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College student builds tiny home to graduate debt-free

In a time when the average student debt is creeping higher and higher, many college students are dreaming of ways to graduate with as few loans as possible. And it looks like one University of Texas at Austin junior will be able to say his dream came true, all thanks to a tiny house.

Courtesy of Joel Weber

Joel Weber, 25, ditched the dorm scene and opted for a 145-square-foot space instead. Using concepts and skills he learned while studying, the design major created the floor plan and built the property for $20,000 total. Thanks to a small mortgage and utility costs, he plans to graduate debt-free.

Courtesy of Joel Weber

Of course, it wasn't all about the money (although that was a huge benefit). Weber says that this lifestyle fit him well.

"I had spent some time in an apartment, but I wanted to feel ownership and invest in something that was mine," he told TODAY.com. "I've always had a fascination with living small — I loved treehouses when I was younger, and I don't think that dream has ever died."

Courtesy of Joel Weber

In between high school and college, Weber spent some time living in Central America. It was there he became inspired to do something like this. "I saw how small and simple the people there lived, and it was more about community," he said. When he transferred to UT, he felt that everything came into place to make this plan a reality.

A family friend offered him a small space on his property. "It's the most beautiful, peaceful, relaxing piece of land," Weber said. Then, he began building his house atop an 18-foot flatbed trailer — an important feature as Weber says he loves that he can move it around.

Courtesy of Joel Weber

For such a small space, he managed to pack a lot in there. He has a main bed loft for himself, as well as one for guests. There's a reading area, a bench that extends to a cot, an ottoman, a coffee table, stairs to his bed that double as storage, a desk and a mini pantry. There's also a small kitchen with a sink, propane-powered stove and oven, water heater, mini fridge and a stainless steel workstation.

His bathroom doesn't have a toilet yet (he uses the guest house on the property for that), but that's his next project. Weber says he also wants to put in solar panels and a rain water collector one day. Being environmentally friendly is important to him — it's another reason why this project is so near and dear to his heart.

Courtesy of Joel Weber

"I want to design things that are more sustainable," Weber says of his future career plans. "I'm interested in doing anything where I can spread living a simpler life." Building tiny homes similar to what he's done for himself is something he said he'd love to do.

As for how long Weber plans to keep this home, it's not going anywhere any time soon. "There are people who say you can can't have a family in that," he said. "But I built it to be able to adapt. Besides, it's not the square footage, it's the love that goes in it."

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