Tiny Home Living and Minimalism Are Helping us Become Debt Free – with Jill Sirianni

Jill Sirianni Frugal Friends Podcast

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According to a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders, more than half of Americans would consider living in a home that’s less than 600 square feet. And when you ask millennials the same question, that number jumps to 63%. So what’s fueling this interest?

Today, I’ve invited somebody on the show who lives in a 170 square foot tiny home with her husband and absolutely loves it.

Jill Sirianni is my guest today. She is a professional social worker and loves all things minimalism, tiny home living and debt freedom. She’s also the host of the Frugal Friends Podcast, which was nominated this year as the “Best New Personal Finance Podcast” by Plutus.

Her frugal advice and story has been featured in multiple popular podcasts, and recently, the Wall Street Journal.

Andy Hill: What attracted you to living in a tiny home?

Jill Sirianni: It really was wanting to own within our means.

We live in a very expensive area – I don’t know why. My husband and I try and figure this out all the time. We live in a suburb outside of Philly. People say it’s because it’s good school districts, or you’re close to a lot of neat things, but it still just feels like the middle of nowhere. A ranch is $300,000.

We want to live in our area and we like our community. We’ve got friends and family here but just could not swing it.

I’m a social worker. So with my salary, I could not purchase a $300,000 home. We started to look at motor homes and trailers just for fun and camping, and then we realized, “Wow, it has everything you need, let’s try living in it.”

That’s been the biggest thing. We have saved so much money. Living expenses are one of the biggest expenses people have, and we’ve been able to cut costs enormously there. So that’s a big appealing factor.

But also, less time on maintenance and cleaning, less money spent on upkeep and decor. I used to love going to thrift stores and yard sales, but I can’t do it anymore. There’s no more room for stuff. So the ripple effect of tiny home living is also very nice on my wallet.

Why did you choose a motorhome?

So, we’ve actually lived in two different versions. I call it a tiny home. I know everybody probably has in their minds the beautiful pictures on a magazine of the siding and the beautiful doors and decks. That’s not it. I call my motor home and my trailer my tiny home because it is.

You’ve got the tiny homes, which are usually built on a trailer, like a platform trailer. And that’s where people can get really creative with that, make them look really beautiful, like tiny houses. And then you’ve got motor homes and trailers, as in camping trailers. So we have lived in both a motor home and a camping trailer.

When we first decided to go this route, we chose a motor home because it was pretty large. It was a class A, and so it was a 36-foot Winnebago Adventurer. And we liked the fact that it was a vehicle, that we could take it on a road trip and not need to tow anything. Although we did buy a little scooter so that we could scoot around when we got to different places.

We also did some other nontraditional housing in the middle there. We house sat in a log cabin. We lived with my grandmother and took care of her, and then now, we’re back into a trailer. So this is the kind that you would just hook up to a hitch on your car, and it’s a 22-foot Keystone Bullet Ultra Lite. So it’s only 4,500 pounds so we can pull it with our midsize SUV.

Do you have the ability to travel wherever and whenever you want?

We do, we have the ability. It’s funny, we don’t do it that often. It’s like people always think, “Oh, where are you going to go?” And really, honestly, we did this to save on living expenses, that’s the main reason. So being able to travel and pull it wherever we want is just a perk.

Part of my job is to lead trainings and debriefs for people after traumatic situations. I’ll do that at our local retreat center.

There was a time where I was going to be at this retreat center for over two weeks. So we took the trailer with us and parked it at the retreat centers and my husband was able to come, he had to come with us. I’m taking his home, his car, he’s got to follow.

That was fun. And then, actually, we hope to be able to take it to Florida this winter, escape a little bit of the Pennsylvania cold.

Does your husband do his work in the home?

We both work remotely, which is another interesting thing that we do inside of our little tiny home.

I travel a whole lot more than he does. So that does give us some breaks from each other, but he’s home quite a bit and working from the trailer.

Related Interview: How Embracing Minimalism Makes Parenthood Easier – with Nicole Hill

How does it look when you’re both working at home?

We fit a couch in here, so we will both sit on the couch. We also extended the island in our kitchen so that we can put stools underneath. Sometimes, one of us will just go to the island and sit on the stool.

tiny home living minimalism couch

There are times that I will sit in bed and work on my computer. We’ve got options. There have been times where I’ve gone outside, or we will go to coffee shops and work for a few hours out of someplace out of the home if we need to.

Could you give us a virtual tour?

You walk in, and you walk into the living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom. You walk in and you can see it all. There are obviously all kinds of different types of RVs and motor homes. Ours does not have any real partitions other than the bathroom.

tiny home living minimalism island

You can see everything when you walk in. We do have a washer dryer and all in one. Once it’s done washing, it switches over to drying. So that’s right as you walk in the door.

We’ve got a full bathroom. It’s a tiny sink, a tinier shower. But that’s its own thing, off in the corner.

tiny home living minimalism bedroom

And then, living room and kitchen, is kind of all one thing. We do have a sink in the island in the middle, which is really nice.

tiny home living minimalism living room

I’m really not lacking for counter space. And then back at the end, or towards the tongue of the trailer, is our bedroom.

tiny home living minimalism bedroom

Do you have aspirations of doing a little bit bigger living in the future?

We really do enjoy the tiny aspect and will probably do some building. We did the renovation; my husband, primarily, has the construction skills and background and know-how, and I can do more of the finish work.

We had a business together, all kinds of side hustles we had together. But we did renovations together for a while. We’ll probably build next.

Is there a tiny mortgage on your home?

We went to the bank to see if they would give us a small loan, and they wouldn’t, which is so sad. We were so disappointed.

We actually had an amazing friend who gave us a small loan to help us buy it. We’ve paid him back already, so we own it.

How much bigger will your next home be?

I’m guessing it would be about 1,500 square feet. We’re looking at shipping containers – that size. It’d be like three shipping containers in a U, essentially, and a pool in the middle.

Where do the shipping containers go?

First, we would buy land. There’s a lot of different options, and it can get tricky, so it’s not for the faint of heart. We will have to weigh the benefits of that, because we’ve heard some horror stories of people not having the waterlines, or electrical, and the township zoning.

But I think, finding a house that maybe has been foreclosed on, or is very, very inexpensive, and then just using the property, mainly just buying it for the property rather than the actual home that’s on it or the structure.

How are you saving?

We are still in debt pay off mode, so we’ve got about $6,000 left. We’re hoping to knock that out in 6 months or less.

And we’re saving at the same time. We’re both independent contractors, so we do put over 30% aside every month, also. I’m hoping that once we pay off debt, that’ll push us over the edge where we can really start saving money. But right now, a lot of it’s going to debt.

I find it beautiful. I mean, I hope that doesn’t sound too conceited. We put in a lot of work to it, but I don’t think I could do this if I didn’t think that it was lovely to live in. If it was dark, dingy, gross, this would not be easy. But the fact that I find it really beautiful and everything that I touch has a purpose, that makes it super doable.

tiny home living minimalism rv

Who’s idea was it originally to do this?

My husband’s, absolutely. He’s constantly looking things up. Old used boats, and motor homes, and cars, and all kinds of stuff. And so, he got it in his head.

We have a boat with Eric’s family. And we were like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be so neat to go camping and be able to bring the boat along?” And then he was looking into, well, how much are motor homes and RVs? And then realized, whoa, we could live in that. And as I was looking over his shoulder at the things he was looking at, I’m like, “It has a kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom. Let’s try it.” So yeah, I was an easy sell.

And how long has it been since you guys decided to take that plunge?

At least four or five years ago, we moved into the motor home. Like I said, we had two other living arrangements in between the motor home and this, but yeah, about four or five years ago.

What are some of your favorite aspects of living in a tiny home?

Organization

I like that I can find everything. I know where everything is, and I like that it frees up my time for other things.

You have to be a version of minimalist if you are going to go the tiny home route. And that really does resonate with me. I have 4 forks and 4 knives and 4 plates, and I love it. And they’re all very functional.

I have one very good knife. Those types of things I really enjoy. I don’t have a whole drawer full of knives that don’t suit my purpose.

Focus

I think it’s caused me to focus on what is most important. Where do I want to put my time, energy, money, be able to have permission to buy things that might be a little bit more expensive, but they’re going to serve our purposes and we can get rid of the rest?

Cleaning

The maintenance of it is very minimal, so I can then go spend time where I want to, whether that’s with friends and family, or on a hobby, or side hustle, even though I got plenty of them.

tiny home living minimalism kitchen

Related Video: 5 Ways to Save Thousands When Buying a New Home

If someone is interested in tiny home living, what would be a good first step?

First of all, I would say, just engaging in the topic more. Reading books about tiny home living or minimalism, and also watching YouTube channels, listening to podcasts. We really like Gone With the Wynns.

If you wanted to try your hand at this, there are so many points of entry into tiny living or minimalism, and I would just encourage people to start by looking around their house and seeing, what do I really need?

  • What’s distracting?
  • What is purposeful?
  • What is giving me life?
  • What’s taking away from it?
  • How do I want to be spending my time?

These are all questions we want to be asking ourselves with finances, also, but it works too with our living situations. Selling off things that you don’t need, that can be a little bit of extra cash, and just start to see how little, or how little can I live off of?

Declutter

It doesn’t have to be super extreme, but just start to declutter. Because that is where a lot of the stress comes from.

I’m also a therapist, so I have a little window into marriage and family life that is not often seen. So many arguments do come from stuff around the house, feeling stressed about things not being clean, needing to cook dinner and it being a mess.

All kinds of things that are related to the things that we have and whether or not they’re getting clean, or spending weekends cleaning out the garage and then yelling at the kids because they’re getting in the way. It’s just such a sad picture, because if we had less, then we wouldn’t need to have those arguments.

Starting to look at where we can scale back on the things that we have to focus on, the things that are important.

Research Tiny Homes

Look into the different types of tiny homes. You’ve got park models, which are basically small – they’re larger mobile homes, but really beautiful. That could easily house a family.

Then you’ve got your mobile homes and your RVs of various sizes, your trailers and campers of various sizes. This is definitely not a one size fits all.

Consider buying one. You can find a trailer or camper, an RV, used on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist for anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000. Pick one up. Try it out. Go camping with the family, or your spouse, and see if it’s something that you might be interested in.

It’s so easy to make excuses, and we do it all the time. “Well, I could never do that because I have kids, or I could never do that because I’m single, or I could never do that because I only make $30,000 a year.” And what if we just switched perspective and started to ask the what-if questions, and where can I start? Just do one small thing to be able to help you live more purposefully with your living situation, with your finances, that can apply really anywhere across the board.

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Motorhome in the wilderness

Author: Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the host of the Marriage, Kids and Money Podcast which focuses on helping young families build wealth. This 5-star rated podcast was nominated as "Best New Personal Finance Podcast" by Plutus. Andy's advice and personal finance experience have been featured in major media outlets like Business Insider, MarketWatch and NBC News.

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