I'm a Single Mom & I Retired at 48 by Downsizing to a Trailer
After my husband left me 12 years ago, he stopped paying the mortgage on our family home. I was a stay-at-home mom to a 14- and 16-year-old, a full-time PhD student, and a real estate agent with sporadic income. In 2010, during an ugly housing market, the bank foreclosed on our home. I moved myself boys and into a much smaller rental, but I realized I had mis-budgeted and couldn't afford the rent—even though I was then receiving child support and alimony.
We downsized until I eventually lived in a $515 rental, the lowest I could find in my hometown. I received court-ordered money from my ex-husband for a few years, but my PhD took longer to complete. I scraped by as well as I could, living as simply as possible and saving every extra dime I made from teaching, freelancing, and odd jobs like housecleaning.
Even after working as full-time faculty at the university, I was still barely able to make ends meet on my measly teaching salary. My two boys had moved back in with me, so I had three mouths to feed again. To make up for the deficit, I applied for extra jobs my department offered. I not only worked at my 40+ hours-per-week teaching position; I also worked nights and weekends tutoring or leading teacher training courses.
Throughout the years, I had an on-again-off-again boyfriend with whom I shared expenses, but after 10 years, we had our final breakup, and I was living alone in one of the cheapest rentals I could find at the time—a small, one-bedroom $1k-per-month unit.
I was exhausted from years of moving from rental to rental. I hoped to buy a small condo or townhome and to settle in a place that was mine, a place where I could finally take my belongings out of storage, where they'd remained since my divorce. I was back in real estate and spent months searching for the perfect pad, but housing prices had skyrocketed even more, so soon, I was forced to accept that I couldn't afford to purchase a home.
I was devastated. But then, I began thinking creatively: What would cost less than a condo?
I remembered a lovely trailer park I lived next door to as a kid, filled with eucalyptus trees. I spoke to the managers, but unfortunately, only a couple of run-down single-wide trailers were for sale. I went back weekly and checked for several more months. I filled out an application, did a background check, and got approved for in case a trailer became available.
- Related: The Family Home-Buying Guide
Sure enough, a couple of months later, the management called: "We have a trailer we think you might like," they said. "A double-wide." Even with the rose-colored shag carpet and the periwinkle wallpaper walls, I knew the trailer was perfect.
Suddenly, I was the owner of a $9k 1,300 square foot home with a sunny breakfast nook.
I was able to pay for the down payment with the money I'd saved from years of applying the lifelong principles my refugee grandmother had taught me: Work hard, spend little, and save. I've lived in my trailer for two years now, and it's by far one of the best financial decisions I've made. Buying a trailer secured my retirement, and during the pandemic, I didn't have to worry about my living situation—a bonus I didn't expect.
I'm still hustling, taking random jobs that come my way, whether they're short teaching gigs, freelance work, or grittier elbow-grease-work. But I no longer worry about what was once my greatest stress: How to afford housing. I pay just over $400 per month in rent to the mobile home park, so I'm confident I'll be able to cover my expenses.
Now that I've found this unique solution, I also want to scream off the rooftops to other single moms, with or without kids at home: Buy a trailer! But I also suggest visiting mobile home parks during different times of the day and night to make sure you feel safe and comfortable. Not all parks are created equal, so you have to find the right fit for your lifestyle.
When I was younger, I never imagined living in a trailer. But here I am, happier than I've ever been. I have independence and (almost) zero stress. I now have the freedom to live my most fabulous life—one in which I'm able to focus on my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.