Interview Series: How Tiny House Living Can Help You Meet Your Financial Goals

 Mountain side oasis

Mountain side oasis


Hey Guys,

I am excited to bring you this story today that lands closer to home than normal. :)

Those of you who follow me on Instagram or Facebook, may have seen glimpses of my sister’s off the grid Tiny Home in Maui, Hawaii. Zeena, her husband, and his father poured almost 2 years of nights and weekends into building the little dreamboat. Last year they introduced a baby into the mix and the results are just adorable. She recently started a blog to tell the story of the Build and how the 3 of them Live and Thrive in the small space.



 Introducing the fontanilla family

Introducing the fontanilla family


I thought it would be fun to pick her brain on the financials, practicality and whether or not she would recommend it as an avenue for Airbnb.

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ZM: Thanks Zeena for opening up and sharing your story and home! First things first, tell us how and where the idea came from?

ZF: My husband comes from a family of carpenters and he always dreamed of building his own home, all he was waiting for was a wife to build it for. So once the champagne was drank and the confetti cleaned up after our engagement party, we quickly came to the realization that finding housing needed to be at the top of our priority list with only 8 months till we said “I do.”


 Literal confetti

Literal confetti

I remember this part of the story a little different then my husband.  If you ask him, without hesitation he’ll say, “After a conversation you had with your sister over the phone, you were sold on the idea of building our own tiny house.” I don’t remember this at all, Haha! Apparently he approached me with the same idea weeks prior with no real excitement or reaction out of me.  

When I finally jumped on board, we watched a low-budget, home-video style Tiny House Documentary (probably something you recommended haha) and wanted to give the idea a shot. So we did.




ZM: Great so now you have a cool idea, what were the first steps towards making it a reality?

ZF: We made this idea a reality with these three simple steps.

1. We educated ourselves with the regulations/codes for Hawaii specifically.

2. We defined our budget, which went something like this, “If someone could build their home for 20K on the mainland then we could do it under 50K, right?”

3. We said “Yes” to the adventure and didn’t look back.

Don’t spend too much time focusing on the unknowns like “Where will I put all my stuff?”, “Can I live off the grid?”, or “Can we start a family with such little space?”

You can do anything for a season!



ZM: What obstacles did you face? Were there times you thought about throwing in the towel?

ZF: Imagine with me for a second, you’re engaged, planning a wedding, working part-time, in college part-time and lets add designing and building a house in the mix. I wanted to throw the towel in many times! Thankfully my husband was never on the same page, so we kept pushing forward. The biggest obstacle was efficiently managing all the moving parts.

 Zeena jumping in with the power tools

Zeena jumping in with the power tools




ZM: I already told the readers that it took nearly two years of nights and weekends to get it completed, did you originally expect it to take that long?

ZF: Absolutely not! We got engaged in February and planned for it to be completed by the end of October (when we got married) - so 8 months. To us, this timeline seemed doable. I think we were watching a little too much Tiny House Nation with their 2-3 week deadlines. We learned quickly that it wasn’t gonna happen as we imagined.




ZM: You are completely off the grid, what does that mean for your property? With your background in Sustainable Sciences, I know striking a balance between environmental impact and comfort was a huge consideration for you, what things did you pass on that you found to be less realistic for easy living?

ZF: Off the grid means that we are not connected to county supplied utilities like power, water or sewer. We have PV and battery storage for electricity, a water catchment tank for all our water needs and a composting toilet.


Disconnecting from all county supplied utilities has been my favorite part about this whole journey. Now we feel and see our water and electricity use. We are so connected to our generation of solid waste. These new facets of our lifestyle have encouraged us to reduce our use, reassess our habits and make the necessary changes to give back to the environment rather than constantly taking. We are continually learning how to partner with nature to meet our daily needs.

When we first made the big move, long showers were hard to give up. We quickly adapted to the change because fulfilling our “why” was worth all the temporary discomfort. Now turning off the water while we shampoo or soap up is so normal and comfortable.



ZM: What was your “Why” or Whys? Are yours and your husband’s different?

ZF: Our “why” was birthed from the excitement of getting married and beginning this new chapter of our lives together. This was our clean slate, a brand new story we got to write together. In the midst of the chaos leading up to our wedding we kept on coming back to this question, “What makes the most sense?” So this is what we came up with. Jumping into tiny living meant owning a house for a fraction of a down payment. It also meant paying ridiculously affordable rent in one of the most expensive States in the US. This was our ticket to financial freedom, our way to invest our hard earned dollars into dreams of our own. This was our outspoken commitment to cultivating adventure in this new chapter and choosing to depend on one another to build our home, our safe place.


ZM: What did it end up costing you in the end?

ZF: Our total cost was 43k and some change. So I rounded it up to this ---> $44,000. We are extremely happy with what we’ve built for that price, especially in Hawaii. This total covers all the material cost, not labor because we did all the work ourselves.


ZM: For people deciding between attempting the build and just purchasing one, what advice or pros and cons would you share with them? Are there companies that you have heard about that you would recommend purchasing from?

ZF: I would only recommend the self-built route if you fall within these two categories.

1. You have experience with carpentry and the general building process.

2. You love working with your hands, have no pressing completion deadline and you have hours to dedicate to How-to Youtube videos.

I can’t confidently recommend any companies that I’ve looked into for the consideration of buying a prefabricated Tiny House. If you’re at this stage, keep in mind that in most States the regulations for Tiny Homes are loose. Meaning Contractors don’t have to be licensed to be building and selling Tiny Homes. Always get multiple quotes from Builders, check their reviews and meet them in person if it’s possible.



ZM: If you were given an opportunity to do it over again, are there things you would have done differently?

ZF: Heck Yes! I’ve got two changes I would make.

1. Install a range hood or window where our range sits to reduce heat/food smells in the house.

2. I wouldn’t purchase a combo washer/dryer. They are small units which means small loads and after the dry cycle my clothes still need to be line dried. Save the extra money and get yourself a washer and hang dry your laundry the old school way.

 Eco-friendly living, right down to the diapers

Eco-friendly living, right down to the diapers



ZM: Since you’ve lived there for nearly 2 years, can you share your average ongoing costs? How do you feel this has contributed to you reaching other financial goals?

ZF: Our average ongoing cost is so minimal ( see breakdown below) that it’s given us the ability to step away from the paycheck to paycheck hustle and has given us extra funds to invest in our future dreams, like buying land on Maui.

This is roughly what our yearly cost looks like:

Rent $400 x 12 = $4,800 > for the land use, from a family friend.

Water filters $75 x 3 = $225

Potable water delivery $250 x 4 =  $1000 > When rain catchment isn’t enough.

Misc. (aka random things I missed) $800

Total $6,825 / yr.



ZM: How has the experienced changed in the tiny home since Maverick (the baby) came along? Do you think it’s easier or harder? In what ways?

 Tiny baby in the tiny kitchen sink - 3 weeks old

Tiny baby in the tiny kitchen sink - 3 weeks old

ZF: It’s been such a fun journey having little Maverick grow up in this house. I think it’s so much easier to have a baby in a tiny house for the following reasons;

- We weren’t able to collect a ton of baby accessories because of space. We realized quickly we didn’t need all the extras. Baby’s don’t need a lot of stuff, for real! Keep it simple.

- Maverick slept in our loft for the first 6 months in his Dockatot on the floor next to our mattress(which is also on the floor.) Middle of the night feedings and diaper changes were so convenient having him inches away.

-Now that he is more mobile, we just let him explore in our living/kitchen area. There are no corners he can crawl around, hallways or bedrooms he can escape to. I can easily have eyes on him as I’m doing chores, getting ready, cooking, washing dishes or just hanging out.



ZM: I believe you have told me you are not allowed to rent it on Airbnb, why is this again? What things should people consider before trying to rent out Tiny Homes on Airbnb?

ZF: I think our off-grid tiny house (or any tiny house on Wheels) would be a badass rental for the App! The current popularity of the Tiny House Movement and its radically different set up, is everything I look for in renting homes on Airbnb. I want to experience a home that’s completely different from my day to day, right?!

We haven't opened the floodgates for our Tiny Oasis for a few reasons;

1. We have a composting toilet (which quite honestly I think would bump up our Airbnb ratings because who doesn’t want to give that a try?) My deal with our toilet is who will be emptying out the guests poop after their stay? I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

2. Our landlord has voiced his concerns with keeping the amount of visitors to the property minimal so we’ve just been enjoying our time making our home our own.

3. We haven’t been traveling enough to make it worth it to rent out. Maybe when we buy property we will make it available on airbnb.



ZM: Speaking of the Tiny House Movement popularity - this has attracted some random visitors to the home. Any fun stories you want to share about that?

ZF: One Saturday afternoon we had a husband and wife team of traveling nurses stop by our house. The wife said she caught a glimpse of my husband working in the yard as they were driving on the highway and convinced her husband to stop by. I give them props for driving down our long gravel driveway in the middle of a pasture. After introductions, they told us they were thinking about buying a tiny house but they have never stepped foot in one. So we gave them the grand tour and answered all their questions. It was a fun surprise!



Thank you Zeena for sharing your story!


If you have more questions or curiosities about Tiny Home Living or Building, check out her blog at www.ZeenaFontanilla.com or shoot her a message at zeena.fontanilla@gmail.com to schedule a one on one Consultation.