This post is going to be about something that I am extremely passionate about, but also something that makes me feel vulnerable. I am a regular reader of “Mother Earth News” and love reading about other people living their dreams and starting a sustainable homestead. Every time I read one of those articles, I think to myself, ‘yes, but they worked for decades and made loads of money before they were able to do that’. Or ‘yes, but they inherited 40 prime acres to start with’. I’m still excited for the people and love reading about what they’re doing, but I have always wanted to do that.
As I read sustainability articles, it always bothers me that it takes a HUGE infusion of money at some point. So I want to talk about money. I’m passionate about money because I’m very proud of my views of money. I like that I feel that I control my money rather than my money controlling me. I’ve read ‘Your Money or Your Life’ and I try to live by those principles… I rather have my life than money. This is an important topic for me and something I feel that I do well in my life. BUT, if you were to see me and my financial records, you may not agree.
According to bank statements, I live WELL below the poverty level. I just don’t make a lot of money. And I have a lot of kids. Based on the American standard of success… I’m not. I feel vulnerable with this idea because I’m proud of living on little, but I’m afraid of being judged and I’m hypocritical in that sometimes I wish I had just loads of money so I could do everything I wanted to live sustainably and right now.
Now that I’m thinking of it, I don’t think that having the money and just having stuff done is sustainable. I think that a big part of sustainability is not having enough money to complete a project so that you have to meet people and get to know people and how to get things for cheap. You have to build relationships and network in order to get things done with limited resources. Sustainability isn’t just being able to provide everything that you need for yourself, but knowing the people you need to trade with or otherwise work with to fill needs.
I digressed, sorry. I feel that one of the greatest things that I have done with the farm that we are starting is that we’ve never made loads of money. I’ve never had a job that paid more than $35k/year and I haven’t worked for decades and decades to save. We did get a very generous loan from my in-laws, but it’s a business transaction that they benefit from as well and we anticipate paying them back, in full, within a few years. We would not have been able to get this loan conventionally because of the situation on the property, so we did cheat a little (and I’m grateful for that).
So how do you get land and the starts to living sustainably without loads of money? Patience (or good timing) and the willingness to sacrifice. We have wanted to start a farm for a long time, but the right situation has never presented itself. We waited, sometimes less than patiently, but eventually the right property arose. While there are some issues, I would consider this property perfect. It is within a day’s drive to my wife’s family. I can ride my bike to work and yet it was an affordable 5 acres.
The willingness to sacrifice is really the big thing that enabled us to pursue a sustainable lifestyle with property and all. When we left Kentucky, we decided that we would not sacrifice our dreams. We were looking for a job and a place to raise a large family and be sustainable. We had a list of things that we wanted and we were living (the 6 of us at the time) in a 30 foot travel trailer until we found the right situation. While I was looking for a full-time job, I got an offer for a part-time position that seemed like it could work. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Sure, with a part-time job comes a part-time paycheck, but I only work twice a week. I have five days a week to spend with my family working on our farm. It means that we do more by hand. It means that we do without more things, but it means that I get to spend lots of time with my family.
I got distracted again… I was talking about sacrifice. I can’t overstate the importance of doing without. First off, it’s part of sustainability, doing without some conveniences that are unsustainable. But it is also what allows us to have money. We don’t eat out, we don’t go to movies or bowling. The activities that we do are free. We just don’t buy much stuff.
Another part of sacrifice is avoiding debt. I have never seen other people’s monthly expenses, but I can imagine. We do not have a car payment, a credit card payment, student loan payments, or any other interest (except our ‘mortgage’ that we pay to my in-laws), no cable or satellite bill, the cheapest phone and internet that you can find (both limited). Aside from utilities and mortgage, we have avoid fees that we have to pay monthly. If we can’t buy it all now, we won’t get it. That leaves a lot leftover for the expenses associated with starting a farm. And it leaves us with the time it takes to work on things on the farm together.
So I had reached a crossroads in my life, I had the option of pursuing money, but I opted instead to live my life. I may not have a full retirement account, but I don’t think I’m going to have any regrets.