Multiple income streams is important to making ends meet on a farm. Often, having several small income streams will merge into a river. Think you can’t thrive on the farm without that one fat paycheck? Think again! There are so many things you can do to supplement your income or to live off your talents.
Making Ends Meet on the Farm
Whether you have recently chosen a rural place to live or have lived in the country for a long time, you can earn money with your interests and skills. In Normal Redefined, we told you about what we think is a new normal for supporting a comfortable lifestyle.
The key is using a number of methods to meet your needs. And a major part of that is having several small income streams that will provide enough for you to have a comfortable living.
Concept of multiple income streams
Though our parents and grandparents may have each worked one job that paid all the bills, earning money from multiple income streams is not a new idea. Throughout history, people have worked multiple jobs or had small side businesses going to help make ends meet.
Actually, nowadays many families with two adults have more than one income stream. It’s very common for both adults to work full time or one to work full time and the other part time.
Also, many people with full-time jobs have sideline businesses that produce multiple income streams.
It’s not unusual for someone to deliver newspapers before work or put in a few hours at a second job in the evening. School employees often have alternate jobs during the non-school summer months. Another huge shift is the internet. Many people make their living or supplement their income from an online business.
Even Pa and Ma Ingalls did it!
In Little House on the Prairie stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder, we read that Pa Ingalls left the farm from time to time to go work on the railroad or some other short-term paying job.
Like many pioneer women, Ma Ingalls and her neighbors sold extra eggs, milk, butter, and canned goods or traded them for credit at the general store.
That’s not so far off from how some modern homesteaders and farmers make ends meet! We know that many of you readers live on your homesteads and work in town. Other couples have one person employed away from home while one stays and focuses on farm projects.
Some couples, like Jim and Marie here, are making ends meet with a number of small income streams. For both a steady paycheck and medical benefits, it may make sense for one person to be employed elsewhere. That’s a decision for each family to make.
But we’re here to say that it is possible to replace some or all of your previous income by developing on multiple income streams. The point is that multiple income streams combined can cover your living expenses and often even allow for savings and investments in upgrades for your home and farm.
Various sources of income
While living on the farm you might have one or more of the following types of multiple income streams.
- Off-farm employment
- Telecommuting/working at home for an off-farm employer
- Your own small or large business that provides you a regular income
Irregular or sporadic income
- Freelancing or contracting in a field of expertise
- Work-at-home opportunities
- Small business of your own that provides some income
- Renting out equipment you own
- Occasional or seasonal work for hire or temp jobs
- Selling your products online in a more permanent “store” or on bidding platforms
Looking at that list, can you see how several types of work could collectively fill the coffers?
How to create your own income streams
Sit down with a pen and paper (or computer notepad if that’s more your style!) and consider each one of these areas. Fill in the blanks. In each category, what could you do to generate some income?
Using your field of expertise
- Consulting, freelancing, contracting
- Landscaping, reroute water/rainwater harvesting
- Help with solar panels
- Help plan out areas for gardening, composting, livestock
- Teaching at local schools, continuing education centers, libraries, community centers
- Tutoring, coaching, repairing
Using your hobbies, expertise, interests, and other life skills
- Building raised garden beds, furniture
- Teaching workshops, classes, private lessons
- Baking, cooking
- Growing herbs to sell plants and also learn how to dry basil
- Sewing, making craft products to sell
- Monetized blogging
- Guided fishing trips
Using your property and farm equipment
- Renting out goats to graze for weeding
- Renting out goats for goat yoga
- Pumpkin patch, corn maze, U-pick, petting zoo
- Field trips, hay rides, sleigh rides, trail rides
- Event venue, retreat center, bed & breakfast, farm stay
- Selling farm produce, meat, eggs, fibers, plants
- Hands-on workshops, demonstrations, lessons
- Contracting to do garden tilling, snow plowing, harvesting, processing
- Winery, vineyard
- Rent out equipment
We’re betting that you’ve got several possibilities on that list of yours!
Our multi streams
We mentioned how we ourselves are combining small amounts of income to earn our keep. Here’s how those sources fit into our notes on the categories listed above. We have developed multiple income streams to help them move ahead in home-building plans.
Using our education, training, and previous career experience, we have all found ways to bring in some extra money:
Rural property development consulting and project management. Freelance editing for print publishers and individual authors plus most of the writing for this blog.
Marketing consultant who manages several blogs (all while being stay-at-home mom). Kids sell or trade eggs. Combining all our experience, we’re developing a small publishing company for homesteading-themed publications.
Using other life experiences, hobbies, and interests, we have found some income-producing creative outlets:
- Do some coaching and umpiring for youth sports teams in our community.
- Started a business selling custom-designed products.
- Manages our new business selling homesteading-themed gift items.
- Make nature jewelry.
- With our farm resources, we’re becoming producers of farm products.
We have raised pigs to sell by carcass weight at maturity. We have raised beef cattle before and plan to do that in the next couple of years.
Marie and Bethany have been raising and breeding laying hens and meat birds. We may raise more hens to have more eggs to sell, and we plan to start a small local hatchery. We’re expanding our garden and greenhouse setup to potentially sell plant starts and produce.
Also, we’re gearing up to grind and mix local ingredients for livestock feed. Beekeeping is something we want to start up as well.
So you can see, we’re using our life experience and training, other special interests, and our farm resources. We also have a combination of goods and services bringing in dollars. Also know that if you don’t want to sell or don’t have enough of something to sell, it also works to trade. It’s a comfort knowing we aren’t solely relying on just one thing.
Other sources of income on a farm
Some of our other family members are also doing consulting and contract work, reselling, teaching, and making new products to sell. As a family we’re discussing future farm production projects and the possibility of building a state-approved food processing kitchen.
We have short-term plans for this year and long-term ideas that will take several years to develop.
We’re also discussing special interests with our oldest grand kids and encouraging them to develop their own small businesses or sidelines to the family business. One granddaughter is very involved with the chickens. Her sister wants to partner with Jim to raise pigs this year.
A third granddaughter, who loves handcrafts, has jewelry making in mind. All three girls are thinking of baking and sewing as well. Our oldest grandson thinks he’d like to raise herbs from seed. Right now, he gives herb plants to his teachers for gifts.
Another grandson loves running the grinder and might just develop a feed business someday. We’re all for young entrepreneurs!
Other real life examples
We have told you about one three-generation family we know that supports more than 15 family members with a combination of income streams. At their highway produce and antique store and local farmers markets, they sell their own produce, plant starts, beef, grains, and hay.
They also bring in fruit from other producers in a nearby “banana belt.” During the winter when the store is closed, they take a vacation and refinish antiques to sell in their shop.
They also start their tomato plants very early and are now known for the first tomatoes at the farmers markets.
Another couple combines a town job with farm production. The wife works to bring home a regular paycheck while her hubby sees to the daily farm work and marketing.
Recently, they installed a state-licensed processing unit on their poultry farm. They not only sell processed poultry, but will process for others as well. There’s a former schoolteacher who holds a weekly science lab class for home schoolers.
A father-son team cuts firewood from their forest and delivers it to local households; for an extra fee, they’ll stack it too.
A young mom teaches a few piano students each week; another does machine quilting for those who can’t do it themselves. The list goes on, but you get the idea!
What’s on your list?
Evaluate what you can do. Discover a gap to fill. Find a unique angle that will make your goods or services stand out from the rest. Don’t think any of your ideas are not worthy of a good evaluation.
You might be surprised how you could fit right into a niche. We were. Even in our rural area, none of the farmers markets ever have enough eggs for sale. There also is a demand for local meat by the pound.
Both of these products may require special handling and permits, but neither is unusually costly or strenuous. It is also important to note that each stream of income may require you to pay taxes.
Some questions to ask yourself
- What skills, experience, training, expertise, or resources do you have?
- What goods and services are lacking in your area?
- How can you use your abilities to fill a gap?
- What unique spin do you have on that niche?
Know the local rules and law of the land
Always check on licensing and permit requirements at city, county, state/province, and federal levels.
You don’t have to go it alone!
Forming or joining a co-op or team makes a lot of sense. You can share ideas, equipment, and job rotations. You also have a ready group for those times when it’s “all hands on deck.” A team can be made up of family members, friends, neighbors, or any other group of people. It works best if you are compatible, with similar goals and mutual trust. But when it flows, it’s awesome!
Remember our friends that sell farm products and antiques? This extended family has a great teamwork system going.
Each person has his or her own roles and responsibilities, but when there’s a need, they all join forces to get any job done. We have a “co-shop” team ourselves. A few years ago, started a business selling beverage ware and other items featuring quotes from popular books and movies.
In 2012, our business was booming, and we decided that Rural Living Today should start producing a similar line of items for the homesteading crowd.
Both businesses were unexpectedly successful during the holiday season, and in January we were able to upgrade to equipment that produces higher-quality images.
The two businesses share a barn workshop and equipment; we combine our wholesale orders for supplies. And most fun of all, we work together and join forces to meet deadlines.
Ideas for products
- Soap, candles, laundry detergent, fire starters, alternative personal care products
- Aprons, pot holders, baby bibs, receiving blankets, fleece blankets
- Quilts, pillows, wall hangings
- Jewelry, hair ornaments, belts
- Fresh herbs, produce
- Dehydrated/canned goods
- Eggs, milk, cheese, butter
- Seeds, garden tools, livestock equipment (buy wholesale and resell)
- Grain, ground and mixed animal feed
Ideas for services
- Helping with homeschooling
- Repairing items or installing parts
- Handyman service, mobile farm service
- Sewing, quilting, home decorating
- Child care, birthday parties, event planning
- Pet care, house sitting, farm sitting
- Creating farm logos, writing website copy, photographing farms
- Designing gardens, irrigation systems
- Installing fencing, garden structures
- Helping people get started with a garden, composting, rainwater harvesting, raising chickens, miniature cattle, solar, hydroponics, irrigation, beekeeping, etc.
- Renting your farm equipment
How to pay the bills?
A number of 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, we 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. They are guaranteeing their financial security by working for themselves.
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. 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.
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 $2,800 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? $1,400 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 $1,900 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.
While I spent my savings to buy the property which is only one acre, my auto insurance was lower. My homeowners insurance was also 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. There are lots of trees.
Boy do I 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 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.
Making Ends Meet on the Farm: Normal Redefined
Making Ends Meet on the Farm: Many of our readers have expressed a real concern that finances are a major hurdle to their hope and dream of moving to the country.
In our first post of this series, we focused on the fact that in most locations, the cost of living in the country is much less than that of living in a city or suburb.
Most often that cost differential is substantial. We’ll take this into consideration as we consider a plan of action for moving to and living in the country.
Despite lower costs, it’s clear that most of us will still need to have some money coming in.
But it certainly is encouraging to know that perhaps the obstacle of HOW MUCH we need isn’t as large as we had imagined! There are many, many different ways to make ends meet on the farm. In coming posts we will be detailing some that we know of and that we and others are putting into practice.
But before we start, some thoughts about what used to be considered normal and an introduction to what we call the “new normal.”
The old normal: one full-time job
During our lifetime, it has been very typical for a person to hold a 40-hour job. It’s a job that can be called “full time” and that hopefully pays well and provides a huge benefit package. Granted, many have worked additional jobs as well, but a typical goal was one job that paid the bills.
There are some global reasons why this system has been our “normal” one for as long as we have been alive, but now, right before our eyes we are seeing a massive change to what is normal.
The change may not have affected you yet, but it has affected our economy significantly. We have all heard that putting all of our eggs in one basket isn’t a smart thing to do from a financial viewpoint.
Yet consider that we do just that when we work full time for one company. Why would we do that?
In the past, this might have been a “no risk” problem, but our current economy is finding corporations and companies laying off millions and millions of people.
Many of you may be in this crowd. Structurally, these jobs are just not coming back, as our economy, totally based on debt and consumption, will never come back to the old days.
Those who are employed are working harder and harder, doing the work of more than one person. They know their jobs depend on hard work, as there are many other people standing in line waiting for them to fail and for their positions to become available.
Essentially we become “corporate slaves.” Before I was laid off in 2009 I had no job worries. It was only after this layoff event occurred that I realized how all my eggs were cracking.
At first I thought I’d just get another job–no problem, right? I had never been out of a job for more than a month. But that had been before the 2008 economic collapse.
Instead of quickly finding a job, I searched for two full years for anything reasonable. Even with two engineering degrees and over thirty-five years of work experience, I was unsuccessful in finding a job.
If you are unemployed today, you too realize how difficult it is to get a full time job at the level you are accustomed to. So I decided to pursue a “multiple income stream” approach.
And now, that makes so much sense that I would never go back to corporate America.
The new normal: multiple income streams
What does this mean? Simply this: Instead of having one full time job that you are practically married to, you have multiple sources of income and ways to cover the cost of living. You are no longer owned by a job. Instead, you are now effectively CEO of your own family income.
You can work toward gaining income in a variety of ways that work for you and your family. At long last, you are able to pursue your passions and interests and learn how to monetize them.
You might work a part-time job and supplement with other sources of income.
This is not really a new idea; a few generations ago it was common for a family to have multiple small incomes rather than one large one.
Even in recent years, the cost of living has required more than one income for many families. What is new about it is that it’s becoming the norm in many communities.
Today the mindset of having a single income that covers all expenses is receding as the concept of multiple income streams gains momentum.
We are seeing this more and more among people we know. I have talked with friend of mine about this very thing.
He and I both came from the construction industry, but for the past 12 years he has worked a farm with his family. He told me about his struggles and successes.
And he emphasized two keys to making a living on the farm. The first is to get out of debt and not buy anything you can’t pay for. The second is to create multiple income streams.
My friend’s farm provides most of the family income, but the income comes from several streams. In the spring, the family starts seeds in a greenhouse. They plant many of the seedlings in their four-acre market garden. But they also raise 1,500 extra plant starts to sell along with their earliest produce at three local farmers markets.
Their niche is that with the greenhouse, they get some very early vegetables, including the first tomatoes in the region. They are busy selling produce all spring, summer, and fall at the farmers markets. They also have a small retail store on the busy highway alongside their farm.
Community members and travelers passing by will stop in for fresh produce, local handcrafts, and antiques. Also, with their knowledge, they’ve taught hydroponics classes and helped people with their DIY hydroponic systems.
During the growing season they operate a CSA (community supported agriculture) program providing prepaid boxes of products to folks on a weekly basis.
In the fall, this family sells some cattle and has beef packaged for resale. During the winter months, they refinish antiques (a special interest) to sell in their store.
Last year they added some grain production, as they had some fields that could grow it and there’s a need in the community.
My friend encourages people consider even the smallest income streams, because they grow!
Another example is what Marie and I are doing and planning for the upcoming year. First off, I have to admit that my brain cells had to do some adjusting to this “new normal.” But we are getting the hang of it now, and I must say it is working. So, not having any full time job, this is our situation and plan for the coming year.
Do freelance editing work for a major book publisher. This comes and goes in spurts according to the publishing seasons. When Marie has a freelance project, she devotes full days to it. When she has no jobs, she is free to pursue other interests.
I am involved in the local high school baseball/softball program as a coach and available to umpire. This is projected to bring in minimal income this year, but most likely will grow next year. I really enjoy coaching and umpiring.
We will raise pigs again this year, doubling our efforts of last year. This could possibly bring in a fourth of our projected income needs.
As we did last year, we’ll sell most of it by the carcass, but some meat might be sold by the cut at the local farmers market.
We’ll expand our chicken operation. Right now, we are raising layers providing seven dozen eggs a week. This is far more than we need, and the kids sell some, and we share with family and friends.
But we are now considering raising that tenfold and selling eggs at the farmers market. Like the pigs, chickens are a real interest of ours, so it makes sense. We are starting our feed-making business.
Looking for the best and most economical pig feed last year, we learned how to make our own pig and chicken feed.
We have invested in a small grinder and are negotiating a cash purchase of a larger used machine that will grind and mix up to 1000 pounds per hour.
Already we have people asking for feed; it looks like this will be a year-round business.
We anticipate receiving a grant for a new hoop house that will allow us to grow much more of the food we need and have some produce to sell. We are hoping to sell a significant number of peppers and tomatoes at our local farmers markets.
Last year we started an online business with Bethany selling fun gift items for farmers and homesteaders. The income has far exceeded our expectations. We won’t get rich on it, but this is a fun thing for us and we get paid to do it.
Profits have allowed us to invest in equipment and supplies to expand our product line as well. We are starting a small cattle operation. The model is to raise what we need and sell the rest.
In our case, after this is going well we could receive another fourth of our income from it. As our kids get involved it potentially could become much larger and support more than one family.
We continue to look and consider new income streams.
We’ve talked about raising livestock guardian dogs, as there is a market for well-bred dogs. With our family we’ve discussed starting a small chicken hatchery, locally selling chicks and pullets ready to lay.
Our kids and grandkids are thinking similarly for their own families.
All four husbands are employed full time but each family has at least one other income stream. Sell home décor and personalized items. Another family will be marketing seeds and plant starts this spring.
Sometimes will be talking about an idea or project and then look at each other and remark, “another income stream!” We enjoy working together.
And the rest of normal
Rounding out the new normal are some other creative ways to cover expenses and reduce the cost of life on the farm. In addition to generating income from work, small farmers can consider grants and cost-share programs.
And while living in the country will probably cost less in general, there are still other ways of reducing expenses.
Financial Aid and Making Ends Meet on the Farm
Last post we talked about creating multiple income streams. That is the “bread and butter” of a financial strategy for making ends meet. It’s where we recommend that anyone start when creating a plan for long term sustainability. But there are additional ways to ease the strain on the family piggy bank.
Among them is the concept of financial aid: getting by with a little help from some “friends.” No, we’re not talking about asking your buddy or neighbor or grandma for handouts (though that’s certainly a possibility for some).
We’re talking financial aid that’s available from outside sources to help you fund projects and business startups.
A note about financial aid
Not all types of assistance are created equally. They all have different criteria, strategies, and follow up requirements. Some require partial or matching investments on the farmer’s part.
Some are outright gifts with no strings attached and some are loans with repayment plans.
We encourage you to very carefully evaluate each possibility and see which ones are comfortable for you, your family, and your general financial profile.
This is especially important in the case of loans which must be repaid and increase your debt burden.
While we suggest that you investigate some of the following programs, we are by no means recommending that anyone go into debt or sign a contract that is unrealistic or uncomfortable.
Note that any of these programs may come and go depending on funding. Annual programs have a calendar cycle with application deadlines.
Many of them have mailing list options for notification of future funding periods. Do your homework before signing on any dotted line.
General info on funding
A great place to start for Financial Aid: Small Farm Funding Resources USDA financial assistance program directory
Grants are funds available to qualifying farmers and agricultural projects; no payback required. These are competitive, with limited funds available each period. It pays to be diligent about applications and to study grant writing before applying.
Some are matching grants, meaning a recipient must provide funds to match the award amount.
Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Grant 5 Steps to Writing a Farm Grant – Hobby Farms
Cost share programs for financial aid
These funds are available to assist with the implementation of specific practices; no payback required. They are similar to grants, with some requiring matching or partial funding from the recipient.
Once funding is awarded, program completion periods may extend for several years.
Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS: numerous programs involving conservation practices) 2013 NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants
These campaigns solicit contributions from the public; no payback required. Donations are made by people who enjoy supporting entrepreneurs, usually in exchange for an incentive gift.
Farm projects funded have included facilities, equipment, renovations, and livestock ventures. To see examples, type “farm” or a keyword for your business idea into the site’s search box.
Consider crowdfunding for your non-agricultural business ideas as well.
Kickstarter Indiegogo Your own crowdfunding campaign using Paypal or Stripe to process funds (See this example from our own family.)
Loans as a part of financial aid
This is money lent for a specific purpose or general use; payback required at some point. These may be from banks, corporations, or private lenders.
Most require current employment, security, or collateral guarantees. USDA Farm Service Agency loan directory USDA Microloans for Small Farms and Beginning and Disadvantaged Farmers
In the world of agricultural financial assistance, the term “socially disadvantaged farmer” is sometimes used to describe anyone other than the typical male farmer of history.
If you are a female, disabled, or a member of a minority group, you may qualify for specific programs or get extra application points for a general program.
While we don’t necessarily support the segregation of one farmer from another, the fact is that the practice exists and is in place in a number of situations.
You may or may not decide to accept that advantage. If you choose not to, you can still apply for some without taking the extra points.
The bottom line
Finding sources of income takes some time and research. But a combination of creativity and resourcefulness can definitely help you weave together a system to make ends meet on your farm.
Reduce Your Burn Rate to Get Off Treadmill of Debt
Reduce Your Burn Rate:
While creating multiple income streams is one path toward making ends meet, there’s another aspect that involves managing that income. We call it “Reduce Your Burn Rate” of our money.
Today many of us live in a society that is based totally upon debt. Debt created out of thin air, to be used by the government to finance our massive consumption addiction. Additionally, debt is created to “help” us to contribute by buying more and more.
Even though we have no way to pay it back. Even though we really don’t need this. Essentially, our economic system has been creating and fostering a race of “debt slaves.” Those who have student loans, which cannot be forgiven even in bankruptcy, understand the burden this places on us.
We are taught to go into debt…and we are taught that it is a good thing. Go into debt for your house, three cars, education, clothes, appliances, vacations–everything you want you should buy, because you “deserve” it. But it is all a sham. A racket.
A Ponzi scheme to keep you in debt and under the control of your masters: the bankers and politicians who are the ones doing well in this system.
In fact, the only consideration is that you make all your monthly payments, because if you don’t, your credit will tank, the world will end for you, your firstborn will be taken as a sacrifice, and of course the all-important credit rating will take a big hit.
Some of our lawmakers want to have both SPENDING CUTS (reducing burn) and TAX INCREASES (providing more income).
Personally, in our own life we are looking for both a BURN RATE DECREASE and INCOME STREAM INCREASE.
So what can we all do to get out of this ‘rat race’?
How do we get off this treadmill that has no end in sight?
In our Making Ends Meet on the Farm series we’ve been exploring options for creating a rural lifestyle that serves us instead of us serving it.
Instead of CONSUMING MORE, or even continuing to consume as you have been, try changing your lifestyle and REDUCING YOUR FINANCIAL BURN RATE.
That’s it. Sounds simple, right? It is one of the secrets of making ends meet. So why don’t we do it? I suspect it is because we are constantly bombarded with the consumption message by all media, which is being shouted to keep a dying system alive.
I also suspect it is just “easier” for us to keep doing what we are doing.” That is very normal human behavior. But as we refuse to take part in that and resolve to change, this step alone will bring huge rewards. It is tax free, and it is simple, but not easy.
It requires a real mindset adjustment, but it brings huge rewards.
Here are some simple steps to move in the right direction, and we would love to hear other ideas you might have that have helped you in this regard.
Get Out of Debt
I mean all debt. No more car loans, credit card debt, student debt, and ultimately mortgage debt. There are plenty of programs to help you. Stop talking and thinking about it and get started doing it. Don’t by another thing on credit.
If you don’t have the cash, don’t buy it. I would encourage you NOT to use your credit cards. Use your debit card or pay cash. I pay cash now.
It is amazing how my spur-of-the-moment whims to buy even the smallest things are thwarted when I have to take actual money out of my wallet to pay for it. Yes, this is a process.
But if you stop the accumulation, it is amazing how fast you can whittle it down. When you have do debt, you don’t need to earn an income that is taxed 50% by everyone in order to make a monthly payment.
Here’s an exercise you can do for yourself. Look at your monthly bills, add them up and get a total. Then cross out all of the payments covering debt. How much income would it really take to live if you didn’t have those payments? This is an amazing and eye-opening revelation.
To get out of debt, stop buying anything you really don’t need to have. Don’t listen to the hype of the media or your past way of thinking and buying. This is a time to actually begin your lifestyle transformation by “reducing your consumption and monthly burn rate.”
So what will this look like?
- Look at your budget. If you don’t have one, make one.
- Take each part of your budget and decide what you can eliminate. Cold turkey.
If that is too drastic for you (and of course this is your life and decision!) then just scale it back.
Some expenses to reconsider
Supporting a Sustainable Lifestyle Through Couponing
Cell phone expense
If you have a smartphone, do you actually need it? Sure, it is nice to have a phone that makes maps and such, but do you need it? One family I know has a smartphone for each family member, with a monthly bill of some $400.
Unbelievable. Do your kids REALLY need cell phones for texting all day? Are we living in the past if we don’t have all the bells and whistles? No.
I am refusing to pay, on a monthly basis, through the nose for stuff my family and I don’t need. Is it hard to change? Yes. This goes back to exercising your options by deciding to change.
In our family we have cell phones. But we do not subscribe to “data” and we have a reasonable bill.
Another family with five kids uses a phone provider that allows you to pay on a minute basis. They don’t use enough minutes to require a large plan. The teenagers have phone that are used only for emergency purposes.
The elementary children don’t have phones. Are they deprived? I don’t think so. The family reduced the previous bill by nearly two thirds. Chances are you could save a bunch too.
How many cars do you really need? Each has to be maintained and insured. Must they be really new? They should be reliable and gas-friendly. But most of all they should be debt free.
Pay off the loan, and then put money aside for the next car. Amazing how much is freed up with no car loan to pay.
Cancel cable TV… cut the cord
This is certainly a personal choice. Some families have chosen to eliminate this all together and rent movies or go digital by streaming TV and movies from the internet. What works for you?
Pay off student loans
If you have a student loan, you will ultimately have to pay it back. If you don’t have any, don’t get any. This discussion has ramifications for so many of our younger folks. Interestingly, the cost of college has increase FASTER than that of healthcare.
Education is now considered a bubble, as many are not seeing the benefit of a college degree when compared to the associated debt (creating debt slaves) required for that degree.
Again, it’s a very personal decision, but while it was routine in days past to go to college, I challenge that in today’s economy.
Higher education is a very important priority to many, and I don’t resist that. But to go into perpetual debt at such a young age for some degree that is not useful makes no sense.
Credit card debt
This one is simple: don’t buy on credit unless you can pay it off immediately.
If you are repaying debt, drastically limit entertainment costs. If you’re out of debt, set a budget for it, and pay cash. Always think twice about that latte, movie, or dinner.
I don’t think entertainment always has to be at a nice restaurant, or even at an establishment where I have to pay for it. This reminds me of some Christmas mornings where kids, after opening presents, start playing with sticks or other things. We really didn’t need all those toys, did we?
That goes for adults too. Just be disciplined and enjoy life as you decide.
We need clothes. But how much clothing is necessary? How many suits can I wear? How many types of shoes do I need? I would follow the pattern of making purchases with cash.
When you start handing out $100 bills for a pair of tennis shoes and the latest fashions, you might think twice!
Reduce food expenses
This is a simple one. And you might need some help. Learn to cook GOOD food. Fresh ingredients, cooked well, taste better and have more nutritional value than prepared food.
A homemade pizza is MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE than the ready made one you buy at the store or have delivered. Cut back on pre-frozen foods, and learn to freeze your own. Of course, you save significant $$ by growing your own food. There is potential to cut over half of your food budget.
Read the sale papers; stock up when things are on sale. Grow your own herbs such as a rosemary plant, and different types of basil. It’s so much cheaper to pick fresh from even a small plant than to buy fresh from the store. Continue to prune the plants and dry it for future.
Make your own salsa and tomato sauce with fresh-grown tomatoes. Raise chickens and enjoy organic eggs. Also learn what makes economical sense to grow. As an example, growing potatoes isn’t as cost effective as other, more expensive-to-buy-tat-the-grocery-store vegetables.
Keep Reducing Your Overhead Expenses
Of course there are other categories where you can cut costs. The key is to ask yourself and your family:
- What do we really need?
- What can we do to REALLY cut our personal monthly burn rate?
How committed are you to put your family in a position to enjoy a rural lifestyle AND make ends meet? It’s not all about earning and getting money; a major part is reducing your routine burn rate.
Do some “what if” analyses.
- How would your budget look if you adjusted each of these items above?
- How about cutting back in other areas?
- What if you eliminated all your debt?
- How much do you REALLY need, then, to make ends meet?
More tips for reducing your burn rate
Create a budget and stick to it
Yes, it’s the dreaded “B word.” Some of us love the security of budgets, while some can’t stand the limitations. But there just might be a budget that you can live with. It may involve multiple bank accounts, cash envelopes, or other clever ways of managing money and sticking to predetermined spending boundaries.
Need help understanding or creating a budget?
My Total Money Makeover free email budgeting course from Dave Ramsey How to Budget an Irregular Income by Dave Ramsey
Evaluate new purchases and upgrades
Sometimes we think we just have to buy something new or upgrade to the latest version. But often it’s really not in the best interest of the family budget.
Here are some questions to ask before making a purchase or committing to a higher rate for a service. Do you really need this, or is it an optional item? When you look at the product or service carefully, is it something you genuinely want?
Will this require you to eliminate or trim down another expense? Is there another less costly way to meet the need?
Save money instead of spending it
Anytime you save money, you are improving the income vs. outgo ratio, making your income go farther.
Many stay-at-home moms can manage their families on one income only because of their mindset to “stay home and save money” rather than “go out and earn money.”
This concept can work on the farm also, with one person working off the farm and another tending home, livestock, and garden.
Doing lots of home and farm tasks that ultimately save money. Don’t believe it can be done? Read How to Save $1,000 in One Month. And look at all the other ideas in the reader comments!
DIY: Do it yourself
DIY can save a lot of money. But it is not always cheaper, especially when you figure in the value of your time. Either way, it can result in a longer-lasting item or repair.
Not to mention the personal satisfaction of a job well done. Consider these ideas:
- Cooking from scratch
- Baking desserts, breads, etc.
- Making repairs
- Making do and repurposing
A word of caution: Know your limits… and when to call in a professional!
Exchange products and labor instead of purchasing
All of us have probably done this in some shape or form. It’s really just using products or services as currency rather than coins, paper money, debit, or credit.
There’s casual swapping of time and materials among friends and neighbors: trading, helping out, the “barn raising” concept. There’s also formal bartering with individuals or businesses, whether or not they promote or advertise it.
You might be surprised to find a small business or mom-and-pop store open to bartering. We talked about bartering in this post in our Beating Food Challenges series.
Readers’ tips for Making Ends Meet on the Farm
We always enjoy hearing from our Rural Living Today readers. It’s even more fun when we learn some new ideas from readers. Today we have rounded up your suggestions for living on less, a list of RLT readers’ blogs, and entrepreneurial readers’ online shops and business websites.
Making Ends Meet on the Farm
We just have one car that we have paid off. We do not carry any credit card debt. Very little eating out, we have a lot of “stay at home” dates.
We preserve as much food as possible by freezing, canning, and dehydrating. We have a garden, and are working to grow our own food. What we can’t grow for ourselves we attempt to buy in bulk. We use foods that go a long ways such as beans, oats, rice, etc.
My husband and I recently moved from the city in Texas to a rural area of Missouri. We now have our own little 3 acre place with an old farmhouse. We have pretty much paid off everything having used my retirement fund to pay for our new place. So, no mortgage there! It is an exciting journey!
As someone focused on a long-term goal of homesteading, I’m trying to both save money and spend it wisely. There’s no reason not to diversify, and I enjoy blogging, doing some freelance writing, and working part-time out of the house.
I’m refining the projects I work on, looking for ways to follow the dreams I do have, and then working hard.
I have been showing my husband how my multiple income streams really do help us make ends meet. Between blogging, selling handmade herbal products, and essential oils I am really helping the family make ends meet! I also have some ideas for the farmers markets next year when the kids are a little older.
Jennifer in PA
Ten years ago my husband and I and our children moved to a small town and became full time landlords. It has included some real moments of struggle making ends meet and continuing to invest in our business.
We have had other small businesses along the way, some still making us money and some now shut down. Some days are tough but we have had time for our family, visiting Canada and homeschooling our four children. I don’t think we will regret this when they are grown.
Who knew that foot zone clients, foot zone instruction, and foreign exchange groups would have turned into multiple income streams– but they did! When I left my job three years ago, I started zoning to bring in some money until I found another job.
Then the opportunity presented itself to work with foreign exchange students so I did that. Then I had the opportunity to teach foot zoning so I did that.
Along the way I started my website and lo and behold money has begun trickling in from that. Now clients are asking to buy my homemade soap. Somewhere along the line I stopped looking for a “job”. And I’ve never been happier. Although my husband was a little worried that first year.
We are currently looking at ways we can create for ourselves and teach others to create alternative sources of income. This ties in to my recent “Money Talks” post!
We are in the process of looking for land to start a small organic farm. My wife currently works as an elementary school librarian, pretty much just for the insurance because after her 50% contribution for the insurance there literally isn’t a pay check left.
I am a free-lance architectural designer and furniture maker, but also sell greenhouse plans and other handmade and carved items online.
Over the past 11 years, I have built a pretty good client base. I plan to still run my business(es) part-time after we purchase our property.
I have read many books and talked to several farmers and there seem to be unlimited possibilities of generating income from your land.
Right now we live on only a 1/4 acre, but I have been able to sell seedlings and raspberries to generate additional income. This year I will be trying my hand at selling cut flowers and heirloom seeds.
I am fortunate that I can run my business anywhere, but after we purchase our property I am confident that there will be even more income possibilities and I am looking forward to that day!
My husband and I have recently been discussing building our own homestead within the next five years. I wish we could start now but financially it is not possible yet.
My goal for this year is a small family garden where we begin to grow our own food.
We rent so it can’t be big but we are going to do a container garden and try a vertical one as well as a small regular one.
For those in my similar position here is my “Things to Accomplish” list while I wait to be able to even buy an acre of land.
Gardening in many forms; fishing; seed saving and using cuttings or scraps to start plants; canning; cooking not from a box; decreasing the use of electric devices; better sewing and crochet skills; knitting; archery for recreation.
Home Canning Guide: Tips to Keep Your Food Safe
We are also researching what would be our best options for heat, cooking, water and hot water. We want to build our home ourselves and have a basic blueprint drawn for the home we want.
Thankfully hubs also has experience with carpentry and HVAC with a little plumbing and plenty of electrician skills thrown in.
We know we want to build a stone wood burning rocket stove and find a way to use that to heat our water as well as our home.
We do want solar panels but here in the northern states sun isn’t so reliable so we need to figure out a backup plan and how to best store energy for future use.
Our kids all have asthma so ventilation is a huge concern and we can not completely forgo electric because the kids often require a nebulizer (breathing treatment machine) in the winter months when the cold gets to them or if the catch any chest bugs.
There is much to consider when you decide to go off grid and there is always going to be something to do and something to learn.
Right now we are working on our stockpile and emergency preparedness and looking forward to a life of self sufficiency!
My husband has been laid off for six months and he’s still of the mindset that he’ll find another job just like his old one. I’m trying to get all of our eggs out of one basket by diversifying into medicinal herbs, honeybees, and teaching.
We are living on one income now and it is not so bad! I retired nine months ago.
All of my friends and cousins told me I SHOULD NOT/COULD NOT do it, that our “manner of living” would suffer horribly.
My husband is nine years younger, and we have NOT changed our lifestyle, but I have learned to live with MUCH less, and realized I don’t need all the “stuff” I had been buying. What freedom!
I think twice before spending now, and yes, I am blessed with Social Security and a pension. I saved money in my last 6- 1/2 years of working to do some projects here at our place… but you CAN do it.
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, and 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, 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 have managed to drive them away. May I never have to go back to living in a congested city ever again.
My husband and I moved to our homestead nearly 2 years ago and have a deep desire to be able to make a living off of our land. We both have steady jobs with incomes so that helps, but we desperately want to be at home with our garden and animals. We are working on figuring out how to make money off our homestead to reach our goal.
We’re sold! We’ve been living in the country for awhile now and realize we are much better off in so many ways, ways innumerable.
Some families still live on one income. Many of the expenditures being made by the average American family are not for necessities. There are so many things we can do to improve our situations.
Growing food, reducing spending, getting out of debt and not incurring any more debt just to name a few.
We’re still in an apartment dreaming of living a rural life. Our mini balcony garden is overflowing with pots (most homemade) for growing food and I cook everything we eat from scratch. It’s amazing what you can grow with a little balcony garden space!
We’re stuck here due to a large student loan (a valuable degree, but unable to get employment that truly values it at the moment) and some consumer debt racked up during a few years of severe underemployment.
The best tool I’ve found to help us stay on track is the software “You Need A Budget.” Unlike most budgeting I’ve seen it’s more of a spending plan and its different way of looking at money decisions has helped me get past the feelings of hopelessness.
I’m still working on cementing the habit but the mental shift has occurred and I feel much more in control than I used to.
RLT readers’ products and services: multiple income streams at work
AbbyKate Designs: custom items for family and home
At the Crossroads Etsy shop: pottery, jewelry
Bepa’s Garden handmade and carved items, greenhouse designs
Black Fox Homestead: market produce for local grocery, farmers markets
Black Fox Homestead Etsy shop: vintage books, curtain patterns, handmade items for homestead
Humeruswares Etsy shop: funny and geeky gifts with quotes from movies, books, and life
Mind Body and Sole Online: foot zone therapy, essential oils
Making Your Small Farm Profitable by Ron Macher and Howard W. Kerr
5 Ways to Make Money in Agritourism by Barbara Sheridan at Hobby Farms
11 Steps to Successful Farm Marketing from Hobby Farms
Simple Living: How to Save Money and Smile More by Vicki Mattern at Mother Earth News
Live on Less and Love It by Craig Idlebrook at Mother Earth News
Growing Farms podcasts with John Suscovich at Farm Marketing Solutions
- How to Become a Beekeeper
- How Much Money Can You Really Make Selling Old Stuff, selling, buying, swapping or exchanging used goods!
- Can You Freeze Mason Jars
- How to Start Beekeeping
- How to Grow Truffles – Requirements and Challenges