This Couple Lived In A Tugboat For A Year So They Could Save Up To Buy A Home

boat, ocean, blonde

Photo: Steven Harrell

Two years ago, Steven Harrell traded his bachelor pad and lifestyle in Denver for a quiet little tugboat near Wilmington, N.C. By embracing the tiny home movement, Harrell and his wife saved up enough money to purchase an actual home, and slowly became conscious spenders. 

We got Harrell to share how adopting the tiny house lifestyle changed his spending and saving habits forever. 

Like most millennials graduating college, Harrell was saddled with debt

When he graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2005, Harrell wasn't sure what to do.

The debt wasn't exorbitant--only $10,000 in car loans and $20,000 in student loans--but his bachelor lifestyle wasn't helping his bottom line.

Between eating out nightly and blowing money on a luxury loft in Downtown Denver, Harrell had little to show for himself or his fledgling web development business.

'It just felt like for the amount of space that the place was (700 sq. feet) and with the housing market crashing, the loft wasn't worth it,' he told the site. 'I was really fed up.'

Stressed by the check-to-check cycle, he turned to a guru for help

Harrell left the loft in Denver and decided to move in with his parents until he figured things out.

One day, he spotted the Dave Ramsey book, Total Money Makeover, lying on his mother's dresser. Soon, he was hooked on the personal finance guru's message to get out (and stay out) of debt.

Harrell came up with a plan to pay off his bills, and eventually move out.

'I wanted to start saving up for retirement and vacations, and to have more disposable income,' he said. 'I wanted more financial freedom.'

A friend suggested he live in a tugboat to start saving money

It sounded crazy at first--a house on the water?--but Harrell couldn't resist the opportunity to live close to Downtown and save on utilities and rent.

Another perk was that he could pay for the tugboat in cash, and never have to go to a bank for a mortgage.

'It's nice when a house is paid for, and there's many things to do on the water in Wilmington,' Harrell said. 'The lure was having more disposable income, but I also liked the idea of having everything in one place.'

Harrell was on board with the idea, but his wife needed some convincing

'She said it'd be too cramped and wondered where we'd put all our stuff,' said Harrell. 'But when we finally moved in, she didn't complain.'

The way he convinced her?

'I told her we could have an expensive lifestyle by saving up cash.'

The couple embraced the tiny house lifestyle and loved it

There was no shortage of things to do by the water and living close to Wilmington's nightlife made it easy for the couple to keep up their active social life.

'It created a much less stressful lifestyle,' said Harrell. 'My wife realised the benefits of the disposable income, and I found it to be a nice motivator for not going out and purchasing things.'

They also realised they didn't miss shopping and could live on much less

'At first, it was a hard adjustment because my wife had so many things. We had to declutter a lot,' Harrell said. 'But we didn't even miss a lot of things once we got rid of them.'

In fact, once the couple found a rhythm, making smarter decisions about needs versus wants became much easier.

'Obviously, before we'd bring something into the boat, we'd have to think about it,' Harrell said, laughing.

For the first time in his life, Harrell was finally in control of his finances

When his wife told him he she was expecting a baby girl in 2010, he wasn't worried about having enough money to purchase a home or planning for childcare.

The couple had saved enough to put down a significant down payment on a single-family home in Wilmington, and to this day remain 'very frugal.'

'Between the money and having more freedom, it's been a tremendous relief,' Harrell said.

Of course, the tiny house lifestyle isn't for everyone

'Some people are already on board with the movement, while others get turned onto it,' said Harrell. 'Some are on board, but not quite ready to make the transition for whatever reason, be it financial or job-related.'

If you're considering taking the plunge, Harrell recommended taking tours of tiny homes to get a sense of their living space.

You can also take building workshops to see what's currently on display, or rent a small cabin at a recreational centre at a camp, which will help you envision yourself in the smaller space.

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