I know that to some extent, I have talked about how saving money and investing in the future are important to our journey on the road to self-sufficiency, but I thought I’d share some of the changes we are making right now to help us meet our end goal. If you missed the other posts I’ve written on the topic, you can click here, here, and here to read more. I’ve tried to write this post several times, and there is just no way to make it any shorter. Sorry 🙂
I think my original claim was that, at least for us, food is probably the most important part of our journey to self-sufficiency. While that is true for us, I know it may not be for everybody…However, something that is true for everybody on this journey is that it is going to take time and money to get started. Whether the goal is to live without a need for money or not, the fact of the matter is that where I live, and in this day and age, there will always be some kind of need for having money. Money for paying property taxes, money for paying for that random item that you need…How much you actually need will depend entirely on how self-sufficient you actually are, what you want to be doing, and what you are doing/what you own now. Getting to a point of needing little cash flow though, that takes time and money.
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Let’s say you want to be self-sufficient today. Is it possible? How far are you from reaching your goal? What would you need to do to get there? These are all questions we asked ourselves before getting started, and while I can speak to what our answers are, it will be different for every family, couple, individual, or group. For our own situation, the fact of the matter was simply that we were not at a place where we could be self-sustaining. Yes, we were raising our own food from our garden, and yes, we were raising chickens for eggs, but there are so many aspects to being free and independent like that that we had a long way to go. And we are not entirely sure how self-sufficient we plan to get. Will we ever go off-grid or provide for our own electrical needs? I don’t think we’ll ever change to a horse and buggy or wagon unless a need for that arose (which I doubt), so all of those things will factor into what it will take for us to become more self reliant.
Maybe another and more important thing for us to decide on was: What is our end goal? The ultimate, long-term goal for us is that someday Scott be able to work here, that we grow most (if not all) of our own food. The ultimate goal is that we are able to live off of a much smaller income. To do that and then some, there are a lot of changes that need to be made around here for us. To me, the biggest thing in our list of things we want is that we’d like to live off of a much smaller income someday. That is simply not an option for us at the moment. Until the mortgage on our home is paid off, we’ll need Scott’s job and the income that we are living off of. The question then, becomes “what can we do to pay down our mortgage faster?” The answer to that is to look at what ways we can reduce our cost of living. So let’s look at how we are doing that.
One of the first things we did before moving here was to cut out as many unnecessary expenses as possible. We’ve never been big spenders on things like going out or cable TV. We had Netflix, and we spent too much money on snacks from the gas station or extra trips to the grocery store…those things were easy enough to change for us. Next we looked at the bills we weren’t getting rid of, things like electricity, grocery, heating, and insurance. We haven’t been motivated enough yet to unplug all electronics when they are not in use, but we had to be extra diligent about shutting off lights in rooms that we were not in (especially in a large house and with kids being notorious for leaving lights on when they leave a room). We’ve been able to keep our bills relatively low, though I know we could do more to reduce them, and eventually we would like to get appliances that are more cost effective. Lots of light bulbs needed replacing, so we’ve been using the soft white LED light bulbs…they cost more than the old traditional light bulb (that you can no longer purchase), and I have found the light from them to be true to what a traditional light bulb looked like-without that blue hue that always deterred me in the past. We have been replacing the old bulbs for the new as the old bulbs burn out. I think there are only a few lights left with traditional bulbs. Honestly, I haven’t really watched to see how much our electric bill has changed, but I’m sure we’re saving a few dollars a year from the switch.
As for the grocery bill, that goes hand in hand with our homesteading plan, so this is one we have more motivation to work on. We’ll be buying a pressure canner this year so that we can store more food without electricity. (The link I am putting in is for the one we plan to purchase.) Last year we were able to preserve a lot of food and we got ourselves a few months of buying very few groceries. We’ve had to purchase more the past two months, and until more food is ready to harvest, we’ll continue to have a higher grocery bill. But with this being our largest garden to date, I am really hoping that we can make an even bigger dent in our food storage this year and hold out even longer on a smaller grocery bill. We’ll be butchering more chickens this year, enough for a year’s worth of chicken for our family. That’s still not exactly a cost savings for us this year, but as we get better at learning to raise our own feed for our chickens, and potentially raising them from egg first, we will be able to reduce that cost significantly. If you want to know more about that read this article from last year.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the bees are another huge thing we are doing to help us with our food and self-sufficiency. With a relatively low investment cost, raising bees is an amazingly simple way to increase food production on our homestead. Of course, that’s assuming all goes well 🙂
We live in an old farmhouse with limited insulation. Thankfully our first two winters here were mild! We kept our thermostat low (it is lower at night than during the day), and we actually have two programmable thermostats for the house so we are able to keep the upstairs cooler all of the time since we spend less of our time there during the day hours. We invested in flannel sheets for everybody and warm blankets for the beds. Everybody had a sweater or sweatshirt they could wear repeatedly, and we all had warm socks, pajamas, and slippers to wear. The kids took to drinking tea, and we eat warmer foods. Yes it costs something to heat food, but in using the stove we not only heat our food, but also the house…something the furnace does not do 🙂 Curtains went on all of the bedroom windows and we have double-cell insulating blinds on the big picture windows downstairs. We learned to keep the windows covered on very, very cold days, always at night, but to keep them curtains open on sunny days to bring in extra heat. I would put plastic over the windows during the winter, but our kids have a bad habit of destroying that, so we don’t even bother. I did put in foam gaskets around all of the outlets and light switches that were on outside walls of the house, and we put some weather stripping on a couple of doors, though we need to do more of that this year. I was actually surprised at how much of a difference the gaskets made. I wouldn’t say it made a huge impact on the feel of the room, but when I went to take off the outlet covers, I was surprised at how much cold air I could feel seeping into the room.
Another change we will be making is that somebody that Scott knows has a really nice wood stove that they are willing to sell us at a great price. We won’t fully heat the house with wood, but if we can supplement, it will be yet another way we can reduce our heating costs. Someday we might invest in a really nice stove, but to have something that will cut back our costs for the time being will be helpful enough to us until we can afford something even better. And once we are free of a portion of our debts, we will be putting more insulation into the house. We already partially insulated the attic which helped to keep the upstairs of the house warmer when we did have cold winter days this past winter.
There is really not anything we can do to reduce our insurance costs for homeowners insurance or health insurance, but as for car insurance, there is something that we are doing… First of all, avoid getting any speeding tickets 😉 Those don’t help. I got one about 4 years ago after a doctor appointment when I was pregnant with Doodles. They had given me that terrible drink for checking blood glucose levels, and it made me dizzy while I was driving. I wasn’t intending to speed, but I felt sick and I was just trying to get back to my parents house so that I could lay down and feel better. Unfortunately, I did speed, and I did get a ticket, and that did affect our insurance rates. Next year, our rates should drop back down, so we’d better be on our best behavior! However, there is something that we could to do reduce our insurance rates, and thankfully it removes another of our monthly bills altogether. We got a “new” car and will be getting rid of our leased vehicle starting next month!
Having a lease was never something I was especially excited about, but at the time, Scott needed a vehicle, and he just wanted something reliable so he opted for the lease. It has been nice to have, and it was great to have a vehicle that only ever needed an oil change, but paying that monthly payment was just not my favorite. Especially after we moved here. We were locked in for three years, so there wasn’t anything we could do about getting rid of those payments except to wait out the lease. Last year we began to save for a “new” vehicle for Scott so that he would have something to drive to work, and earlier this month, we finally made that purchase. We switched licensing over to the new vehicle, so we didn’t need to purchase a third set of plates, and once the lease is up in July, we will no longer need to make insurance payments on the lease vehicle. The lease was a “burden” in more than just giving us a monthly payment. Since the vehicle did not actually belong to us, we had to pay for full coverage on the vehicle. We’ve opted for limited liability on our used vehicles, because accident or no accident, you pay for it either way. And let me tell you, there is a big price difference! There is also a price difference in having an older vehicle versus a newer one. With the money we have been making on lease payments, we are considering putting half of the money into a fund for vehicle maintenance since both vehicles are older and will need upkeep (new tires, odd repair jobs…), and the other half or maybe a quarter and a quarter into savings or towards paying off debt.
We actually have two debts, but both are home-related. One is our actual mortgage. The second is another loan that helped us to buy our home. We are currently focusing on paying off the second debt as quickly as possible, and I think ( I really, really hope) that we will have that debt paid back in full by tax time next year. We will definitely be taking a portion of that lease payment to put towards this secondary debt until it is paid off. After that, we may strictly put that portion of lease money towards savings. Getting rid of that second debt has been a primary focus for us ever since we took it on. However, we haven’t automatically put all of our money towards it because when we looked at our long-term goals, it financially makes more sense to invest in other things first, (like the garden or a wood stove or a new vehicle) rather than ridding ourselves of that particular debt.
I’ve been over the numbers every which way, and the conclusion that I came up with is that for our particular situation, it made more sense to hold onto the debt a bit longer and work on building up our plans for the future, rather than waiting until the debt was gone. If we waited for the debt to be gone, the kids would be missing out on the experiences we want them to have the most. We don’t want to get into homesteading when they have grown and left the house, we want to do it with them while they are still with us and are still interested. A lot of what we have been doing around here is making investments in our future…investments which are helping us to cut back on living expenses in one way or another, or investments that will help us to bring in a potential income in the future. We’ve purchase fruit trees to help provide us with more food, permanently, sooner (i.e. buying trees that are nearly ready to fruit from the nursery), we invested in root stock and grafting supplies this year so that we can propagate our own fruit trees from here on out. We have been working to prepare housing and our land for animals and livestock.
Yet not all of the investing we are doing has been in terms of money. A huge portion of what we have done has been investing our time. In order to keep our main veggie garden safe from children and critters alike, we decided that fencing that garden is the best thing for us to do. Scott has a co-worker who was taking down horse fencing he no longer needed. The posts were in perfectly good condition, and rather than burn them, he said we could have them. Scott and a friend went to pick up the first batch, but then the co-worker brought a load out to us, since he already had them in his truck from pulling them out of the field. We still have to finish the fencing, but the cost to us was minimal compared to what it would have been had we had to purchase everything new.
If you read about taking down the barn, you know that the plan was to re-use the wood from the barn to build a new structure for our farm vehicles. While this is still the plan, the plan has changed a bit. A friend of ours has a pole barn that he no longer needs that we can have if we help to take it down and remove it. It has a metal roof and two metal walls which will make it easier to take down than our own barn, and odd as it may seem, using that structure will actually make it easier to take down our barn. This building is larger than the building we were planning to put up, but it actually solves several problems we were faced with. We will use part of it as a garage for farm vehicles (tractors, implements, lawn mowers…), and another portion we will be able to use for housing animals. We are thinking that we will use barn wood to put walls on the structure (since it only has two anyway), and we will have a place to temporarily store barn wood until we are ready to use it. I don’t think we will be taking it down until next summer, but we’ll see how things go.
And last year, we made a huge time investment to help out a friend. He was moving and downsizing and needed help to take care of the process. Thanks to his generosity, we “inherited” a lot of things that are hugely beneficial to us…extra shovels and hoses, shelving for our garage, tools to fill in gaps of things we needed. It was a big investment, and I know it was not only stressful for us, but also for him, yet it was very, very worth our time to do it. Even if we did not “inherit” the things we did, it still would have been worth the time, because we got build an even stronger friendship through it.
Speaking of helping friends, I’ve got to say it. Investing in our relationships is one of the best things we can do. We had a hard time keeping up communications with everybody last year, and we are harder to get in touch with than we once were, but we still spend time with friends and family, and we have taken the time to get to know neighbors and others in our community. The connections we have and have made have been so very worth the time and effort. When things are tough, there are people there to listen and help. When there is something you need, somebody is bound to have something lying around to fill a need. When you have abundance from your land, there are people to share it with. And when things slow down, there is time to celebrate and enjoy the company of others. It is always worth it to spend time getting to know your neighbors,the people at church, the bank, or at the local store. We may not have time to be the best of friends, we won’t text you because we don’t have cell phones (I know. Gasp!), but we’ll be there for you when you need help. It can be hard to say no when somebody asks for help or to spend time together, but there are times when we just need to put our family first…and the more we invest in that, the more we’ll be able to be there for you 🙂
If you are one who is on a journey to self-sufficiency, I’d love to hear from you! Even if you don’t plan to go full-tilt into this lifestyle… What are you doing to get you where you need to go? What kind of things are you doing to save money? What kinds of things are you investing your time and money in? Don’t forget to like and comment. As always feel free to share, and if you like our blog, sign up to get notified of our latest posts!
P.S. I’m still working to put pictures back into the blog, but I think I got our most popular posts taken care of. As I finish that up, I’ll be having a giveaway to celebrate all of the changes and updates we have been making on here, so remember to keep your eyes open for that!