Charles: I understand, cash on the barrel, and that’s the way I like to deal and wheel, just as soon as I get that first crop to sale.
No. That isn’t a very lame line to a highly ridiculous rap song. Rather, it is a line that is echoed regularly on the long-running TV show Little House On The Prairie. For those that don’t know the Michael Landon vehicle, LHOTP is a show about a salt-of-the-Earth, farming family who want little more than to live, contribute to the world around them, and be happy. The show itself seems awkward now with its morals and ethics but for some it brings about some ideas that resonate louder than ever. One of them is the idea that Charles and the family held closely. Even when credit was available to them they chose cash-on-the-barrel. Charles did not want to owe anyone anything. How convenient then that that is a major tenet of the tiny house ethos. So many involved in the tiny house movement believe in paying cash as you go so no debt is accrued and only freedom is attained.
I can sometimes get on my soap box when talking about paying cash-on-the-barrel. There is good reason though.
When Tiny r(E)volution first came about in 2009 we were little more than a “standard” American newlywed couple who had dreams of this Norman Rockwell-esque future complete with house, picket fence, couple of youngins, and a dog or something. Truth is we were only “standard” in that we owed about $46,000 in consumer debt and were employed in dead-end jobs working just for the privilege of getting up each morning to work another day! Something had to change. We knew we had to take control and when we fell in love with the idea of a tiny house it was more about the size and the design than anything. The idea of it being a way to free ourselves financially came second (or was it third?) How did we do it though? How did we build a whole house cash-on-the-barrel?
First it is important to understand that we live in a society that says “pay with credit.” We are told it is easier to swipe a card and even more beneficial to our fiscal future. Credit cards allow us the opportunity to establish credit (so long as we pay them off in full at the end of each month) and even earn rewards! I mean, without a credit history, securing a mortgage, car loan or other type of loan can be all but impossible, right? And what about reserving a car or hotel room? Our commercial businesses have made having a VISA or Mastercard of upmost importance. No credit, no rent. (which kind of makes me laugh since it is unsecured credit and could actually end up costing the business). And let us not forget that a growing number of business subscriptions don’t allow cash payment. Afterall, isn’t that why PayPal exists? Try paying your Amazon.com checkout with cash. No can do! Thankfully though with a desire to free yourself from debt, a resolve to only use cash, and patience to build your house, you can pay cash-on-the-barrel and walk through the threshold on move-in day with a free conscience and no debt.
It took us nearly 27 months to complete our tiny house. It cost us $26,790 to build. Our first purchase was the trailer which we got used on Craigslist and cost us just $600. Once we purchased it we had just a twenty dollar bill left and realized quickly we overestimated our thriftiness. The next step of our build was sandblasting the trailer, priming it, and painting it. While the expense was one of labor more than anything we still had to purchase 1/2 case of primer spray paint and 1 full case of semi-gloss, high-heat, black spray paint. Looking back at our receipts I see that set us back about $74. Considering I was only making $10/hour at my job at that time and Crystal was not even working, that paint became something of the sacred. With that example as a guide think of how we took $10 here and $20 there to build our house. Some weeks we would install a window which we had recently bought. We would then have to wait 2-3 weeks to get more money to even caulk the window. There were times when it was that tight. It was and it is possible though. Here are some tips we found to work well for us in order to save money for the build:
Create a coffee caulking fund. A cup of Grande, Iced, Sugar-Free, Vanilla Latte With Soy Milk from Starbucks cost roughly the same as a tube of all-purpose window and door caulk. So instead of buying an obnoxious coffee drink next Saturday afternoon take the money and put it in your “Cup of Caulk” envelope.
No nail left behind. If there is residential construction in your area stop by one day and ask the foreman if you can come everyday after sunset and pick up any nails that may have fallen to the ground each day. It is important to ask though so you don’t get accused of thievery and you will be surprised at how many nails you can pick up from just a day’s labor.
Measure once and cut twice. We’ve all heard the saying but it is surprising how much money can be wasted when we have to use a new piece of material because we cut the wrong size or angle. Take a minute to protect your lumber investment by measuring twice and cutting only once.
Make a trade. Does your uncle run wire for a living? Is your nephew “strong as an axe?” If so, you may have found two laborers who are willing to work longer than the money flows. It is called trading, bartering, or exchanging commodities. So you only build web sites or take photographs. Well, who doesn’t want a little computer help or some nice family photos for Christmas gifts? Strike a deal. “I’ll trade you a 30-minute photo session with post-processing touch up work if you’ll help me run the wire (up to code, of course) for my electrical outlets.
Stick to a budget. Make a realistic budget based on actual prices. Double check the budget. Stick to the budget and adjust it when needed for fluctuating costs.
Granted some weeks were harder than others and many times we did choose the coffee over the caulk going for instant gratification rather than the “big picture.” But with hard work, determination, encouragement, and a hard budget, we built our tiny house and was able to move in in a reasonable amount of time.
What methods have you enacted to stay out of debt yet still build in a timely fashion? Do you have a spreadsheet built out? Are you independently wealthy? Did you find a benefactor? Or are you just taking each day as it comes and making the most sound fiscal decisions you can? Let us know!