An introduction to homesteading

I am a huge fan of simple living and of the do-it-yourself ethic. It's no surprise then that I am fascinated by homesteading, the lifestyle of “agrarian self-sufficiency”. This article was written for Get Rich Slowly by Phelan, host of A Homesteading Neophyte, a blog about learning to homestead. Phelan is a regular commenter to this site.

Modern homesteading is a great way to save some of your hard-earned cash. That is if you are not afraid of a little hard work and waking before the rooster. The fast-paced convenient world of today can and will lead you down the path to debt. Four years ago I found myself in a terrible situation: How does one go about feeding a family of four on one hundred dollars for two weeks? Did we have enough money to buy gasoline just to get to work? It was scary not knowing where my family was going. Yet when I planted my first tomato, a thought sprouted in my mind.

My first homesteading goals were just to preserve my garden for the winter, insuring that there was always something to eat. But as my garden grew, so did my ideas.

There are initial costs when it comes to living a self-sufficient life. But all of the things that must be purchased will pay for themselves — the time that takes depends on how you manage them. We purchase our items slowly. Big items come with our tax returns, and only after any outstanding bills are paid. Smaller items are bought on an individual basis, depending what we can afford at the time, usually when we are out buying feed for our livestock. Because of the way we have built our homestead piece-by-piece, and the manner in which we have preserved our foodstuffs, we have money left unspent. Four years ago we would have never have believed this possible.

Homesteading isn't something that can be done only in rural areas; even urban dwellers can benefit from simple self-sufficient activities:

  • Buy food stuff in bulk or on sale and preserve them by canning, freezing or drying.
  • Purchase a layer (standard-size chicken or bantam) for eggs and/or meat. Many cities allow you to have a chicken or two.
  • Container garden and create a neighborhood co-op, bartering different vegetables with one another.

Some of our start-up costs have been purchasing chickens, seeds, canning jars and equipment. My hot water bath and pressure canner came from someone that was no longer using them. The best advice I can give when it comes to your planning stage, is to talk openly about what you are wanting to do. You might be surprised on what some people have stashed in their attic and are willing to give freely. Check freecycle, your local paper, rural estate sales, garage sales and even try placing an ad in a free, or cheaply-priced paper for your wants/needs.

Once your chickens and seeds are purchased, your only costs will be feed and water (if you are not on a well). Seed saving will insure your next year's garden. Allowing your hens to hatch eggs will replenish your stock. Be creative when it comes to reusing materials. We use our un-repairable refrigerator to store our feed, a broken fan stand for a sprinkler stand, and cracked hoses for deep soak waters. Save your glass jars to store dried goods in, and milk cartons to start seedlings. Just remember: it's not white trash, it's imaginative, frugal and eco-friendly.

My family might be an extreme when it comes to simple living. We are building a new home, a green shelter. Using only locally produced and recycled construction materials and building it ourselves will save us more than half the cost of paying someone else to build it. With a fire place, underground water cooling systems (air-conditioning) and going solar powered, our out of pocket expenses will drop dramatically.

Some other things to reduce expenses are:

  • Raiding a wood lot and building a wattle fence
  • Buy fruits and vegetables from a “U-Pick” farm
  • Making your own pasta, juices, vinegars, wine and dyes
  • Creating wooden toys
  • Make your own soap
  • Making your own yogurt and cheeses

These things do take time and dedication, but just the act of making your own dinners from scratch will save you money. Using flour, eggs, and water to manufacture your own noodles will cost you less than buying the same amount in the pre-made versions. This can be said about most things that you can create from scratch, the base components while at first seem more expensive, are cheaper when compared to their convenient counterparts.

While homesteading can seem daunting at times, it will save you money as well as bring your family closer together. At home, self induced family entertainment, is another benefit of living simply. It also comes with free educational experiences that are rarely taught in a public school system. Check in with your local extension office for free or inexpensive classes for you and your children. Take a drive in the country and look for hand made signs boasting of wares for sale, they can lead you to a wealth of knowledge and new friendships.

Modern homesteading is not for everyone. Yet taking a few of these suggestions and applying them to your own life will make a significant difference on the way you view the world, and the impact on your wallet.

You can read more about Phelan's adventures in homesteading at her blog, A Homesteading Neophyte. She has also written articles for other publications:

If you'd like to read more along the same lines, I also recommend Pocket Farm, a weblog from a couple looking to achieve Voluntary Simplicity on a farm in Maine. You might also like or the forums at Homesteading Today.

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