Homesteading With A Sober Eye

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto
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As a rule (and please don’t hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong), the people who start upon the homesteading and/or rural living dream aren’t rich. That is because those who long for a simpler, more sustainable life generally don’t have the right mentality or the motivation for making a lot of money.

While I’m a huge advocate for this very lifestyle, and am passionate about simplifying and doing more on less, I believe one must be sober and walk this path with eyes wide open. You don’t have to be rich, but you need a stash of cash, some sort of a financial cushion, before you jump headlong into the homesteading adventure. If you barely have enough money to purchase your land and buy or build your house, you might very soon find yourself in a strait.

This is especially true if you buy a fixer-upper. When we bought this house, nearly four years ago, we saw all its flaws, but we had so many exciting plans – we would open a window from the kitchen, build a beautiful pergola with terracotta tiles, hire a tractor in order to make terraces on the part of our property which has a sharp slope, install a water recycling system… you get the idea.

Well, let me tell you, at this moment there’s still no window in the kitchen, and mornings are dismally dark because our only living area window faces full west. The pergola idea was abandoned in favor of a cheap little awning to keep the rain off the front step. The place where the terracotta tiles were supposed to be is still an ugly, uneven, sagging concrete square where water pools after every rain. And so on and so forth.

This happened mainly because we didn’t plan enough for unexpected expenses. A lot of money was swallowed up by urgent projects such as a leaky roof, drafty windows, and walls that needed to be plastered because the insulation was done all wrong (something we could have no idea of before living here for a few months).

Lesson learned: something will always crop up, and things always cost four times more than you planned, so set aside some money accordingly.

Another thing is ongoing expenses. It makes perfect sense to say, “quit paying rent for a measly little city apartment and move out to live a quaint, back-to-basics lifestyle on the land!” – and, indeed, there is no greater satisfaction than waking up in the morning and walking across the dew-damp grass into my own chicken coop to collect my own fresh eggs – but again, one needs to keep one’s eyes open as to the actual money matters. Some things about rural living are veritable money guzzlers. There’s the price of gas, for instance. Every drive for errands and shopping is a journey. The car gets more wear and tear due to the longer distances, and fixing it up costs money. Those who live in an area with decent public transportation can get rid of the car, or at the very least use it a lot less often, and save a great deal on gas, car maintenance and insurance.

Home maintenance costs money. Land maintenance costs money. Gas costs a lot of money. Whatever homesteading project you might want to do on your property costs as well, from setting up a chicken coop to building fences – though the expenses can vary wildly according to your budget, creativity and DIY skills. It takes a lot of time for these projects to turn productive, not to mention offset the initial cost. And while we love supporting our farmer friends and buying top-quality, organic local produce, it doesn’t actually save money – large chain stores and coupons do, though they are a disaster in terms of food quality, ecology and the community.

Lesson learned: a rural life is not inherently a low-cost life.

Another consideration is that, if you happen to be in urgent need of a little extra money, picking up a temporary and/or second job is a lot harder to do when you live out in the boonies and it takes at least an hour to drive out anywhere. Employment options will be limited, and that’s a fact.

My main point, however, isn’t to be negative and dissuade people from following their homesteading dream. On the contrary! But one does need a combination of realism and creativity in order to hang on through the initial hurdles. Here’s the best advice I can offer from our experience:

Don’t delay inevitable projects. You can say, “We’ll install a greywater system sometime in the future when we can afford it”, but you can’t say “Oh, it doesn’t matter that the roof leaks – we’ll just move in and fix it before the rainy season”. Next thing you know, the rains will start early, and you’ll be running around placing buckets underneath the trickles of water. So prioritize those essentials and pay for them at once, or set the money aside so that you absolutely cannot touch it for anything else.

Always plan to spend more money than you plan. This sounds rather like a paradox, but always take unexpected turns into account.

Be your own handyman (or handywoman!). If you aren’t a carpenter, plumber, builder, etc… well, it’s about time to diversify your skills, because otherwise, you’ll soon find your money sinking into a bottomless pit.

Alternative economy – swap products and services, lend and borrow tools and, in general, look for ways to pay with your time rather than your money. People have been doing it for millennia, creating strong communities and bypassing cash and taxes.

Be creative with your income sources. Reality check: you won’t be living off your new homestead anytime soon, and unless you have a thick cushion of savings, you will need to keep up some sort of income. Your primary goal is flexibility, whether you choose local employment or online options.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna’s books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here.

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