We Built Our Own Homestead Without Capital

Ruralist shares secrets to building their own homestead on low finances, including a personal account.

| March/April 1976

MOTHER July/August 1973 featured, among other things, an article by Lee Winchester titled, "Homesteading Capital is Where You Find It". Jan and Jim Hilberer, however — with practically no money at all — had already successfully left the Big City behind them long before they read Lee's thoughts! Here's a report Jim sent us in March of 1974. 

I would like to point out that homesteading can be done with little money, lots of hard work, and much pleasure. My wife, Jan, and I left Rochester, New York in the spring of 1972 with $250 and our VW. Less than a year later, we were settling into a cabin of our own on 5 1/2 acres of Virginia land.

We left the city with the idea of locating inexpensive land in West Virginia. After looking that state over and shelling out a sizable portion of our small bankroll on VW repairs, though, we gravitated to the northern border of Virginia where jobs were more plentiful. Our plans at that time were to camp out for the summer, work, and save every penny we could toward our homestead. We weren't exactly sure right then that we'd be able to make the idea work the way we wanted because, although I've camped since I was a child, Jan had never — until then — camped out in her life.

We pulled into an attractive little campground with a brand-new 9-by-9 tent, a Coleman stove, some lanterns, and $70.00 left in our pockets. We liked what we saw. The grounds had a 15-acre lake, showers, toilets, washer, and dryer — not a bad home for the summer. So we chatted with the owners and they agreed to let us stay for the whole season for the lump sum of $100 — half down and the other half due the following month.

That left us with only $20.00 to live on, so we immediately set up camp and went looking for work. I took a job that paid $100 a week — not much, but a good start — that same day and Jan, a teacher, found employment as an art instructor shortly afterwards.

I chopped all our firewood that summer with an axe and Jan and I kept our campsite clean and neat. This industry and our ambition soon impressed other campers who used our grounds every weekend and we became friends with some of these "regulars". Before long some of them were even offering me good jobs back in the towns they'd come from but I turned them down because of the distance I would have had to travel each day.

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