Northern Idaho Country Life and the Vienna Woods

A homesteader discovers how to save money living the northern Idaho country life and travels to europe on his savings.
By Stephen Allen
January/February 1978

Saving money while living the northern Idaho country life.
Photo By Fotolia/wollertz


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This homesteader saved money by living the northern Idaho country life.

European Travel Tips

Country Savings and Travel Tips When Visiting Europe

You say you want to go to Europe, but you don't have the money? Do what Stephen Allen of Bonners Ferry, Idaho did: Move back to the land, cut down on fossil fuel consumption . . . and "write your own ticket"!

Recently, while sitting at a charming wine garden in the Heuriger section of Vienna (where I'd just finished a delicious dinner of Parisier Schnitzel), I lifted my glass of German brandy and made the following toast: "To the Vienna woods . . . and northern Idaho." Northern Idaho country life, you see, had made my trip to Vienna possible.

It's strange. Many people think that in order to live in the country, you have to be willing to do without a lot of things (as if deprivation and rural life somehow went together). This simply isn't true. On the contrary, a move to the country can enrich your life and give you things of real value . . . such as Vienna, Paris, London, or Amsterdam. I know. I've been there.

How I Went From New Jersey to Europe . . . Via Idaho!

Several years ago, I worked as a high-powered newspaper reporter in populous New Jersey. At the time, I pulled down $260 a week . . . hardly what you'd call a regal wage, but not bad when you consider [1] the paper was non-union and [2] journalism — especially newspaper journalism — has never been known for its high salaries.

But the point is this: I desperately wanted to go to Europe . . . and I couldn't afford to do so without borrowing money.

So I moved to the country. Now I'm working as a low-powered newspaperman in a small (population 2,500) town in northern Idaho . . . and — although I make only $125 per three-and-a-half-day week (not counting the income from two additional part-time jobs) — I'm happy to report that I've just returned from a three-week trip to London, Amsterdam, Vienna, Salzburg, Budapest, Transylvania, and Paris. And I didn't have to borrow a cent to finance my trek,

How did I do it? Simple: I started living within my means . . . and pocketed the money I would otherwise have handed over to the Arabs, the giant oil companies, and the electric utilities.

Four years ago — while I was living in New Jersey — I was paying out approximately $400 annually for fuel oil. (Today, it'd be much more than that.) I also spent about $300 a year on electricity. And I threw away close to $1,000 every 12 months for gasoline. (Needless to say, the cost of petrol has gone up some, too.) Add it all up, and you can see that I was shelling out no less than $1,700 (conservatively speaking) each year on energy when I lived in the Garden State.

Here in northern Idaho — by contrast — I lavish zero dollars per year on fuel oil . . . zero dollars on electricity . . . and — because I bicycle to and from work when the weather is good — only about $200 per year on gasoline. A grand total, in other words, of $200 annually in energy-related expenses. Which leaves me $1,500 a year of "found" money to spend on things such as tools, supplies, and trips to Europe!

Northern Idaho Country Living: A Different Way of Life

The reason I'm able to cut my energy costs this way is that — first of all — I use firewood (which I cut for free in a nearby national forest) for heat. (You can take home up to ten cords of firewood per year at no cost from most national forests. Ask your local Forest Ranger for a "Free Use" permit.) The folks up here have a saying that firewood warms you twice: Once when you cut it and once when you burn it. Personally, I enjoy the exercise.

Also, I'm about seven miles from the nearest town, and there just isn't much electricity where I live . . . so I use kerosene (about $60 worth per year) for light rather than electric power.

"Well sure," you say, "kerosene may be a lot cheaper than electricity, but it doesn't give near as bright a light." You're right . . . it doesn't. Romantic, eh?

"OK," some will argue. "But what about music and TV?" Well, have you ever heard Beethoven's Pastoral in the woods? A battery-operated cassette player does it, my friend. (I have about 500 tapes ranging from Sibelius to Smith — as in Patti Smith — to help while away the long winter nights.) And as for TV: Not long ago, I finally broke down and bought a battery-operated television, which I use only on special occasions (as a TV ought to be used). It, too, does the job very nicely.

So. Even though I'm making less money now than I was several years ago when I lived in New Jersey, I am able — by living a slightly different lifestyle — to save a considerable amount of money each year . . . and I now use that money to finance my yearly forays to Europe. I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to do the same thing . . . so long as you don't mind "giving up" the privilege of paying outrageous heating, lighting, and gasoline bills.


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