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  #1  
Old 07-10-2016, 08:06 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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Default When does homesteading begin to pay off?

OK, yes, I realize it's not all about money. I mean, financially, it probably makes sense never to have children, grow flowers or keep pets! Growing your own food isn't just about being frugal. It's empowering to know you can do something productive with your own hands. It's satisfying to look out at your backyard and know your next fresh, healthy meal is coming from there.

However, trying to save money is part of the equation. Basically, we want to produce more so we can buy less, and gain more financial freedom. I'm sure we're not alone wishing that. But I am a little overwhelmed by initial costs of everything. For example, now I'm looking at the possibility of getting a couple of goats so we can make our own dairy products. Then I look at prices of goats, their housing, their feed, and try to calculate when those costs would be offset by the savings of not having to buy milk, cheese and yogurt. And the more I think about it, the more mind-boggling it all seems.

Then there are the setbacks. You know, a heat wave, frost, a fox in the chicken coop, unexpected disease. We've had goats stolen from us in the past, after having them for about two days. We don't want that to happen again.

I wonder if any of you have read Jean de Florette, by Marcel Pagnol. It's about a man who inherits a parcel of rural land, leaves the city and starts to farm with stars in his eyes and plenty of enthusiasm, but is thwarted by lack of water and poor financial planning, which subsequently destroy him and lead him to his death. Nobody wants to head in that direction.

So here is what I want to ask: when did your homestead make the shift from taking your money to saving you money? When did you start enjoying the benefits of being more self-reliant and less grocery-store reliant? And do you have any tips of accelerating the process - doing thing more cheaply, efficiently and prudently so that homesteading can really accomplish its purpose - making people more self-sufficient and reducing their expenses?
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Old 07-10-2016, 09:40 AM
doc doc is offline
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A couple thoughts arise from your question:

Abundance of supply and govt subsidies to ag keep food prices much lower in the US than in the rest of the world (contributing to our obesity problem here.) This means the financial advantage to "growing your own" is not all that pronounced, especially when considering risks of crop failure, loss of animals to disease, theft (as you have experienced) etc.

And then there's the problem of economy of scale : raising one head of beef may save you $1500 from your food bill, and raising the second head for sale may earn you an additional $1000. How important is that additional money to your yearly income? How many head would you have to raise, with the additional costs & risks of failure, to make it worth it? -- Now run the same argument for, say, tomatoes.

Organic food isn't really any healthier for us physically, but growing our own is good for our mental health. As you suggest, it's just plain satisfying to produce your own food.

Many of us try to produce our own food here in the US for security reasons. Yet another example of civil unrest here is currently in the news from Dallas. We fear this could become a widespread occurrence that disrupts food supply for an extended period of time. You can't put a price on that. It may become essential for survival. You probably have thoughts about that too, living in your neck of the woods.
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Old 07-10-2016, 10:07 AM
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coaltrain Male coaltrain is offline
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I've never thought of my homestead as a financial endeavor. If anything you have to watch that the things you try to grow or raise doesn't cost you more than just buying the goods.

Doc has a good point. With our pigs for example we did well. We would buy 6 piglets in the spring and butcher them in the fall. We would take them to a meat processor instead of butchering/packaging ourselves. The reason for this was that we sold 4 of the 6 pigs each year as packaged/frozen meat. Most people buying a side of or a whole pig around here for meat want the meat to come from a professional processing plant.

So we raised 6 - sold 4 - and basically broke even with having 2 pigs worth of meat for free.

Beef was tough for us as we didn't have enough pasture - cost us more to buy feed and hay throughout the year than it was to buy a beef from a local farmer and had it processed at the meat plant.

I don't think any "homestead" will be profitable unless you get into more of a commercial production of a certain item. Homesteading is more of a state of mind - and a great one. But to think it would even be "profitable" is more of a dream.
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Old 07-10-2016, 10:15 AM
Setanta Male Setanta is offline
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I typed a long response then my screen froze, so now I will be making a shorter one lol.

looking at it from the perspective of saving money isn't the best way to look at it. its better to consider it a reallocation of work. if you work 40 hours a week you will not have time to make your own stuff so an employer is paying you a common currency so you can buy stuff from someone else. if you spend the time needed to do things yourself you won't e making money but you won't be spending much either.

my farm didn't cost me much money, I had a catastrophic financial implosion that ruined my credit, lost my house and car to the bank, and left me with very little. I used what I had left to buy 4 acres of junk land, had a beat up geo tracker, and a 40 year old camper with a pile of misc handtools (this story is in self reliance magazine in more detail), I spent the first year focused on getting firewood stockpiled, land cleared, and setting up a winter shelter. when I wasn't at work (50+ hours a week+ carpool or bike time after the geo died) I was working on my lot, to save money I used only hand tools since I didn't have much money to begin with, most of what I made at work was being saved up to buy better tools or for the winter shelter. on rainy days I would sit outside under a tarp cobbling and tinkering with broken tools and junk to make the stuff I needed (shovel handles, clothespins, baskets, pitchforks, vices, etc), if I could get a task done with an improvised tool that was made from scrap in my free time I could offset spending money on a quality tool and put money into more critical uses. it was simply solving one problem after another.

then after just under a year I was laid off due to budget cuts, so I had no money anymore, I had no car, no money, but had lots of free time so I depended on the farm for a living, making full time work out of working bad soil, cutting wood, and building stuff out of scavenged junk. cost nothing but took a lot of time.

slowly I improved the place, replaced homemade tools with better ones as I could find them, built a better cabin and improved it, eventually saved up enough to buy a much larger piece of land, then bought better tools and equipment, and built a better cabin, better outbuildings, I used the proceeds from one project to fund the next to make 2 times as much.

I started cutting wood to sell with a hand saw and ax and a laundry basket to carry it, I used the money selling wood to buy a wheelbarrow and chainsaw and cut 10 times as fast, then I used that money to buy an ATV and trailer and other small tools, an was cutting even faster, then this year I upgraded to a tractor for skidding and have a wood splitter to run off it.

homesteading doesn't save you money, it is better to see it as avoiding spending and having a greater control of how you make a living (also more flexibility, professional trades can collapse, but on a homestead you can easily shift what you produce given current conditions). when I produce anything I use it myself first, then I stockpile or preserve some of it to cover a season in case of a future shortage, then I sell the surplus (if any) to recover costs and fund future projects. your really eplacing one type of making a living for another.
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Old 07-10-2016, 10:47 AM
Setanta Male Setanta is offline
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after reading Coaltrain and Docs posts I would also agree that you shouldn't put effort into things that are still cheaper to buy

a pint of greenbeans in the store costs $5, you can plant $10 worth of seeds and get 15 bushels worth of green beans. when I sell beans $5 per gallon I can keep 5 bushels for my own use (sautéed with garlic and olive oil, yum), fresh or canned, then sell 10 bushels to make $500, $450 profit after all costs for seeds, gallon bags, etc.

but I can also buy 50 LB of potatoes for $13, and blight kills my spuds every year when I try growing my own, selling a bushel of green beans would let me buy 200 LB of potatoes.

when I was on my 4 acre lot I couldn't keep chickens so I grew extra squash and beans and traded them to a friend with chickens for eggs (they ate some of the produce and the rest went to the chickens). after I moved to my bigger lot I ended up getting those same chickens from my friend (free), then I got more free chickens, got a chicken coop and scrapped my woodchuck fence from my old lot to fence the run, so I got a flock and all the other stuff essentially free, and I get 2 dozen eggs a day, I sell the ones I don't use but at the rate they eat feed I am recovering 2 times the feed costs per week, so they are covering their own costs, plus generating a small income to reinvest later, plus I get all the free eggs I can use. if not for drought this year I would have had plenty of surplus produce to feed them and I offset some of their feed costs by letting them forage in the woods (which also cuts down the ticks). once established everything works together like a well oiled machine, chickens eat the ticks, dog eats scrambled eggs and doesn't get ticks, dog helps protect chickens from foxes and raccoons. chickens also eat bugs in the garden and provide fertilizer, the garden provides chicken feed.
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Old 07-10-2016, 10:55 AM
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MotherCharlotte MotherCharlotte is offline
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I think this is an excellent question, and the responses thus far have been very interesting.

I would tend to agree that, depending on where you live, homesteading might never actually turn a profit. In today's world, in most places, food at the store is cheaper than ever before. We live in Canada, and although food here is a bit more expensive than in the US, it's still pretty affordable, especially when you buy local produce in season, or only buy meat when it's a good sale. For example, when local carrots are at the store I can buy a 10 lb bag for about $2. I honestly don't think I can grow carrots for that cheap, unless I always saved my own seeds, and I don't really want to bother with that. Sometimes, the grocery store even has 20lb bags of potatoes for $2. I can't possibly grow them for that cheap.

BUT - the carrots I grow at home taste, I would say, about 20 times better than the ones from the store. And they are organically grown. And, I enjoyed the process of growing them. And same with potatoes - the home grown ones are without compare. So for me, there are better reasons to homestead than saving money.

I will admit that when my husband and I bought this country property 4 years ago, we fully expected that we would save money by growing our own food. We saw that it was costing more all the time to feed our 4 children (not only because they were growing, but because food costs have increased a lot here in recent years, especially on produce), and this was one of the main reasons we wanted to live in the country and produce our own food.

Needless to say, it didn't quite work out that way! We quickly saw that it's expensive to set up a homestead. It's expensive to feed chickens. It's expensive to buy topsoil to fill the garden beds when all you have is pure clay to work with. It's expensive to buy wood to add on to the barn. It's expensive to keep repairing the old mower. It's expensive to keep up repairs on an old farmhouse which has seen better days. And purchasing livestock has been way more expensive than we realized. We've wanted to get a cow for a while now but can't afford one. (Part of the reason for our high expenses is that we live only 1/2 hour from the city where my husband works, we are not really in the "backwoods.")

Now, after four years of this, I think costs are starting to even out - the value of the produce and eggs we're getting is probably slightly more than the cost of caring for the chickens and garden. And the value of the wool we've gotten from our sheep is more than it cost to feed them over the winter (but not much more!). However, all these things take A LOT of time, and if I had taken all the time I spent on the garden, and gotten a part time job, we'd likely be farther ahead financially. But once again, we're not really doing it for the money, even if we started out in that frame of mind. We will always continue to homestead as much as we can because we love it. I'm sure you know all the reasons why it's good, I won't elaborate, this post is getting long and my 5 year old wants me to read her a story.
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Old 07-10-2016, 10:56 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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Default Wow!

What great responses. You put my thoughts into words much better than I did so myself! I think I didn't explain myself very clearly; when I say "pay off", I don't mean actually make money. I mean that with homesteading, gardening, keeping chickens or other livestock, with almost anything in life really, you first invest and then you reap the results of your investment. And that's perfectly legit. The problem is when you feel you constantly pour and pour money into your house, garden, animals, tools, supplies, etc, and you see no end to that and not much of a reward.

So there are things we realize along the way using plain common sense. Such as, last year we had many eggs, many more than we could use. We tried selling to neighbors, but people just weren't interested and feed costs were a drain, so we reduced our flock and just left our favorites. It made sense for us, reduced expenses, and still left us with enough eggs.

Another example is what we choose to grow. I'm not interested in growing potatoes because they're always so cheap; tomatoes and peppers, on the other hand, can get outrageously expensive, so it makes sense to grow them.

Setanta, your story is so inspiring. Wow! All you've managed to accomplish is amazing.
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Old 07-10-2016, 11:02 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MotherCharlotte View Post
We quickly saw that it's expensive to set up a homestead. It's expensive to feed chickens. It's expensive to buy topsoil to fill the garden beds when all you have is pure clay to work with. It's expensive to buy wood to add on to the barn. It's expensive to keep repairing the old mower. It's expensive to keep up repairs on an old farmhouse which has seen better days. And purchasing livestock has been way more expensive than we realized. We've wanted to get a cow for a while now but can't afford one. (Part of the reason for our high expenses is that we live only 1/2 hour from the city where my husband works, we are not really in the "backwoods.")

Now, after four years of this, I think costs are starting to even out - the value of the produce and eggs we're getting is probably slightly more than the cost of caring for the chickens and garden. And the value of the wool we've gotten from our sheep is more than it cost to feed them over the winter (but not much more!). However, all these things take A LOT of time, and if I had taken all the time I spent on the garden, and gotten a part time job, we'd likely be farther ahead financially. But once again, we're not really doing it for the money, even if we started out in that frame of mind. We will always continue to homestead as much as we can because we love it.
Yes and yes and yes. Just what I meant. Four years?? Wow!

Something to hold us back in our homesteading efforts has been our frequent moves. We've lived in 4 houses in 8 years and possibly will move again soon. So we've built 3 different chicken coops in that time. And you do need to be settled in a place to improve soil, plant trees, etc.
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Old 07-10-2016, 01:18 PM
Doninalaska Doninalaska is offline
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Boy, it will be difficult to establish a homestead with frequent moves. We started this lifestyle in part to teach our children responsibility. It is tough to go out in the dark at -40 to milk goats, but it has to be done--and every day. Egg chores were always the little ones chores that got them used to the routine. There is value in teaching the young how to shoulder responsibility and knowledge of where their food comes from. As far as financially, I don't think livestock every really is a winner from a profit or savings viewpoint unless you live somewhere where you can pasture year-round and inherit sufficient acreage to do so. If you factor in the cost of the land for pasture, there goes the profit margin. Livestock is for the lifestyle and the quality and taste of the meat. We had goats and sheep and chickens for years, but my wife always drew the line at pigs as she had been raised in Iowa where pigs came in hundreds or thousands, not 2, 3, 4, or 6. We bought a 4-H hog at auction one year, and that turned the tide. The meat was so much tastier, she was amazed. She also has a sulfa allergy and sometimes reacted to sulfonamide residues in commercial pork, so that problem was solved as well. I think gardening is ALWAYS a winner. Seed are cheap and the produce you get is almost free, even if it is only radishes in a window box. Anyone can raise a "salad garden" and have fresh salads through the growing season...or longer is you can bring containers inside. Large gardens are a lot of work, but if you choose your crops carefully, grow what you like, and grow what is difficult to get, expensive, or poor quality in your area, you will always benefit.
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Old 07-11-2016, 10:27 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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Originally Posted by Doninalaska View Post
Boy, it will be difficult to establish a homestead with frequent moves.
Tell me about it!.. There are so many things we hold back from doing because we are unlikely to stay here very much longer. However, we did choose to start a vegetable garden this year, and we tend to the trees that are already here, and in general we try to make the place look presentable. It's more pleasant and satisfying while we stay here, and a nicer-looking place will also be easier to sell, so it's a win-win.
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Old 07-11-2016, 04:24 PM
Terri Terri is offline
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My first project was the garden. The first year we broke even, more or less.

The second year I saved money because of the garden, and because we had enough shovels and hoses and things. So I used the money I saved on something else: fruit trees perhaps?

The thing is, my homestead has a lot of projects on it: there are the bees and the fruit trees, for a while we raised our own Christmas trees and we sold a few, there is the home made greenhouse and so forth.

On the one hand as soon as we saved some money I used it on something else homestead related, so our spending has remained fairly constant. Mind, we were using berries by the gallon and we are currently eating some very nice string beans, but my spending has not actually dropped.

On the other hand we do eat like kings. Also, the homestead provides recreation that is better than shopping, not to mention cheaper.

I am now older and the kids are grown. The garden is yielding well and I am thinking about going fishing at a local lake tomorrow. There are green beans in the fridge and there might be early blackberries out back.

But, the greenhouse needs to be worked on and a storm took down the very old shed. It needs to be replaced. We *DO* eat like kings, but I cannot say we are saving money yet.

From a money alone standpoint, a backyard garden and a hunting license would likely be more profitable than a homestead.
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Old 07-12-2016, 08:14 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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Quote:
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We *DO* eat like kings, but I cannot say we are saving money yet.
Terri, in my book that counts as saving money, because if you had to buy all you eat at the grocery store you'd pay a lot more, right?

And anyway, good food = investment in health, which is among the best investments one can make.
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