Unplugging to Reconnect: A Journey Toward Full-Time Homesteading – Finances, Part 1

Reader Contribution by John Atwell
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Welcome to “Unplugging to Reconnect,” a new series of posts documenting my family’s break from a conventional, dual income, nine-to-five, suburban and harried life in order to establish a full-time homestead, homeschool our four kids, and become more involved with community in a laid-back locale. Part how-to guide and part fodder for homestead voyeurs, I hope our grand life experiment is both informative and inspirational.

To be honest, it was hard to decide where to begin this tale, for the beginning is not always the best place to start with a story. Rather than focus on a particular timeframe or event in our ongoing process, I settled on an issue that we confronted early on (and continue to discuss on a regular basis) and that prevents most people from acting on a deep desire to pursue a “back-to-the-earth” lifestyle or other dreams — fear; more specifically, fear of financial uncertainty, if not ruin.

So…kicking off this series is the first of several bite-sized, easily digestible posts on the financial aspects of making the move, taking the plunge, going whole hog into this different lifestyle. Enjoy!


To begin with, we spent two years intensely researching our trajectory before we launched. Specifically, we sought out information from people who had gone before us. We voraciously read related materials, from Pritchard’s “Gaining Ground” to anecdotes on Internet homesteading fora. We attended MOTHER EARTH NEWS conferences, where we listened to Joel Salatin and others address relevant topics. We scoured websites for anecdotes, guidance, horror stories, and such. We talked to people who were living off-grid and producing much of their own food.

What did we learn? At the risk of stating the obvious and sounding naive, we quickly focused in on the fact that not all paths are the same that lead to homesteading or building a farmette or simply adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. As with many things in life, we all cut our own trail; ours is unique and yours will be, too.

That said, we noted some common themes–the first being the requirement to develop a financial cushion for the transition from old to new life. This, it was argued, was especially important if your journey includes a lifestyle change complete with leaving a career and the subsequent loss of regular income. Makes sense. Most guidance we saw noted a requirement to have at least one year’s worth of funds to survive absent any other income, with many commentators urging two years’ worth, if possible, to improve your odds of success. Going debt free was also highly recommended.

So…in the midst of a government furlough…we ran the numbers. We met with our CPA. We talked to our real estate agent. We chatted with the retirement benefits staff of our respective employers. We conducted Internet and on-the-ground research into the cost of living in the area we had identified as a good potential location for our endeavor. All systems go.

Making Radical Financial Choices

After some careful risk-versus-gain analysis, we made some radical, if not controversial, moves. We sold off assets to pay off mortgages, cashed out investment savings (including some retirement), moved money from insurance holdings to hard assets (a new, debt-free property and home), and capped college savings after confirming we had enough to guarantee each of our four kids two fully funded years at a public university (they will come up with the remainder through savings, work, grants, loans, etc.). Within three months, we were free of any consumer or loan debt and had enough money left to survive for two years absent any income. (Did I mention that we are coming up on the end of year one? Let’s hope our math was right!)

Click here to read Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 in this series.

Photo by Flickr/Reuben Aingber

For a blow-by-blow account of our family’s ongoing transition from homestead voyeurs to full time homesteading, drop by our online journal at www.SojournChronicle.Tumblr.com.

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