7 Budget-Friendly Alternatives to Tiny Home Living

SAVING & SPENDING - BUDGETING & EXPENSES
The tiny home trend has taken off in recent years, but it’s not the only alternative to home buying for those looking for something less traditional and more budget-friendly.
Updated April 9, 2024
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woman using laptop computer on bed of a camper RV van

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The benefits of tiny living are immense: the ability to own your home for a much cheaper price, the chance to get creative with interior design, and for many who have chosen the “van life” route, the ability to travel when you want.

The #vanlife hashtag reveals millions of posts on Instagram, with proponents touting the benefits of being able to sleep in a new location every night.

If downsizing or making your home mobile sound appealing to you, we’ve gathered seven alternatives to tiny homes that could be a great choice for your budget and your lifestyle.

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Converted van

Oleksandr/Adobe parked converted van

Converted vans have been trending for a few years now. From January 2021 to January 2022, sales of Mercedes-Benz vans — a popular choice for #vanlife enthusiasts — went up 20.3%, according to the company.

New models of the Mercedes Sprinter Van range in price from around $38,000 to more than $45,000, depending on the type and features. But keep in mind, getting the decked-out #vanlife look will take some expertise when it comes to planning how to make the best use of the small space (and some foresight in how you can save money on car insurance since this is an expense that doesn't come with a traditional home).

Shipping container home

Halfpoint/Adobe mature woman working in a shipping container house

Some have taken advantage of the relatively low price of old shipping containers and turned them into fully-functioning miniature homes. Several companies will even get the shipping container and build a home for you.

While a single container home will often be about 160 square feet, some companies will fuse the containers together to offer more living space. Getting a custom-built container home could cost anywhere from $38,000 to upward of $60,000, and, of course, you’ll need a plot of land to place your new home.

Converted school bus

elijah/Adobe Custom vintage converted school bus used for van life travel

Some modern nomads are taking van life to the next level: bus life. There’s a movement of people buying old school buses and renovating the insides so they contain all your basic needs — from tiny kitchens, to bathrooms, to pull out couches — while still keeping the engines intact so the buses can be driven around.

You can see some pretty incredible conversions if you look up the hashtag #skoolie on Instagram. One popular “skoolie” Instagrammer, @navigationnowhere, even put a roof deck on his bus.

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RV

Andrey Armyagov/Adobe woman is standing with a mug of coffee near the camper RV

The benefit of going with an RV over a bus or van that needs conversion is that the RV will already come with the necessities. Whether you are opting for a travel trailer that can be attached to a truck or a full motorhome, the vehicle will come with basic living needs, like a bed, bathroom, and kitchen space.

However, initial budgeting may be a bit more difficult with an RV. According to Camping World, travel trailers can go for around $20,000, while motorhomes can be upward of $200,000 depending on the size and model. While the reality of RV life is nothing like Instagram, it can provide the opportunity to travel when you want to, while also providing the means to plug in and work when you must.

Yurt

interior of a home yurt

Those looking to enter the nomadic lifestyle may want to take a cue from the nomads of ancient Asia and consider a yurt. A yurt is a portable, round structure. It may look like a tent, but the modern yurt uses durable materials so these huts can withstand weather year-round.

There are yurt kits available for purchase online, as well as companies that will customize a yurt for you and install it wherever you decide to settle down. One company, Colorado Yurt, offers a calculator tool that estimates prices depending on desired materials and features. A basic model, with a standard door, window, and stovepipe outlet comes in at just over $13,000 with installation.

A-frame

beysim/Adobe modern house with an a frame design on a rainy day

There are also several companies that will supply complete kits for building iconic, triangular, A-frame homes. Like the yurts, interested buyers would need to have the land to set up their kit.

One company called Avrame offers different styles of A-frames, which could range from around $8,000 in price to nearly $100,000. The smallest home the company offers comes in the shape of an equilateral triangle with each side measuring about 16 feet, while the largest model’s sides are nearly 30 feet.

This particular company’s kits also come with instructions so that buyers can, if they choose to, build the home themselves. These homes can also be built wherever you choose — either off the grid or on it.

Houseboat

John Sandoy/Adobe houseboat

For those who wish to be consistently on the move but would prefer not to do it in a van or bus, a houseboat may be the answer. The prices of houseboats can vary vastly, but they are generally considered much less expensive to maintain than a regular home.

If you’re looking for a used houseboat with modest living space, you can snag one for under $50,000. However, more space and more sophisticated models can run up to $200,000 and beyond. There are also things like marina and “live aboard” fees to consider. Like all tiny living situations, there are some drawbacks, but houseboats also come with the ability to travel by sea on a whim.

Bottom line

Nomad_Soul/Adobe couple cooking in an RV kitchen

The great thing about tiny living is that it gives people who may be struggling with the idea of home buying — either because of the state of the housing market, financial stress, or because they don’t want to put down roots for the long haul — the chance at home ownership.

But even if you don’t think tiny living is for you, the spirit of the movement — which is all about downsizing and cutting costs — can be inspiring. Perhaps it can inspire you to avoid wasting money and focus more on building wealth.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.

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