Lifestyles of the Flat Broke: Living in a Motel

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a new series of articles called “Lifestyles of the Flat Broke. The series is pertaining to living in bad or uncomfortable living situations due to financial strain or crisis. To kick-start this series, let’s talk about what the Frugalite can do if they find themselves living in a motel due to a financial situation.

What would you do if you found yourself living in a motel?

This is something I recently had to do for a month.

It wasn’t a fun situation, but I’d moved to a completely new area at the beginning of 2022 to take up a new job in the hospitality industry working nights. With housing costs like they are right now in Ontario (though they’re pretty bad in many places), I found myself staying in a motel for $1000 a month, which is a very low cost for the area. That should have been a warning, but I was in dire need with my new job starting right away, so I took it.

Where were you living, and for how long?

I was living in a crappy, rundown motel in northern Ontario. Thankfully, I was only there for one month, but one month was more than enough. 

What issues arose due to living in a motel?

I had a lot of issues. In the month I was there, the power and lights went out numerous times. I’m just thankful that the heat didn’t go out for an extended period of time, as temperatures were frequently dropping to 20 degrees below freezing (often even colder).

The bathroom flooded twice, the first time resulting in water leaking onto the main room carpet, leaving it soaked for days. I was handed stained sheets and a muddy mop for me to clean it with.

The water at the hotel was well water and not suitable for anything other than bathing. Even my dog wouldn’t drink it, and it didn’t make good coffee either (and, being Daisy’s daughter, you probably already know how much I need my coffee.)

Lastly, the person “running” (if you can even call it that) the motel set off nearly every bad gut feeling imaginable in both my dog and me, but I’ll talk more about this later.

Here are some images of the inside:

 

Heater in the bathroom

I forgot to take a photo of the heater in my main room, but it looked very similar to this one (taken from a google review of a different review at the motel), except mine didn’t have the nice trim, and the cord looked like it’d catch fire too.

 

Inside of my microwave after being told the place had been “fully cleaned and sanitized.”

What did you do for groceries and a clean water supply?

Well, given that the water was undrinkable, finding clean water was my first priority. I went to the nearest grocery store and bought six 1-gallon jugs of water. Every time I went into town, I also made a point to stop and get at least 3-4 more. Between my dog and me, we went through about one gallon of water a day.

For food, all I had to work with was a microwave (which I had to scrub before using) and a bar fridge. Between the little cooking capabilities and my trying to stay on a tight budget, I was forced to get creative. I wound up finding a rice cooker on Facebook marketplace for $5, and it became my new best friend. I had rice almost every night for dinner, making many “microwave casseroles,” as I like to call them. I’d just take cooked rice, a bit of mayo, and some form of meat. I would either do a can of tuna, or most weeks, I bought a rotisserie chicken for $8 for the week, so I’d use some of that. It wasn’t the tastiest, but it worked.

For snacks, I kept peanuts on hand, ate a lot of apples, and plenty of carrots.

Making sure I got enough protein and vitamins was very important, so I also invested in a shaker cup for my protein powder. I found a new love for cold coffee, protein powder, and just a touch of cream! It made for a great afternoon snack or breakfast. It was also quick, cheap, and easy.

Did you have any dependents or pets while living in a motel?

I don’t have any kids, but I did have my dog, and I was lucky I did. I love my dog to pieces, and she is very friendly to pretty much everyone, so if she doesn’t like someone, you know something is off about them. Let me tell you, she HATED  the guy running the place. All he had to do was walk past my door, and her hackles would raise, and she’d start to growl. She never did that with a single other person while I was there, and as I said, we were there a month.

My dog hated that man so much she almost bit him one time as he was walking past my door. I’m glad I had that extra protection with me.

And on that subject…

How did you keep yourself safe living in a motel?

Well, I only had one flimsy lock that came on the door handle by way of protection, but it was better than nothing. I kept the door locked 100% of the time. Be I in the room or out of it, that door was always locked with the sole exception being when I took my dog into the parking lot to do her business. Even this only took up a couple minutes, and I had full sight of the door the whole time.

I think the fact that I had a 50lb dog with me all the time kept me safer than anything else. Between the flimsy door lock and the creepy man running the place, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. There were at least 5-6 days where police were present on the property for long periods of time too, which was very unsettling.

While I was there, every time I went into town, I would always ask cashiers and servers if they knew of any places available for rent. Unfortunately, that answer was always no, but it often came with a warning that many of the motels in the area had gotten a bad reputation for human trafficking. After I discovered this fun fact, I started propping one of the chairs under the door handle when I was “home” too. 

I’m just thankful that I got out before anything bad happened. 

What was your income like, and how did you stick to a low budget while living in a motel?

Well, I’d moved to start a job. I had a little bit of money, but I kept it aside for when I actually found an apartment. Other than that, I had to wait until I started getting paychecks. 

I did some extra projects on the side that could bring in a small amount of cash right away – babysitting for a friend, and a few other things. I also had stocked up on my points for a local grocery store chain, so I was able to have about $60 worth of food covered. 

It was hard to stick to a budget, but I found using the cash envelope system really helped me stick to it.

How did you get yourself out of the situation?

I kept my eyes peeled and was looking at new properties for rent at least once a day and on multiple platforms. I wound up getting very lucky and finding an apartment that was beautiful, pet-friendly, and much more affordable than I thought I’d be paying, given the current housing market. 

Most of my stuff was in a storage unit two hours away, so I asked a friend to help me move, we got a trailer, and I bought her dinner. We wound up doing the move in a day, and I have never been so happy to move. 

What was your biggest takeaway? If you could give any piece of advice to someone going through a similar situation, what would it be?

Just stick through it. Try to keep your end goal in mind. Stick to your budget and save what you can. Your living situation may suck, but you can’t let it get to you. Just put your nose to the ground, power through, and use every resource you can get your hands on to get to a better place.

This won’t be your forever, and better things are coming. 

What are your thoughts?

Have you ever had to spend a long stay at a hotel/motel/inn due to life circumstances? Are there any tips you can offer to our other readers about it? Let us know in the comments below.

About Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her cute dog, Rhea.

Lifestyles of the Flat Broke: Living in a Motel
Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her cute dog, Rhea.

8 thoughts on “Lifestyles of the Flat Broke: Living in a Motel”

  1. I am glad your mama’s street smarts and good instincts were learned so well, I am sure that helped a lot. And so good that you had your doggo with you – I agree that a dog’s instincts are the best barometer of how trustworthy someone else is. It must have been very scary to discover that the motel was a hub for human trafficking – thank God for your dog, you are so pretty, you could have been a prime target. Buying the second hand rice cooker was a brilliant move – as I discovered living in Japan, you really can cook absolutely anything in a rice cooker (including cake!) Glad you managed to get out of there and into more stable and safe housing. I think people who had these ‘Dear-what-doesn’t-kill-me-I’m-strong-enough-now-thanks’ times when they are young become a lot more adaptable and can roll with life’s punches more easily as they go through life. Good on yer!

  2. Definitely been in this situation. I had to stay in a hotel for 6 weeks one time in a small town when my apartment was sold and I was given 30days to vacate the premises but was being transferred out of state 6 weeks after my 30 days notice. Ok, talk about confusing. Anyway, no dog but had 2 cats. The place was filthy and any cleaning was done by me. Once a week on my day off, I borrowed the housekeeping vacuum. Locks were basically useless so I bought a chain and installed it but not sure the wood would actually hold up. Kept a chair under the door. NEVER answered the door or went in out after dark. Brought my own microwave and hot pot to cook with but had to be careful not to blow fuses. There was a small dorm size fridge for basics. So eating wasn’t anything great but we survived. Couldn’t keep much food in the place due to bugs and basically sold or threw out anything kept in there for those 6 weeks. Knowing it was short term and saving for the big move held retain my sanity. I would have moved if there had been anywhere I could have taken my cats with me but they helped me emotionally and I wasn’t willing to give them up at that point. My advice to anyone in that situation is to remember whatever situation you’re in is temporary. You may not have a set time frame like I did but take it 1 day at a time and don’t give up. Make a plan and stick to it as best you can.

  3. You were so lucky to have your dog with you . For us we had to live in a refuge for about a month whilst looking for a safe place to live . We weren’t able to take our dog, she stayed with a friend. My children have special needs so refuge with the changing environment was tough . One of the best things I did was a hotel lock , it goes in between the lock and door frame was $10 with a chain on it . We had numerous problems with the other residents. The family section was on the same floor as the singles recovering from or having substance abuse issues and those with metal health issues . The food I cooked for my kids was often spat in so I stopped cooking there and cooked from my Ute via a solar charger , water was stored in the Ute . We had clothes stolen, even my cloth nappies . One lady believing one of my children was her child reincarnated. I worker used to sit in front of my door so I could have a shower . If no one was available I wouldn’t have one and use baby wipes . I spent as much time as I could out of the place and spent all that time looking for a rental which we got within a month . The rental we stayed two years saving every cent , it had leaking roof , sewerage leak, and three days to connect power and gas as it had been left empty for so long . But for us things got fixed eventually and all the skills I learnt in refuge helped when we had no power or gas . After both of those experiences I brought a run down house on a large block and we are growing our food , hatching chicks and slowly fixing things up one issue at a time .

  4. You were so lucky to have your dog with you . For us we had to live in a refuge for about a month whilst looking for a safe place to live . We weren’t able to take our dog, she stayed with a friend. My children have special needs so refuge with the changing environment was tough . One of the best things I did was a hotel lock , it goes in between the lock and door frame was $10 with a chain on it . We had numerous problems with the other residents. The family section was on the same floor as the singles recovering from or having substance abuse issues and those with metal health issues . The food I cooked for my kids was often spat in so I stopped cooking there and cooked from my Ute via a solar charger , water was stored in the Ute . We had clothes stolen, even my cloth nappies . One lady believing one of my children was her child reincarnated. I worker used to sit in front of my door so I could have a shower . If no one was available I wouldn’t have one and use baby wipes . I spent as much time as I could out of the place and spent all that time looking for a rental which we got within a month . The rental we stayed two years saving every cent , it had leaking roof , sewerage leak, and three days to connect power and gas as it had been left empty for so long . But for us things got fixed eventually and all the skills I learnt in refuge helped when we had no power or gas . After both of those experiences I brought a run down house on a large block and we are growing our food , hatching chicks and slowly fixing things up one issue at a time . It all made me a stronger and more resilient mama.

  5. About security

    You were fortunate to have a very protective dog. Not all breeds fit such circumstances. For someone with a little upfront time and a need for such a dog, it’s very worthwhile to learn what the best breeds are for this and which of those are readily available and affordable in one’s corner of the world.

    If having a dog doesn’t fit one’s plans, one practical alternative is a carry-with-you recording of a persuasive dog’s growl. Sometimes and in some places that sound can be very effective.

    Another security item is a loud whistle, or even better than that, a new battery-powered cary-with-you alarm called a Hootie, for about $30. It makes a loud warbling sound that will attract much attention a bad guy does not want. Also, if you are injured it could attract nearby help.

    Another effective carry-with-you gadget is a pocket stun gun, or one built into a flashlight. To use either one, they have to be pressed against an attacker to deliver a nerve-wrecking jolt. It doesn’t offer the distance advantage of a taser … but close up it is analogous to diddling with one’s nature’s own pacemaker.

    Regarding cooking

    That $5 rice cooker was a fortunate find. Lots of people have no idea how many different kinds of rice cookers there are and the incredible variety of ways they can be used — as long as you have electric power. So if you have a little time up front, do some research online to learn which type and features would best fit your preferences.
    However in case of an obnoxious power outage you need some non-electric alternative(s). I prefer multi-fuel gadgets (butane, propane, wood, charcoal, wood pellets, alcohol, etc) because some fuel types might not be available when your impolite emergency arrives rudely without any prior announcement.

    Regarding motel alternatives

    There is a reason why in the US, especially in states where the cost of housing has climbed out of sight, lots of people have moved into their vehicles. Whether that’s an RV, an SUV, a van, a converted school bus or ambulance, a pickup with a camper shell, or an ordinary car, that style of living is today’s update on the covered wagon style of gypsy living. YouTube is full of examples of people who have simply moved into whatever vehicles they had available, some being easier to work with than others. One of the most frequent channels for such how-to examples on YouTube is CheapRVliving, but there are several others … easy to find there.

    Some of those vehicles are very obvious and sometimes limited in where they can legally park. Others are both stealthy in appearance and in knowledgeable and careful use by the owner. Hotels, city governments, and home builders despise such competition, so there is often a political war going on year around. It is what it is.

    So how many people these days shop for their next vehicle that they might have to move into in an emergency?

    –Lewis

    1. If you are able, watch the movie Nomadland. I think they did an excellent job of representing the trials, tribulations, and possibility of living in an RV (or other type vehicle). And touched upon the reasons of why the lifestyle.

  6. You comment that, “In the month I was there, the power and lights went out numerous times.” In reply, I can honestly say, “Been there. Done that.”

    Two suggestions. One is that you learn how to make a lamp that burns vegetable oil. (I say “lamp” but, in truth, such a lamp gives off light on par with a candle.)

    The book “Olive Oil Lamps &c.” shows 15 different designs (22 or 23 if you count all the variations) for lamps that burn vegetable oil. Such lamps date from biblical times. Call it proven technology. Olive oil lamps cost about a penny an hour to operate — less than a candle.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00KB7F9SU/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2

    The other suggestion is to buy a flashlight that runs on one D-cell battery. Eveready, Rayovac, Dorcy, and Ozark Trail (sold by Walmart) all make flashlights that operate on ONE D-cell. And, again, the cost to operate is under a penny per hour. See “The New 2000-Hour Flashlight.”

    https://www.amazon.com/New-2000-Hour-Flashlight-Ron-Brown-ebook/dp/B00TGMNY2E/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2XZEU97BQO2HM&keywords=the+new+2000-hour+flashlight&qid=1644888764&s=digital-text&sprefix=the+new+2000%2Cdigital-text%2C85&sr=1-1

    At least you’ll be able to find the key you dropped on the floor in the dark or, if push comes to shove (so to speak), deliver a baby. In the interest of openness, please note that I self-published both of these books.

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