What’s the biggest item in your budget? (You do have a budget, right?)
If you’re like many Americans, it’s housing — and if you’re like a striking one in four Americans, the cost of that housing eats up half your income. Though most of us think of housing as a necessary expense, one man took an out-of-the-box, or rather, out-of-the-house approach to spending less.
What exactly do we mean? Well, he moved out of his apartment and into his office. He slept there — without any of his coworkers finding out — for 500 days.
And even though his company eventually went out of business, this man (known by his pen name Terry K.) is still leading a “home-free” life. After reading his story, we wanted to know more; so we talked with Terry about his unique lifestyle, and also determined how much money you could save by going home-free.
Terry’s Journey to Home-Free Living
In the summer of 2012, Terry was working 60 hours per week at two jobs just to keep a 250-square foot Los Angeles apartment he “rarely had time to enjoy,” he wrote in a piece for Salon. When a series of financial setbacks piled on top of his already-overwhelming bills, he knew something had to change.
Instead of getting another job or ditching his California dreams, Terry decided to move into his office.
He slept on an air mattress every night, waking up early in the morning to hit a nearby gym. After taking a shower there, he arrived at work at a normal time — occasionally coming in late to fit in with his colleagues.
Luckily, there was no security presence in the building, though he did have to avoid the cleaning staff. “[They were] the bane of my existence… much less predictable than the rest of the staff!” he says.
Terry lived like this for 500 days — and estimates it saved him $20,000 in living costs and 216 hours of commuting.
His company eventually went under, and though Terry briefly looked at apartments, he ultimately decided to continue living home-free. He now lives in the back of his truck, supporting his low-cost lifestyle with odd jobs and writing.
How Much Money Could You Save by Going Home-Free?
We decided to look at the median costs of a one-bedroom apartment in the most expensive American cities to see how much money you could save by going home-free. (We didn’t include cheaper areas because we figured this idea would be most attractive to those of you who spend an arm and a leg on rent.)
Here’s what we found:
Chicago: $1,670 per month = $20,040 annual savings
Miami: $1,750 per month = $21,000 annual savings
New York: $3,000 per month = $36,000 annual savings
San Francisco: $3,460 per month = $41,520 annual savings
Seattle: $1,630 per month = $19,560 annual savings
Washington, DC: $2,000 per month = $24,000 annual savings
Those numbers are striking, and they don’t even account for utilities. But don’t forget that certain costs will increase if you go home-free. Chief among them is food, because you won’t have access to a kitchen.
Terry budgets $20 a day for food, which averages out to $608 per month. “It’s steep, I know,” he says. “But it keeps my body healthy and my schedule flexible, both of which are high priorities for me.” He frequents “grocery store salad bars, sandwich shops, Ramen cafeterias and burrito stands, alternating healthy with cheap as well as I can.”
The average American male between the ages of 18-50 spends anywhere from $186 to $373 per month on “food at home,” according to the USDA’s March 2015 food cost report. When you add that to the $208 per month the average American spends on eating out, Terry’s food budget isn’t ludicrous.
Though your situation may be quite different from Terry’s, it’s a safe bet to say you could save more than $15,000 per year by giving up your digs in an expensive city and embracing the home-free lifestyle.
But Is Home-Free Living Worth It?
Before you turn in your keys to your landlord, though, be aware that this kind of lifestyle has some major drawbacks.
First and foremost, living in your office is illegal. “It’s not so much a criminal act as one of possible trespass,” says Beth Schroeder, a California employment lawyer.
Though living in your car, as Terry does now, is legal, you will still have to give up many comforts you’re probably accustomed to. For one, there’s no ensuite: Terry uses “local public and private restrooms, including a 24-hour portable restroom at a public park,” as well as “containers for my waste, which I empty at the park’s portable restroom.”
But for Terry, it’s cooking he misses the most.
“Growing up, my family always shared dinner at the same time every night, so I feel at home with the structure and routine of a group meal,” he says. “On the rare opportunity I get to share that nowadays, it’s something I cherish deeply.”
Still intrigued by the idea of home-free living? Terry recommends experimenting first.
“Take a car-dwelling road trip or rent out your home for the weekend and scout for a comfortable place to overnight in your car for a couple nights,” he suggests. “You’ll get an idea of both the freedom and the drawbacks of living in a confined space before taking that jarring step into the unknown. Home-free living isn’t for everybody, but for some it’s a revelation.”
For Terry, it certainly has been. “One day I may plan to live more permanently in one spot, but that’s not really on my radar at the moment,” he says. “The benefits are simply too far-reaching to give up now.”
Your Turn: Would you ever consider living home-free? What questions do you have for Terry? If you’d like to learn more, visit his blog The Office Hobo.
Susan Shain (@Susan_Shain) is a freelance writer and travel blogger who is always seeking adventure on a budget.