My previous post was a somewhat fictionalized version of what I’m up against. Now, as our friends at SailorsSmallFarm pointed out, it’s not all that different than what someone could be up against living in suburbia (though my mortgage was never more than $120k…and I thought that was a huge number!). But it is a big, sobering number. Today I’m going to revisit the subject briefly, smoothing some rough edges I left behind. Hope I don’t make things worse.
I’m not really wanting to compare city mouse and country mouse. I’m not even wanting to dive into earnings vs. expenditures. Really, I was wanting an honest assessment of the pure cost of my chosen lifestyle which, from my perspective, is incredibly pricey but far, far lower than I see in much of my peer group.
But, for you city mice, running a business has nothing to do with location. There are an infinite number of businesses that can be run from a suburban home. But in any case, you have to make some decisions about your personal financial condition. 15 years ago I spent 90% of my time traveling for work. As a newlywed. Yeah. To pass the evenings I spent a lot of time reading, studying and talking to people: my wife, my father, my father’s father…and my wife’s grandfather (Alan). Alan was one of several who helped me to change direction in life. To paraphrase him, “If you want to get ahead in life you have to work a little harder than the next guy. Your job won’t get it done. You have to do a little extra work on the side. Who are arguably the smartest people? Would you count college professors among them? They spend a lot of time writing books. If some of the smartest people need extra work, what does that tell you?” He then emphasized the need for a business, not another job. So if you are stuck in town, start mowing grass or bookkeeping or cleaning houses or take on a few remodel jobs. The point is, you have to do something. That said, beyond just working, you have to make a few changes.
You have to start questioning every dollar you spend. Otherwise, that new business income will just float away. The farm will be lost. Every action you take is a decision. In the words of Geddy Lee, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” How do you decide where to deploy your money?
We have made (and continue to make) certain sacrifices to support our lifestyle. I could rattle off a long list of “weird” things we do that really are pretty normal. Anything from cutting my own hair to canning peaches. What percentage of the population make (or eat) sauerkraut anymore? Butcher hogs? How many women are content to get their ends cut once every 6 months to a year? In reality, these things aren’t all that weird at all, it’s just that nobody knows how to can anymore. …or how to cook. …or how to bake bread without the help of a machine. …or are comfortable with their natural hair color. So we are able to save money because we have preserved these skills across generations and picked up from books…and because we’re weird.
And, look. I know this is little stuff. I cut my own hair every month saving as much as $120/year. Not a huge savings. But I also cut the boys’ hair. (I know I’m not saying anything new here.) The little things add up. The $30 magazine subscription, the extra $x to get cable along with internet, the extra $x to get that premium channel, that cup of coffee to reward yourself…even if you “reward” yourself every day. I’m not even talking about boats, motorcycles, vacation homes, swimming pools or Disney vacations or tractors, diesel dually pickups or 4-wheelers…none of which you will die without. I’m talking about daily decisions that affirm and enable a certain lifestyle choice…making positive choices to enable your financial future.
This has nothing to do with being a farmer but it has everything to do with staying a farmer. Not only do I have to spend less than I earn (which is easy by the way (more on that in a bit)), I have to plan what I’m spending money on. I’m attempting to run a business. A few days ago I described a need for a return on capital. If I don’t get rewarded for my risk, why take the risk? What’s the point? I need to see increase (If you need motivation here, go read Matt. 25:14-30). I only have $X. I only have Y time. I need the XY product to be great. Raising more chickens requires more time but returns more cash compared to cattle. Chickens also require higher inputs. I’ll talk more about our experiences with the economics of cattle, pigs and chickens in later posts but none of the dollar values matter if I lack time. Budgeting time itself is critical and is the subject of the next post in this series.
On Spending Less Than You Earn:
I feel somewhat silly saying this. Figure out how much you earn. Figure out how much you are spending. Cut the spending till it fits, no matter how much it hurts. As a rule, increasing earnings results in increasing expenses so you just have to do this and do it now! (though increasing your earnings is, generally, a good idea). It’s so simple, anybody outside of government can do this math. I understand that simple != easy. I get it. This practice gets even better when you can hide a portion of your income from yourself and cut your spending further. And further. Pretty soon your credit cards are paid off, your school loans, car loans, mortgage…it’s all behind you. So. There you go. Really, hiding money from yourself and not extending additional credit is all the budget you need. Can you believe people write whole books on this stuff…mollycoddling or, more likely, patronizing their readers? Can you believe people buy books on this stuff? No wonder they are broke. This is the voice of experience talking. My name is Chris and I’m a recovering spendaholic.
One Final Thought:
Money is a societal bug-a-boo. We don’t talk about it. We don’t like to think about it. If you are my age it is quite likely that you think of rich people as bad. That they have obviously done something wrong or immoral to get that money…or their ancestors did. That having money proves one is immoral. That poverty is preferred over prosperity. I don’t think this post is the place to refute such nonsense. Just understand, if you think money is bad…if you think money is your enemy…if you confuse the verse and think money is the root of all evil instead of the love of money, you will find it always eludes you. (I really don’t think Paul is condemning rich people (1 Timothy 6), he’s condemning people who desire riches rather than the source of blessing. See Solomon, Abram, Jehoshaphat, Job….) Money is a tool. A powerful tool. A tool you can use to save the world. But you have to have it to use it. If you think money is bad, you really need to change your mindset. Money won’t stay where it is not welcome.
I guess I am just an old relic,I know how to can up food,bake bread,and cook from scratch.I don’t cut my own hair. We have a daughter that does the cutting for us.
Not a relic. I think we (small town Midwesterners with a strong bent toward frugality) are increasingly unique though.
Spend less than you earn is one of those simple things that could make life a lot easier for people, but which many find very hard to achieve. At work I see people with a latte in one hand and cellphone in the other, complaining because they got a library fine for returning something late. It’s called a consequence – a choice. I think there’s a pervasive attitude in our culture of entitlement – and I know I succumb to it myself occasionally (around chocolate in particular). People, and I think it’s mostly my generation and younger, believe they are entitled to the perks of a comfortable lifestyle, without necessarily being willing to put in the hard slog to achieve these things. I don’ think governments at any level set a great example in this regard, and I don’t think banks take good care of their clients either. At the end of the day, though, you’re absolutely right – each of us makes choices whether we know it or not.
I love your example of the college profs who write books. I never thought about it before, but absolutely true.
I always have trouble with the parable of the talents, and I have heard it preached from many angles, none of which have entirely satisfied me. It works best for me when I think about it as talent rather than money, but even then…
Thanks for those thoughts. I’m so glad you comment on my blog. You always tweak me for a little more than I have written and it pushes me to work harder.
I take the parable just as it is written. We could probably apply any of several meanings to it that are correct but I take it to mean we have to be careful stewarding His money. It’s all about stewardship…on the farm, as a father or in the wallet. None of this is mine.
Our daughter (15) has a friend who, until last year, had never had a homemade cookie. She was visiting his house and showed him how to make cookies from scratch. First ones he had ever had.
Would like to see his family’s grocery budget. I’m guessing it doesn’t include pastured-raised pork…