Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
This is the seventh post in the ABCs of Homesteading series. Click here to read the rest of the series.
People who do incredibly important things like grow wholesome food, educate children, care for the elderly or differently abled, make beautiful art, protect parks and wildlife, compassionately serve their communities, and otherwise contribute meaningfully to a better world always seem to make barely enough income to survive.
Meanwhile, people who provide financial “services”, of the kind that caused the 2008 (and beyond) global recession, earn exorbitant sums of it and spend it on luxuries that are detrimental to the health and happiness of the rest of us and our planet.
This kind of extreme income injustice is just one reason, in a very long list of reasons, why reducing my dependence on outside income has been a top priority for me as a homesteader. There are hundreds more, but I don't want to take up your time telling you things you already know. If you do want more reasons to aim for less dependence on outside money sources, please check out a few of my other articles:
But if you are already on board, read on for ideas you can use to increase your income independence!
Create an Income Inventory
Whether we like it or not, unless you plan to go money-free like Mark Boyle, author of the Moneyless Manifesto (a free, must-read eBook), you will need some income. But it is normally less than you think and there are often ways to change or reduce your current needs. Start by taking an inventory of where your current income goes. Divide your current spending habits into categories of fixed, sticky, and up for grabs.
Fixed expenses. Some income needs are “fixed” like student loans and taxes. You can negotiate payment schedules but these are tough to get out of. The best strategy for these is to pay down balances and reduce taxable overhead such property or income.
Sticky expenditures. Some stuff is “sticky” like mortgages and credit card debt. People often think of these as fixed, but you can opt for less expensive housing or negotiate credit card debt. You can even consider options like bankruptcy and debt-reduction planning. You may have to take a hit to your credit report to break free from indentured debt servitude quickly, but swapping credit ratings for self-sufficient living is worth considering.
Discretionary budget. Finally, there is your discretionary budget or what I like to call “up for grabs”. This is your take-out lunches or frou frou coffee habit, clothing expenses, grocery bill, internet and cable costs, and other things that you can immediately control.
Don't just guess at your expenditures. Track what you spend and categorize appropriately. Many people are surprised to find out how much they spend on spontaneous purchases, groceries, and other non-necessities.
Take These Income Interventions
Cable. Now that you know where your income goes, start with your “up for grabs” list and brainstorm about ways to reduce or modify your needs. For example, do you really need internet and cable? If you aren't ready to give up TV entirely, then consider cheaper video-streaming accounts to a separate cable bill.
Clothing. And do you honestly need more clothes or chochkies? If yes, shop yard sales. Better yet, start a clothes and trinkets swap group or check out DIY ideas online and make up-cycled stuff from “trash."
Food. Grocery bills are an easy place for homesteaders to start cutting costs. After your initial investments in plants, seeds, and soil are out of the way, focus on growing high-calorie and high-cost foods to make the biggest dent in your food budget. Bulk buying also cuts cost and ensures you are better prepared for emergencies.
Cleaning. Baking soda and vinegar can replace many expensive cleaning products.
Gas. You can also cut gas (and increase time for making income) by limiting trips to the store.
Addiction. Try to avoid the “analog trap”. The point of this exercise isn't substitution — it's intervention. The goal is to mindfully break free from unsustainable, income-dependent addictions. If you currently spend $5 a day on coffee and a scone, then baking scones and drinking coffee at home will save money. But, as a homesteader with a flock of laying ducks or chickens, eggs and a garden-grown salad are better than buying flour and sugar to bake scones at home.
Coffee. I'll spare you the sustainability-lecture on coffee. But if you must have it, consider reusable filters, save your grounds to grow oyster mushrooms, and give your myceliated, spent grounds to your worms to get great compost. It's not exactly a net-zero on the sustainability front, but it does turn a bad habit into a food production system and keeps k-cups from overloading our landfills.
Once you've had some success at the simpler stuff, move up your list to the “sticky stuff”. If you aren't in a position to buy your homestead outright, then how about renting out a room to a tenant, your garage as a storage space, or some of your garden area to apartment-bound budding homesteaders so you can pay off your mortgage faster? Can you convert your garage or part of your house to a home-based business? This not only makes for a new income stream, but it may also mean a tax deduction on your housing and utility costs for the square footage used as a workshop or office. You may even be able to deduct some of your car expenses.
Imagine Being Income-less
When you think you've done all you can using your income inventory and intervention, then imagine that you suddenly lost your income. Maybe the economy tanks again, industry leaves your town, and social programs like unemployment fail. You have nothing coming in and no potential to earn money the way you have in the past. Imagine it in gory detail because the more real it feels, the more useful the exercise. Then look at your income inventory again from your income-less perspective. What else could you cut if you had to?
If you have a steady stream of income now, you may not want to make these deep cuts yet. But by doing this exercise you know exactly how much income you really need to get by. And you can make a plan to create redundancies for that income on your homestead, if necessary.
Income Ideas for Homesteaders
Self service. You will probably not get rich as a homesteader. This is why most of us choose a path simplicity based on needing less, but enjoying more. We live below the poverty line, without safety nets like investments or health insurance. We fix our own cars, repair leaky roofs, chop our own firewood, and build or borrow what we need. Instead of spending money to buy happiness, we spend time to create it on our own terms. What we lack in income, we make up for with ingenuity. And that ingenuity can lead to untapped income makers.
CSAs and market gardens. Many homesteaders lean toward becoming market gardeners because they are already growing food. This can be a good income stream, but managing a CSA, prepping for and spending hours selling at a market stall are time-consuming and laborious. If you go this route, think about growing specialty products that people are willing to pay extra for and also consider direct marketing to neighbors, church, social or office groups, rather than just relying on income from farmer's markets sales which can vary dramatically from week to week. Also don't limit yourself to vegetables. Becoming a homestead poultry processor is a fairly simple process in many areas. And growing fruit to sell at market or setting up a pick your own orchard are good ideas.
Pet care. Crazy as it seems, some people who want dollar specials on food for their family will happily spend a fortune on pet care. This means pet sitting, dog walking, pet food sales, animal training, and other related activities can sometimes be a better income generator for homesteaders with strong aptitudes toward animal husbandry than human food. With backyard chickens making a comeback, temporary chicken care is another option.
Lawn and landscaping. Services related to plants and landscaping are also good choices for homesteaders. Lawn mowing and leaf and debris removal can provide a steady source of free organic material for your homestead and help earn you a little extra income. You can use your plant propagation skills to grow and sell potted plants or seeds. Exotic and perennial edibles are particularly in demand right as a result of the growing permaculture and edible landscaping movements. Developing and selling related products like finished compost, raised bed frames, and self-watering systems are also good possibilities. Consulting services for landscape design and implementation can also be part of your offerings with the right skill set.
Buyers clubs. Bulk buying is a good cost saving strategy, but it could also be an income stream. You could start a buyers co-op with your friends and neighbors, so that you can increase your bulk discounts. In exchange for organizing that buying power and doing the ordering, you could charge your members a small fee for your service. You not only get the savings from bigger buying power, but also a bonus for doing a little extra legwork over what you would already be doing for yourself.
What's in season? Seasonal work such as grape harvesting, building beehives, renting out your equipment, offering handy-person services, teaching courses, holding homestead tours, making crafts, selling cut flowers, up-cycling trash, and so many more income makers exists for the homesteader with lots of skills and a little ingenuity.
Keep in mind that any time you start a business there are legal hurdles — tax codes, regulations, inspections...blah, blah, blah. So make sure you find out what requirements apply and cover your rear on the legal front to avoid unnecessary headaches.
Also, know that the more skills you have the more income potential you have. So your best investment in working towards income independence is skill building. Which is why our next entry in the ABCs of Homesteading is “J is for Jack of All Trades Journeyman”. Stay tuned for ideas on how to skill-up and homestead like a professional!
Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina where she currently raises pigs, goats, poultry, bees, worms, vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs, and mushrooms. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. She also raises and processes poultry, herbs, and other edibles at the reLuxe Ranch. Find Tasha at The Way Back and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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