Ironically, the decision to become self-sustainable so you don't need as much money requires....well....money. Fruit trees, garden beds, seeds, animals, sewing machines, and property - they are investments. There's ways around investment shock of course. Repurposing, recycling, things like that. I know some real die-hard self-sufficient families who've built homes and lives from the free stuff all around them. I'm not at that level, though. I still need cash for stuff. Like tea. And chicken mugs. And hardware cloth.
A while ago, back before my divorce was imminent, I wrote a blog post featuring ways you can make money outside the rat race. They remain valid, fantastic ideas (*ahh-em), ideas I'll be leaning on heavily in the months to come....but lately I've found myself working the opposite angle - defensive spending. I find saving what little money I make is almost as important as making it.
Electricity and Gas and Water and Garbage - Oh My!
Utilities kick my sweet little ass each month. If the electricity bill is low, it means it's winter and the gas bill will be high. If the gas bill is low, it's 102 degrees outside and our electric air conditioner is pumping like Arnold. I live on a well, which means I don't pay public water usage fees, but my well pump, well bladder, and water filter run by electricity. And I do pay someone each month to come take my trash whether I produce garbage or not.
In a perfect world I would live in a straw bale cottage on a hill next to a rolling creek that spun my water wheel while I sat sunbathing with my solar panels, my kids "flushed" compostable toilets, and my wind turbines swooshed through the air.
But that is not my life right now. Maybe someday.
Until then, I manage my utilities the best I can.
- Energy-efficient light bulbs
- Turn lights off the minute sunlight starts to streak the sky
- Reduce the use of the a/c in the summer by utilizing cross-ventilation
- Use a special switch that, when turned off, does the equivalent of "pulling the plug" on all computer add-ons (printers, monitors, speakers)
- Limit clothes drying - use a line on nice days and dryer balls made of wool the rest of the time. Side note: Those little dryer balls save at least 20 minutes of dry time and they replace those crappy chemical-laden dryer sheets. Score!
- Set gas-powered furnace thermostat allowances in the fall so you don't get tempted to crank them up each winter
- Use plastic on drafty windows and heavy curtains when possible to help seal out the cold
- Keep that gas-powered oven open after you're done and let that leftover heat warm the house
- Caulk cracks and leaks in your home
- Use door draft stoppers and weather stripping
- Limit showers to once every-other day or on days when you're REAL stinky. Honestly the human body does better when it isn't dehydrated by steaming hot water every single morning...it helps your hair, your skin, your private zones, your nails, the environment, and of course, water bills.
- Wear your jeans 2-3 times before washing and use the lowest water level possible for each load of laundry
- Turn off the sink when you brush your teeth or when you rub your soap/oil onto your face
- Have a "flush with #2 only" rule for your toilet. Don't freak out. Pee is water that's passed through your kids'/significant other's body, that's it. Some cultures drink it, ok? I think it'll be alright if it sits in a covered, porcelain bowl for a minute.
- Use that leftover pasta water to water your plants (let it cool first!)
- Stop buying disposable products. I reduced my paper towel use by getting cute "unpaper" towels from Etsy. I don't use disposable feminine hygiene products at all anymore which is honestly the best. I use regular plates and bowls instead of paper whenever I can.
- Recycle and reuse. That plastic spinach container would also be awesome for fermenting chicken feed. Jus' sayin.
- Compost. Stop throwing out your leftover produce! Remove those horrific plastic stickers before tossing in the compost bin, though. They don't compost.
- Donate your unwanted clothes and bedding and furniture. Garbage-picking is hip and trendy now, too, so when I have something big to toss (like a huge unhooked antenna the previous owners left on my roof) I leave it on my curb and viola! By morning it is gone.
We just talked about creating our own source of food. But my number one way to save money on groceries? I meal plan like a boss. Seriously. Every Friday night I grab my meal notebook and list the days and the dinner for the day. I don't plan breakfasts or lunches....my kiddos typically eat either cereal or oatmeal each morning with some fruit if they're still hungo. Lunches are also typically the same foods each day...either turkey or ham, some bread, cheese or yogurt, spinach, almonds, fruit, and if they eat all that, some "special" crackers (organic bunny crackers). Dinnertime is when I get creative.
- Keep the staples stocked, especially during sales. My freezer almost always has a frozen ground meat and a frozen veggie of some sort. My pantry almost always has broth, tomato puree/sauce, or rice. I keep it stocked this way because gosh forbid I forget an ingredient and can't make my planned dinner, I at least have the makings of a full meal on-hand.
- Use the same ingredient multiple times. I never eat an entire avocado in one dinner, but if I can use half for dinner on Tuesday and the other half for dinner Thursday, I'm golden, baby. I can justify that cost. I'll do this a ton with expensive perishable ingredients, like bell peppers.
- It's ok to repeat! My kids get pasta once a week. They get some sort of sausage-veggie dish once a week. We have homemade pizza night every Friday. This is ok! They don't get sick of it and it helps my meal planning fly by.
- Invest in some awesome cookbooks. I love the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Farm-Fresh and Fast by Fairshare, a CSA Coalition, the Moosewood Cookbook, and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. These books offer simple, seasonal recipes that allow me to walk in the door with whatever I could find at the farmer's market and be fully capable of creating a delicious meal for me and my kids.
- Make a list and that is it. So many times I head to the grocery store and find myself wanting to slip into the past, where snacks and "easy" frozen foods dominated my palate. Don't do it. Make your meal plan, make your list of things you need only for that meal plan, and then don't get anything else but the things on your list. That is it.
- Experiment with farmer's markets. Can you buy your entire list at a farmer's market? Would it be more expensive or less? Give it a shot. How flexible are the items on your list? Can you use potatoes instead of cauliflower? Do these farmers offer Community Supported Agriculture shares? Would it be cheaper to get your produce that way and plan your meals around the produce you're given? This is your money and your food. Work with your community farmers to get your needs met. I promise, you'd be considered their dream customer if you did this.
Gifting Your Time and Effort
Christmas, showers, and birthdays once made me very nervous. I was afraid if I didn't get the best present, the most memorable gift, I would be considered "cheap" or "poor" or *gasp* "a bad friend/daughter/sister." I've since given up on that theory. I've decided homemade gifts, like my Triple B Balm, actually showcase my love for the recipient as they take my time, attention, and love to create. Do they save me money? Yes. But they require so much more than a $20 bill on a counter. They mean more for me to give and, I hope, more to the person receiving them.
- "Experience" gifts are awesome. Take your daughter to the city instead of throwing a huge party.
- Cook your girlfriend dinner
- Offer to be DD for a night out
- Watch kids and pets so the person you are celebrating doesn't need to
- Build, design, clean, or counsel
Pay Yourself First
Now this one is straight from Suze Orman. I'll never forget sitting in Germany on my crappy Army-supplied, who-knows-where-this-couch-has-been housing sofa, watching Suze on TV and it was like she was talking directly to me. "Your kids have the chance to get student loans. Nobody's going to give you a loan to retire!" My kids don't have college savings. In a perfect world, of course, they would. But they don't. I put whatever measly amount I can (right now it's $20 a month) into a retirement account....for me. I suppose it should be more than that, but I consider some of the homesteading things I pay for "investments" in my future. I consider home improvements investments for my future. These are all things that will potentially help me live better, with less, when I am old and gray.
Stashin' for Sales
I do not coupon, typically because I do not remember them, I cannot keep track of them, and I don't like to stray from my list unless I absolutely must or I need a staple item.
Instead, I electronically garage sale. I'm a member of about 5 different Facebook groups dedicated to "garage sale" communities around my area. I scan Craigslist every Thursday. People post some really fantastic, incredible deals on these sites. I love it.
The downside? Even a $75 dining set costs $75. I don't typically have $75 just lying around and in these situations, jumping on the sale is key. There are 10 people just a mouse click behind you.
So I do two things:
- Keep a list of items to Be on the Lookout for. I keep my Be on the Lookout list on my phone so I always have it with me. I note anything from shelves and furniture to photography and plumbing services.
- Keep a Go Time stash. This is the only way I can afford nabbing the low-priced items I see. They literally are gone within minutes, especially if they are selling cheap. If you know you need a new couch, set aside a fraction of the cost it would take to buy new and make that your "highest" number for sales sites. This allows you to have the cash on-hand while also setting a budget for yourself.
Do it Yourself!
Two weeks ago we talked about how learning basic handiwork around the house can help you be self-sustainable. This is true for many elements of your home, not only your furnace and appliances.
- Out of Windex? Make your own cleaning products. I personally love using concentrated all-purpose cleaners and mixing them in a spray bottle with water, but rubbing alcohol, lemon juice, vinegar, and essential oils function the same way and are cheaper.
- Make your own clothes. This is one of my goals for the year. I received a sewing machine from my mother-by-love this year for my birthday and I am so, so excited to try it out. The price of organic fabric, even with shipping costs, often pales in comparison to the cost of organic bedding and clothing.
- Last week I shared ways of keeping yourself and your family healthy by making your own products. Many of the posts I linked to last week have a cost breakdown. Some items are cheaper, others are not. I am finding I buy ingredients for my homemade stuff twice a year....vastly different than purchasing stuff once or twice a month. Even with shipping and the increased base price of the items, I am saving money by making my own.
- Create your own entertainment. Turn off the lights, light candles, and enjoy a crockpot dinner by candlelight followed by board games and mad libs. Teach your kids how to write basic plotlines (main character, setting, conflict, resolution) and see how many awesome stories they come up with. Paint together. Cook. People watch. Chicken watch. Earthworm watch. You don't need fancy restaurants and theme parks to enjoy the weekends.
- Learn how to change your own oil, filters, and wiper blades. And how to change a lawnmower blade.
- Mow your own lawn. As a newly-single woman, I am terrified of this for some reason. I don't mind doing the backyard...it's the front, where people can see me. I always pity the poor, sweating, awkward woman pushing the mower along her lawn...it's awful because I'm a bit of a feminist. We can do anything! ....except mow the lawn. I don't know why, it just makes me sad. And I don't want people to pity me. So I'm going to figure out how to be the hottest lawn-mowing woman on the planet. I'm going to find a way to rock the crap out of that lawn. And you can too.
Money isn't fun. Making money is stressful, even when you're doing something you love. Saving money is stressful, even when you're good at cutting back. Once the initial startup costs associated with a new way of life taper off, however, you'll find a sustainable, self-sufficient way of living helps with both. Or at least makes it so you don't care nearly as much about money at all. How wonderful that would be! :)
How about you, dear readers? Do you have any money-saving tricks you'd like to share, or unique ways to make money? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)
Did you miss a Self-Sufficient Life series post? Don't worry! Here's what we've covered so far: