV. And not one of those ginormous RVs that feels like a mini apartment. We lived in a Class B RV — otherwise known as a camper van.
And boy did we save money. See the full breakdown of our van life cost of living for all the deets.
Now, you don’t have to cram yourself into a teensy van to live cheaply. I ended up loving it, but it certainly isn’t all butterflies and daffodils.
A used Class B will be one of your cheapest options. But if you need more space, you can also look into a bus-like Class A, a mid-sized Class C, a travel trailer, or a fifth wheel.
Each RV type has unique advantages and disadvantages, so you need to determine which aligns with your priorities.
The tricky part is winter. You have a couple options:
#1.) Buy some blankets and face the winter head-on like a boss.
#2.) Drive somewhere warm.
#3.) Protect your baby with one of these best RV covers for winter, then choose another cheap type of housing on this list.
You can live in an RV in your city and continue life as normal. But the real power of RV life is the freedom to move around. You can even choose one of these van life jobs to earn money on the road.
I honestly believe everybody should try living in an RV at least once, whether you’re looking for ways to live cheap or not.
How cool would it be to never have to pay for housing again?
Turns out, with housesitting, it’s possible.
Housesitting involves taking care of someone’s house (and usually pets) while they’re away. Assignments can last from a few days to a few months.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to find paid housesitting assignments. But most of the time, free accommodation is your payment for looking after the house and pets. And honestly, that’s usually not a bad deal.
My wife and I have used housesitting while traveling long-term to save thousands of dollars on accommodation costs.
But some people use it as their normal living arrangement.
We once met a guy from Australia who has popped around the country from assignment to assignment for FIVE YEARS straight with zero rent payments.
To get started, check out my complete guide on finding housesitter jobs for beginners. And to get an idea of what types of opportunities are available in your area, here’s the most popular platform to find housesitting gigs.
3. Live abroad
Most people immediately throw aside this idea because they have too many ties at home.
But if you’re able to untie yourself, this might be one of the cheapest ways to live alone (or with a partner) without sacrificing your standard of living. Heck, you might even be able to level up your standard of living while still saving money.
To give you an example, when my savings account was dwindling dangerously low, I settled down in Cali, Colombia (which is one of the best places to live cheap, in my opinion).
During my first year, I lived comfortably — even eating out and taking salsa dancing classes every day — for $600 a month. Granted, I was renting a small bedroom in an apartment with two roommates.
But it was a furnished room in a good neighborhood. I didn’t need much room because all my belongings fit in my backpack anyway.
And did I mention I was spending only $600 all-in?
Nowadays I spend quite a bit more for added comfort and privacy. But if you’re in a pinch, you can live a pretty dang good life abroad for cheap.
4. Rent out a room in your home
But what if you’re not quite ready to give up your home?
In that case, put your space to work for you.
Got an extra bedroom? Rent it out.
Got a driveway or backyard? Rent it out for parking space.
Got a fancy camera? Or a bunch of tools? Or cool clothes? Find marketplaces online to rent those out as well.
But back to housing.
My brother and I used to live together in a house with three bedrooms. Then I left for South America, leaving two bedrooms open and tons of space wasted.
So what’d we do?
We rented out those suckers! $400 bucks a pop — way cheaper than anything else in our town — and they filled up almost immediately.
Then my bro built ANOTHER bedroom in the basement and rented out that bad boy too.
Nowadays, my wife and I have a little condo in Colombia. Whenever we’re traveling, we rent it out to boost our income. Letting it sit empty is a waste of space (and money).
If you have space, use every square inch to your advantage.
Will it be uncomfortable sharing with strangers? Perhaps.
But you also might meet some cool people. And you’ll be a heckuva lot better off financially.
5. Become a live-in property manager
At some point in your life, you’ve probably had to pay rent. Whoever you paid that rent to was likely the property manager. They handle all of the office work, kick out people who are causing problems, and either handle repairs or delegate this work to an on-site repairman.
It can be a rough, thankless job. But it can also be an amazing experience.
The average property manager’s salary is around $50,000, according to Indeed. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Sometimes property managers get to live on-site for reduced or free rent.
Living for cheap on your own can be tough. This is one way you can do it and save money without relying on a roommate to help share expenses.
5. Be a live-in caregiver
Many cheap ways to live require you to live with other people, and this is no exception. With some basic healthcare credentials — like a basic caregivers or certified nursing assistant (CNA) certification — you can live for cheap, or many times free, in someone else’s home.
But there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. You’ll have to earn your keep.
This can include taking care of an elderly person or someone with special needs. Tasks may include grocery shopping, cooking, and you guessed it, wiping and washing butts.
It’s not as bad as it sounds though. In fact, I was actually a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed CNA back in the day. And let me tell you, you get desensitized to things real fast. After a couple weeks, no amount of bodily waste will phase you.
It’s not for everyone, but if you don’t have the upfront cash to sink into an RV, this could be an option. The pay isn’t bad, either. The more specialized you are, the more you can earn. And since you have minimal housing expenses, your money goes even further.
Best of all, people will always get old. They’ll always need help. And they’ll always want to avoid getting shipped to a nursing home.
That means you’ll always have job opportunities.
6. Live for cheap with family
More than half of adults under 30 are living with their parents.
There is no shame in it. There isn’t as much shame as there used to be in it.
I recently spoke with my buddy Matt. The company he worked for closed shortly after the pandemic started, and heading home to mom was his best option.
He’s saving money but hopes to move out sooner rather than later.
Depending on your relationships, moving in with family can either suck or be a blessing in disguise.
As an adult, it’s rarely ideal. But if you want to live cheaply, sometimes you have to compromise with yourself. Sometimes, it’s more important to make the right move rather than the move you want to make right now.
7. Live cheaply by finding a roommate
You can find roommates pretty much anywhere. Facebook is a good start. You can use the groups part of their platform or tap into your personal network.
Another option is Craigslist. You can find some awesome deals when looking for cheap rent. When I moved to Arizona for an internship, I found an awesome deal sharing a house with an older guy for a few hundred bucks — in a place I never would have been able to afford alone.
My roommate was cool, so I lucked out. But sometimes the living situation won’t always be what you want to see in the ad.
It’s a good idea to vet potential roommates before you move in with them. Hit them up and say,
“Hey. I’m interested in being your roommate but I would like to meet you first and get to know you a bit. Can we meet for coffee?”
If someone refuses, it’s probably a sketchy situation and you don’t want to meet them. The meeting itself could be sketchy. Some people are so focused on how to live cheaply that they allow their safety to be compromised. This is never ok. If you don’t feel safe, then don’t do it.
If you can’t find any good places, you could also take the ball to your court. Find your own place, then recruit your roommates. This way you can have the apartment or house set up the way you want it. It also gives you a bit more control going into a living arrangement.
Also, keep in mind that the second your name is on a lease with another person, you are committed to paying rent and utilities. Even if you have a falling out with your roommate.
8. Buy or build a tiny house
The Tiny Life does a good job of breaking down the costs of tiny homes.
Going with the DIY method, you can build your own for $10,000 to $30,000. Double this figure if you want to buy one that’s already built.
One of the coolest things about tiny homes is their mobility. Many of them are on wheels. All you need to do is attach them to the back of a pick-up or other vehicle capable of hauling heavy weight, and you’re off. You can live wherever you want in your own home.
Imagine buying or building your dream tiny home and never having to give it up. It’s the perfect solution for many people.
Plop it on your own land, rent someone else’s, or find a decent mobile home park.
Other creative cheap living tips
While rent and utilities are the most expensive living costs, there are plenty of other ways to cut your living expenses.
Save money with phone and cable costs
Tip #1 – Cable is overvalued and cord-cutting is a popular-but-tired topic among bloggers. Here’s my question. Why do you need more than one streaming service? Having all of them is ridiculous and a total money sink.
How many programs can you watch simultaneously anyway?
Stick with one at a time. When you consume all of the quality content, cancel it and move on to another. When you cycle streaming services, there will always be fresh content when you return to one you haven’t had in a while.
Better yet, cancel them all. Then use all your extra time to build a side hustle (more on that shortly).
Tip #2 – The big phone companies (Verizon, AT&T, or whatever the major carriers are where you live) are going to hit you with premium fees no matter how you spin it. There are budget versions of these services that use the same towers and offer pretty much the same service for a fraction of the cost.
In the US, phone services like Mint, Straight Talk, and Visible offer great pricing and the service is just as good as with Verizon or T-Mobile.
When we lived in an RV, we bought unlimited Visible plans. And since they offer unlimited tethering, we used it for both our phone and internet. All for a whopping $25 per person per month (after joining party pay).
As far as customer service, well, all things seem to be about equal. Equally bad. But what can ya do?
Tip #3 – To boost savings even further, look for ways to get services for free. For example, sometimes cell phone plans or credit cards offer streaming services for free. It’s not hard to find a free month or two of something you want.
Certain Medicaid plans offer free gym memberships and smartphones.
If you enjoy Pizza Hut and often order online, they offer a free month of a random service at the bottom of your order screen. (Don’t ask me how I know this).
There are interesting options out there, you just need to look for them.
Live for cheap by cutting food costs
Next to living expenses, food is probably going to be your second-highest expense when you’re trying to live cheaply. So how can you cut some of these costs?
Tip #1 – Cut back on your meat consumption. You don’t need to eat meat every day, and you definitely don’t need to eat it for every meal. Focus on cheap carbs like rice, potatoes, and pasta; protein-packed eggs and legumes; and healthy fruits and vegetables.
Frugal can be healthy.
Shop at farmer’s markets whenever you can. Contrary to popular belief, you can usually find great deals and establish relationships with local farmers and gardeners.
Roadside produce stands can also provide super fresh local produce for similar prices as grocery stores. It tastes better, and may even last longer, which reduces waste.
Also, remember that while organic may cost a bit more, it’s better for you. The food you eat affects how you feel. And the way you feel affects how you spend your time. If organic food boosts your energy so you can work harder and earn more money, isn’t the extra cost worth it?
Tip #2 – Get a part-time job in food service. There is usually a free or discounted meal for your trouble.
I remember my little bro worked at Little Caesar’s and brought home like five free pizzas every shift.
Some food jobs can be fun, but others suck. If you ever get fed up, just find a new one. Restaurants are literally begging people to come work for them.
Tip #3 – Recycle and repurpose. Today’s rice is tomorrow’s rice pudding. Or fried rice.
Restaurants have been doing this for hundreds of years. You don’t really think the soup du jour is being made with fresh products every day, do you? It’s stuff that’s about to turn. It’s yesterday’s special in soup form. Do the same thing at home.
Never throw away leftovers. Focus on not being wasteful.
Tip #4 – Only buy what you’re going to eat. Letting food go bad is the equivalent of lighting money on fire.
Sure, the price per unit might be cheaper if you buy the jumbo pack. But if half of it rots, did you really save?
How to live cheap by saving money on insurance
Tip #1 – Choose a health insurance plan that makes the most sense for you. Going with a low premium/high deductible plan might seem like common sense — lower monthly payments, right?
Well, that’s only the case if you rarely go to the doctor. If you require frequent doctor visits, that high deductible comes back to bite you in the butt.
Tip #2 – Increase your deductible on car insurance and keep the minimum amount of insurance required. Just make sure you’re covered in the case of a catastrophic accident.
If you own your vehicle outright, you should be able to get away with just a liability plan, depending on your state.
If you don’t, you’re kind of screwed, and you’re forced to have full coverage until it is paid off.
Just another reason to get rid of that car payment, right?
Tip #3 – Shop around. Insurance companies want to make money. They do not care about you or your welfare. You don’t owe them anything, so being loyal has no real value (unless you bundle services, which is actually a good way to save).
After calling around and finding the best rates, go back to your current insurance company and see if they can beat it.
One study showed that 76% of people who took a couple hours to shop around for insurance saved money. In some cases, lots of money.
If you’ve started working remotely and don’t drive as much anymore, you have even better odds of scoring discounted rates.
Cut out the paper goods to live cheap
Napkins, paper towels, various wipes. They’re expensive.
Buy washable towels and use them for everything. There is nothing wrong with keeping a roll of paper towels around, but they should be for certain situations, not everyday use.
Whenever you go into a fast-food restaurant or gas station that has napkins, ask or take more than you need. This way you always have napkins on deck.
It may seem a bit silly, but why spend money on things when you can get them for free?
Quit spending your money
Especially when it’s on dumb stuff. Consumerism is the name of the game in the U.S., and it’s hard not to get sucked in.
You could earn $1 million a year, but if you spend it all accumulating stupid crap, you’re still broke (and sadly, this is the case for many people).
The good news is, many of the cheap housing alternatives on this list essentially force you to become minimalist.
For example, when I left the U.S. to backpack through South America for a year, I quickly realized that everything I needed could fit into a backpack. And every time I was tempted to buy something, I had to think to myself:
I’ll have to lug this around on my back for the foreseeable future. Is it really worth it?
After my trip, that mentality stuck. Now, the thought of owning something I barely use makes me cringe. I want to stay as mobile as possible, without loads of physical possessions weighing me down and complicating life.
Growing this mindset can save you a ton of money.
Slash your vacation bills
I’m a big believer that vacations are essential to a happy, healthy life — regardless of how tight money is.
See, vacations don’t have to be expensive.
You can get free (or dirt cheap) flights.
You can travel to countries with a low cost of living (spoiler alert: they are just as beautiful as expensive countries!).
And in those countries, you can find cheap accommodation, cheap food, and cheap transportation.
If you know the tricks of the trade, traveling costs less than “normal” life.
And if you’d rather stay close to home, a camping trip can scratch your travel itch as well. To save money, borrow camping gear from friends and camp on free government land.
Regardless of what type of vacation you take, just don’t skip it. They recharge your soul.
If you don’t think you can afford it, here’s how to save $5000 in 3 months. With $5000, I backpacked Central America for six months!
Boost your income with a side hustle
All of these tips can shave down your monthly expenses. But there’s only so much penny-pinching you can do before life gets unpleasant.
Instead of just trying to live as cheaply as possible, why not just earn more?
I know, I know. Easier said than done.
But instead of wasting hours each week on social media or Netflix, use that time to grind. Start a side hustle.
▶️ Become a freelance proofreader (here’s how)
▶️ Become a virtual assistant (here’s how)
▶️ Become a transcriptionist (here’s how)
▶️ Start an Amazon business (here’s how)
▶️ Start a drop servicing business
▶️ Start a blog (here’s how)
▶️ Do any of these easy freelancing jobs for beginners
And if you like writing, I made an entire free course on how to earn your first $1K as a freelance writer.
For even more ideas, here are some awesome ways to make an extra $2000 a month from home (or anywhere in the world).
With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to build an income online. Not only can you learn how to do almost anything for free, but the demand for digital services is skyrocketing.
In the end, frugal living is great. I’m all for it. But it can only get you so far.
If money is tight, don’t just spend less…
Make it your mission to earn more.
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered—where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).