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Simple Living: How Much Do You Save?

February/March 2013

By Vicki Mattern 

How Much Do You Save? 

The figures presented in this article and the accompanying chart involve much estimation and some complex calculations. Our hope is that these numbers will provide helpful specifics as well as inspiration, but do remember that every family’s situation is different. We’d love to have more examples of how simple living saves money. If you’ve been keeping track of your living expenses and would like to share how much you save by homesteading/homemaking, email us at with the subject line “Homestead Savings,” and we’ll post your report online.

  Noel Family     Hess and Hamilton  Mather Family  U.S. Average*  Average Savings 

Food purchased (mostly organic)

$2,333 $1,507 $1,400


(for at home and away)

Housing (including maintenance and utilities) $2,000 $577 $550 $5,521 $4,479
Transportation $583 $1,768 $750 $3,317 $2,283
Entertainment $100 $138 $500 $1,029 $783
Expense totals $5,016 $3,990 $3,200 $10,202 $6,133
In addition to lowering their living expenses, our homesteaders calculated the value of the fresh, organic and free-range foods they produce for their families. 
Value of home-produced food (mostly organic)


(beef, chicken, eggs, vegetables)


(chicken, eggs, fruit, vegetables)


(eggs, fruit, vegetables)

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011

**Number adjusted with data from the Agricultural and Resource Economics program at West Virginia University to reflect cost adjustment for a mostly organic diet 

Amount spent to produce food


(garden, animals)


(garden, animals)


(garden, hens)

Net value $814 $1,767 $1,100

Read more: Uncover the changes these three families make that allows them to live with less cash income but greater security and life satisfaction in Simple Living: How to Save Money and Smile More

Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .

Post a comment below.


Susan Sibborn
3/8/2013 9:22:12 PM
hi every one i know this is an american sight and i live in uk but i love your magazien and backwoods home magazien and look forword to applying some of your info to my own garden thanks

Ellen Snell
3/8/2013 2:15:53 PM
Hi Michael, I guess that for us, the benefits of homesteading really stack up in the intangibles column. Our little homestead provides us with work to bring us together as a family, fresh vegetables, eggs, some meat and countless hours of wholesome work in the fresh air and sunshine. Growing our own gives us the bounty to share with neighbors and still have enough to put up for the winter. Our household (6) does have one full time income, a worthwhile compromise, we think.

3/1/2013 4:45:43 PM
Hi Mike, the amounts are per person; multiply the amounts by 2.5 for the household amount. Sorry it wasn't explained more clearly.

3/1/2013 4:43:39 PM
** The "US average" figures in the chart are "per capita" (per person) per year. The U.S. Department of Labor defines an average household as 2.5 people--so you need to multiply all of the above figures by 2.5 to get the average household amounts spent per year on food, housing and transportation. I believe this is explained much more clearly in the printed magazine--not so clearly here. Thanks for your interest!

2/28/2013 12:40:06 AM
I bet you'll find, as an average, that number is correct. Taking into account how many families in America today live near, or below "poverty level". I've personally experienced several time periods where I spent about 50 bucks a week or less on groceries. I'm not saying we ate well, but we didnt go hungry...

Lisa Osipowicz
2/13/2013 9:45:32 PM
These must be monthly figures...

2/8/2013 5:33:43 AM
The food figures listed on the chart don't really make sense. As a fellow homesteader, the amounts listed for the families food expenditures seem reasonable to me. However, I don't think the average American family spends less then $300 a month on food. Could you please explain, so I can further understand the chart. Thanks

Michael Rauh
2/2/2013 6:23:11 PM
Describing the economics of homesteading in terms of savings is not helpful. The assumption is that you have an income to begin with. Where is that income coming from? This is why the counter culture failed in the 1970s: There was no way to earn a living. Homesteading can only be viable if the amount of cash income required is small. If you have to hold down a full-time job to live, you are a hobby farmer. What is the point?

Timothy Turley
2/1/2013 12:29:06 AM
@ ellen remenchik, just say the hell with it, "lord god the second coming obama screwed us anyway. just don't pay.

ellen remenchik
1/31/2013 6:51:55 PM
What about the expense of health care insurance/ It iwill be mandatory next January - with a $5,000 deductible - it costs around $100 to $250 a month (depending on age and health), minimum...

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