So far we’ve established that I can’t write stories, I hate the idea of a full-time job, and I’m not independently wealthy, but still trying to work as little as possible or not at all. Where does that leave my life? We’ve come up with countless business ideas and tried to do small stuff to make extra side money. Problem is, almost everyone else is in the same boat we are: trying to cut costs. So unless what you’re selling is a “get rich quick” scheme (or weed), the chances of success are small. So again, with no increase in revenue, we’re down to strictly cutting costs. Where do we begin?
Contrary to what CPI calculations tell us, housing expense (the Fed calls it the “Shelter Index”) is not, in this universe or any other, realistically weighted at 32%. Outside of the fantasy land the Fed must live in (which is the real world for the rest of us), I think that 0.60-0.70 would be a far more realistic range of shelter costs for middle class (at the time of this writing, that was still a thing) Americans. So if we’re going to be reducing costs that’s certainly where the cuts need to start (plus, utilities are already dirt cheap in CO, taxes aren’t bad either, and we both drive paid off, reasonably new cars). Buy a cheap piece of land, throw a tent on it, …., profit. Right? Turns out… no. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So here’s how the “let’s reduce the ‘shelter index'” is going so far…
– Let’s find a cheap place to live in the Denver metro area:
That idea crashed harder and faster than a Windows 10 computer.
We’ve been toying with the idea of a tiny home for a few years now. When you lead an active lifestyle and are almost never home, you really don’t need extravagant or large living accommodations, just somewhere to shower and sleep. We attended the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs last year shortly after moving to Colorado. After looking at a few $100k+, 400sqft boutique tiny homes, that idea was dead in the water. What’s the point of living in something smaller than a shed if it’s going to require nearly the same mortgage payment as a regular house? Then I found out that the family of a friend from work custom builds tiny homes, so we figured it’d be worth checking out (this company: Tiny Diamond Homes). After touring their model house and a work-in-progress that were far better quality, more well thought out, and far more affordable than anything at the jamboree, that idea was not only back on the table, but seemed like the best way to go. Now it was a matter of where to put it…
– Let’s find a cheap piece of land not too far from the metro area and… live on it somehow:
Amazingly, not all land for sale within a half hour of Denver is bought up and developed. This initially came as a surprise to me. It didn’t take too much effort to find many pieces of land for sale along the I-70 corridor shaped by zoning departments that draw property lines with Spirographs. These were within driving range of our current jobs and downtown, yet far enough into the mountains to be very affordable, quiet, and private. This is an actual 2 acre lot we looked at in Idaho Springs – “gently sloped”, cleared of trees, and mountain views:
Or maybe it’s the finishing gully of the Sawtooth traverse. It’s really hard to tell the difference. After driving to a few properties, a theme began to emerge… if it’s cheap, it’s probably the side of a mountain (i.e. a “gentle” slope you’d need crampons and an axe to get up in the winter), miles up a totally bombed out dirt road with no winter maintenance, a mine-claim-turned-land-offer shaped like a cut up Picasso painting, or all of the above. Turns out it also costs a small fortune to drill a well through solid rock at the top of a mountain, another small fortune to get electric ran from miles away, and a few kidneys for a septic tank – never mind leveling the hill-side and the all but certain surcharges for getting heavy equipment up a road that would be a challenge even in an ATV. So this attempt crashed and burned fairly quickly as well.
– Now, knowing what to look for, let’s find a FLAT piece of land that already has some improvements (at least a septic tank) and we’ll go as far away as necessary for it to be affordable:
As we soon found out, you have to go pretty damn far from Denver to tick all those boxes. Thankfully, the Salida/BV area is beautiful and both towns are awesome. Sure you’re going to be limited to like one grocery store and it’s going to be far away. Gas is $0.50 more expensive than it should be. There aren’t 200 breweries within a 15 minute drive. There’s no good paying jobs. There’s no jobs at all. But those are minor details at this point.
That’s it. It’s flat. It’s cheap. It has septic (and a canoe, a park bench, a broken generator, some damaged wind chimes, a scary looking machine gun nest looking thing, and a pair of Salomon skis w/bindings). Buy it. Now I have nothing to blog about.
If only it was that easy. No matter how far into the sticks you go in this state, it seems impossible to escape covenant controlled communities. Yes, this piece of land out in bumfuck Egypt has an HOA. The fees are at least cheap, which seems to be half the battle (ever-increasing HOA fees that start at $250/month really put a damper on cheap living). The other half of the battle with these HOAs is that it seems no one told them they’re overseeing a rural subdivision two miles up a dirt road and 150 miles from the nearest city – not a gated, mcmansion community in Beverly Hills. So just throwing that tent down? Not going to happen. RV? Not allowed. Tiny Home? That’s too confusing. Is it an RV or a house? No one knows… so we’ll just not allow it… just in case. Manufactured home? I’m not even sure if they understood what that was. Shipping container for easy, cheap storage? Not a chance. Can’t you just build a $2mil custom log cabin like everyone else? Apparently these parcels of land are for the independently wealthy only, because there’s no way in hell anyone is dropping $300k+ to get a regular house up and running on one of these pieces of property, then making the payments off one of the only five, all minimum wage jobs available in a one hour radius.
But the saga continues, because we aren’t giving up that easily. The covenant doesn’t actually exclude tiny homes (or shipping containers, for that matter), even though the HOA board wants to try. We’re looking into modular homes or maybe even just building a very small cabin. The jobs issue remains to be sorted out, but with cheap enough living expenses and (please baby jesus) Colorado Care passing, a part-time crappy job might be plenty sufficient. Maybe I’ll eventually feel like a real wise ass and turn this blog into a “can any working class person actually make shelter costs have a relative weight of 0.32 and not die from exposure?” Maybe the Fed will subsidize me researching that.
Until then, I guess this blog will be about the saga of attempting to live cheap and free of ties to a full-time job – with some side adventures thrown in. Unfortunately/fortunately, that will probably provide large amounts of material for a long time to come.