My Frugal LifeFrugal Living

My Frugal Life: Rebuilding Our House

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When we got married, Jim and I had only one thing in large numbers: children. We decided to purchase some land in the country where the six of them could have room to grow. My Frugal LifeWe had $5,000 saved, and used it to put a down payment on an 11-acre piece of marginally useful (to most farmers) land. It took three years to pay off the $10,000 balance, making extra payments whenever possible.

The land was unimproved. Half of it sits high and dry on an ancient lava flow. The other half is an old river bed filled with lovely silt loam. We were able to build a chicken coop and a shed to milk a cow in. Later came calf hutches and a pig pen made from discarded (free) pallets. We bought two ancient trailers to put together for living space, and another for the kids' bedrooms.


The first cost $350, the second $125.00, and the last one $1,000. That should give you an idea of the condition they were in. The idea was to fix them up as we could afford it. We put up an outhouse that had once occupied space in a city park, bought kerosene lamps and installed a wood stove for heat and a liquid propane stove for cooking.

The years went by and the kids grew up and moved away. It seemed as if we would never be able to finish up the house. We did what we could, but there was never money or time enough. We lived with bare insulation, no water or power, and drafty floors. Those middle of the night trips to the outhouse were becoming murder as we aged, especially in winter. I became increasingly nervous about reports of mountain lions in our area, and even saw one once in broad daylight.


Two years ago, we had enough saved to put a pole-built roof over the place. It was a great improvement, and by doing the labor ourselves with the help of two friends, we did it for $5,000. The building permit valued it at $14,000, so we saved $9,000 in labor by doing it ourselves.

Still, the house was awful. The roof was leaking. Every single strut in the walls was rotted or broken. The exterior walls were bulging dangerously. There were holes in the floor where rot had destroyed the underlayment. One hole had been cut by firemen when the mobile home caught fire, so the retardant and water could drain out. The hallways were too narrow for tall people, and the bedroom was so small we could barely squeeze around the bed to get in and out. Most people would have torched the whole thing. You get the idea.


Then we received an inheritance from Jim's parents! Wow! Admittedly there were a lot of things we could have bought, but the house was our priority. We discussed picking up a manufactured home, which would have eaten up a minimum of $130,000 for anything decent, and we have not been impressed with the structural quality of the manufactured homes we have seen. While we could have paid cash, it did not seem like a good investment to us.

Two of our friends from church, a married couple, work as painters. But they also knew a lot about construction and electrical wiring. We asked if they would like to work on our place. They've been great! They work in other jobs with ours, charge a fair rate, and are dependable.

Right now we have all the room interiors finished except for the living room. They and my Jim took out some room dividers to make fewer but larger rooms. New windows and cream-colored walls gave us far better light. No more claustrophobia! There are new floors, ceilings and wiring. The plumbing works better than the old ever did. They are enclosing the eaves on a pole-built roof, and they have painted and textured inside. The last things will be siding, and blowing in insulation in the roof.


Essentially, we have a new 1,000 square foot house, and I believe it will end up costing under $30,000. We have chosen to install a composting toilet with minimal upkeep. The very last thing will be some solar panels and a wind generator. The cost will be about the same for power as our local utility would have charged to run poles and lines back to our place, which is 1/4 mile off the road and from the nearest power pole. There will be no monthly bill.

By rebuilding the trailers, we saved about $100,000. There is no debt involved. Our friends started in February, and we expect everything to be finished by some time in November. It calls for an extra month because they have a big job to do in another state in October.

I admit we could never have done this without the inheritance. We tried and failed. There is so much work on a farm that non-essential tasks get put off again and again. But it is so exciting now, to look out my new windows and watch the finches eat plums just outside, as though I were invisible! And we will never be embarrassed to ask anyone over for a visit or a meal again. The best part is the money we saved. We are retirement age, and are encouraged to know we have a little put by to live on when we can no longer support ourselves.


We have always loved living here in the country. We stayed even though the house was a wreck because we had a beautiful garden, animals to care for, and personal freedoms unheard of in the city. Many friends were envious and called it "Heaven" and "Rainbow Ridge". I think they were mostly envious of our low cost of living. If we absolutely had to, we could make it on $400 a month. Fortunately our Social Security is better than that.

Life doesn't get a whole lot better than this.

By Coreen from Rupert, ID

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September 4, 20100 found this helpful

Coreen, thank you so much for sharing your story. It is beautiful and made me tear up but I so enjoyed reading.


May God be with you and your family, keeping you safe. I am sure you have a very beautiful place.

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September 4, 20100 found this helpful

First, thank you for sharing your Frugal Life story. It's really great and I'll bet all those children know how to do things that they'd never have learned any other way. I know I'm a little bit envious of them being raised in such wonderful surroundings. I wish you and your hubby a very long life to enjoy the "fruits of your labor".

You are getting my "thumbs up" !


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September 4, 20100 found this helpful

It is knowing when new cost less than fixing up. A pre-manufactured home there cost 2-3 x what it does here in MN. My kids looked at a 3 bedroom for $70,000 without lot. They had the farm site. They decided to move into town where they got a lot with a 3 bedroom built from scratch rambler/att garage for $70,000. Nothing to do or fix. Full basement. Must be the territory you reside in that things cost so much.

My house? 100 years old. It was kept up so the new vs fix it was answered. Updated the wiring, camera down the plumbing and out for $100 showed excellent pipes, paid a relative to strip and restain all the cupboards (kitchen had 27 cupboards), built in leaded window china hutch which covered a whole wall. Original plaster walls I did with an oil cloth wall paper for strength. Mail ordered it from one of those discount places. My $100 paid for $600 wallpaper going to the store.

I won't be changing out paper for 40 years, but then with oil cloth walls, it looks like a photo studio background. Pleasant on the eyes. 10 foot ceilings so took advantage of the height and did light to whites to make interior look huge. My open stairway is 24 feet, so painted where you don't see the upstairs. Need to do the windows next - original there. All the old wood work in the house has historic value, we added 400 sq feet for a den/sewing room, onto the dining room and was able to match in everything with new wood but stain matching old. We did a lot of the work ourselves except what law mandates but be professional. Codes!

Took out a few fancy windows (think drape costs) and put in one large triple pane (south exposure for good winter sun). 1 drape necessary. I look at each update in curtains, drapes, etc as to last 20 years. And yes, at 24 years, I replaced the drapes/curtains. Of course, watched for 50% off sales and free shipping. For the rest of the house, I had sewn the drapes and curtains. Leaded windows abound. I use queen and king size sheets of colors I can't find in drapes and make lovely bright window coverings. I paint where I need to in oil base, another 30 year investment as long as I am happy with the colors. Protects the plaster walls and sheet rock. Window treatment a must in our very cold winters. We had a big yard, I have nice gardens where we enjoy the food and flowers. Kids played games, in our neighborhood it was the 'lot' to play in. Who cared about seeing bases for ball, scruffs from football, etc. The kids got older and the grass grew again.

As my kids grew up, they had added HS classes of wood working, house building, wiring, etc so now they went to college and got more background, 1 does it for a living. It still comes down to fix cost under codes or new. 2 other sons went into auto tech/body so the cars stay in running shape too. Always rebuilding some car, replacing some engine or tranny, do own upkeep, repainting and body work a weekend hobby job. They work in unrelated fields, but enjoy their college education as hobby.

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September 5, 20100 found this helpful

Thanks for sharing we have been struggling away with our project for about 5 years this really gives me the belief that one day my kichen, which at the moment is a sink with a cold tap and some metal industrial shelves, will be a real one. Keep going it will be beautiful in the end and oh the satisfaction of knowing how much cash your patience and hard work saved you.

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September 5, 20100 found this helpful

Thank you for sharing your Frugal Life Story,
What an inspiration you & your hubbie are, I love my house but getting fed up looking at the surroundings,so after reading your wonderful story Ive decided to de-clutter and paint my Sitting room with a bold feature wall,as" I do tend to play it safe too much". Reading your story has made me realise that "Rome wasn't built in a day"
All my best wishes for the future for you & hubbies retirement. x

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September 7, 20100 found this helpful

Truly a wonderful story. This was a gem today to read as I have just joined this site.

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September 8, 20100 found this helpful

Thanks for sharing your beautiful story. You are truly blessed. I feel I should point something out, though. You said, "I admit we could never have done this without the inheritance", and "The best part is the money we saved". True enough, but I think the best part is the friends who helped you achieve your frugal dream. You could never have done this without them, either. You said they charged you a fair rate; but still, the time they spent on your place is time they could have spent making more money elsewhere. They are a big part of your blessing. Not a sermon, just a thought.

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September 8, 20100 found this helpful

Dear Coreen,
We all know how very grateful you are for your friends and financial blessings! We are so grateful that you have shared this amazing story with us! I have posted it on my FB and printed it to show to others. Such an encouragement! Thank you!


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September 11, 20100 found this helpful

You deserve a nice home after all you went through over the years. Wow, I could never equal your endurance!

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September 11, 20100 found this helpful

Your letter was inspiring to say the least. The pleasures you reap now after much endurance and patience has paid off by you owning your home and land.
Finding the beauty outside well the inside was a mess is most compelling and sounds as if that was what held you together. Today so many people want instant gratification it's nice to hear that their are some people that still find patience and endurance is a mighty payoff.

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September 13, 20100 found this helpful

What a sweet and beautiful story. I loved reading this and appreciate you sharing this. Many blessings and prayer to you.

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September 17, 20100 found this helpful

Loved your story! In today's world where, those, just starting out seem to get everything all at once, could really learn from you about how not to pay interest on anything and still obtain everything. I am so happy for you and I am sure you are living the best life possible.

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September 25, 20100 found this helpful

Thank you so much for your wonderful life that you have shared with us. I am curious about your composting toilet. I have never heard of that. Could you elaborate on it.
Thank you again.

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