When Even a Studio Is Out of Budget

There are numerous guides to buying (relatively) inexpensive properties. It seems that any bookstore these days has a lengthy section dedicated to the foreclosures market. The market is a little bit different in the strange and exotic land of Canada, but there are still ways to shave the cost down. Long conversations with friends whose professional interests center around architecture and engineering have convinced me of the virtues of alternative construction methods such as straw bale – they are substantially less expensive than more traditional construction methods.

That’s all well and good once you have the resources to buy or build, but what about the time period before that? Most people, at some point in their lives, have to rent. Most people also start out with a dorm room or studio apartment as their first space.

There are some substantially cheaper options to a traditional apartment out there. The current economic climate is one in which a lot of people have had to cut out a lot of their luxuries– and that extends to their boats.

Yup, you read right. Boats cease to be a “hole in the water that you sink money into” the moment they stop being your hobby and start being your studio apartment. Keeping costs down means doing your own maintenance, but a few extra hours a year are (literally) a small price to pay for the savings.

Several years ago, I read a blog post by the Freaknomics authors about the sailboat market. It would seem that a number of boat owners were literally giving away their yachts because they could no longer afford the dock rental fees. Years later, this is still the case.

Boats do have their trade offs. They’re a bit more damp, and there’s always a little bit of rocking motion, even in the marina. If that’s not an issue for you, then it may be time to check rates at the marinas in your area.

Almost all of the free boats advertised are wooden hulled. Many are advertised as being in good condition. Wood requires a bit more upkeep, though. I placed a call to some friends who’ve done long-term sailing, and living aboard their boats while doing so, to figure out what’s involved in owning and maintaining different kinds of boats. There’s plenty of books which will teach you how to do your own maintenance on a wooden boat, and a basic community college carpentry course will also help to build your skills. Even doing your own work, they estimated a good $1000 annually in maintenance costs. If “free” is the introductory price that you need while you put together a nest egg, you might want to check out the listings at Woodenboats.com. There’s also a pretty hefty supply of free wooden boats at The Wooden Boat Rescue Foundation and Bone Yard Boats, another boat rescue organization.

Fiberglass hulled boats require far less maintenance. I was advised that learning to sail her around the bay at least once a year is advisable, but that most fiberglass boats can sit around for a decade and still be recoverable. The downside is that you’re extremely unlikely to find a free fiberglass hulled boat. Many are available for $3000 to $5000 through the classified ads section of Latitude 38.

Both options do have some overhead. In addition to dock rental fees, you can expect to pay your own electricity– about what you’d pay on a studio apartment. Garbage, and sometimes water, are included in the marina’s rental fees. The marina should have showers, though a 30′ boat may have a small shower included in it. Marinas generally have a limit on how many people can be living aboard boats there, so you’ll want to make inquiries before you pay for the space.

Sometimes life comes at you, and you need a change in housing situation– fast. Let’s use an example. We all know the divorce rate in America, and we all know how few people see it coming. Let’s just say that– heaven forbid– one of the many people who comes home to find their relationship suddenly over. For the first few weeks afterwards, I stay in the spare room at some friends’ place. Eventually, I want my own space. A cramped studio in Portland, where I live, will run around $800 per month — if I go cheap. Technically, I could get one less expensively– if I cared to have a two or three hour daily commute. In a city where the per capita income is $22,643, spending about half of a normal person’s take home income on housing would be difficult. With student loan debt, it becomes overwhelming.

As an alternative, I decide to go to a local credit union for a $5000 boat & recreational vehicle loan and get one of those fiberglass hulled boats. My credit’s okay, but not great. I get approved for a loan at 9% for 5 years. That means I’m only paying $104 a month in loan debt. I’m able to pick up a marina slip for $250 per month. Even with the electricity bills, I’ll probably come out to less than $400 a month for housing– and I’m spared having to content with the roaches which frequently infest downtown Portland apartment buildings. After that 5 year loan is paid off, not only will I have savings put away, but I’ll have an asset to my name.


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