January 19, 2018
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Maine couple converts prison bus into tiny home, sets off on trip

By Liz Gotthelf, Journal Tribune
Liz Gotthelf | Journal Tribune | BDN
Liz Gotthelf | Journal Tribune | BDN
Meagan and Ben Poirier and their dog Moose sit on the bed in their tiny home, a converted prison bus, in Old Orchard Beach on Monday morning.

OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — It took a lot of focus, hard work and planning, but soon Meagan and Ben Poirier will be living the dream, traveling the country with their dog, Moose, in a tiny home on wheels.

Meagan, 29, and Ben, 30, are debt free and ready to hit the road and head south to warmer weather in their converted prison bus.

In 2016, the couple went to Massachusetts after reading an intriguing Craigslist post about a former prison bus for sale.

The seller of the bus, a collector who had been featured on an episode of American Pickers, had purchased the bus in Washington, D.C., with the intention of converting it to an RV, but with the urging of his wife who said he already had enough projects, was selling it to the right buyer — someone who would see the bus’ potential like he had.

The couple purchased and brought back to Maine the 31-foot, 1989, faded black Chevy bus with rust spots and bars on the windows.

“Everyone thought we were crazy,” said Meagan.

The couple found a friend who let them park the bus on their property, and then, Meagan said, “We got down to work.” The couple got to work, removing the rust, taking down the bars from the windows and putting in insulation.

“We stripped it down to a metal shell. Essentially we built a house,” said Meagan.

Meagan worked in marketing and Ben at a lumberyard and the two were able to arrange their work schedule so they could have three day weekends, giving them time to work on the bus and spend time outdoors hiking.

The couple made custom furniture including a bed with storage underneath, a couch, and a fold-down table. A small sink has been installed, as has a composting toilet and the couple is putting the finishing touches on a shower. There is a small refrigerator and cooking will be done on a butane stove top.

Not only was the bus in good running condition, but also it had a generator in working order.

Solar panels will be installed to generate off-grid power for the living space, and the power can be banked by charging a rechargeable battery through the bus’s alternator when the vehicle is running.

Now painted a cheerful turquoise, the bus is a far cry from when the couple bought it.

The two sat down for an interview in the bus Monday morning. Gleaming wood floors, a comfortable couch, and beadboard walls made the tidy, clutter-free space homey and a small wood stove kept it warm.

One of the few reminders of the bus’s past life as a prison bus are metal cage walls — one in the back of the bus and one in front — that secure the living space.

Ben had some woodworking experience, but the couple didn’t have a lot of knowledge on bus conversion before starting the project. They learned along the way.

“You get a lot of information from YouTube and the internet,” said Ben.

“What we did have was the drive,” said Meagan. “We wanted it so badly.”

The couple saved money by doing the work themselves. For example, the paint job on the bus was estimated by a professional to cost at least $10,000, a task the couple completed for about $600.

The couple admitted to some trying moments, but said in all, the project has been a great experience and has brought them closer together.

In total, the couple spent about $18,000 on the tiny home on wheels. Ben said he expects they may spend a couple more thousand in the upcoming years, but like owning a home, there will always be expenses.

The couple plans to travel the country and do some exploring, an some day and buy a house, but they’ll hold on to the bus.

“We’ll always have this to adventure in,” said Ben. “When it’s not our home anymore, it’ll be our RV.”

Meagan said she strongly advises people who want to build a tiny home on wheels that it takes a lot of planning and preparation.

“People think if you do it yourself, it’s cheap. It’s cheaper, but it’s still expensive,” said Ben.

The couple, who will be celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary this year, have become experts at planning.

While many people in their generation have struggled with debt, the couple found a way to pay off $80,000 in college debt plus additional vehicle debt in 3 1/2 years.

“We created and stuck to a very strict budget and it was super motivating,” said Meagan.

The couple has focused on “quality over quantity” said Meagan, investing on items that will last. They’ve also found that by investing some time and effort, they can save money, for example, by preparing dried beans themselves instead of buying canned beans.

Instead of eating out, the couple made meals at home. They also found ways to entertain themselves for free, such as hiking, and say their effort to improve their fiscal health has improved their physical and mental health.

The couple, who are best friends, said Ben influenced Meagan with his interest in hiking and Meagan influenced Ben with her financial savvy.

“I think we make a pretty darn good team,” said Ben.

And now that they plan to spend their lives in 165 square feet of mobile space, the couple has been downsizing, holding onto items that they need, and getting rid of clothes they don’t wear and items they don’t use.

The two say they realize now that they don’t need to make a lot of money to be happy. “Time together is more valuable to me than making a little bit extra,” said Ben.

For more information on Meagan and Ben Poirier’s bus conversion project and financial planning, go to www.thewilddrive.com.

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