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How We Improved Our Finances by Living In A Bus

Tiny home idea on a budget: convert a school bus into a house!! This family's story is SO inspirational!

 

Guest post from Katherine:

The Dream:

When we were first married, my husband and I dreamed of living a self-sufficient life in a yurt on a couple acres. However, property values in our area were too high for us to buy at the time.

We spent a year begrudgingly paying rent. Then we found a converted school bus on Craigslist. We adjusted our dream to fit the opportunity and bought the bus with plans to live in it full-time — and no long term place to park!

Fortunately, friends offered to host us within a month. We’ve lived happily in our bus full-time for 3 1/2 of the last 5 years.

tiny home

The Reality:

1. Tiny living has helped our financial situation.

We paid cash for our bus. Once we moved in, we put our rent money towards starting a successful business, building an emergency fund, and saving for a down payment.

We even went to Ireland for six weeks… and this summer we will be building a small, but not tiny, home.

2. Some traditional money saving activities are harder, but not impossible.

Buying in bulk? Preserving food? Gardening? They’re tricky, but we manage.

Our kitchen takes up a third of our square footage and when we stock up, we pack our cabinets full.

Dehydrating food is a space-efficient way to preserve. As for gardening and freezing, they depend on where you park your house.

3. We have an amazing host family.

Unless you have your own land or intend to move from RV park to RV park, you will need a host. Our hosts are happy for us to grow a vegetable garden and raise chickens on their property. We also have storage in their garage and attic.

In exchange for the space, we help them out in various ways like plowing the road in the winter and digging and fertilizing garden beds.

4. Mess builds up fast in a small space.

No matter how tidy I get the bus, everything explodes again within 24 hours. I am not a naturally organized person, so it’s hard to maintain order. However, I have learned to stay sane by blocking out part of every day for organizing and cleaning.

5. Contentment is the key to tiny living.

Tiny living is a great way to curb impulse spending as fun, new purchases quickly turn into annoying clutter in a small space!

I have to admit that our space does feel smaller now that we have a baby. As I seek to be content in our converted bus, I remember these words from Saint John Chrysostom, “If you see someone greedy for many things, you should consider him the poorest of all, even if he has acquired everyone’s money. If, on the other hand, you see someone with few needs, you should count him the richest of all, even if he has acquired nothing.”

Through living in our bus, we’ve created wonderful memories, developed better spending habits, and prepared for a financially sound future.

We have also skirted a number of pitfalls.

living room

The Nightmares:

1. Stereotypes and Public Opinion

Some people assume that if you don’t live in a modern single family home you must be a drug addict, a hippie who’s forgotten what decade it is, or a loafer who can’t hold down a job. It’s not true, especially with the rise of the tiny home movement, but the idea lingers in many people’s minds. Be ready to prove them wrong.

2. Insurance Issues

It is possible to insure tiny homes and converted buses, but insurance may not be available in all states. RVs are obviously easier to insure. Although we did insure our bus (as an unfinished RV) for the 3 hour drive home, we don’t have insurance on it now because we don’t drive it.

The bus itself, a 1978 International with a bad transmission, doesn’t have much monetary value, so we have an emergency fund rather than insurance.

3. Legal Issues

From what I understand, living full-time in a tiny home, converted bus, or RV is often a legal grey area. If you are considering tiny living, you should look into zoning regulations, building codes, and covenants.

Most importantly, make sure your potential neighbors are fine with your plans.

In spite of these issues, I believe that tiny living can be a viable option for the right people at the right time.

kitchen

Would living in a bus be a dream or a nightmare for you?

Katherine has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, ski instructor, and wilderness trip leader, but she embarked on her biggest adventure yet when she gave birth to her daughter last August. She is passionate about tiny living, outdoor adventure with kids, and micro-homesteading.


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55 Comments

  • annie says:

    We live in a pop up camper when we go camping. Does that count?!

    Wow. What a cute place. I hope you reach your financial dreams.

  • Katherine says:

    You bet it does, especially for your kids. Camping and backpacking definitely trained me in how to live simply! I doubt we could live in a bus now (and think it’s fun) if my husband and I hadn’t had camping experiences when we were younger.

  • I love this idea, but weather conditions, namely tornadoes and hurricanes in my area, would prevent me from ever considering such an idea. However, I think this is a very inspiring premise for an upcycled vacation home, or a first home for a young couple. I am pulling for you, hoping you meet, and exceed, all of your financial goals. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jennifer says:

    Your bus looks really lovely but I must say it would probably be a nightmare for me. I struggle with cleanliness and organization…
    I’m happy to see people thinking “outside the box” as it were, for living situations. I think that’s really cool.

    What are you going to do with the bus once you move into your house?

  • Super cool! I love the pictures of the inside of the bus.

    I don’t think I personally could ever do this, since I have 2 (almost 3) kids and I really like “me time” a lot 🙂

    But I love hearing other peoples’ outside the box stories!

  • Courtney says:

    I’m not cut out to to live in a bus, but this was an enjoyable and interesting read. I’m glad it’s worked well for you. The interior of your bus is very charming and cozy!

  • Delorise says:

    Love your bus home. Since I try to practice a less is best lifestyle — as long as I have room for my books (I usually buy used books) — I could live happily in a bus.

  • I love to see out-of-the-box ideas like this, but I don’t think it would work for most families. Maybe a single or couple.

  • cher says:

    Your bus home is beautiful! I could definitely do this and have considered living in my car for a month if I could stand it after I sell my home. Being clean and cooking would be my major drawbacks and safety but honestly safety is an issue ANYWHERE anymore. No place is sacred from those with ill and the disregard for others. Other than that count me in and thank for the things to consider – not off the table for me.

  • Kristi says:

    Wow! What an amazing way to live. My only question would be…do you have indoor plumbing? I didn’t see photos of a bathroom. People use smaller quarters than this aboard cruise ships or when camping. It’s all about perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  • Missy says:

    Your pictures feed my minimalist soul. I think it could work for newlyweds or empty-nesters, but having kids in a space that small is my worst nightmare! lol It’s super cute though and part of me is a bit jealous. 🙂 Can’t wait to check out your blog!

  • Devan says:

    You guys have been a great inspiration as Dan has planned our tiny home that hopefully will be ready to move into in a few months! Thanks for sharing Katy…love your writing:)

  • Jessica says:

    Nope, not for us. For starters, I don’t see how it would work in a place with four seasons of weather, including tornado season.

    • Katherine says:

      I wouldn’t want to live in a bus in tornado country either! We do have four seasons here though. We often have three feet of snow on the ground in the winter. There are so many different ways to live and save money. Definitely pick the ones that work for you.

  • Theresa L says:

    I’m happy for them, but it’s definitely NOT for me! With the 5 of us, I feel like we barely have space in the house we have. I do like hearing about people who live differently, though. To each their own.

  • Neta Connell says:

    My family of six lived in a fifth wheel for two years and we learned to work together and enjoy the trip. Even our three dogs knew the routine. Small living can be done for many reasons, ours was to travel.

  • Tenika M says:

    Did you refurbish the bus, or did you buy it that way? Love the inside!

  • DJ says:

    When we were first married, my husband and I bought someone’s old fishing cabin to convert into our home. It was so run down, I was embarrassed to show it to my parent! It was a very small fraction of what the bank said we could afford for a home, but it enabled us to save soooo much money. We were able to do a lot of the restoration ourselves, and it didn’t cost very much because the space was so small. We absolutely loved it there. It was so peaceful and with just the two of us, it was perfect. We had a rule that if you bought something new, you have to let something go. We simply didn’t have space for anything extra. We moved out when I was pregnant. We were moving to another city anyway or we might have stayed a little bit longer. We were able to sell the house for twice what we paid for it. The people who bought it added on to it. I think they bought it for the location. We had several offers on it actually. We both look back fondly on that time in our lives.

  • Reelika says:

    Wow, what a great and inspiring post, thank you so much for sharing! I am all about saving money and making the right financial decisions. I do believe that if you save at some point in life, then achieving financial freedom and debt-free life is more likely. I have lived in very different places and circumstances, and I do think it was all worth it. Reaching your dreams is more important and it makes you appreciate what you have even more.
    Awesome post, thank you!

  • Kathy says:

    I love the pictures of your home, so cozy and inviting ! One question, does it get on your nerves being sooo close together all the time when you are home? I guess I thought of this because my husband and I are retired and home a lot.

    • Katherine says:

      Well, we’ve learned how to deal with the closeness. My husband and I can sit in different places and each get absorbed in our own book. We use white noise or soft music when the baby is sleeping. It is harder on winter weekends when my husband is home, we don’t have anything going on, and we have to stay inside.

  • Your space looks really nice. I love the look of the wood and how well organized it is.

    I think I would enjoy living in a small space like that in part. But one drawback would be not being able to practice hospitality much. When we were looking for a home, my biggest desire was for a dining room that would fit a large table to accommodate large (or multiple) families and also plenty of sitting room for friends to gather. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s not really possible with tiny homes?

    Otherwise, I think it’s great that it’s given you a new experience and allowed you to save up and live frugally for so long 🙂

    • Katherine says:

      Good question Lisa! I am looking forward to having more space for this very reason. During the summer we gather with friends outside, but it is harder during the winter. I think part of the problem is the general expectation that everyone will have enough room to throw a large party in their own home. My sister lives in a 400 sq ft apartment in Portland with her husband. The building has a community room that can be reserved for large gatherings or used for hanging out with a few friends. As I understand it, churches and community halls used to fill the purpose of gathering places. I think hospitality can happen in different ways.

  • Amy says:

    It sounds incredibly romantic, especially before having kids!! My first thought was, “I hope she doesn’t have kids” and then read she recently had her first. However, thinking about how mobile our 10-month old is and how much baby-proofing were doing, I think she has the right idea!! No stairs baby can fall down, no doors baby can slam on her fingers, and minimal stuff baby can destroy!!

    • Katherine says:

      I have a friend who lived in an RV with a couple of toddlers while building a house. She tells me it was a great way to keep corralled. I guess I’ll be finding out what it’s like pretty soon!

  • Kristie says:

    Awesome story! I love the pictures of the inside! Very cute. 🙂

  • What a fun post! I love seeing how other people do things and live and your little bus home is so cute!

    I think I could live in a bus if it was just my husband and I, but with kids? It would just be too much of a nightmare! We just got done living in a space just a tad bigger than that for 6 weeks while my husband taught at a small Bible school for young adults. It was okay for that short time, but I felt like we were always tripping over each other and the kids struggled playing well because of the lack of space.

    • Katherine says:

      Thanks Lydia! We definitely want more space before we have any more kids, but I think having lived in the bus will help me make the most of whatever space we have in the future.

  • Amanda says:

    You are truly living my childhood dream of being one of the “Boxcar Children”!!!

  • Angela says:

    I have learned that it will only work for you if you want it to work for you. With that being said, we are 3 kids in with 2 big dogs and a few extra critters and you can sign us up. It isn’t about taking your life now and trying to cram it inside 250sq ft, it IS about changing your life and making new habits to achieve what goals specifically matter to your family. If we had the cash on hand, we would be there already, but we are trying everyday to figure out our next step. I have already gotten rid of half our belongings and I’m eager to purge even more. Getting rid of our beds was the first open door for us, we realized we could fit in such a smaller space.

  • Michele says:

    We sold our 3000sq ft house and have been living with our 10yr old daughter on a 50ft trawler boat in a beautiful West coast harbor, out on a mooring (not a dock or slip) for the past 9 months. The benefits far outweigh the challenges. Living in a smaller space is easy when I have a boat I can take anywhere. We, also have to be mindful of what comes onto the boat, space-wise, and constantly taking things off.
    I admire those that step outside the “norm”!

  • Samantha says:

    I’m in the middle of a bus conversion now. Wondering who you got to insure yours when you had insurance, because so far I’m getting no’s from everyone.

  • TerryT says:

    Do you have a bedroom space or is your sofa a futon that serves as your bed? What do you do for clothing storage? Needing work clothing makes a closet/hanging space necessary for me but many small spaces don’t have that space. Thanks for interesting info. I love the look of your space but would love to see bathroom/shower space too. How big a space are you going to next?

  • Buck McCoy says:

    My wife and I are in the planning stages of buying a fifth wheel to live in. We too have a host family that offered for us to live on their property. I love your idea of a bus and it’s converted beautifully. I am now considering this idea of converting a bus or maybe a couple of storage containers once we buy land of our own.

  • N says:

    Hmm…on the one hand I at first thought I never could, but she admits they have a garage and an attic for storage so in that case it wouldn’t be that hard. It’s a little misleading though bc any normal house also has those things which make it not so much a tiny house. Still interesting, but not quite the same as truly downsizing in the way that most people think of with the idea of ‘tiny living.’

  • London says:

    My husband and I have been married for about a year and a half. We both have great jobs, and we still struggle financially. We have been considering buying a bus and converting it. Do you have any advice when looking for a bus or advice in general? Thank you!

  • Nan says:

    Katherine, by most definitions…living in a converted bus with work experience being a white water guide, a skii instructor, and wilderness trip leader plus living from friend to friend…you are a hippie! I’m almost 64 years old and I pretty well know a hippie when I see one. That doesn’t mean I don’t like hippies, and I hope the best for you and your family. I’ve even thought of converting a bus into a tiny home myself.

  • Jess says:

    Im sorry but for all the people saying you can’t do it with kids, we do it with two! Its a challenge but a very worthwhile one

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