Running a homestead (or household in general) can be an expensive enterprise. So can living in the country for that matter! Many folks striving towards self sufficiency will argue that you shouldn’t go into debt to do it and I’m inclined to agree. Using credit or borrowing money from a bank and self sufficiency are essentially opposites. In general debt isn’t a good thing so if you can avoid it I would.
So if we’re trying to avoid debt to do what we love, then we need to find areas to cut/decrease costs so we can afford that new greenhouse, fencing, new grain mill or whatever it is you’re saving up for. Here’s some of the areas our family works on in order to keep the budget reasonable and not rack up debt doing what we love.
Winter in southern Ontario can be a very expensive time of year, especially if you live rural and rely on oil and propane to heat your house like we do. One day we hope to switch the propane fireplaces for wood burning, but it might be a few years before we can do that. So in the meantime here are some tips to reduce your spending in the winter months.
- Ensure your house is well insulated – thankfully our landlord took care of this for us.
- Seal your windows and doors you won’t be using (like a sliding door) with plastic.
- Lower the temperature in the house – we keep the house at 20 degrees Celsius during the day and 17 at night.
- Use a programmable thermostat so you can schedule when the temperature should increase and decrease in the house.
- Wear layers and the appropriate clothing.
- If you’re cold put on a sweater or a pair of slippers. Undershirts and wool socks go a long way to keep a person warm.
- Cover the windows with thick curtains or wool blankets – close them at night and open them when the sun is coming in.
- Close the vents to rooms that aren’t used or seldom used.
- Use your ceiling fans in the opposite direction to force all that lovely hot air back down.
- After you use your oven keep the door open so you don’t waste that trapped heat.
Other than rent and utilities, food is by far our largest expense. Finding ways to cope with ever increasing food costs is imperative.
- Grow food. This is by far one of the best ways you can reduce your grocery budget. Even a small backyard garden can make a dent in the money you spend on food.
- Preserve the food you grow by freezing, canning or dehydrating.
- Eat in season and eat local.
- Food is cheaper when it’s in season so stock up on your favourites while you can get them locally and fresh.
- Eat home-cooked meals each day.
- Store bought convenience foods will never be as cheap as homemade food. Now I know home-cooking takes time that a lot of you folks don’t have. Invest in a deep freeze and start batch cooking. Instead of making one meal of soup make four and freeze the rest. Better yet organize cooking parties with friends or freezer meal swaps. I always say, my family eats home-cooked every night, but I don’t cook every night. 😉
- Buy in bulk and buy on sale; this is especially true when we’re talking about pantry staples like rice, beans, quinoa etc.
Utilities, Bills & Miscellaneous Expenses
I use my dad’s old joke about how much money I owe “Bill” pretty much every month. Life is expensive! Especially hydro in Ontario when you pay high delivery fees like we do. Finding areas to cut back on is crucial when you have a homestead/household to run. Here are some of our tips:
- Use energy efficient lighting wherever possible. To save even more money look for rebates and sales on these light
- Turn off the lights when you aren’t in a room anymore.
- Lower the heat and live without air conditioning…. better yet install ceiling fans to avoid air conditioning all together.
- The furnace uses electricity friends!
- Hang dry your laundry – outside in the summer and inside in the winter.
- If your hydro provider has off and on peak hours then run your dishwasher and washing machine overnight to avoid high kw/h prices.
- Power bars that shut off and timers can also help save on electricity costs.
- Cancel your landline phone; if both adults have a cell phone then a landline might be an unnecessary expense.
- Cancel your cable television folks.
- We haven’t paid for cable in almost a decade. Netflix sets us back $9.99 a month and if you have an Android box (or equivalent) you can use wicked streaming channels like Kodi which has practically every movie/TV show you could possibility think of.
- Live with one vehicle if you can. This is something that we have been doing for a few years now and while it is challenging it does save us a lot of money. Each car means insurance, gas and car payments (unless you can buy one with cash). And don’t forget repairs and regular maintenance.
Using What You Have
Make use of everything you have access to on your property. If you read my post about uses for fall leaves, then you’ll know that we’re producing our own soil using the leaves and grass clippings we have on our property. This allows us to spend soil money on other things like fencing, chicken feed, seeds and other such things.
We used scrap wood for our garden boxes and stones foraged from other parts of the property to make the herb spiral. We are making full use of the existing barn structure for the chickens and we plan to convert part of our four car garage into a workshop/teaching space for Spiraea.
Buy Used For What You Don’t Have
Whenever possible we buy used…well… pretty much anything we can. Most of our clothing comes from second hand shops. Both our snow blower and riding lawn mower were used and so was our car. Monkey man gets used books and toys all the time; he certainly couldn’t care less!
With Kijiji and buy sell groups on Facebook it’s so easy to find most of what you are looking for. It’s also a great idea to use these groups to sell items you no longer need. When we lived in Oshawa I got every single brick we used to make our first herb spiral for free off someone on Kijiji.
Know When Not to Cut Corners
We learned this the hard way this year as we endeavoured to use dollar store purchased materials to build trellises and had every single one collapse at some point over the summer. Some things are just worth spending money on like good quality seeds, proper equipment/tools, fencing and trellis materials. If you go cheap and it breaks the money is wasted. Do that two or three times and suddenly you’ve just paid for the more expensive option. Catching my drift?
My friend Anita always reminds me to have patience. When you have a dream this can be easier said than done, believe me I know! But we have learned that slow growth is sustainable growth. It’s why we named our homestead Snails Trails. It would be nice to have goats and a greenhouse and a medicinal herb garden three times the size that we have now, but if I was suddenly gifted all of these things overnight, I would be drowning in the the responsibilities that came with it. So slow growth is not only good for your pocket book, it helps with what could be a very steep learning curve.
If you have any additional tips or suggestions I may have missed please comment! I always love hearing how other folks manage to run their homesteads on a frugal budget.
Until next time,