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I lived in a car and a tent to pay off my debt in San Francisco

I lived “intentionally homeless” for four months while keeping my full-time job at KGO Radio in San Francisco, so I was able to quickly pay off my debt and save up a decent emergency fund. I then moved into a houseboat in Sausalito for seven months, and Tom bought a sailboat he began to restore. Then, in March of 2016, I was laid-off from my job. The logical next step was to move onto the sailboat, where I’ve lived ever since.

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How I decided to go “intentionally homeless”

We were hiking on Mt. Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco one day in 2015, when my boyfriend Tom first suggested going intentionally homeless.

“What if we lived up here for a year?” he said, motioning to the trees around us.

Up where? I thought. There were no houses here, no apartments. Just woods and trails a couple of campgrounds tourists used in the summer.

I went intentionally homeless pay off my debt in San Francisco

“Up here,” Tom said, motioning to the woods and whatever lie beyond. “We could camp for a year. Imagine how much money you’d save.” He did some quick calculations in his head. “If you didn’t pay that high rent, you’d save $21,500 in a year.”

It was amazing to think I paid over $21k in a year just in rent alone. No wonder I couldn’t manage to pay off my debt, a measly $3,500, but hard to pay off when also paying high rent to live in a tiny studio apartment.

And to boot, I was 34-years-old with barely an emergency savings worth talking about. And I wasn’t alone, according to CBNC, about 57 million Americans have no emergency savings.

I didn’t take to Tom’s idea right away. I mulled it over for weeks, but eventually decided to move out, giving my landlady 30-days notice.

I gave away most of my stuff and put the rest in storage. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

How we lived in a car and a tent

We spent a lot of time at first at a couple campgrounds in Marin County. It was fun; we played music and drank beer and sat by the fire under the stars. I’d always loved camping, so it felt like an adventure. We had good weather. The woods were beautiful. I felt connected to nature, the owls, the wind in the trees.

I went intentionally homeless to pay off debt in San Francisco when we discovered we could only camp legally for 30-days at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, we started sleeping in Tom’s Toyota Prius.

We laid down the seats, put down a futon, tinted the windows and we set. We parked in marinas and rest stops and in parking lots.

We showered at the Bay Club in San Francisco. In the evenings, we entertained ourselves by playing music in our storage unit, which we’d set up as a jam space.

On weekends, we’d backpack and hike in Lassen and Yosemite National Parks. With no laundry or cooking or cleaning, we had tons of free time on our hands.

 

 

I went intentionally homeless to pay off debt in San Francisco
Hiking in Yosemite

How long it took

Luckily, with my low amount of debt, I was able to pay it off quickly. I lived intentionally homeless only four months, and my debt was gone. I also had a sizable emergency fund. It was the first time in my life I felt completely financially free.

Related:

A few months later, I lost my job as a news reporter at KGO Radio in San Francisco, which I’d happily held for over 5 years. At that moment, I was so glad I’d taken the time to live a little bit uncomfortably for awhile to build up my emergency savings.

After the lay-off, I moved onto Tom’s sailboat, which he’s been busy renovating for the past two years.

There are things I love about the sailboat, and also things that are difficult, but overall, it’s a beautiful and rewarding experience.

Sailing in the San Francisco Bay
Sailing in the San Francisco Bay

Top 5 reasons I love living on a sailboat

It’s now a whopping $3,600 to rent a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, and I know rents are going up in other parts of the country as well. People are struggling with debt, especially from student loans. It seems many are going through financial hardships and are rethinking and redefining home to deal with it.

I’m glad I lived intentionally homeless in the car and the tent to finally debt with my debt, which had lingered for over 10 years. I hope others are inspired to make a change, either simple or drastic, to become financially free.

10 thoughts on “I lived in a car and a tent to pay off my debt in San Francisco”

  1. Laughable piece of BS. “On weekends, we’d backpack and hike in Lassen and Yosemite National Parks. With no laundry or cooking or cleaning, we had tons of free time on our hands.” First off, gas to Lassen or Yosemite would cost you $$$ plus expensive wear on your van. No laundry? Really? It’s the same amount of laundry as normal, honey. Or did your mom do it for you? No cooking? Eating out is A LOT more expensive. Campgrounds are as expensive as a rental room. And boondocking is expensive with constant back and forth driving (gas, wear and tear/mileage). Living in a van saves NOTHING. And you can’t be looking for work, really, as you end up looking exactly like you live. Take it from someone who’ve done it for years, alone.

    Reply
    • @Ann
      Wow, looks like you don’t know how to budget or reduce your overhead. In 12 months of living in a van I’ve saved about $13,000 in rent and bills – that’s after I accounted for fuel for my van (2006 Sprinter 2500, 26 mpg), cost of maintenance (parts + my labor) and food.

      I did the math; living in a van instead of an apartment in or near a densely populated area can save money.

      Can you please support your statement ” Living in a van saves NOTHING ” or were you just here to post derogatory negative comments with no supporting evidence?

      Reply
    • I want you to know that I feel pity on whatever world you live in. Your response to this review, hopefully is useless information for anybody that reads it. You have no idea what you are talking about.
      it’s obvious from your reply, and you state no fact. It’s just negative talk, and you know it. I think your invious of this gals very smart thinking. Someone who actually plans and think’s things through with a goal in mind.
      I personally have done what she accomplished, and I don’t need a reply from a negative person like you… Go troll your negative self somewhere else.

      Reply
  2. Just say it: you live off a man. Your headline is very misleading. You wouldn’t have made it on your own in Bay Area, and you wouldn’t be able to live camping alone either for safety reasons alone, it’s written across your face. Disgusting misleading clickbait article

    Reply
  3. I want you to know that I feel pity on whatever world you live in. Your response to this review, hopefully is useless information for anybody that reads it. You have no idea what you are talking about.
    it’s obvious from your reply, and you state no fact. It’s just negative talk, and you know it. I think your invious of this gals very smart thinking. Someone who actually plans and think’s things through with a goal in mind.
    I personally have done what she accomplished, and I don’t need a reply from a negative person like you… Go troll your negative self somewhere else.

    Reply

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