Tiny Living: Alternate housing can save students cash, but is that financial freedom or a cramped cell?

By Mikaleh Offerman, Copy Editor

The light slants through the window, illuminating the stovetop which is only a few feet from the bed and bathroom.

Five hundred square feet of living space or less may sound like the size of a prison cell, but for many people, it’s the perfect size for a home.

“My husband Corey and I downloaded some free tiny house plans and never looked back,” Oklahoma tiny house owner Jill Hogue said. “We built our 12×24 Tiny Home for around $10,000 in Oklahoma.”

Tiny living is a recent movement among millennials, and it’s something that could benefit graduating students.

Contributing writer Kristin Pop reported in “The Penny Hoarder” that living in a tiny home can save $5,028 to $8,028 during a four-year college career.

Student debt is a reality that most, if not all, college students face, and the amount students owe is rising. On average, a student graduating from a four-year university will owe $40,000 in loans, according to a 2017 study.

Combined with a mortgage, car payments, insurance and other necessary bills, it could take more than ten years to pay this. This is where living in a tiny house could make all the difference.

One student in Texas built his own tiny house so that he could live a debt-free sustainable life. Joel Weber began building his 143-square foot home when he was a sophomore at the University in Texas at Austin.

“I would rather be happy and debt free, not tied down to being in the rat-race because I have to pay for this life style that’s not really even making me happy,” Weber said.

With OBU’s off-campus housing requirements (students wishing to live off-campus must be 21, married or have the equivalent of senior hours), living in a tiny home while at OBU may not be achievable.

However, post-graduation, opportunities like the opening of the Wheeler District, a neighborhood dedicated to tiny homes in downtown OKC, could help students move closer to saving money and paying off student loans.

“[In the Wheeler District], you will be able to choose from a selection of approved tiny home designs with exteriors that meet the Wheeler District’s design guidelines and standards,” Tiny Homes of Oklahoma owner Michelle Wunder said.

“The Wheeler District will have the best amenities that OKC has to offer just a few minutes from downtown. The master plan includes extensive bike trails in addition to all of the other offerings of Oklahoma City’s dynamic urban core.”

Although districts and neighborhoods like this could be just as expensive as some smaller homes, The Wheeler District is paving the way for codes and other building guidelines to be established.

“It is still a very new concept in Oklahoma and there is some catching up to do,” Wunder said. “The requirements depend a lot on whether you’re talking about a tiny home on wheels or on a foundation.”

Tiny homes on wheels are considered something like RVs, while those built on foundations are required to pass the same inspections that a regular home would.

“The IRC (International Residence Code) has adopted a tiny home appendix for 2018 which specifies differences for tiny homes and each city may adopt it or not,” Wunder said. “It all boils down to your local planning office and what they have adopted and require. Due diligence on the part of the tiny home owner is a requirement to know that you are legal.”

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For students looking to build a tiny home, it would be more cost effective to build on a trailer. Some tiny houses are more expensive than regular sized homes, but building a tiny home from scratch can be done at a cost effective rate.

“To me the point of a tiny house was to have my own personal space and save money in the long run,” one California tiny home owner said.

“I see people buying Tiny Houses for $60,000 – $100,000 which to me defeats the purpose.” This 27-year- old built her home on wheels for less than $10,000.

“I’m just a 27-year- old girl from Miami who moved to California to experience a different way of living and had no resources,” she said in a blog post. “All it took was hard work, dedication, a little money and a friend who has some building experience.”

Other options, although more pricey, for students looking to invest in a tiny home without the difficulty of building a house alone are companies like Wunder’s.

“A build with us is in the $2,000 to $2,500 per LINEAR foot of trailer range,” Wunder said.

Wunder said many college students contact and contract her to build for them, and she provides options for those who cannot pay upfront.

“I’m doing a quote for a college couple right now,” Wunder said. “I believe that they are financing it with their parents’ help. We deal in cash, however, I do have the name of a banker that is willing to finance them and I send all of my customers to him.”

The purpose of living tiny for students is to move out of debt faster, which is why building from scratch, although more of a headache in the short run, could be a better alternative.

Many tiny home owners have already proved that creating a home for less than $10,000 is possible, and most of them were young millennials.

While living tiny is an option, it’s not for everyone.

“I think Instagram and social media do an incredible job romanticizing the lifestyle, making young people, especially the millennial generation, dream of a life completely free and untethered to the constructs and systems of our world,” Chris Sawey, the man who lived out his Prius, aka Hotel Prius, for a year, said.

Sawey now converts vans into tiny living spaces.

“My experience was used as a launch board for me to propel myself into where I wanted to be next,” Sawey said. “It was not my life’s pursuit, but as an efficient means to get to where I wanted to be.”

Maybe having the stovetop only a few feet from the bed is worth it, if it means avoiding decades of loans and mortgage payments.

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