How I built my own house — without a mortgage

This guest post from Ian is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. It's the extended version of the story he shared in his prize-winning entry to this year's GRS video contest. Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes.

It dawned on me in college, having experienced several different summer jobs, that I really didn't like being employed. Sure, the money is nice — but it's just no fun at all to spend your days working to reach some boss's plans or goals. I'm sure there are some folks out there who find a 9-to-5 job fulfilling, but that sure ain't me. There's too much fascinating stuff out there to learn and do to spend 40 years in a cubicle. The mere thought makes me shudder, and I wanted nothing to do with a career.

Most of the financial advice out there is geared towards building up a big account to retire on. I figured that I would enjoy taking a different route — reducing the total income I needed to live on. With a significant reduction in expenses, it becomes feasible to live very comfortably on a part-time income, or even just income from hobbies. How do you reduce your expenses that much? Live off the grid.


Ian's prize-winning video contest entry

Planning

By “live off the grid”, I don't mean abandoning all your possessions to live in a shack in the woods. I mean taking control of your necessities and providing them yourself instead of relying on other to do it for you (and paying them to do so). Going offgrid requires a greater up-front payment, which is rewarded by great benefits in the long term (sound familiar?). Building a house yourself is a huge investment in time, sweat, and cash — but it allows you to enjoy freedom from rent or mortgage for decades. Like cooking at home instead of going out, but writ large (hundreds of thousands of dollars large).

Note: My decision to follow this path was not purely a financial one — I simply am happiest out in the boonies. There are too many people in the city, and it's just not enjoyable for me. I want some space. You may be different — and probably are.

The more I looked at the offgrid option, the more financial advantages I saw in it. By choosing an earth-bermed home design, I could minimize heating and cooling expenses, as well as exterior maintenance. Having my own well and septic system eliminate the water bill, and having my own photovoltaic system for electricity cuts out another bill. My consumable fuels for the home are limited to some wood for winter heating (easily collected from the property) and propane for cooking (for which a couple hundred gallon tank is nearly a lifetime supply). Add some food production on the land, and you can also reduce grocery expenses.

Does this mean intentional poverty? Absolutely not. It means that I can have great quality of life, make $10,000 per year with a part-time or online gig, and have more disposable income than most middle income debt-ridden wage slaves.

Execution

At the time I put this notion together, I was in the middle of getting a fancy engineering degree from a fancy university. I had been losing interest in engineering as a field to work in, and opted to jump to a more hands-on field of study and get the fastest two-year degree I could. I judged that it would be better to leave with some sort of diploma than drop out altogether.

At the same time, I started looking for affordable rural land. I had a small inheritance from a great grandparent that I had been saving for something significant and meaningful, and a piece of land seemed like the perfect use for it. I eventually found a 40 acre parcel in the Southwest for less than $500/acre. I ditched school for a week to camp out on it, and fell in love. It had a good southeast facing slope for my passive solar house plan, and everything else I wanted in a parcel.

Ian's parcel of land
Ian's parcel of land

On the third day, I signed a bill of sale, wrote a check for the price (10% off since I wasn't financing it) and made it mine. And then (sadly) headed back to school. A year later, I came out with my degree and a $35,000 bill from Sallie Mae. That student loan was my only debt, and it meant a monthly payment of something like $250. Not bad at all, by most standards.

I packed all my belongings into my truck (a paid-for beater of a 1970s Chevy) and embarked to find a job in the little windblown town nearby and build my house. Jobs were sparse, though, and I wound up making less than minimum wage as a commission mechanic. That $250 loan payment was a massive chunk of my income, and it became clear that I wouldn't make any progress unless I changed my situation. So I packed up again, and moved to the big city (ugh). Not what I wanted to do, but it was necessary. After a couple false starts, I landed a bartending job that paid pretty darn well. Now that I was finally making more than I needed to just scrape by, I set about making some real progress.

Saving was immediately gratifying, because I brought home my day's earnings in cash every night. I budgeted out what I needed to live on (rent, gas, food), and put that much in my living expenses envelope each evening. The loose change (a couple bucks worth usually) became my “fun” spending money, and everything else went into the student loan envelope. Every time the envelope crossed the $1000 threshold, I took it down to the Post Office and sent a money order to Sallie Mae. I didn't eat out, I didn't go to bars, I replaced my big beater truck with a little beater truck that got much better gas mileage, I didn't have a TV, and I split an internet connection with a neighbor in my apartment block. I grabbed every extra shift at the bar that I could manage. It paid off. In 53 weeks, I zeroed out that student loan. (I have the closure notice from Sallie Mae framed.)

Then came a big moment of truth. I'd been focusing intensely on paying off that debt, and the house plan was a bit of a nebulous thing that I would do later, after the loan. Well, now the loan was gone, I had the good-paying job, and I was used to living on not very much. I could go do anything now! I could buy a slick new car, or a bunch of cool gadgets, or anything I wanted. Or I could make the earth-bermed, offgrid house a reality. It didn't take much reflection to conclude that the house was what I really wanted. So I replaced my “Loan” envelope in the closet with a “House” envelope and went right on with the same budget. Soon the envelope filled up, and I replaced it with a shoebox. Eventually the pile of cash in the shoebox started making me a bit nervous, and I got a safety deposit box at my bank.

When my second year on the budget netted me as much as the first, I crunched some numbers and concluded that a third year would be enough to get me enough money to build the house. I informed my manager at the bar that I would be leaving on May 31st of the next year, when it had warmed up and I deemed that building season was in full swing.

During that third year, I started spending some of my savings to pay for some initial infrastructure that I had to hire out, like the installation of my well and septic system and the kit for my house (purchased from Performance Building Systems — a company I highly recommend). When I finally quit the bartending job (on exactly the day I'd selected a year earlier), I headed back to the property with a wad of about $40,000 in cash and a sturdy pair of work boots.

Starting work on Ian's home
Ian has his work boots on

I spent that summer living in a neighbor's barn and building. The house I'd decided on was a monolithic concrete arch, 24 feet wide and 36 feet deep. It came to 800 square feet total, and would be covered with 2-4 feet of earth when finished. The sides would be completely underground, and the front wall would be fully exposed, with a lot of glazing to let in light and warmth (you can see photos of a bunch of these homes at earthshelter.com). I first needed to dig into my hillside and lay a slab foundation, then construct the framework of the the house, build the front wall with concrete block, and then have the main framework shotcreted (concrete sprayed with a high pressure air hose, to form rounded structures). Once the shotcrete set, I began building wall framing inside, and running water and electrical lines.

It's not finished yet — some things cost more than I'd expected, and by the time winter really set in, I had a lot of interior work still left to do and had run out of savings. So I moved back to the city to find another job, and I continue to work on the house on my weekends.

Coming together

However, the house is complete enough that I could live in it if I had to. I'm working my current job (I leveraged my offgrid experience into a position in the solar power industry) because of a conscious decision that the income is worth the time, and I have an alternative option should I decide that I really dislike the employment. That option makes a big psychological difference.

I can reflect on my job and know that I'm working it for a specific goal. I already have enough saved up again to finish the house interior, and what I'm doing now is saving up to build and stock a good workshop. With a good selection of woodworking, metalworking, and automotive tools I will be able to indulge in fairly technical hobbies. I can easily live on the proceeds of custom niche machine work, or have fun restoring and selling an antique vehicle from time to time. In addition, things like building my own furniture and maintaining my own vehicles will save a lot of money, and be more rewarding than hiring others to do the work for me.

Thanks to the planning and hard work, I will retire by the age of 30 — if not sooner. That doesn't mean I'll spend my time watching TV and playing golf, it means I will be able to actually live life instead of sacrificing all my time to a job making money.

Questions About the House

Living off the grid isn't what many people expect. With the dramatic recent reduction in solar power costs, you can really have every modern convenience without a power pole. You really can't tell an offgrid home from the inside. The keys to doing this effectively are putting more attention into efficiency, and choosing the right power sources. Electric heat, for example, is extremely inefficient. Propane is a far cheaper way to cook, and a wood stove is a great inexpensive, renewable source of heating. Thoughtful home design to utilize solar exposure, prevailing wind currents, and other environmental factors can significantly reduce the amount of artificial heating and cooling needed in the first place. Modern efficient appliances and lighting further reduce electrical needs.

Because of my high altitude and sunny climate, I chose to use a solar hot water heater instead of an electric or propane type. It's a simple system with an 80-gallon tank (which should be able to supply comfortable hot showers through 3 days without sun), and it reduces my propane needs to just cooking. Internet can be provided by either satellite or wireless broadband (my cell phone reception is iffy at the house, but my Blackberry can get a pretty decent signal).

What about my social life? Am I going to be some sort of loner hermit? The answer is definitely not.

I'm not someone who needs constant social interaction, but you get plenty of it in the boonies. It's clear from both my own experience and talking to other folks living in similar situations, that there is much more community socialization when there aren't many people than when there are lots. I've never known more than one or two neighbors when I've lived in a city with dozens of people within shouting distance. But when there are only five families in a square mile, you know all of them, and their dogs, and often their friends and relatives who occasionally visit. It's true for my house now — there are a few permanent residents and a few weekenders and we all socialize regularly.

The other question I always get is about family. The short version is that I have no desire for marriage or children. The house isn't big enough for a family, and it wouldn't be feasible to put on an addition. If I wake up one morning and suddenly can't live another day without offspring, I'll just have to build a new house. But I don't envision that happening.

Tips

If you're considering doing something like this, I'd like to offer a couple quick tips from my experience. Just as a good financial decision now can have magnified implications down the road, time spent planning a house can prevent huge problems in construction. An hour spent fixing something in the foundation can prevent a day's work in construction or a week's work in finishing.

My other suggestion is to not let the traditional rule your decisions. If you're putting this much work into a place to live, you clearly plan to be there for a long time. So don't worry about building a house that will be easy to sell — build the house you really want to live in. My bedroom is minuscule by most folks' standards, because I like the idea of a cozy sleeping space. (I also ran a small water line and drain to the bedside table, so I don't have to get out of bed for a drink of water at night.) The pantry is huge, though, because I will be growing and preserving food. I'm building a house to live in, not to sell, so I don't care if it appeals to a real estate agent or bank loan officer.

Most of all, if you have a dream, you should do it. Stop fantasizing and start planning. No matter how many years it might take, it won't ever happen until you start. And once you do start, you'll be amazed at what perseverance and dedication can do for you. There's no better feeling in the world than deciding how you want to live and making it happen.

More about...Home & Garden, Frugality

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Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

We actually know a couple with a child who have been building an off-grid home by hand (including pouring concrete for the blocks) for several years now (they started pre-baby). They were finally able to move in this past year, though they’re still building various things. I definitely don’t think I could live without, say, plumbing. Especially with a small child. (I couldn’t live without a w/d in house when DC was small.) But they seem happy.

So… no need to give up on permanent companionship (unless, of course, you want to). 😉

Michael
Michael
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I love this story. And yes, it is totally doable for most people. Especially if you get the right help. I’m a builder that is quick to encourage people when they ask if it’s possible. Just make sure you learn everything you can before starting , set aside plenty of time, and get help where you need it. That’s it. We help people at Armchair Builder do this kind of thing so stop by and see us if you would like to explore the idea further.

MikeTheRed
MikeTheRed
9 years ago

Wow, that’s one hell of a story! It’s definitely not something I would want to do (I like my gadgets and such too much), but major kudos to deciding on what you want out of life and making it happen!

I think this is a great example of the power of concrete goals and a clearly defined plan.

Awesome job.

soledad
soledad
9 years ago

Great post! Kudos to Ian for going against the flow.

val
val
9 years ago

I love this story! I have no desire to live like this, but I think the beauty of it is that he consciously decided how he wanted to live his life, spend his time and spend his money and then he proceeded to fulfill that. We need more of that in society. 9-5 is not for everyone, suburbs or city are not for everyone and certainly this is not for everyone, but most people do not consciously choose, they just fulfill the status quo and wonder why they are depressed and miserable. thank you for your submittal and I wish… Read more »

Rebecca
Rebecca
9 years ago

Great story, Ian! This is another great example of how stripping away others’ expectations about what we all “should” want and do results in true wealth and freedom. I am impressed that you were able to figure this out and really focus on your goals at such a young age. I wish I had.
And don’t worry, I have friends in NYC who are married with two children in apartments smaller than your house, so you’ll have plenty of room if you change your mind about marriage- you may get a lot of offers based on that video alone!

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

While I am not the kind to replicate his feat, I very much appreciate the larger point of the story. Figure out what you want (and don’t be afraid of non-traditional) and work hard towards it. I really enjoyed reading this story. Probably my favorite so far in this entire series. 🙂

Carrie
Carrie
9 years ago

That is a really cool story. I admire your perseverance to have a dream and make it happen. I don’t think I could live off the grid, but the freedom you have is enviable. Thanks for sharing with us!

Adriano Matteus
Adriano Matteus
9 years ago

From Sydney Australia

Great story and a great achievement – Looks like pretty arid country there, what is your water source there?

Might be worth helping out friends on similar projects before anyone dives into this sort of thing – some experience and a few helping hands makes a bare foundation a lot less depressing 3 months in.

Hope you find gold the next time you put your shovel in the ground!

Cheers

Smith
Smith
9 years ago

Ian, you wrote one of the best articles published on GRS. I had a friend who built an underground home and spends only $6 a month on electricity, so your story reminds me of him. The technical experience from building that home will also pay dividends much later too, as you may find more interest in off-grid homes in the future.

The short version is that I have no desire for marriage or children.

Trust me, there are a lot of us out there, so you’re not alone. That may have been unusual fifty years ago, but not anymore.

D
D
9 years ago
Reply to  Smith

Agree with all of this.

I’m sure there were lots of people telling you that you would change your mind about wanting this house just like there are people telling you that you’ll be like everyone else wanting kids/marriage. (And/or wishing that on you.)

I believe you will always know what’s best for you. Good for you for making that happen.

Courtney
Courtney
9 years ago

I would never want to do this, but nifty idea. My only question is why would you *pay* a bank for a safety deposit box to store your cash, instead of depositing it in a savings account and earning a little interest?

joan
joan
9 years ago
Reply to  Courtney

Taxes?

Suzanne
Suzanne
9 years ago
Reply to  Courtney

I have the same question. Do you still eschew banks? I applaud your accomplishments – very neat. But are you saving anything for your retirement when you can no longer do the manual things you can today? It sounds like you won’t need much, but would you use a bank account for that?

Kris
Kris
9 years ago
Reply to  Courtney

I work in a bar part time and know that many of the servers/bartenders keep their tip money OUT of banks because tip income is supposed to be declared for tax purposes and people rarely declare the accurate amount. Frequent deposits into a bank account are something the government would use to argue they aren’t declaring their full income if they were auditing someone. I’m not saying I approve of it but I definitely know its common practice amongst people who get tips.

Courtney
Courtney
9 years ago
Reply to  Kris

I’ve never worked food service but I was under the impression that paycheck tax withholdings already took a ‘normal’ amount of tips into account?

Besides, *if* that’s the reason he’s not using banks, then all (most) of us are subsidizing this house… 🙂

Kris
Kris
9 years ago
Reply to  Courtney

I’m in Canada so maybe things are different here? There are no taxes withheld from my paycheck to account for income from tips, I’m required to declare that on my own when I file my taxes. 🙂 I should clarify that I don’t know the author’s situation so I don’t know if that is why HE chose to not keep his money in a bank. I can only speak to the practice I’ve seen others follow in the 10 years I’ve been working in bars/restaurants (5 years as a server, 5 years before that as security in a bar and… Read more »

okgirl
okgirl
9 years ago
Reply to  Courtney

I’m a server in the US, and my declared tips are taxed and taken out of my paycheck. For example, servers in my state make $2.13/hr. I work a five-hour shift, and my job puts $10.65 on my paycheck. During that shift, I am tipped $100. I declare those tips to my company (who declares them to the IRS). The payroll department calculates what I will owe on that $100. Let’s say I’m taxed at 25%, just to keep the numbers easy. Payroll takes $25 out of my paycheck to cover those taxes. Now I acutally OWE my company $14.35… Read more »

Daniel
Daniel
9 years ago

Thank you so much for posting this story!

I can’t wait to show this to my wife — she has always dreamed of living off the grid in a rural area.

Congratulations on your achievement — if more people lived this way the world would not be in the dire straits it is currently in

Jen
Jen
9 years ago
Reply to  Daniel

Well, if everyone lived this way, his rural area would look like suburbia, wouldn’t it?!

Daniel
Daniel
9 years ago
Reply to  Jen

I wasn’t talking about the location of his lifestyle, but the sustainability of it.

Ben
Ben
9 years ago

I’m glad you had a chance for a full interview. I was really intrigued to learn more after I saw his video. Thanks for sharing!

Shannon
Shannon
9 years ago

To each his own!

Raghu Bilhana
Raghu Bilhana
9 years ago


JD

Can we have more of articles like this.

Paul
Paul
9 years ago

Very inspiring story! I’m curious if you might be willing to give us a breakdown of the costs incurred in builing your home. You wrote that you went beyond your original estimations. I’m curious what the bottom line cost would be for the whole process. I’m sure it would be much greater if you hadn’t done much of the work yourself.

Also, what will you do to receive health coverage?

Ed
Ed
9 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Medicaid. He has little to no income.

Nancy K.
Nancy K.
9 years ago
Reply to  Ed

He probably doesn’t qualify. In general that program isn’t for able bodied single adults with no kids. It’s mostly for very low income kids, pregnant women, families with kids, and disabled people.

L
L
9 years ago

This was super interesting!! It really motivated me to stop and consider what I really want, and whether my current actions align with those goals.

Fabulous, interesting, original post.. !

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

This was an interesting article. My parents did a similar thing about 40 years ago. Their situation was different and the result was different, but it’s a cool idea and very appealing. It definitely isn’t for everyone and you need to plan. I would make sure your dreams don’t ride on the back of society. The area my parents went to had many ‘back to nature’ types who had no problems with the infrastructure regarding food stamps, medicaid or various help programs. I salute the idea of being off-grid and with satellite technology, you can now live in the middle… Read more »

Chickybeth
Chickybeth
9 years ago

I loved this story! Thanks for sharing. It is great to figure out what you want while you are still young enough to make it happen.

Janice
Janice
9 years ago

Creativity, hard work, individualism, resourcefulness tied to a big dream. It’s off the grid, but very much what the real American dream is all about, at least to my mind. So glad so many people like the story even if it’s not something we could all do. Thanks so much for sharing.

Jenny @ exconsumer
Jenny @ exconsumer
9 years ago

Ian this is great! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!

My husband and I have been looking into mostly or completely self-sustaining homes and the links you provided here will be a huge help. We have two young children right now, so our plans are a little further in the future, but it’s fun to research and plan!

Christina
Christina
9 years ago

Although I can’t say I would do the exact same things as Ian has done, I will admit that Ian’s story is inspiring. I honestly just wish I had thought like that when I was 21. It was not until I was married and had a child that I realized the effects of debt and spending…and found that I liked the off-grid lifestyle much more than the city world I was raised in. Now I am just working every day to get to the point that Ian is at….living debt free and what I call ‘free of the Matrix.’ Kudos… Read more »

Amy
Amy
9 years ago

Thank you for fearlessly going in the direction of your dreams. Your story is phenominal, and an inspiration (or kick in the pants) to the rest of us to think outside the box, figure out what we want and go get it! I hope you write some future posts on your progress and experience on living off the grid!

SL
SL
9 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I would also be interested in follow up posts to this great story.

Shirley @ gfe
Shirley @ gfe
9 years ago

One word … BRAVO!

Kevin @ Thousandaire.com
Kevin @ Thousandaire.com
9 years ago

I agree with almost everyone else here; I applaud you for reaching your dream, but I could never do it.

I’d be too lonely. Sure, neighbors are nice, but what about love? I know you’re not looking for it, but I hope you find love one day.

Great job on the house though, and I seriously envy your handyman skills.

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

Awesome man!
We like the city life though. 🙂
I wouldn’t mind living in the boonies for a while, but not forever.

Ben
Ben
9 years ago

Ian, this is an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it. While I have a wife and we do eventually want kids, we decided that we want to build our own house and live off the grid as much as possible. Your post gave us some great starting points. Thanks again.

Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot
Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot
9 years ago

Great story. I wish I had that type of disclipine, but I dont know if I could even live my life that frugally.

RJ
RJ
9 years ago

I love that you are executing the steps to achieve your dream! I’ve worked in food service and it was so hard for me to “hang on to” cash in my pocket. Easy to stop for something to eat on the way home when I was too tired to cook. Easy to say yes to going out to the bars on a much deserved day off. Easy to buy something I wanted in the moment because I knew I had the cash right there. Your discipline to save is inspiring. Great job, and best of luck to you!

El
El
9 years ago

Great story. And a water line to the bedside table? Genius! I bet there are a lot more nifty specifications like that in the house.

PawPrint
PawPrint
9 years ago

I especially enjoyed reading about how you went about achieving your goals. Definitely spot on about rural areas having great communities. Having friends in a rural Oregon community, I know they have lots of social events and managed to build a community center and fund an EMT for the area. Neighbors helping neighbors. I do wonder about health care as you get older, but that’s because I’m in my 50s and became unexpectedly disabled and am watching my husband now battle cancer at 59 after a life of good health. Sometimes life throws you a curveball, and I’m always curious… Read more »

Kim
Kim
9 years ago

I loved the story. Thanks for sharing it. WTG!

Sass
Sass
9 years ago

I love the thought of this, but don’t think this would be a feasible option for me personally. However, given the devstating tornados that hit my state (Alabama), an in-ground house doesn’t sounds like a pretty good idea to me! 🙂

fantasma
fantasma
9 years ago

“Most of all, if you have a dream, you should do it. Stop fantasizing and start planning.”

Such a great kick in the pants! Although I would never consider your lifestyle choices; thank you for sharing your story and inspiring others to follow their dreams!

Kamilah
Kamilah
9 years ago

AMAZING!!! I really admire what you’ve done here. Now, please write a book about how to become so disciplined. I’ll buy it.

Also, what money will you live on once you don’t want to work anymore? How do you invest your money?

EMT
EMT
9 years ago

Great story, Ian, and thanks for sharing it. You’ve clearly got things under control, but I can’t help but urge you to think about emergency egress, especially from your bedroom. In the unlikely event of a fire, you don’t want to be baked

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

I’m torn between being absolutely inspired by this and being disheartened by it.

One hand, it’s spectacular! Way to put the pedal to the metal and really live your dreams. Plus it just sounds so cool.

On the other, I can’t help thinking it risks perpetuating the myth that living a “normal” life in North America is incompatible with a frugal lifestyle- that it takes moving off the grid, into the wilderness, and living alone to “get rich slowly”.

Early Retirement Extreme
Early Retirement Extreme
9 years ago
Reply to  Kate

A “normal life” in America means “buying now and paying later”,taking “as much as you can afford” right to the limit, and generally trying to fit into the high consumption lifestyle which is promoted by TV, careers, advertising, and other shoppers.

Moving away from these influences, geographically, mentally, and spiritually, certainly helps to focus on, say, quality over quantity, but it is not strictly needed. If you stay right in the middle of it, you have to be fairly strong-willed and either be quiet about it or suffer some disparaging comments for it.

Joel
Joel
9 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Nonsense! He got out from under his student debt and built his grubstake by living the frugal life in the city! Just because his goal might be a little unorthodox and not what everybody else would choose doesn’t change the fact that he made his goal possible in a city environment, with all the things a city provides. Having accomplished that, he could have (and still can) do anything he chooses. BTW, I’m one of Ian’s desert neighbors. He’s a helluva guy, and I can testify that every word of his story is true. Understated, if anything – the house… Read more »

BareheadedWoman
BareheadedWoman
9 years ago

well I’m just plain ol’ in love.

wh
wh
9 years ago

Ian, have you come across Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme blog? The approach to life, work and making a living should be right up your street.

Justin
Justin
9 years ago

Wow, Ian’s life is sooo not for me. But it sounds like he knows exactly what he wants out of life and has done everything he needed to do to get it. Great story and kudos to him!

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
9 years ago

Ian, I’m curious, looking at the soil and native plants, how susceptible your well is to drought? We have a well in New England, and there have been a couple years where the water levels got frighteningly low and the water started running brown. I also was wondering in terms of my preconceptions of “off the grid” living–will you (or are you already able to) raise vegetables there? Or is that something you expect to buy? I think your house looks amazing, and I like how you’ve planned a very self-sufficient lifestyle! I would caution you to keep in mind… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
9 years ago
Reply to  Nancy L.

As a hydrologist, I would guess that Ian’s got a pretty good handle on that–the gravels and sands he’s got this awesome little abode on will no doubt give him plenty of water–provided he doesn’t have a big-pumping neighbor upstream that is.

Ian, this was an AWESOME story. I’ve been drooling over this lifestyle for several years now. Just need to kill my own college debt, then I can do the same thing. I’m both jealous and inspired! Way to go!

Ed
Ed
9 years ago

I appreciate the story and it was a good read. I would think you could put a little away in some dividend paying stocks, just to keep ‘some’ income coming in. Even if it was just $2k/yr. I am trying to have an ‘attitude adjustment’ on getting the living expenses down while building the retirement funds. The old me had the thought process of trying to generate $XXX more per month in funds for the new car instead of just buying used. That would mean working longer and building capital of $XXXX to generate the $XXX monthly. Now I am… Read more »

Heather
Heather
9 years ago

Great story! I hope there is an update with lots of pictures when it is complete!

Greg
Greg
9 years ago

I think this is really a story about knowing what you want and going for it. I think the problem that I and many other people have is not really knowing what will make us happy and even if you know what it is being too afraid or lazy to do anything about it.

congrats.

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

I find this story very interesting. This is taking frugalness to the max and I love it! I’m always interested to hear what other people are doing to save money. I wish I were more able to fix or make things on my own. I think the problem is I never bothered to learn when my Dad tried to teach me. I count on him to this day for a lot of things in order to save money. Next time, I am going to be more willing to “watch and learn.” I also love the idea of getting out of… Read more »

Laura
Laura
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

Erin– in response to this quote: “I wish I were more able to fix or make things on my own. I think the problem is I never bothered to learn when my Dad tried to teach me.” I think in general our society has gotten away from knowing how to fix and make things, which is too bad. We are too reliant on cash to fix every problem. However, it has never been easier to fill in the gaps in your skills & knowledge using the tools available on the internet. Want to know how to change the oil in… Read more »

Mary
Mary
9 years ago

Congratulations Ian!
This is our families dream, okay more mine than anyone elses! I am gling to look into PBS, at this point we are planning a SIP home. The further I can get from utility bills and being self sufficient the better I will feel.
I would love to see more pictures of the interior, finished product.

Lindsay
Lindsay
9 years ago

Great pick and super story!!

Ru
Ru
9 years ago

QUESTION- where do I find men like you?

I want to live off the grid with my own ceramics studio, no kids, small amount of livestock and a long term loving relationship. Most people I meet go “oh, that’s nice, but do you really think you’ll find a man who thinks the same way?” and the answer is no, I haven’t found a man who thinks the same way. All the men I meet are fixated on stupid gadgets and Call of Duty.

Christina
Christina
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

I’m not a guy like that, but maybe you meet them at stores where they have to buy material to build houses like that? Or workshops where you learn ‘off the grid’ skills? Cuz it doesn’t seem like they go out much otherwise, at least from this guy’s story.

schmei
schmei
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Don’t give up – you’ll find him. My hubs and I are in the nebulous early pre-planning stages, but our long term dream is a house we build ourselves on a goat farm in the boonies.

Maybe you’ll just have to build the ceramics studio first and then he’ll come along… ?

Early Retirement Extreme
Early Retirement Extreme
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Haha! One of the recurring questions I get on my forum (forum.earlyretirementextreme.com, similar to this, ultra frugal, independently wealthy, self-sufficiency, lots of diy) is: “Where do I find a woman who is into that?” 😀

That just speaks to how rare the “pioneering spirit” still is for men and women.

AP
AP
9 years ago

ERE, maybe you have your next business planned out for you right here. Dating service for the extremely-frugal. Of course, it would have to be a free service. You could support it by running ads for goat livestock and geothermal heating systems!
Seriously though, one of the many reasons I love my boyfriend is how frugal he is. I can see if we get married he will not waste all of our money on stupid investments or play toys.

Ru
Ru
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Six hours after I posted this, a guy used the chat up line “I have savings” on me in a bar. And it worked.

We are sad sad people.

Nina
Nina
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Does the guy have a similar minded brother?

Early Retirement Extreme
Early Retirement Extreme
9 years ago

I am very very impressed. One of the things I haven’t “offgrided” (love the definition) is building my own home. This is something I’d like to do soon (<10 years). So far I have been attracted to houses on wheels because my impression is that zoning regulations will resist anything that isn't oversized, cookiecutter shaped, and built out of cheap wood and drywall. Housing is the biggest expense for almost everybody so it's something which should be done right.

mike
mike
9 years ago

Hey Jacob. I was thinking of you as I was reading this. It seems like it would be just right for you. I see what you’re saying about the wheels and stuff. I was surprised the he could buy his land and just build anyway he chose.

That is what I find enticing. Not only the owning of 40 acres, (wow that’s a lot of land), but to build and do what he wants to his heart’s content. For me, that is real freedom.

Adam
Adam
9 years ago

Thank you for your interesting blog post, Ian. I don’t think this comment tho: “(I) have more disposable income than most middle income debt-ridden wage slaves” is accurate or a way to win over an audience of GRS readers. The other comment I have is (perhaps it was addressed elsewhere) regarding medical insurance? I think you might have a high deductible bare bones plan but a few medical issues would wipe out savings. Not to mention disability insurance? This is great if you’re healthy and vibrant, but if a disease or some accident takes away from your ability to live… Read more »

Early Retirement Extreme
Early Retirement Extreme
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam

I noticed that sentence too when I read it and I thought “What a great way to put it” 😉 Certainly though, anyone who earns a lot of money and yet doesn’t have much or any disposable income (savings rate < 5%) probably wouldn't be too happy about their situation. But say your needs are 40% of your income and your savings is 20% of your income leaving 40% of your income for wants (=disposable income). That's definitely a much happier situation than 70% needs, 20% savings, and 10% wants. Thus by figuring out ways not to pay for needs,… Read more »

Ryan Tomlinson
Ryan Tomlinson
9 years ago

This line of reasoning has a large caveat associated with it. The amount of “wants” you can afford is entirely predicated on the amount of money you have to start with. 5% of $200,000 is much more than 20% of $10,000.

Early Retirement Extreme
Early Retirement Extreme
9 years ago
Reply to  Ryan Tomlinson

Of course, but on my slightly less than $7000/year budget, 20% are still wants.

Evangeline
Evangeline
9 years ago

Ian decided what mattered most to him, worked hard to achieve it and is living his very own dream rather than some life somebody else expected him to. Simple, yet brilliant. I respect your hard work and determination. I bet you have a lot more peace of mind than most people with three times the income. Congratulations.

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