The tiny house movement has really taken off. Many models are now available as tiny houses prefab units that are flat shipped to you for assembly.

This is inspiring a lot of people who want to downsize, declutter, and live a little further off the grid. There are designers and builders who specialize in these smaller homes on wheels.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and challenges of tiny house living.

Tiny Houses Prefab (and not Prefab) Cost

The cost of a prefab tiny house varies depending on size, materials, and amenities.

A bare bones home with minimal plumbing and electrical, less than 200 SF, can cost as little as $6,000, or as much as $30,000.

Tiny homes with more SF, full kitchens, generators, and full plumbing can cost upwards of $60,000.

The higher end homes are likely to be fully insulated, have an electric or propane heating system, a working water toilet, and all modern kitchen appliances.

If you are going completely off the grid, you will save on utilities and water by using a wood burning stove for heat, solar or wind power for electricity, and a composting toilet.

For a little more comfort, you could have a propane powered generator for electricity and heat, and a water filtration system for recycling rain water.

With the generator, you will have to purchase fuel on a regular basis.

Challenges of Tiny House Off-the-Grid Living

The first challenge is that you must commit to getting rid of things that you don’t really need. Living with less may be hard at first.

A good way to downsize is to sell or donate anything you don’t need or won’t have room to store. Resist the temptation to rent a storage unit for stuff you may never use again.

==> Check out these awesome tiny house plans and photos

Local zoning and building codes may be a hurdle you will have to jump over.

If you plan to assemble one of the many tiny houses prefab models, you may not be able to just park your home on wheels in a corner of a friend’s land or on land you purchased without permits and proper sewage disposal or a clean water supply.

Be diligent about checking with local authorities before you start the process.

The most obvious challenges are in living in a smaller space and dealing with everyday necessities. Here is a list of what may be everyday off-the-grid challenges.

  • Stoking a wood burning stove
  • Emptying a composting toilet
  • Taking garbage and recycling to a transfer station
  • Collecting and filtering water
  • Picking up mail at a post office, if necessary
  • Conserving utilities and water
Benefits of Tiny House Off-the-Grid Living

The benefits of tiny house living off the grid are many.

The most important is the sustainability of your green lifestyle. The second benefit is the cost savings. After your initial investment, you are free of rent, mortgage, and utility bills.

Lastly, your lifestyle will be so much less complicated without the burden of excess belongings and having to clean a larger space.

Is Tiny House Living for You?

If you are someone who wants to lessen your footprint on our fragile environment, then prefab tiny house living might be right for you.

The tiny house cost to build and maintain may be enough to peak your interest.

If you are considering this lifestyle, you can look into companies who manufacture tiny houses prefab to get started.

Or, if you are into DIY projects, many companies sell tiny house plans which you may assemble yourself.

Then, take stock of your belongings and start the editing process. Enjoy the adventure that lies ahead.

tiny houses prefab plans

tiny houses prefab


If you find yourself deep in debt you may think the only way to get out is to take drastic measures such as selling your car (or your house), or living on beans and rice and delivering pizzas in the evenings for debt repayment.

While those tactics work for some, the truth is that repaying debt is not much different than any other habit.  It takes a few weeks to make it a routine and it has to be done on a pace that is agreeable with your family and your lifestyle.

Set Yourself Up to Succeed With a Realistic Debt Repayment Plan

I’m not a runner by any stretch of the imagination.  If I laced up my shoes tomorrow morning and decided to run a 5K I doubt I would make it.

In fact, I’d probably fail so miserably that it would discourage me from running in the days to follow.

Paying off debt is sort of similar.  If you decide on May 1 to start a debt repayment plan and plow 70% of your take home pay into that credit card balance chances are you won’t make it to the next paycheck without having to use the credit card again.  That, my friends, is the debt hamster wheel of death.

Instead, start by diverting 20% of your take home pay towards debt repayment.  Maybe that represents what you normally spend on hobbies or entertainment.

You can forgo that for a paycheck or two without causing too much pain in your household.

You can always increase that percentage in the weeks to come to strike a balance for aggressive debt repayment (after all, you don’t want those balances hanging around forever).

Don’t Be Impatient.  OK, Be a Little Impatient

I am, by nature, an impatient person.

I want to lose 20 pounds in two weeks.

I want to repay our debts in 90 days.

I want to build an emergency fund before Christmas (even if it is October).

The truth is that impatience can be a good thing.  It drives us towards our goals.  But it can also be a negative if we allow it to set us up for failure by setting unrealistic goals.

Far better to spend the next six months putting $1,000 towards your credit card debt while adding no new debt than knocking out $3,000 in debt the first month, but having to charge $600 in bills because you have no cash, and not being able to repay any the next month.

Smooth out that curve and slowly, and steadily, pay off your debts.  Be intentional.  Create your monthly budget and set a realistic amount to repay from each paycheck.

Do your very best not to add any new charges to your credit cards while paying them off.

That’s like digging a hole to plant a tree and letting some dirt slide back down in the hole between shovel-loads.  It’s discouraging and it will turn you off of the whole plan.


Have you ever craved food so badly you can close your eyes and taste it?  Yes, I have that same problem, too.  I like food and my waistline would prove it so.  But I also like to save money – two “likes” in constant competition with one another.

I recently had the opportunity to return to my hometown.  When I’m within 50 miles of the place I have to stop by for a meal at one of the local BBQ restaurants.  It’s the kind of food you just can’t get any where else.

My family of four gathered around the table and I was in hog heaven (pork pun intended).  The menu still looked the same and the food smelled just as good, too.

“We do not eat out often as a family, but $14.34 per person just seemed ridiculous, even for us.”

My wife and I ordered two BBQ plates and the kids both ordered a chicken finger plate.  I know it’s sacrilegious to order poultry at a BBQ restaurants, but they’re kids; what are you going to do?

Since I had intentionally eaten light the night before and skipped breakfast before our commute I was ready to eat the napkins right off the table.  So naturally I ordered an appetizer at $4.95.  And the four of us couldn’t pass up the sweet tea and lemonade.

Check Please

The food was just as good as I had remembered, but I was left with some form of indigestion (and it wasn’t the pickled and onions served on the side).  Our bill totaled $57.37!

We do not eat out often as a family, but $14.34 per person just seemed ridiculous, even for us.  It wasn’t that the menu was pricey; we paid about what I would expect for an entree at this sort of restaurant – $8-$10 per plate.

Here’s a breakdown of the receipt:

  • $4.95 – Vidalia Onion Dip
  • $9.79 – BBQ Pork Platter
  • $2.08 – Sweet Tea
  • $9.79 – BBQ Pork Platter
  • $2.08 – Sweet Tea
  • $8.99 – Fried Chicken Fingers
  • $3.10 – Lemonade
  • $8.99 – Fried Chicken Fingers
  • $3.10 – Lemonade
  • $0.25 – Skillet Apples

As I made my way to the register to settle our bill I realized I violated just about every one of my self-imposed restaurant rules:

  1. We didn’t share meals.
  2. We didn’t order water.
  3. We ordered an appetizer.

I’m not going to beat myself up over the meal.  Like I said, we don’t eat out of often and this was a nice splurge.  But as I stood from the table and saw leftover food it occurred to me we could have easily split an entree between the kids and one for my wife and me.

And I should have passed on the appetizer.  My meal came with a salad and it was out within a couple minutes of ordering.

Now the sweat tea and lemonade are non-negotiable, but if we were really gung ho we would have all had water and saved another $10.

Frugal Tweaks To Make On Our Next Visit

In review, just a couple small changes to the order would have saved us an easy $23 – enough gas money to make the return trip home.  Drop the appetizer, one BBQ platter and one chicken finger platter.  Everybody still eats what they want to and everyone is full (even my wallet – well, more full).

For me, that’s striking a frugal balance.  You don’t have to dine on saltines and ketchup.  It’s perfectly acceptable to budget for the occasional meal out, but plan ahead and discuss what your family plans to order.

It may mean people have to share a meal, but that’s fine – most restaurants pile enough food on the plate to feed three people anyway.


One particular side hustle has intrigued me for some time – selling on Amazon.  I’ve dabbled with eBay and Amazon over the years and enjoyed some mild success with both.

Now that I find myself with some debt to work off I thought I would experiment with Amazon’s other model of selling – Fulfilled By Amazon or FBA.

What is Amazon FBA?

Amazon FBA basically involves sellers boxing up inventory and sending it to Amazon where it stored in an Amazon warehouse and listed for sale on Amazon’s website.  If your item is purchased Amazon pulls the product from its warehouse, packages it and ships it directly to the customer.

If the customer is not happy with the item and returns it Amazon handles that side of the business, too.  More on returns later.

“Amazon FBA appeals to me as someone who doesn’t enjoy shipping to customers, sending tracking numbers and fielding complaints about products and issuing refunds.”

Amazon FBA fees can be steeper than selling the items on eBay or on Amazon’s marketplace, however this is a case of getting what you pay for.

Benefits of Amazon FBA

  • Products you sell are eligible for Amazon Prime FREE Two-Day Shipping, FREE Shipping, and other benefits.
  • FBA handles customer service for orders.  The Amazon Prime logo appears next to your product listings, letting customers know that Amazon handles packing, delivery, customer service, and return.
  • Allows you to focus on finding inventory; not on customer service and shipping to customers

How to Sign Up for Amazon FBA

Signing up for Amazon FBA is fairly simple, especially if you are already an Amazon customer (is there anyone out there not registered at

  1. Determine whether or not you want to register as a professional seller right out of gate.  Consider the first month is free ($39.99 per month thereafter).  Individual accounts are charged $0.99 per unit on every FBA sale, so if you plan on selling at least 40 units in a month the Professional Seller Account pays for itself.
  2. Come up with a seller name.  Doesn’t have to be anything catchy.  When all fails put “Enterprises” behind your intials (i.e. TWEnterprises).
  3. Have a valid credit card and social security number handy (you’ll need that to complete the W-9 information for tax purposes).
  4. Have banking information (routing and account number) to register your bank account.  Amazon will need this to transfer your sales revenues every couple weeks.

“Individual accounts are charged $0.99 per unit on every FBA sale, so if you plan on selling at least 40 units in a month the Professional Seller Account pays for itself.”

What Supplies Are Needed To Get Started Selling With Amazon FBA?

The good news about selling on Amazon is it can be as robust or simple as you want it to be.  I started out fairly small with a couple shipping boxes and some unopened items I rounded up around the house – just as an experiment.  Here are the bare-bones supplies needed to get started:

  • Shipping boxes (I purchased two or three from Walmart, initially)
  • A roll of packing tape
  • A pack of cheap printer/copier paper to use for filler/padding
  • Startup money to purchase some inventory, or unopened items from around your house

Sending In Your First Box:  Tips for Shipping

Sending in that first FBA shipment can be a little nerve-wracking.  Before the day comes to ship off your first shipment set up a free account at and request a supply of free shipping labels.  UPS will drop them off in the next day or two.

How to order free shipping labels from

  1. Set up an account at
  2. Visit the Shipping menu and look for “Order Supplies.”
  3. Click “Labels and Stickers.”
  4. UPS WorldShip Peel-and-Stick Labels – (2 per Sheet).

Buy boxes in bulk at Home Depot or Staples.

Home Depot usually has the best deal in my area on boxes with Staples being a close second.  I like to buy at Staples when they run a deal on purchasing 5 or more (the unit cost of each box is reduced).

Buy cheap printer paper to use as package filler.  Amazon FBA doesn’t allow you to pour packing peanuts in your boxes to fill empty space, but they do allow you to use packing paper.  I’ve found cheap printer paper gently wadded into balls to be an excellent filler.

Fees:  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Something to keep in mind when selling using Amazon FBA is that you are going to pay fees for the service (hey, you didn’t think Amazon was going to let you store products in there warehouse for free, did you?).

Here’s a brief summary of the various fees you will encounter when running your Amazon FBA business:

  • Amazon referral fee.  Amazon’s cut of your selling price. It various by category.
  • Pick and Pack fee.  Cost to physically retrieve the item, pack it and the packaging material used for the shipment.
  • Weight handling fee.  Weight-based shipping fee for Fulfillment by Amazon orders.  Plasma televisions cost more than video games.
  • Inbound shipping fee.  The amount it costs to ship your inventory to Amazon’s warehouse.  Stick with an Amazon-preferred shipping carrier (UPS) and you will pay less in shipping fees.
  • Long term storage fees.  If your items stay in the Amazon warehouses longer than 6 months you will have to pay a storage fee.  Avoid this by lowering the price on your item to get it to move or submit an order to have it returned to you.

Inventory Placement Services vs Distribution Inventory Placement

When I first started sending inventory to Amazon’s warehouses I was overwhelmed because Amazon often assigned inventory to three or four warehouses all over the country.

This meant I had to split my shipment into three or four boxes, print that many UPS labels and try to keep all of the inventory straight.

I stumbled upon an option to use “Inventory Placement Service.”  With this option selected I could dump everything into a single box and send to a single fulfillment center.

This made packing and shipping must easier, but not without a cost.  Amazon charged me $0.30 – $0.40 per item for this service.  May not sound like much, but it adds up.

“To change the setting for Inventory Placement Option go to Settings –> Fulfillment by Amazon –> Under “Inbound Settings” click Edit and look for the Inventory Placement Option.”

I also experienced significant delays as inventory was reassigned from the single fulfillment center I shipped things to to other warehouses.  You have no visibility on this internal transfer – you just wait for your items to become active for sale.

As a cost-saving measure I have returned to the Distributed Inventory Placement (default setting) option and just improved my packing workflow.

A Word About Sales Rank and Price

There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting items to buy for sale on Amazon FBA.  How much you pay for an item, its sales rank and its rating are three key factors to consider.

Not everything will be a hit.  Selling your inventory on Amazon puts it on one of the largest virtual marketplaces in the world.  It might seem like anything will sell, but that’s not quite true.

If something has been collecting dust on the shelf at your local Goodwill chances are it will collect dust in the Amazon warehouses.  Look for good deals on things that are in demand.

There is a season for everything.  It’s not easy to sell swim goggles in December and Christmas lights in July.  However, that isn’t to say someone taking indoor swimming lessons in the winter won’t need goggles, so if the price is right you may be able to sell them,

However, if you score a deal on swimming goggles (as I recently did at TJ Maxx) your best bet is to hold them at home and send in when the weather starts warming up.

Know the top 50 products in your main category.  One of my favorite forms of market research is asking my kids what is popular in toys.  They always tell me commercials they have seen on television and what’s popular amongst their friends.

“Race to the bottom.”  If you find a really good deal on something it makes sense to get it quickly shipped to the Amazon warehouses.  Fellow FBA-ers are out there scoring the same deals and sending in their inventory to Amazon.

New sellers, or even veterans with different margin goals than you, often try to undercut others on price to generate a sale and turn their inventory.

Where I Find Inventory?

Everything in the store has potential for selling on Amazon.  That might sound like a good thing to new sellers, but it doesn’t take long to realize the overwhelming list of options actually causes paralysis.

I’ll share some of my successes along the way, but keep in mind that your goals may be different than mine (I aim to make $5-$7 on every sale; others won’t look at it for less than $10 profit).

My Top Three Locations for Retail Arbitrage

  1. Retail stores (Target, TJ Maxx, Best Buy, Walmart).  Start with clearance items and then work your way through the sales.
  2. Thrift Stores (Goodwill).  I only buy items in “new” condition and with a decent sales rank.
  3. Online deal sites (Slickdeals, Woot).  Rather than wandering the aisles for hours scanning potential inventory I’ve found online scouting to be pretty profitable.  Just remember time is of the essence – if it is posted online many others see it, too, and will soon be your competition.

Returns and Damaged Inventory

One of the most challenging aspects of Amazon FBA is dealing with returns.  Amazon has a fairly liberal return policy, which means buyers can buy your product, open it, decide they don’t like it and send it back.

When Amazon receives your product its packaging is usually torn in two and taped together and cannot be returned to the warehouse for resell.

Check for unfillable or stranded inventory once a week.  Check your Seller Central account at least once a week for stranded inventory under the “Fix Stranded Inventory” link which appears after clicking “Inventory” menu item from Seller Central.

If warehouse did the damage ask for a refund.  It occasionally happens that your item is damaged at the Amazon warehouse.

If you have items listed under the “Fix Stranded Inventory” link click the number link under the “Unfillable” column.  If the reason reads “Warehouse Damaged” then I recommend opening a case with Amazon and asking for reimbursement.

You may ultimately get less than you would have if you sold the product, but the different is not paying for shipping to have it returned for inspection.

If customer returns an item as “defective” then submit an order to have it returned to you.  In my experience, the item is not likely “defective,” the buyer just didn’t want it.  If everything works and the packaging is in good shape you can simply list it and send back with your next batch of inventory.

Day 2 Tools

One doesn’t need much to start selling on Amazon FBA.  However, as you begin to turn some profit and are looking to reinvest in tools to make you more efficient you should consider the following tools I have added over the last few months.

  • Profit Bandit.  I really like this app.  It provides some additional details that the native Amazon Seller application does not, including the item’s list price, the current buy box price, links to Camel Camel Camel to review price and sales rank history and the number of FBA sellers and their listing price.
  • Inventory Labs.  My first month or two of being an Amazon FBA seller I tried to track profit and loss via a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.  Then I built a little MS Access database. Neither option worked well and I spent a ton of time updating them.  I’d rather pay for a service like Inventory Labs and spend time sourcing inventory.
  • Professional Seller Account.  Amazon charges you $1.00 for each item sold via FBA.  If you sign up for the Professional Seller account option (currently $39.99) Amazon waives the $1.00 fee.  If you plan to sell more than 40 items in a month this a no-brainer.
  • Bar code scanner (for home and for mobile).  I have a bar code scanner attached to the PC I use to log inventory.  I do not have a mobile scanner, but it is next on my list of things to purchase for the business.

Set Your Profit Goal and Price Accordingly

It has taken me nearly six months to figure out a proper strategy for Amazon FBA.  I first bought anything under the sun that I thought would sell.

That strategy led to a lot of items sitting on the warehouse shelves and my having to put in several orders to have inventory pulled and mailed back to me.

Walmart or Tiffanys?  I shifted my strategy 90 days in and decided I would only look for valuable, popular items at a deep discount on clearance shelves in Target, Best Buy, etc.

I had some success, but this was not easy.  Things often wind up on a clearance shelf because they don’t sell.  If they don’t sell on Amazon the item’s sales rank will be very low (high number).

So I tried popular things without much price margin and then I tried expensive things with a lot of profit margin thanks to a deeply discounted buy price.

My First Goal – $1,000 in Monthly Profit

If your goal is to make $1,000 a month profit with Amazon FBA you have a couple strategies to employ.

You can sell 200 items with a $5 profit margin, or 100 items with $10 profit margin.

“I can tell you from experience finding items with a $5 profit margin is very doable.  It gets more difficult to consistently source products with over a $10 profit margin. “

Choosing a lower profit margin goal means scaling your business will be more difficult.  For example, to double your monthly profit you would need to sell 400 items at $5 profit to clear $2,000 (before inbound shipping fees, etc.).

But don’t let that discourage you from this strategy.  High turnover and small profit works for Walmart.  The key is being efficient and controlling your costs.

Either way, determine your individual product profit goals up front and source items with that goal in mind.


Fit to Fat to Fit

by Tyler on Mar 6, 2016

Last weekend I was mindlessly flipping channels on the television when I ran across a program called “Fit to Fat to Fit.”

The title alone intrigued me, especially as someone who has fought his own battle of the bulge for most of my adult life.

The premise of the show is that a top-notch, in-perfect-shape fitness trainer agrees to pack on pounds and then try to lose them along with a long-time-fat participant.

I’ve read stories like this about actors who have had to pack on weight for a particular role and then try to lose it during filming or immediately following.

Naturally, it was much easier for the trainer to lose the weight than the long-time overweight competitor.

The trainer’s habits make him a fat-burning furnace – proper dietary habits, frequent exercise, plenty of latent muscle to burn more calories.

Broke to Wealthy to Broke:  The Initial Broke Phase

The pattern featured on the television show reminded me of my own financial journey the last several years.

I suspect it patterns many others who have enjoyed some success, or received a windfall, or profited from selling a company, only to return to the old bad habits that got them into the same mess they were in before the good fortune.

In my case, I owed many thousands in debt after years of undisciplined personal finances.  I owed student loans, car loans, a mortgage, home equity loans, credit cards – pretty much ever type of debt imaginable.

In 2007 I began to write about it.

I started a blog much like this one and documented my trials and tribulations with money.  People began to follow.

By 2009 I had built a significant following; so much so that people became interested in purchasing my website.

After a lot of prayer and consideration I decided to sell.

In hindsight, I wish I had not sold out, but the opportunity to wipe out by debts and most of my mortgage were simply too tempting.

The Wealthy Phase

First, a disclaimer.  I use the word “wealthy” very, very loosely.  Wealthy to me was being 100% debt free but my home, having a fat emergency fund and enough left over to do some nice things with my family.

We went to Disney World for the first time, made some improvements to our house, bough nicer vehicles, etc.

By no means was this windfall enough “f-you” money to walk away from my job or live a life of financial independence.

My new problem was two-fold.  I had grown accustomed to living a larger monthly lifestyle before selling my blog because the income from the site supplemented that lifestyle.  Now that monthly income was gone.

The second problem was that I was no longer hungry.  I had no side hustles, no part time jobs, no entrepreneurial spirit. Sure, I was debt free, but I was as much part of the rat race as ever.

The Second Broke Phase

My savings rate was essentially flat.  My credit card use began to increase again.  Slowly, like a metastasizing tumor, my debts began to grow.

Each month I transferred a little from savings to cover the difference and I diligently paid off my credit cards each month.

Eventually, over the course of a few years, that comfortable emergency fund became a bare-bones emergency fund.

I dumped about $5,000 into a new business idea in effort to “catch lightning in a bottle again” and get my side hustle income growing.  It flopped.

Now I could feel the walls closing in again.  It’s a feeling of angst deep down in the pit of my stomach, one I had not felt for a few years, but one I remembered well.

It’s that sinking feeling you have when you finally have a day of reckoning and admit out loud that you are living beyond your means.

My lifestyle over the last few years had brought me full circle back to where I started in 2007.  Fortunately, I’m not starting in as big a hole because this time I recognized the error of my ways and put a stop to it.

Our credit cards are safely out of my wallet and stored.  We’ve stopped some of the “nice-to-haves” we accumulated along the way and are returning to a frugal lifestyle.

While I enjoy the challenge to save money each month and focus on eliminating our debt I admit it is harder this time around.

Losing Debt is Not as Easy the Second Time

I guess I’m not like that trainer after all.  I’ve been out of financial shape for so long that my saving muscles have atrophied.

Like someone struggling to keep a New Year’s resolution in February my willpower to get up every morning and work out, or in this case work a side hustle, has waned.

I don’t expect to have the same kind of writing success I had last time, but I do want to chronicle this journey here even if only a few ever read it.  Maybe I will inspire someone else to reflect on their own journey.

If you are spinning your wheels like I was for the last several years I challenge you to rededicate yourself to your financial goals.

Have you own day of debt reckoning.  Continue to follow along here and I will document each part of my journey – the good, the bad and the ugly.