A Couple Escapes Debt by Building a Tiny House For Under $20K
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A Couple Escapes Debt by Building a Tiny House For Under $20K

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By Lucy Wang
Completed on a bare-bones budget of under $20,000, this tiny house led to financial freedom for a family of four (and two dogs).

Downsizing to 200 square feet is no easy feat, but for Jilan Wise and her husband Josh Farley, it was a decision grounded in financial necessity. The couple had been renting a 2,500-square-foot house in Kansas City, Missouri, with two kids and two dogs—but they were overwhelmed with increasing living expenses, maxed-out credit cards, and student loans.

Parked in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas, the Blue Baloo tiny house currently serves as an AirBnB rental.

Parked in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas, the Blue Baloo tiny house currently serves as an AirBnB rental.

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Tiny house living, the duo surmised, would be their escape plan from debt. The couple spent over a year designing and scraping together a bare-bones budget of $18,000—including opening a line of credit—to fund the construction of their tiny house.

The couple purchased a used utility trailer, and, with some ingenuity and hard work, turned it into the foundation for their tiny house.

The couple purchased a used utility trailer, and, with some ingenuity and hard work, turned it into the foundation for their tiny house.

"We spent so much time researching this project," Jilan says. "The learning curve was massive, and the inspiration was our budget. We wanted to create a beautiful space with new material for not a lot of money."

The couple temporarily moved their family into Josh’s parents's home and built the tiny house with help from Josh’s father, a certified electrician. In just over two months, Jilan and Josh completed their tiny house and set off on a move to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Josh in the kitchen with one of their dogs. Adherence to a strict build budget meant foregoing paint finishes.

Josh in the kitchen with one of their dogs. Adherence to a strict build budget meant foregoing paint finishes.

The bookcase ladder's long treads translate to extra storage space. The double-loft spaces above contain the sleeping areas.

The bookcase ladder's long treads translate to extra storage space. The double-loft spaces above contain the sleeping areas.

Without money to buy property, and obstructed by Las Vegas’ stringent rules for tiny houses, the couple first moved into a "questionable" trailer park—a last resort, since many RV parks and other mobile home communities Jilan called had refused to accept their tiny house. 

The old trailer park, described by Jilan as seedy and uncomfortable due to an antagonistic neighbor and petty thefts, was less than ideal, but living there gave the family the means to climb quickly out of debt and adopt the minimalist lifestyle they craved.

When Jilan and her family were living in the tiny house, they used a fold-out dining table.

When Jilan and her family were living in the tiny house, they used a fold-out dining table.

With their newfound financial independence in hand, the family seized the chance to move onto private property after nearly two years of living in the tiny house. "Moving away from that trailer park brought such an overwhelming sense of peace to our family, it was unbelievable," says Jilan.

Vertical blue-painted steel siding and horizontal cedar planks clad the exterior.

Vertical blue-painted steel siding and horizontal cedar planks clad the exterior.

Yet, moving onto private land also meant moving out of the tiny house due to local laws restricting full-time tiny house living to RV and trailer parks. Jilan and her family now live in a "normal-sized house." The couple has listed their old abode on AirBnB after investing in a few upgrades including new finishes, cupboards, and hardware—including a Nature’s Head composting toilet. 

Formerly lined in unfinished wood panels, the tiny house now has new paint, finishes, and upgraded cabinets.

Formerly lined in unfinished wood panels, the tiny house now has new paint, finishes, and upgraded cabinets.

Shop the Look
Crow Canyon Home Vintage 12oz. Mug
Crow Canyon Home Vintage 12oz. Mug
These classic enamel mugs have a smooth white surface and are great for daily use, indoors or outside for picnics, barbecues and camping. A traditional vessel with a modern design, our mug is perfect for coffee, a hot toddy, or your potion of choice.
Brew: Better Coffee At Home
Brew: Better Coffee At Home
If you're on a first-name basis with your barista but haven't perfected (or even attempted) making café-quality coffee at home, let Brew show you the way. In this approachable guidebook, author and coffee expert Brian W. Jones demystifies specialty coffee's complexities, teaches you how to buy the...
An electric fireplace heater from Walmart adds a touch of coziness and warmth to the living area.

An electric fireplace heater from Walmart adds a touch of coziness and warmth to the living area.

Armed with the experience of designing, building, and living in a tiny house, Jilan and Josh launched Far Out Tiny Homes, a tiny house design/build business.

The kitchen occupies the heart of the home. To save on costs, the duo lined the interior walls with shiplap and beadboard. The floors are vinyl.

The kitchen occupies the heart of the home. To save on costs, the duo lined the interior walls with shiplap and beadboard. The floors are vinyl.

The compact bathroom includes a Nature's Head Compost Toilet. A high-powered exhaust fan, which Jilan considers a must-have for such a tiny house, helps eliminates bathroom smells.

The compact bathroom includes a Nature's Head Compost Toilet. A high-powered exhaust fan, which Jilan considers a must-have for such a tiny house, helps eliminates bathroom smells.

The tiny home operates off the grid and draws energy from solar power.

The tiny home operates off the grid and draws energy from solar power.

A bookcase ladder provides access to the double loft space above.

A bookcase ladder provides access to the double loft space above.

The larger of the two sleeping lofts measures 10' x 8'. The lofts have four feet of head clearance.

The larger of the two sleeping lofts measures 10' x 8'. The lofts have four feet of head clearance.

Curtains provide a degree of privacy between the two sleeping lofts.

Curtains provide a degree of privacy between the two sleeping lofts.

The former kids' loft measures 8' x 8'.

The former kids' loft measures 8' x 8'.

The house measures 20' x 7'.

The house measures 20' x 7'.