How to pay the bills? A number of RLT readers who are preparing for or considering a move to a rural property have asked us a very simple, yet important question: “How do you make a living and pay the bills?” Some who are already living on their farms have a similar question: “How can we transition from outside employment to making our living on the farm?” This one issue of finances can be a major barricade in our minds, stopping us from actually making the transition from an urban to a rural home or from leaving a secure job to spend more time on the farm. With our series “Making Ends Meet on the Farm” we hope to at least start poking some holes in this barricade and give you some ideas so you and your family and can start seeing some real solutions to this issue.
Making Ends Meet on the Farm
A few years ago I lost a stable and longtime corporate salary due to job layoffs. We were several years short of retirement age, but without another good job option available, Marie and I felt it was time to move full time to our rural property and get back to Green Living to Go Green. Since then we’ve been making ends meet in a variety of ways. And we’ve seen many others do the same. Before I start with the specifics with some ideas on this, let me rewind in my own mind on the topic of financial security.
Our country is obsessed with security and insurance. This is prevalent throughout our society (just consider all of your insurance bills). Someone is always trying to get you to pay a little more for a bit more of whatever security they offer. Yet when I look at who is making money off of this, it seems to me that it is the financial and insurance companies. Just recently I was hit with concurrent commercials about retirement while watching a playoff game (yes–I like football!). The ads all essentially had the same message with different logos and company names.
The gist of the message is that to retire, you need to have this huge nest egg of investments (that’s what they were selling), and if you didn’t have it you just couldn’t retire. They used the fear card big time. Essentially they were trying to get viewers to go down a road that has no ending. They were also insinuating that those who didn’t follow their advice would not be taking care of themselves and their families financially. One ad stated that you need to have approximately 80% of your normal income to be able to retire. This is NOT true. One does NOT need that. Essentially, these companies just want us all to keep doing what we do, so they can collect more and more fees from us. They’re selling us. If you doubt that, just look at all the beautiful buildings and offices they build for themselves. But that is a game we don’t have to play, and I suspect you don’t want to play anymore. Personally I am finished building their beautiful palaces for them with my dollars.
The fact remains, however, that we all have to make a living somehow. That is a daily reality. Making the daily commute, paying the bills, trying to save…often unsuccessfully. And then, trying to figure out how to get ahead, pay for this emergency or that one, and put money away for college educations, retirement and the like. And we do this for years. Some will do it for their entire lives.
But ask yourself this:
Are you are really making any progress financially? My gauge of success in answering this question is the difference between your savings account balance at the start of the year and the balance at the end of the year. What does it say? The good news is that we can stop playing the game! Yes, it takes a lot of courage to do it. But once you decide to take the red pill and go down the road of reality, you may be very surprised at what you find.
The truth is, there’s a new normal out there!
Not only has life in general changed a great deal in the past decade, but the job and income picture is not the same as it has been for a couple of generations. On our journey we have made several discoveries and learned a lot from other families similar to ours. Some of these new concepts have had a profound effect on our monthly budget requirements. We will go into more detail in the coming “Making Ends Meet on the Farm” posts. But for now we will leave with you one key concept that we have learned in our own experience and heard from many others.
In most locations, the cost of living in the country is much less than that of living in a city or suburb.
The fact is, many of us project that we need to have as much income in the country as we need in the city or suburbia. But this isn’t really true. Think about it this way: have you seen what it costs to live in Manhattan or San Francisco in a small one- or two-bedroom apartment? Normal rents there could easily be $3,000 to $5,000 per month. Recently a large family that we know moved into our rural area. They were from a nice suburb north of Seattle, in a neighborhood with standard sized residential lots. They were leasing their suburban home, so it was easy to leave the area and make the move. Their lease payment in the city was near $2800 per month. Not bad, especially compared to those apartments in the big cities!! Out here they found a nearly equivalent rental house–nicer by some standards—with plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms and lots of land for the kids to play on. The lease payment? $1400 per month.
They couldn’t believe it. And on top of the lower rent, they now have no sewer bill, water bill, storm drainage bill, or garbage bill (they go to the dump nearby). This is an additional savings of nearly $500 per month. Bottom line, this family’s budget has been reduced by half and they are just as comfortable as before, with plenty of room indoors and much more outdoor space for play and homesteading projects. They even scored a cool tree house for the young adventurers and a nice greenhouse and fenced garden for Dad and Mom.
Do the math. This family’s move to the country saved them $1900 per month.
Now consider your budget
What if you were to save 50% on your monthly housing expenses? Make your own analysis. Even with just the two of us, Marie and I have a much smaller outgo to keep pace with our much smaller income. Not only are our housing and utility bills much lower, but we spend more free and recreational time here on the farm, we put a lot less mileage on our vehicle and less gas in the tank, and we raise a lot of our own food.
Late addition: Reader Eileen left a comment on this post that we’ve decided to include right here in the post. Another great story of how “more costs less.”
“I made the move 10 years ago and am living on 1/4 of what I made when I was working. I spent my savings to buy the property which is only one acre but my auto insurance was lower, my homeowners insurance was lower until Katrina and such raised insurance premiums all over, my property tax bill is 1/4 of what I was paying, I have a septic system and a garden and hope to have some chickens soon.
“I have a larger house, more land space and less restrictions, lots of trees – – wish I had been able to do this when I was much younger and more able to work a larger spread and perhaps have cattle and horses.
“The first most amazing thing I noticed when I moved here was how many stars are really in the sky when there are no street lights to glare away the darkness. Birds and wildlife to watch and enjoy. I used to have deer walk through the garden to get to the birdbath during the drought period. I think development and hunting have managed to drive them away.
“May I never have to go back to living in a congested city ever again.”
We don’t want to give you the impression that it’s real cheap to live in the country. We won’t say that there won’t be unexpected expenses or challenges in balancing the budget. But we do want you to know that a realistic evaluation of the costs and how you’re willing to meet them can make a big impact on your plans.
Don’t get stuck on the numbers in your present salary or income—or your current expense picture. That’s like dwelling in the past. Instead, get real with what the future will cost!
Then you can plot your strategy—and we’ll do what we can to help.
Posts in this RLT blog series: