I Lived in My Car to Save Money for My Startup. Here's How It Went.

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Aug. 1 2013 2:31 PM

I Lived in My Car to Save Money for My Startup. Here's How It Went.

aallred

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Austen Allred, co-founder, grasswire.com:


I lived in my car in Silicon Valley for three months. It was pretty bittersweet. I would recommend it. There are obviously some minuses to living in a car, but especially if you're passionate about minimalism or alternative lifestyles, it's very doable. I even found that you can turn living in a car into a productivity hack, and with a monthly burn rate under $300, you could make very little last a very long time.

I'll tear through the "hows" and "whats" really fast to get the interesting stuff. Car: 2002 Honda Civic EX Coupe. Shower: YMCA (I got a discounted rate for having low income; I think it was $16/month). The YMCA is great because it has soap/shampoo/conditioner/towel there. I would usually go for a run before I showered, too. Work: Hacker Dojo. Eat: nonperishable stuff. Sleep: "slim twin" air mattress meant for sleeping on cots, blown up halfway, feet in the trunk, head by passenger seat. Find an empty church parking lot for privacy. I didn't tint my windows, which probably would have made sense, but I just didn't care.

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Here's my setup:

allred1

Now, the first thing you should do before you start to live in a car is go read Walden by Thoreau, because living in a car isn't just a way to save a ton of money on rent (which it is). It's a chance to live in a completely different way, and to be happy with a whole lot less.

This is all the stuff I gave away before I started living in my car

allred2

Except the guitar in the background. Never give away your music.

And other than my computer, an iPad, and sleeping supplies, this is everything I took with me.

allred3

I recommend that regardless, but especially when living in a car, it's nice to have a lot of free space.

Turning Living in a Car Into a Lifehack
The interesting thing about living in your car is that everything is deliberate. You can't just wander in and go to bed anymore: You have to go out to the parking lot and drive for a few minutes. It's not a big deal, but it really makes you pay attention to the little things in life that you used to take for granted.

Because I didn't get window coverings (even for the windshields), I would wake up with the sun. I learned really quickly that if you're waking up with the sun and you stay up late, you'll be really tired during the day. You can't even sneak a quick nap, because during the day your car is hot, bright, and miserable, so it forces you to plan ahead and be responsible about when you go to sleep.

Then, when you wake up, what are you going to do? I tried to get in the habit of driving to the YMCA and going for a run first thing in the morning, then showering after the run. This was really simple, but most days I would be awake, showered, and ready by 7 a.m. I would show up at the Hacker Dojo before almost anyone else (which let me get a nice spot and choose a nice monitor), and start working.

It's not that I was lazy or would sleep in until noon when I wasn't living in my car, but being ready to go that early is pretty cool, especially when you can look at your day and you know you have 17 solid hours ahead of you. It forced me to be productive and to not waste time.

The Negatives
It isn't fair to talk about how awesome living in a car can be without talking about the potential downsides as compared to living in an apartment.

Everything takes a little bit more time: This seems to run contrary to what I just said about living, but the time spent isn't bad, just add an extra five minutes to every task. Not a huge deal, of course.

More stress: Especially at the beginning when you're getting into things, you'll hear people coming home late at night or waking up in the morning and think, "What if they see me? What if they notice me? What will they do?" (Spoiler alert: 99 percent of them won't see you, and the 1 percent that do will think to themselves, "that's odd" and not do anything about it.)

Changing: You have to either drive somewhere to change, or you have to get really good at shimmying in and out of clothes in the tiny backseat. It's not exactly the Luxor.

Food: I think this was the hardest for me, as I'm a bit of a foodie, but canned soup and non-perishable dinners get old after a while, and I didn't want to go to the store every day. I had a hard time getting full on anything that wasn't canned, and meals had a lot of carbs and sodium. I probably could have done a better job of buying fresh fruits and vegetables and eating them quickly, but I didn't plan well enough there.

Breakdowns: I wasn't exactly planning on this happening.

allred4

But reality is things like that do happen. And when they happen at 4 p.m., it's unlikely you'll get your "house" back very quickly. Luckily I had friends with apartments nearby, and a few people had offered to let me crash at their places, but it is something to take into consideration.

It's worth noting that both the tow truck guy and the mechanic offered to let me stay at their homes; being in need helps you realize how good the world can be. They also both signed up to be beta customers for the startup I was building, which brought our acquisition cost that day to about $600 per user,  about what Groupon's was.

It's also wise to have a rainy day fund just in case things like that happen. Even if your burn rate is only $300 a month, stuff like the above doesn't care about your burn rate. You don't want to be like me and have to go scalp 200 soccer tickets that weekend to have enough cash to stay alive. (While in retrospect it was pretty fun, I do not recommend being at a point financially where you have to either make $600 in one weekend or go home. Luckily I made it.)

Other Random Notes
The first night I came into town, I hadn't prepared, and I just slept on the side of a fairly busy street. I was somewhat nervous about it, because I didn't have anything to cover the windows, not even the windshields. But as it got lighter, I began to pay attention to the fact that nobody noticed me. Dozens of people walk past, but how often, if nothing seems amiss, do you look in the windows of the cars you pass?

Living in your car puts a little bit of an edge on the work that you do. You can say to yourself, "What am I doing? I'm living in a freaking car, and I don't know if it will be successful, but if I'm not giving it everything I've got, I'm an idiot."

Depending on which investor you're talking to, living in a car can be a very good thing or a very bad thing. Some see it as scrappy and think you're a hustler, others think you're desperate. Use that information sparingly and wisely.

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