First Person: I Lived in a Shed to Knock Out My Student Loans

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When I was in my early 20s, I was so desperate to pay off my student loan debt that I took a friend up on her offer to let me live in what was basically a glorified shed. She was renting a small home near Lake Michigan, about 20 minutes from the college. She had a small shed that the previous owner had converted into a tiny one-bedroom guest house. I thought about that shed I lived in to "shed" my student loan debt when I read The Motley Fool article about a man who slept in his van to avoid college debt. Young people will often to go to extremes to avoid debt. I know I don't regret roughing it for a few months until I was able to find a job that paid enough to cover rent and my student loan payments.

Spending less on housing

After living in a shed, I got used to the idea of living below my means. I carried the financial philosophy with me throughout the years. In my 20s, I always chose apartments with rents in the $400 to $600 range even though my peers making the same amount of money paid $800 to $1,200 for their luxury apartments. At age 30, I purchased my first condo on my own. In my mid-30s, I bought my first single-family home with my husband. Each time, I chose a price point that was well below what I could afford. Now that many of my peers are becoming move-up buyers, I am opting to stay put and pay off my mortgage.

Appreciating what I have

I don't regret living in a shed because it helped me pay off my student loan debt in just 8 years. I didn't have to carry my student loan debt into my 30s, 40s or beyond. While I didn't have to live in a shed for 8 years, it helped me appreciate the humble apartments that I found in lower middle-class neighborhoods in Indiana. When I was finally able to buy a condo, I appreciated having a gourmet kitchen, two full bathrooms and a guest bathroom as opposed to one bathroom and a kitchen that the landlord had left carpeted because it was cheaper than laying down ceramic. By watching the real estate and home renovation shows on television, I've noticed too many younger people who act as though they deserve a perfect new home as soon as they graduate from college.

Reducing my living expenses

By living in a shed that was converted into a makeshift studio apartment, I reduced my living expenses. I only had to pay my friend about $20 a month for utilities. When I got older, I didn't look for micro-apartments, but I did pay attention to the square footage of the homes. My condo was 1,100 square feet, while my current home is 1,800 square feet. I have smaller utility bills compared to my neighbors in 3,000-square-foot homes. I also pay smaller property tax bills.

Another lesson I learned by living in a shed is that it doesn't take a lot to be happy. I would survive if I ever lost my home due to a hurricane or other natural disaster. I rather live in a humble home with money in the bank than be house poor in a spacious upscale house that I can't really afford. Perhaps the dream for some people is to one day have the money to easily afford the big house, but it's not my dream.

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More from this contributor:

How I Broke the Habit of Living Beyond my Means

I Saved First, Then Paid Down Debt

Living on Edge of Financial Ruin
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