The MapleMoney Show » How to Save Money » Frugal Living

Living A Frugal Life In A Tiny House, with Michael Bartz

Presented by Wealthsimple

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

Have you thought about downsizing your home to reduce expenses? Or maybe you’ve been saving for a down payment on your first house, while watching the real estate market continue to rise, making you feel left behind? What if you considered something more extreme to meet your housing goals while helping your finances?

Michael Bartz is an actor, podcast producer and host, as well as an environmentalist. In 2017 he took a big step to lowering his environmental footprint by building his own off-grid Tiny House. It took four years, but he finished it and now he and his partner live on a farm in southern Alberta. He has no mortgage, no debt, and keeps his cost of living extremely low, which allows him to pursue creative endeavours full-time. Downsizing in all sorts of ways has allowed Michael to live his biggest life.

At times during our interview, I felt as though I was peppering Michael with questions. After all, I find the entire subject of tiny homes intriguing – the lifestyle, how the house and it’s systems work, and how anyone can live in such a small space. What I learned is that you need to have the right mindset. But if you can get used to the smaller footprint, tiny home living has several benefits.

In Michael’s case, he was able to build his home for $40,000, and he lives mortgage-free. In fact, with no debt and by living off-grid, Michael says that he can live on less than $1000/month. Tell that to someone in Toronto or Vancouver. Seriously though, the cost savings of ‘going tiny’ allows Michael to pursue the things he’s passionate about, such as artistic endeavours. If you’ve ever considered downsizing to a tiny home, this is an episode you don’t want to miss!

Do you prefer to invest in socially responsible companies? If so, our sponsor Wealthsimple will help you build a portfolio that focuses on low carbon, cleantech, human rights, and the environment. To get started with Socially Responsible Investing, head over to Wealthsimple today!

Episode Summary

  • What makes a home a “tiny home”?
  • Where Michael lived before his tiny home
  • The reasons tiny homes have wheels
  • How to plan for winter in a tiny home
  • Michael explains how he set up the solar panels on his tiny house
  • How Michael found the space for his tiny home.
  • Where does one park a tiny home
  • Do you spend less when you live in a tiny home?

Read transcript

Have you thought about downsizing your home to reduce expenses? Maybe you’ve been saving for a down payment on your first house while watching the real estate market continue to rise, making you feel left behind. What if you considered something more extreme to meet your housing goals while helping your finances? Michael Bartz is an actor, podcast producer and host, as well as environmentalist. In 2017, he took a big step to lowering his environmental footprint by building his own off-grid, tiny house. It took four years, but he finished it, and now he and his partner live on a farm in southern Alberta. He has no mortgage, no debt and keeps his cost of living extremely low, which allows them to pursue creative endeavours, full-time. Downsizing, in all sorts of ways, has allowed Michael to live his biggest life. 


Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Do you prefer to invest in socially responsible companies? If so, our sponsor, Wealthsimple, will help you build a portfolio that focuses on low carbon, cleantech, human rights, and the environment. To get started with socially responsible investing, head over to today. Now, let’s chat with Michael… 


Tom: Hi, Michael. Welcome to the Maple Money Show. 


Michael: Thanks for having me. 


Tom: You have an interesting story and I want to walk through this with you because, first of all, you’re doing the whole tiny house thing. I’ve looked at it in the past but never understood how it can work, especially here in Canada. Just to set it up for everybody that hasn’t heard of this, can you explain what a tiny home is? 


Michael: For sure. A tiny home is a very small house. I believe the definition is under 400 square feet. It’s not necessarily about just living in a small space because lots of people live in small apartments or very small houses. Tiny homes are almost a way of life as well. A lot of people choose, intentionally, to live in a very small space for a variety of reasons. It’s very much a movement but kind of a belief system too which, obviously, revolves around living in a very, very small space. 

Tom: So, how many square feet is your space? 


Michael: It is a 175 square feet. 


Tom: Oh, wow. 


Michael: Now, you should round that up to about 200 because there is a loft. 


Tom: Fair enough. 


Michael: But technically it’s 175 square feet.


Tom: What’s your living situation like? Who’s in that place with you? 


Michael: I’ve got my partner here, Sara. And we’ve got three cats, actually, in that space. 


Tom: What made you decide to do this and what did things look like for you before? Were you in a house or an apartment? 


Michael: No, I lived in a tent—no, I didn’t. I started this project in 2017. Before that, I ended a long-term relationship and was kind of at a turning point. I was in my late 20s. I had some options I wanted to explore as a single person. I thought, perhaps, I wanted to go back to school. Maybe I want to do some more traveling. Being in my late 20s, I thought maybe I should be settling down and purchasing a house because I rented all the time. Then this idea of tiny houses kind of came up. I heard about it before but was thinking about it more seriously. It kind of put everything together in that I could… A lot of them are on wheels. I didn’t mention that earlier. Usually, they’re on wheels so I could travel with it. And with me building it myself, it was kind of like going back to school. I had a project I could learn from and be challenged by. Also, I would have a home rather than just renting all the time. Those were a lot of my motivations so I built the house. I ended up renting my brother’s house in town where my partner and I lived. I want to say it was 800 square feet. It’s got a backyard and a garage—a regular small residential house. I built the tiny house in the backyard over a four year period. 


Tom: Now, you mentioned it’s on wheels. Just to clarify, this isn’t the same as an RV? It’s why is it on wheels? You do move it around, but you don’t have to, right? 


Michael: You don’t have to. No, most of the time tiny houses are on wheels is just to get around minimum housing size and codes. You can’t just say, “I want a 135 square foot house, please.” They can’t do that so a lot of them are building on wheels because you can get around that. Also, because the space is so small, you can’t necessarily design it with the regular codes in mind. The stairs have to have a certain width, a railing, or things like that. You can get around that because right now, as far as I know (at least when I built mine) there was no code for tiny houses, so there was really no inspection, which is a double-edged sword sometimes. But that’s the reason a lot of them are on wheels. And some people like to be a little bit more portable. Ours is off-grid so we run off solar and propane. And we’re on a farm. Just moving it onto the farm’s a lot easier than getting a foundation and buying a plot. You’re a little more rooted. So that’s why a lot of them are on wheels. They’re not like an RV. A Lot of them use a gooseneck trailer or things like that so you can pull them. And they’re on a dual or triple axel. But if you’ve ever been inside one, it’s nothing like an RV. Esthetically, it’s much more beautiful. It’s got residential house parts in it. It’s kind of something in between almost. 


Tom: Yes, most of the ones I’ve seen pictures of are kind of this cube-like cabin, often made of wood. It looks like something you might see if it was a little tiny cabin by the lake or something like that. 


Michael: Yeah. What I love about tiny houses is that there are so many designs. There’s so much creativity that goes into them. Ours is very much a modern, industrial look. I actually have 10 feet on the tall wall, nine feet on the low wall. Quite a lot of height. And also, the loft is above the living room (where I’m at right now) so you get that extra height. And it’s amazing how much more space it feels like you have when you have more height there. 


Tom: Yeah, exactly. So everything you just said gave me a bunch more questions because this is all very new to me. You mentioned living off the grid. The first thing I think of is, I need electricity. I need sewage and water and everything. What do you have and how does that work? 


Michael: Being off-grid doesn’t mean that you have to be living in a cabin by a river or something. We’ve got water. We haul the water. We live on a farm and they have city water that comes into the farm so we haul a tank of water to fill our water tank. And we have a gray water system. We drain it into the appropriate drainage system there. And yeah, we have electricity. We have 390-watt solar panels on the roof and 2001 inverter so we can run things like my laptop. I’m running right now off of that. We have a solar fridge that also runs off of the solar system. And everything is 12 volts. That is where some of that “RV stuff” comes into play. We’ve got a 12 volt water pump, water heater and things like that. The furnace also runs on 12 volt. So yes, we are off-grid, but we don’t have to necessarily do without some of those comforts, which is really nice. 


Tom: Again, I have more questions just to figure out what this is. Then we’ll get more into why you did it. A couple of things… I wonder if they’re more specifically a Canadian issue though. What the weather’s like? And also, what’s that solar power like? Do you get enough sun to get enough electricity all the time? And what is it like in the winter? 


Michael: Being in Canada, you definitely have to consider the four seasons because in California, you can get away with single pane windows and very little insulation. But here you really have to consider that we sometimes have 80 degrees of difference in temperature. It’s insane. The minus 40s is when you really have to make sure that everything’s running fine. With my system, I plan for that. I’ve got a maintenance room that’s kind of under the bathroom on the tongue side of the house. In there is the water tank, furnace, the batteries, and water heater. And that space is all insulated all the way around—on the walls, on the bottom, on the top. That way my water won’t freeze because the biggest thing would be if you were having water issues and things were freezing. Again, we were running off of propane. If you had no insulation like it is in an RV, you would just be burning through so much more. I’ve got three and a half inches in the walls. That’s got spray foam. I’ve got five and a half inches in the floor and the ceiling, so it’s very well insulated. And because it’s such a small space, it heats up quickly and stays warm relatively well. You definitely have to plan for winter when you’re thinking about being “tiny” in Canada. 


Tom: And with the solar power, are you getting enough power there? Because I’ve even wondered if I should get solar power in my house, but I’m just not sure if it even makes sense here or not. 


Michael: Yeah, for sure. Being in southern Alberta, we’ve got the sixth best solar system resource on the planet, from what I’ve learned. It’s definitely a consideration. I’ll be honest, right now with our 300 mini-watt panels we don’t always get enough power to totally power the tiny house. We do have a generator. Sometimes we have to use that to top up. Or if we need to, we have what we call “shore” power on the farm. So that was definitely a consideration. Going into it, building everything myself, you’re making thousands of choices in this project. And one thing I wasn’t super comfortable with was the electrical side so I had a friend help me with that. I did some research. In the stuff I looked into, I thought I would have enough power with my system. But it just doesn’t quite cut it in the middle of winter because it’s minus 40 degrees so the furnace is running a lot more and we have fewer hours, of course, of sunlight. One thing I did, which has made a huge difference is, about midway through the build, normally you mount your panels on the roof (because that’s where the sun is) but in winter, obviously, the sun is a lot lower so I ended up putting my panels on a hinge system. That way I can move them up to 90 degrees. That’s where they’re at right now. That gave me summertime levels of sun when the sun was shining. That made a really big difference. But definitely, I could add more panels. That being said, we’re in a tiny house that was designed to use as little electricity as possible. For example, instead of having a lot of kitchen appliances, we use a lot of stovetop appliances. We have a stovetop toaster and popcorn popper. We use a hand grinder. These little things add up. A toaster would use so much electricity for heat. It would be crazy. So by using propane, we’re able to use less electricity. It’s mostly for the furnace, the lights, which are all LED 12 volt lights that use very little power. We’re able to run our entire house on very little—less than you can run a toaster on. It’s really about adjusting your lifestyle as well. 


Tom: You said you built this. Did you have any construction or reno skills in the past? Because I wouldn’t trust myself to do a bathroom reno let alone build my own house, no matter the size.


Michael: Yeah, it’s definitely a big undertaking. I did have some experience building. I was always very handy growing up. My dad taught me to weld since I was a teenager and we actually built the trailer—him and I, together. As far as other building experience, I was a framer briefly after art school. I framed houses. I’ve dabbled, but I’m by no means an expert and by no means a tradesperson at all. There was a lot of learning, and that’s probably why it took four years. I think if you have been building houses for decades you might be a lot faster. But for me, it was a lot of, how does this work? And, okay, I’ve never done plumbing so let’s read a bunch, learn, and give it a try. It was a lot of experimenting but it worked out. 


Tom: If I did a bathroom right now, it would probably also take me four years.  


Michael: One thing about that is, it’s very empowering. Even with your bathroom reno for example, if you’re doing those things yourself and something goes wrong, you can just troubleshoot and fix it for the most part, right? It makes you a lot more self-sufficient so I’m really glad I did all the work I did on the house for that reason. 


Tom: You mentioned you’re living with someone else, plus the cats. Do you ever find you need some space? No matter how much I like someone, I don’t think I’d want to be crammed in the same spot with them all the time. How do you guys handle that dynamic of being, basically, in one room. I assume there are different nooks and crannies, but it’s pretty open. 


Michael: Pretty much. The bathroom is separate, but everything else is pretty open. It’s definitely a consideration in designing the space. I made it to be as functional as possible when we’re moving around. In the kitchen, for example, it’s a galley style kitchen. But across from that I have a closet and instead of making it a very deep closet to store lots of things, I think I made it only 10 inches deep. That way I’m able to go around Sara and she’s able to go around me to get to the bathroom. In designing the space, I definitely was thinking about how we would move around in the space. But yes, it’s definitely a consideration when you’re living with someone. And actually, when I started the build, we were both working in offices somewhere else. Since then, we’ve both moved to working at home, which was not something I considered. Now we have our offices in the living room. Something I’m actually surprised about— because we chose this lifestyle and were excited about it, I was surprised at how easily we adapted to the space. You think about the 175 square feet and how we now have our office in our kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. Are you crazy? Yes, I am—no. Actually, it was not that difficult. I’m on this side of the couch, she’s on that side. We’re working on our computers so it’s not that big a deal. If I find I need some time I can go up to the loft and listen to a podcast or watch a show or something. The nice thing about being where we are on the farm is that there is a lot of space outside. When I was designing the house I had that in mind. Regardless of where it was parked, I don’t have to have everything in the house. If I need some space, I can go for a walk. I can drive into town to run some errands. I can just get out of that space and do something else. I find that part of its communication, but definitely, it’s a consideration. Sometimes you have to have your own space so you find it elsewhere, and that’s okay. 


Tom: Thanks for taking half this episode just to help me wrap my head around what this is. Can we go back to why you’re doing this? I know you have your own interest in environmental impact. Was that the majority of the reason, or was it a cost savings over other living arrangements? What was the main spark to decide to do this? 


Michael: It was a combination of all those things. Part of it was that I could have my own house. I think it cost about $40,000 to build. We have no mortgage. I’m debt-free. So the financial benefit was a consideration. And our living situation is probably the perfect living situation in that we’re living on this farm and I do kind of odd jobs to pay for the spot, so I don’t have to pay to park it here. That keeps our cost of living very, very low. For me, that was attractive because it allows me to pursue artistic endeavours full-time now. But yes, I think the overarching reason that I was doing it was for the environmental impact. Going into it I thought that living in a tinier space, we’re using fewer resources to build the house for one, and also to heat it. Running off-grid, like you talked about with your house, you’re considering using solar, but is that even going to be effective because if you’ve got a regular-sized house, is that even going to make a dent? Whereas in a tiny house, you can realistically run your house off-grid even most of the year, quite easily and it’s not that big a deal. For me, a big part of it was lowering my environmental footprint and living my values as in my environmentalism. 


Tom: The $40,000 surprised me. I’ve seen some of these before where companies will build them for you but they’re $200,000 or more. Maybe they are longer or bigger, I don’t really know exactly what the square footage was, but I thought they were more than that. Forty thousand dollars is pretty good. Is that mostly because you built it yourself? Did you find any other savings within that? 


Michael: No, that was almost entirely because I built it myself. I put in about 2,000 hours, minimum, just in building. If want to pay someone to do that, even $20 an hour could probably cost another $40,000. There are companies that sell them. And because it’s a fair bit of work—you’re paying someone to build a house—even with a tiny house, sometimes it’s a lot more custom because you can’t just throw a regular oven, a regular fridge in there, things like that. So building it yourself, you can really keep the cost quite low. I have a few things like a countertop that was reclaimed oak hardwood flooring I actually got from the farm. There were a few things I was reusing which saved a bit of money. But mostly, it was just the sweat equity that kept it down. Also, it was a small space. If I had to build a 2,000 square foot house with so much more material, many more windows—things like that add up. So it was mostly just the free labour. 


Tom: As long as you don’t value your time, yes. That’s something I always try to remember myself as I’m doing things. You mentioned living on a farm. This is my other concern when looking at this in the past, where do you go? Whether it’s a tiny house or someone doing the RV thing, if you really want savings, you can’t be paying expensive campground rates at some of these RV resort areas and such. How did you find this opportunity? How did it come about? And were you considering other things at the time? 


Michael: Yes, you’re right. You can’t just park it anywhere. Some places are quite expensive. That is a tricky part of tiny houses. I think so few people live in them because they’re not always a legal way to live. Quite often they aren’t. You can’t just put it in someone’s backyard and call it done. Being out in a rural area, it’s less of a big deal. The way we found the space we’re living in is kind of a funny little story. My dad was a musician in his mid-60s. All of his groupies are in their 60s, 70s, 80s. One day he was playing a driveway concert in the summer and he asked who still gets the newspaper? And everyone’s hands went up because they’re still getting the paper. And I thought, that’s interesting, because going into it, I always thought part of this project is also about building community for me instead of just paying rent or paying the banks a mortgage. Is there something else we can do? I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could live on a property where I could kind of give back and help? I was thinking of a retired couple or a family or something—or an individual who needs the lawn mowed or walk shovelled or something where I could say, “I’m a young person. I can do this task for you, and in return, you can give me a spot to park.” So, I put an ad in the paper and was actually overwhelmed by responses. I’d kind of sheepishly say, “Can I park at your place? I’ll do some odd jobs.” But I guess from their perspective, because I was looking at farms, since they’ve got so much space (and because we’re off-grid) they say, “You just park it in the corner there,” and they get free labour. It was a no brainer for them. We had several phone calls and I ended up responding to one couple who were in their 80s. they were still farming. We met them and just love them. They were just so inspiring and charismatic. And they loved us. So, in the spring, we moved out there and it’s been great. 


Tom: That’s really amazing, actually, because I thought that was the biggest thing. It’s great that you can build a place for $40,000, but if you have no place to put it, then you’ve got a problem. 


Michael: Yeah, for sure. And even like you talked about, you could spend $100,000 and then you’re paying $500 a month to park it. Like I said, we are in the perfect scenario where I was able to build it, for cash, and being debt-free, then finding a place to essentially park for free and build that community. That’s just a dream come true for me. 


Tom: I don’t know if you know the legalities of this, but you said you can’t park in someone’s yard. I see neighbours that will park their RV in their yard. They take a piece of fence down and park their RV in there. Is it more about someone actually living in it? I’m wondering if you know where the line is, where it becomes a problem? 


Michael: You just live in it full-time whether it’s an RV or a tiny house. I would say 99 percent of cities have zoning that doesn’t allow for that. It’s a density thing, which I get. You don’t want people just living in trailers in backyards all over the city. What do you do with the waste and things like that? There’s been some challenges in the community as far as where you can park. And some people (I’ve heard) were parking in someone’s backyard and then the city shows up and says, “Hey, you know, you can’t live here. You’ve got to keep moving,” then what do you do, right? It’s definitely a consideration if someone is looking into going tiny. I would definitely say do it anyway. It’s a risk but be smart about it. And if you can find a place like we’ve found, you can do it, so don’t let that hold you back. But definitely, consider that because it’s a reality right now. 


Tom: And if you had multiple people replying to your ad, that’s a good sign that it’s a possibility. Out here in the prairies where we have our farmland, someone’s not going to still live in Toronto and then be able to have a tiny house anywhere. 


Michael: Maybe not. Yeah. 


Tom: You mentioned there’s a community to this. Are there a lot of people doing this in Canada or is it maybe not as popular as down in the US? 


Michael: Well, it’s bigger in the states. I spent a year doing research and saving money before I started my build. That was in 2016. And at the time, I wanted to see tiny houses in person and see what they looked like. I actually went down to Colorado for the National Tiny House Jamboree. It was a convention of tiny houses. There were probably 40 tiny houses and there were workshops and speakers and things like that. It was a great experience. There might be some of that going on in Canada. I think it’s a lot smaller. Obviously, the States has 10 times the population we do. And the weather is a consideration in the States. You could live in a southern state. It could be very warm. You could live in maybe a slightly northern state. But most of the states are pretty warm most of the time. Whereas here, my understanding is that 80 percent of Canadians live 100 kilometres from the border or something like that?


Tom: Yeah, something like that.

Michael: As much south as we can be. The movement is smaller here in Canada, but there are definitely still people doing it. I am one. I am an example. For sure, there are quite a few. 


Tom: You mentioned that it cost you $40,000 to build this place. Just to get in the money side of this a little bit more, how did that $40,000 look? Obviously, nobody can get a mortgage for this. It’s not a proper house. Would someone get a loan? Or was it because this was done over four years? Maybe it’s easier to just pay-as-you-go? 


Michael: You can’t, that I know of, get a mortgage for it because it’s not a proper house on a foundation. You could get a loan if you wanted. That’s definitely a possibility. I guess it depends on your financial situation, where you’re at and how quickly you want to build it. If you want it done in three months, six months or a year and you’re paying someone to do it, it’s going to cost you a lot more. Maybe you need a line of credit. That’s a consideration too. For me, that was definitely not the road that I wanted to take. I wasn’t on a deadline. I was working in post-secondary at the time in student affairs, so I had a good salary. It was a permanent contract. I saved about $25,000 a year, actually. I did that by just putting money away every month—at least $1,000 or of my salary each month. I also sold things. I downsized. I lowered my cost of living as much as I could in that year to put away those savings. And yes, over the four years, every month it was the same thing. I was just putting money into the house so it was an investment. I paid cash for it so I never had any sort of loan. Having it paid off, definitely made it a lot easier as well because it would be one thing if I was doing it the way I did, but if I was paying on a credit card or line of credit, suddenly if expenses started adding up, and with time and interest, it would definitely have changed the quality of the house. Maybe the things I put into it, I might consider maybe not being off-grid right away. Maybe I’d just say, “You know what? Let’s just plug into the grid,” because that gets rid of a lot things. With my water heater, my batteries, the solar system, you can probably take off about $10,000 just with that stuff, roughly. For me, I wanted to do this thing right. I don’t want to be in debt anymore. That was my motivation at the time, not getting a mortgage. Paying cash for it made the most sense for me. I just saved up a bunch and then kept up on saving. And because it was over such a long period, I was able to keep that fund up and keep buying things as I needed them. 


Tom: You mentioned downsizing. That’s an obvious thing you would have had to do. Now that you’re in there, how does that affect your spending? I’m guilty of it where I move into a bigger house and now we’ve got have an extra room that you need more furniture for. You kind of just grow into your space. With you in a smaller space, did you find that might have potentially helped your spending, your shopping, and how you make those decisions? 


Michael: Oh, absolutely. That’s definitely a thing that was a consideration. Like I said, even the year I was saving, building the house, having that mindset, “We’re going to need to move into this space. It’s going to be small so we can’t get things.” I don’t just buy on a whim, like furniture at IKEA or random clothes. Living tiny, downsizing my house, you’re downsizing in so many other ways—so many good ways. There’s a huge financial benefit. Not only is your cost of living lower, now I’m really intentional about the purchases I make. That really helps me in keeping my costs low as well, for sure. 


Tom: Yeah, I could see that. You would have to be intentional about it. You have these constraints you have to live with. So yeah, you’re not just going to shop first and figure it out later because you don’t have an extra space that you can just put that item that you might never get around to using it any time soon. 


Michael: Yeah, for sure. And again, it’s almost a mindset change too. If you’re thinking of living intentionally and lowering your environmental footprint, how does that affect the other parts of your life? And purchases are a huge one where I’m buying fewer things because that keeps my cost of living low (because we’re talking about finances). Looking at that, I’d much rather live an artist lifestyle and pursue the projects I want to pursue than just buy things that are fun for a while and throw away or don’t use, and it’s not really filling that need. It’s just that mindset shift as well. 


Tom: I love that because that’s something I’ve been trying to do more—to just be more intentional with things. It’s not that you can’t spend money on things you value. It’s just that you have to make that valuation. You have to decide, is this something I want to buy? Do I want to spend more for this item than the other item because it’s going to last longer? Just putting some thought into purchases really makes a lot of sense. One extreme you’re just spending wildly and then the other extreme, some people get the whole “cheap versus frugal” thing where maybe you’re holding back more than you need to instead of actually deciding what’s important to you and spending your money that way. 


Michael: A good example is maybe a cast iron pan or something—that buy-me-once philosophy. You’re buying something that’s going to last for decades, even if initially the upfront cost is a bit more. Whereas if you bought a cheap frying pan that lasts a few years and it’s made of plastic and aluminum, you just have to throw it away. The resources that go into that in the cost. It’s definitely a mindset shift. And of course, being in a small space it just makes it that much easier. I think it’ll be a lot more challenging. I’ve had the same experience of being in a bigger house. You just fill up rooms. You have the space so you can just tuck it away and not worry about it. But on the other side, I think there’s that misconception that if you live in a tiny house, you have to be a minimalist. You can only own two shirts and one plate. There is some flexibility there. There is a garage on the farm we can store things in. We have a few Rubbermaid’s in another room. If we really needed something or weren’t using it right away but really wanted to hold on to it, then we could keep that thing. But it definitely is down to a minimum, for sure. 


Tom: Yeah, it may not be two shirts and one place, but there’s still some bit of minimalism to that, right? 


Michael: Yeah, yeah. Mostly duplicates. The kitchen, for example. We have very few things in the kitchen we don’t use all the time. We don’t have a lot of double of things. And that really just makes sense, right? Most of the time you only need a certain amount of plates, forks, and knives. You  don’t need a thousand of them. 


Tom: I feel like I just peppered you with all sorts of questions this episode. But is there anything I missed? Is there anything someone needs to know about this lifestyle if they’re considering going into building a tiny home, finding a place for it—all this process if they’re still looking for some kind of life change like that? 


Michael: There’s just lots to talk about there. I think it really depends on a couple of things. You really have to think about where your skillset is at. Do you want to undertake building the whole thing? I did because I just wanted a project to challenge me and to grow and to have that satisfaction of building own house with my two hands. That feels so good. If you want that, then tiny houses are a great way to accomplish that. If you’re someone who is not that handy or maybe you’re a bit older, and still want to downsize or live in a tiny house but you can’t build it yourself, there are builders who can do it for you. You can get shells of tiny houses where the walls are up and everything is done that way. You can finish off the inside so you don’t have that huge consideration of every single moving part. Figure out where you are and how much you want to spend and then doing a bit of research as far as where you could park it and what that’s going to look like. With some people it’s kind of the chicken and egg thing where they say, “I need to find a spot to park it before I even start.” I wouldn’t recommend that because then you’re reaching out to someone, and then over a year, two, three, four years later, you’re ready. Unless you bought it new or someone built it for you. But for me, it’s also very much the mindset I talked about a bit earlier. If you are going to undertake this, even if it’s buying one and just living in it, try to get into that mindset ahead of time like limiting your spending, trying to downsize your things (if you can, progressively) rather than trying to do it all in a weekend. It might be a bit overwhelming. And if you can, a thing I talked about before is if you’re living conventionally, it’s going to be very difficult for you to transition if you’re surrounding yourself with people who are already living conventionally, right? They’ve got the big house and the two cars and the trips… We compare ourselves to our peers so much. And you may want to consider that too, where you can surround yourself with people who are like-minded or believe in you or think, “That’s a great idea. I love it. Do it. That’s going to give you that much more motivation,” because I know, for myself, in my build, there was times where it was just taking forever. I didn’t want to keep doing it. It was just a headache at times. My partner was very supportive. I was meeting people. I was hosting people through couch-surfing at the time before the pandemic and meeting people who were hitchhiking across the country, who were biking, who living in vans—people who are saying you don’t have to live the conventional way to be happy. In meeting those people, talking with those people, and having conversations like we are, it inspired me that much more because it does definitely take a lot of self-motivation to build the house and to transition because you’re questioning—especially as we talked about, it’s not a legal way to live. Am I just getting myself into a huge headache for nothing? You’ve got to consider all those things. 


Tom: I like that you mentioned connecting with other people that are doing this. I would also add maybe trying something first. You’re not going to try a tiny house but you can certainly rent an RV or something like that just to see what that’s like and have an idea of what it’s like to live in a smaller place and deal with the whole sewer thing and everything. Just make sure it’s for you because, if someone’s going to spend—you were able to do it for $40,000 over four years, but if someone’s going to spend $100,000, then don’t just do it and then decide maybe it’s not for you. 


Michael: No, that’s absolutely right. It’s a huge commitment. If you can, try it out. There actually are lots of Airbnbs where you can rent out tiny houses.  


Tom: Oh, that’s great. I didn’t realize they were available. 


Michael: Yeah, yeah. I mean, depends on where you’re going. In the golden area in B.C. I just looked at places saw there were some tiny houses that you can actually rent out. So that’s definitely a consideration if you don’t have an RV or you don’t want to buy one. You could just get an Airbnb and try it. That was part of my reason to go to Colorado in 2016… I wanted to see them. I wanted to be in one and feel what that felt like. There were different sizes and designs so, yes, that would take a bit more time but with the Airbnb, it’s a bit of an extra cost but if you think about it, doing that work ahead of time and trying one for a weekend even, think realistically, “Is this for me? Could I do this?” That’s going to save you a lot of headache and time later on. Like you said, if you buy one that’s $100,000, you have to park it somewhere. Then you decide this isn’t what you want. Trying to figure that out ahead of time is definitely a great idea. 


Tom: Thanks for taking us through all of this. I think it’s something that, for the right person, they should consider. Because you hear these million dollar properties in Toronto and Vancouver and how long it takes to save a down payment. This kind of situation, you’re really talking about a place, even if someone else builds it, that can be less than a down payment. You could be fully paid for less than these huge down payments that people are expected to save nowadays. I think it’s a great option if the person can do it. It is a lifestyle change for sure, but it’s very inspiring that you can do it for that price. And in your case, especially, to have the land covered as well through some odd jobs, that takes out a couple of huge expenses in your life. 


Michael: Yeah, it’s crazy. I’m able to live on comfortably on a $1,000 a month. I could get by on $500 a month. It’s just insane how low my cost of living can be living this way, and that allows me to do so much more. I think that was a big part of me not buying a regular house. You talked about the huge down payment of going into a regular house and paying interest over 30 years. How much more of a cost is that just to have a roof over your head. At what point did houses become an investment property? Shouldn’t it just be the place you live? And if that’s holding you back, especially in a place like Vancouver or Toronto, is there another way that you could put a roof over your head and live comfortably without getting that huge financial burden? For me, that’s where tiny houses make a lot of sense. It doesn’t have nearly as much of a burden. No, it’s not an investment. It’s not going to appreciate, necessarily. But is that what life is all about? Is that really about just having a safe investment? And for me, it never made sense to have your retirement fund be your house. Why shouldn’t you just put money away into an investment fund and just have your house because you’ve got to live in it? That’s where I sit. Maybe not everyone agrees with that, but for me, it works and I’m happy. 


Tom: Great. Thanks for being on the show and running us through all this. Can you tell people where they can find you online? 


Michael: I don’t have any social media. I’m off the grid that way. But I do have the “In Over My Head” podcast. That’s all about environmentalism so it ties into the tiny house. And like we talked about, how is my lifestyle changing? I’m downsizing but how are the other parts of my life affecting my environmental footprint? I talk to environmental experts. Each season I tackle a different topic. So, you can go to to check that out. And my email is [email protected].  


Tom: Great. Thanks for being on the show. 


Michael: Thanks so much, Tom. 


Tom: Thank you, Michael. The tiny house lifestyle is very interesting, especially for those looking to help the environment while also feeling the pressure of saving for a down payment. You can find the show notes for this episode at Head over to our YouTube channel and subscribe there. We will be getting back to releasing never-before-seen content soon. Either search for Maple Money or go to and subscribe today. Thanks as always, for listening. I look forward to seeing you back here next week when Emily Guy Birken joins us to discuss how we think and talk about money. See you next week! 

There’s been some challenges in the (tiny home) community as far as, where can you park… if someone is looking into going tiny, I would definitely say do it anyway, like, it’s a risk but be smart about it and if you can find a place like we’ve found, you can do it so don’t let that hold you back… - Michael Bartz Click to Tweet