Late last year, a blog called Thoughts From Inside the Box started to attract a lot of attention. The media had picked up on the fact that a young employee at Google was living out of a 16-foot box truck. Fanning the flames of interest was the fact that he parked his truck in Google’s parking lot and basically lived at his job rent-free.
Also, this is not just any old truck. The young man living inside, Brandon, retrofitted the back of a 10-year-old Ford to make it cozy and livable — well, livable if all you need is a bed, a dresser, and a sunroof. He affectionately calls it “The Box.”
I was intrigued by this lifestyle. I used to think I was being frugal when I lived in a 12′-by-10′ room in a shared apartment. Turns out I was a wimp — I had easy access to a bathroom and a kitchen. Plus, I had a big window that provided light and air. Total overkill, apparently! I was living like the King of England compared to Brandon.
I tracked down Brandon to learn more about his situation. Had he found the secret to avoiding high Bay Area rents? Does his family think he’s crazy? Was he punishing himself for something? Did he lose a bet? I had to know more.
It turns out Brandon is quite happy with his situation, and we can all probably stand to learn a little something from his unique attitude, unparalleled hustle, and ingenuity.
How It All Started
Brandon told me that it didn’t take much deep thought to kick-start his new lifestyle. He was moving to one of the most expensive places in the country, and there was a whole lot of fun to be had outside of his apartment.
“I had a couple of realizations all at once,” he told me. “The big one was that I was never home, because there was so much to do in the area, and all the interesting things were happening outside the walls of my apartment. The other one is that it’s outrageously expensive to live in the area, and having an apartment does nothing to further my goals or happiness.”
Can Anyone Do It?
While it’s clearly helpful that he worked at Google — the big-pocketed tech company ranks No. 1 on Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” and offers many of the legendary benefits Silicon Valley is known for, including the use of a gym and laundry services — Brandon insists that it’s more about the old saying, “mind over matter.”
“It’s more about mindset than what resources you have available,” Brandon said. “The biggest things my employer provides… could be replaced pretty handily by meal replacement bars or shakes, a gym membership, and any run-of-the-mill laundromat.”
Furthermore, Brandon is adamant that you don’t need to be some kind of engineering savant to pull off “box” living. For him, part of the beauty of living in an old truck is that there’s not much risk in ripping things apart and experimenting.
His attitude when it comes to interior design is enough to make most homeowners drool with envy. He didn’t need any permits to install his sunroof or make any of his other modifications. “The truck is all mine, and who cares if I manage to make it look even worse?” he pointed out. “A lot of times, I’ll totally screw something up, and it’s not a big deal.”
Truck Living = Serious Savings
Besides his newfound appreciation for stuff most of us take for granted, Brandon is also seriously turbocharging his savings goals. He hopes to have enough money to retire by age 30, and he wouldn’t be on pace to reach that goal if it weren’t for living in the truck.
It’s helped him pay off all $22,000 of his student loan debt this year, while also allowing him to stack up $80,000 in his savings and retirement accounts. His goal is to save roughly a million dollars by age 30 — and because of the Box, he’s well on his way.
- Related: How to Retire Quickly
The Social Aspect
Brandon was initially worried that people might see him as a weirdo because of his lifestyle choices, but he was pleasantly surprised to find just the opposite. In fact, he said, his experiment with the Box inevitably leads to many unique conversations.
“Because the Bay Area is so expensive, housing always comes up over the course of conversation, and once I explain my situation, it normally leads into interesting conversations about priorities, goals, and motivation,” he said. (As a Bay Area resident, I can confirm that housing is so outrageously expensive that it actually does come up in almost every conversation I have.)
Another benefit is his almost limitless flexibility when it comes to travel. “Since pretty much everything I own fits into a small gym bag, it’s not a big deal to pack a bag and head out of the area for the weekend with some friends,” Brandon explained.
He’s in it for the Long Haul
While you’d imagine that Brandon is dying to get this whole experiment over with, make his million bucks, and live the good life, that’s not at all what he’s after. In fact, he feels quite the opposite — the whole experience has made him realize that he doesn’t need a whole lot to be happy.
“Everything is so much easier when you don’t have room after room full of useless junk you don’t need,” he said.
Amen to that.
While I don’t think I could ever pull off what Brandon is doing at this point in my life (my girlfriend and I may be simple folk, but we definitely like having windows), learning more about his situation makes me think it could have been worth a try when I was fresh out of college. The challenges are real, but the savings are undeniable.
My biggest takeaway from talking to Brandon is the power of setting goals. If he didn’t have a specific savings goal in mind, it would be much harder for him to motivate himself to give up the creature comforts that so many of us take for granted.
“Having an apartment does nothing to further my goals or happiness,” he told me. “I can spend my money and time on experiences and personal progress instead of rent and traffic, and still be able to hit all my financial goals.” If that’s not a reason to take a bold step in the opposite direction of owning an apartment, I don’t know what is.
I can only hope there are other young people out there who are inspired by his story and realize that being unconventionally frugal is a fun way to get out of your comfort zone and accelerate your savings goals.