Thrifty Homesteads and Family Fortunes

Sorry for the lack of posts lately.  The weather is great outside right now and my to-do list just seems to grow.  We’re not even finding/making time to read right now.  My pile of unfinished/reread/just for fun books grows…

It’s all compost and gardens with a smattering of turkey processing.

We are still reading Bill Bonner’s Family Fortunes.  We found a passage that seems familiar to us.

When we were driving through western Pennsylvania recently, we were struck by how cheap it would be to live there.  Houses are very inexpensive, at least compared to what we’re used to in the Baltimore-Washington metro area.  You could have your own garden.  A few goats, chickens and rabbits.  An old car.  A wood stove.  A library card and an Amazon account.

What more do you need?  Once you were set up, it’s hard to see what you could spend money on.  There are no shops worth frequenting, no restaurants worth dining at, no nightclubs, no theatres – not much of anything.

Would this be a barren and boring life?  Not at all!  Gardening, building, reading, visiting with friends, watching movies on the home computer.  What more could you want?  And with such low fixed costs, you could easily splurge from time to time with a weekend in Manhattan or Miami.

What would be a reasonable budget for a life like that?  Maybe $1,000 per month.

OK.  Well, I guess we’re living the dream…though I’m quite a bit west of western Pennsylvania.  I have a few thoughts on the passage above.  He’s not really writing about a dream life of gardening and chickens.  He’s writing about the need to minimize expenses in case your family fortune isn’t measured in millions.  In his example, he suggests a “fortune” of $300,000 at 4% interest to keep you in that $1,000 per month category.  With that, he thinks you could live quite well on your little farm in Timbuktu.  I think you can do better but let’s explore his example.

Garden:  With season extension your garden can provide a huge portion of your family groceries.  Check out The Winter Harvest Handbook, How to Grow More Vegetables.  Get yourself a small greenhouse and you should be in pretty good shape.  Just go out and get your hands dirty.

Goats: Ugh.  Sorry Caitlyn.  Goats are great because they are small enough to manage and they are generally fun to be around (does anyway).  BUT they jump fences, crawl under fences and turn themselves into a fog and pass right through fences.  They’ll destroy your fruit trees if given the chance.  They’ll help themselves to your lovely broccoli plants.  In short, they’ll compete with you for things you want to eat.  Even if you manage to keep them fenced (we keep ours fenced…now) it’s hard to keep things they like in front of them.  Goats like browse.  They want to eat tree leaves and woody, growing tips of branches.  There are a few weeds they like to eat.  This is a good thing early on if you live on neglected ground.  But after a season or two, the voracious appetites of your goat friends will have the weeds and brush under control.  Then what?  Well, they don’t eat grass.  So I guess you’re going to have to feed them alfalfa hay.  Remember Bill’s goal of living under $1,000/month?  It just went out the window.  

I’m going to suggest you buy raw milk from a neighbor or, if you have the room, get yourself a miniature dairy cow, specifically searching for a low-maintenance animal that does well without grain.  The goal is efficient conversion of sunlight into product and cows are just better at it than goats if your soil is in any kind of condition at all.  Milk is a great source of health and wealth on the farm as you can feed yourself, your pigs or even your chicks with milk.  Even the soil benefits from a feeding of milk.  But goats, as great as they are, may not be the best means to that end.

Chickens and Rabbits:
I absolutely agree.  But, if you’re looking to minimize expenses, just keep a few hens for eggs.  Better yet, keep a few ducks as they will eat more grass and weeds than hens.  Rely on the rabbits to provide the meat.  Kept for those purposes, you can mostly feed both out of your garden…and you can mostly feed your garden out of the chickens and rabbits.  Meat birds require a lot of time and energy.  Meat rabbits just don’t.  Four heritage layers will keep your family in eggs for two years.  Then you get a few replacement birds and make soup with the old ones.

Old Car?  Check.

Wood Stove?  Check…but not installed yet.  It would be better to go with a rocket mass heater so you wouldn’t have to own a chainsaw, just a good pair of loppers.

Library Card?  Check.

Amazon Account?  Check.  But it requires restraint.  It’s easy to fill your bookshelves or your Kindle with books you’ll never get around to reading.  Budgets have to include time.  Time.  Where does it all go?

$300,000?  Nope.  Not even close.  We have tens of dollars.  Dozens even.  But we’re moving in the right direction.

Other than that I’d say he’s not far off.  If we didn’t have a house payment and didn’t drive to town for work every day our monthly outflow would be something on the order of $1,000.  The difficulty comes when we need to make capital investments in our property to increase fertility, productivity or water retention…but I’m looking at it as a business and he’s just looking for a place to live.

I would also suggest a pig or two for your thrifty homestead to consume garden waste, orchard waste, kitchen waste and sour milk.  Mmmmm…bacon.

Well, those are my thoughts on it.  Let me know your thoughts in comments.