How To Build A Shipping Container Home With A Small Budget

Plan & Budget

How To Build A Shipping Container Home With A Small Budget Blog Cover

One of the most common reasons people want to build shipping container homes is that they can be built relatively inexpensively.

In a recent article, we discussed the cheapest shipping container homes ever built.

This isn’t to say that the cost is the only reason to be living in a shipping container home. There are lots of reasons why living in a container home has become so popular.

To construct a shipping container home on a tight budget, you need to be savvy. It is to your advantage to know exactly where you can skimp and save money, but also, where to spend money to get the best results.

If you want to learn how to be savvy about shipping container homes, keep reading.

Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More

Budgeting and Planning Shipping Container Home

If you want to construct a container home while on a tight budget, the first thing you need to do is to develop a good plan.

Without a comprehensive plan, you will be improvising throughout the construction process, hoping for the best. This is an undeniable way to run into serious problems along the way.

There are two key elements to planning.

  1. Establish your budget. Decide how much money you have to spend on constructing your building.
  2. Decide exactly what it is you want to build. How many rooms will your building have? How many stories will it have? Will you be building with new or used shipping containers?

Don’t Make Simple Mistakes

The easiest way to lose money when building your new home is to make simple, uneducated mistakes.

One of the most common mistakes made is removing excessive amounts of steel from the containers. This mistake is sometimes made because the owner has not properly planned the build. Perhaps they don’t know exactly how they want their container home to look, so they experiment or “wing it” as they go and end up cutting too much steel away.

There is nothing worse than wasting materials which you’ve already paid for, especially when you’re working on a tiny budget.

Make sure you read 5 mistakes to avoid when building a shipping container home.

Which Containers Are Cheapest?

Which Are the Cheapest Containers to Build With

One of the largest expenses when building a shipping container home is actually purchasing the shipping containers.

Choosing the right containers is absolutely crucial to both your budget and the success of your project. The first decision you need to make is whether to buy new or used shipping containers.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to which type to buy, but here are some points to think about.

  1. Only buy used shipping containers if you can see them before the purchase.
  2. Whichever type of container you buy (new or used), make sure that they are all the same brand. Manufacturers use slightly different measurement tolerances when making the containers, so building with different brands of containers can sometimes be problematic.
  3. The most cost-effective containers are one trip containers. These are shipping containers that have only been used once. They are not containers which have spent years at sea!

Choosing Where to Spend Your Money

A great way to help reduce the build cost of your home is to spend most of your money on the things that can’t be altered and skimp on what can be altered later.

Know Where to Save Money

For example, purchase the very best shipping containers that you can afford. Don’t skimp here. You can’t replace or change the containers once you have constructed your building.

However, if you need to cut costs, consider that fact when choosing fixtures and furnishings, carpet, or paint. Since each of these things can easily be changed or upgraded at a later date, you can delay the purchase of expensive items until a later date.

Another way to conserve money over time is to choose building materials that require low maintenance. A good example of this is using a metal roof. These require very little upkeep once they have been installed.

We want to emphasize that you should not try to save money on the structural components of your shipping container home.

Track Every Dollar Spent

And when we say every dollar, we mean every last one of them!

We often hear stories like this from builders: “During construction, money was just flying out of my bank account from all directions. Soon I realized that I was running out of money.”

With additional costs thrown in by the contractor for a misunderstanding and a last-minute kitchen upgrade or other unexpected expenses, you can be left trying to save every cent for the last few months of the build.

Make a plan. Stick to the plan. Record all expenditures to make sure that you are on a budget. This way you can identify any areas of concern and make adjustments as needed to stay on track.

You can guarantee that there will be unexpected costs, but if you plan sensibly and stick to the plan, you will be able to build an inexpensive home for yourself.

Salvage Local Materials

Salvage Shipping Containers

A final tip is to try to use salvaged materials. You’d be amazed at the things people give away for free!

As they say “one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure”. And, you get the benefit of having a ‘greener’ build in the process when you reuse these building materials.

One place to collect salvaged materials is from demolition sites. You can often get materials for free or cheap, providing you transport the materials yourself. To be clear, we are not suggesting that you take materials without permission. Always ask the owner first.


Choosing to construct your building out of shipping containers can be a great way to save money.

Plan everything thoroughly beforehand to limit issues that come up during construction.

Once you’ve planned, make sure you stick to this plan. Track each dollar you spend against your budget.

To save money, you can purchase one trip containers which are normally a few thousand dollars cheaper than new containers but offer the same benefits.

Visit local salvage sites to reclaim unused building materials to save even more money.

Do you have any other great ideas for how to keep your costs down when constructing a container home? Let us know in the comments below.

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