Frugal housing

Hardly a day goes by without housing affordability appearing as a headline on the news. While many believe owning their own home is the height of financial success, the down-to-earth reality is that many homeowners simply end up renting money rather than renting property!

The aim of those housing themselves off the smell of an oily rag is to have comfortable accommodation without selling your heart and soul to the bank so we thought we would mention some ways to get onto the property ladder without the high debt.

We all need a roof over our head, but that "roof" does not need to be a 12-room, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mansion with a huge mortgage commitment and horrendous house-running expenses. As a general rule no more than 25% of a household income should go on housing (rent or debt repayment). Those living on a limited budget should be realistic in their expectations. Add-on luxuries like theatre rooms, heated pools, triple car garaging and so on are for another day.

Build your home as you can afford it. There are some really smart designs around of houses consisting of a core building and various modules that can be added as the family or bank balance expands. Building your own home little by little over a five-year period sure beats a 30-year mortgage! Or buy a shell and finish the interior yourself on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Why not buy an existing home for removal and resite it onto a section? Sometimes you can buy old houses at an oily rag price, but do carefully check out the relocation costs - sometimes they can be as much as the house itself!  Old houses also have a habit of being very expensive to renovate and maintain (ask anyone who's done it). 

If you are handy with a hammer, why not build your own home? You may need a bit of help and supervision from a builder. The builder will be able to buy the materials at trade discount (and pass all or most of the discount on to you!) and give you some tips on some of the more detailed points. A word of caution: Check out the rulebook before you build. The more inventive you are, the more circumspect and difficult local authorities will be. 

Why not live in a garage or a farm shed for a while? With a little modification a two-car garage makes a very cosy bungalow at negligible cost. And when you can afford to build a home you have a sleep-out for the kids or guests. Some of the standard steel shed designs have accommodation attached so a shed/flat combo may give you a shed AND accommodation at very little additional cost.  

When renovating, a reader recommends tackling one job at a time. Finish it, then start on the next project. That way, only a part of your house is trashed at any one time. 

Consider living in a caravan or mobile home. Find a small space to put the caravan and you are all set. But check out the dollars and sense in doing so. While a caravan park may seem cheap, if you add in the cost of the site hire it may not be a bargain. You may be best to buy a section and plonk your caravan onto it while you are saving to build.

If buying a section, why not buy in the country? Sometimes a ten-acre lot in the country costs no more than a postage-stamp-sized section in town. It also gives you the freedom to grow your own food and run livestock. Look particularly for properties with standing timber that may be milled for building materials. A reader writes that they built a house from trees on their property, and saved about two-thirds of the normal price. 

Instead of buying a house, invest in a commercial property. Convert part of it into residential accommodation and rent out the rest. That way you get a roof over your head and an income. Many businesses like the security of having someone living on the property. One reader did exactly this. They lived in the upstairs area, which has an estuary view, and rented out the commercial space. Not only did they have free rent, but they made a packet when they resold the property.

Do you have a money-saving tip you would like to share with others? If so, please send your ideas to us at or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.

(Live Matches)