In 2013, I was working as a graphic designer in Boulder, Colorado, and making nearly $50,000 a year. Despite my steady job, I was deeply unhappy. I felt like a chronic consumer, and my urban apartment didn’t provide many opportunities for self-sufficient living.
My partner, Jesse, and I decided to turn our lives around by saving for a rural piece of property in Idaho where we could build an off-grid home. For the next two years, we worked extremely hard to reduce our overhead living expenses and save money for a down payment on a piece of land. We spent huge amounts of energy selling Jesse’s brick-and-mortar business, building micro-businesses online, and fixing up an old house in exchange for reduced rent. No words can describe the chaos, stress, and excitement of this two-year time frame. We lived in four different houses, each worked 80 to 90 hours per week, and often plugged away until the wee hours of the morning.
We understood that starting our own homestead and building an off-grid home from scratch would help us achieve our financial goals in the long run; we also knew that we’d need a substantial amount of money to get the ball rolling. A loan would’ve worked against our goal of achieving financial freedom, so we crunched some numbers to understand approximately how much money we’d need to save before getting started.
We moved to 5 rural acres in Idaho just five months ago. Since then, we’ve spent more than $30,000 on various aspects of our journey and thought it would be helpful to others to provide a breakdown of our necessary expenses.
Keep in mind that while our initial investment was high, our household expenses will taper with time, as will our monthly bills. This is our fast-track plan to achieving financial freedom and living a debt-free lifestyle.
Initial Homestead Investments
Instead of sitting in the bank, our money is wrapped up in physical assets. These assets help us build our home for a fraction of the cost of buying a home and having a mortgage, plus we can resell them if we need to or when we’re done.
• Land: $4,500. We negotiated an “owner carry” contract with the seller, which is a great way for people with bad credit or low incomes to afford bare land. Our 5 acres cost $45,000, and we negotiated a down payment of $4,500. We hope to pay off the land in a year or two but can take longer if needed.
• RV: $2,500. We’re living in a 19-foot travel trailer while we develop our property. This one-time payment has allowed us to own the roof over our heads rather than waste money on an apartment lease. When we’re finished building our home, we hope to resell this trailer for at least twice the price we paid for it, if not more.
• Pickup truck: $1,750. Neither one of our vehicles was equipped for towing or construction work, so we sold our brand new car and paid cash for a used truck.
• Generator: $2,300. We bought a portable 3,000-watt generator and were OK with splurging for one that was quality, quiet, and lightweight. Our property is off the grid (and will remain that way), so this purchase wasn’t optional for us.
• Land development: $7,000. This has included getting a septic permit, having our septic installed, renting an excavator (twice!), and paving our driveway with gravel.
• Assets/tools: $9,050. Although we had a vehicle full of tools upon our arrival, we spent the first three months of our journey investing in additional tools, both large and small, and materials. Some of the items we bought include a four-wheeler, a utility trailer, and a powerful chainsaw for milling lumber. We were able to acquire $20,000 worth of building materials for half that cost by using reclaimed materials, searching Craigslist for deals, and bartering for better prices.
Monthly, Off-Grid Expenses
This is what our monthly expenses look like five months into our journey (excluding personal expenses that we’d have either on- or off-grid, such as groceries and insurance). Our goal is to eventually eliminate, or significantly reduce, these expenses as we get closer to achieving financial freedom off-grid.
• Propane: $30. This is for heating the inside of our RV and cooking.
• Generator fuel: $150. If we’re outside, then we’re likely working with power tools. If we’re inside, that probably means the weather is too harsh to work on the property, and we’re working online instead, in which case we need to fire up the generator frequently to charge the RV batteries and our laptops.
• Water: $1.25. We don’t have water on our property yet, so we fill up in town.
• Laundry: $25. We do laundry in town.
• Internet: $65. Internet is a little more expensive off-grid.
• Land: $357. We hope to pay off our land in a few years but can take up to 15 years if we need to.
Total: $628.25 per month.
If you’re a hopeful homesteader, we hope this gives you a realistic rundown of expenses and support in your venture!
Read More! To follow the couple’s transition to an off-grid, debt-free lifestyle, search for “Alyssa Craft” in the search bar at the top of this page, view the couple’s blog and watch videos on their YouTube channel.
Share Your Homestead Story! If you or someone you know is living an impressive homesteading life, send the story and a few related photos to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com with the subject line “Firsthand Reports.”