In the 1970’s, my father decided to retire
at age 62, the minimum age to draw Social Security. He quit his very
small business and sold his truck. He and my mom sold their modest home
in a working-class Chicago neighborhood, bought a
four-room house in Michigan, and retired to the country. With no
mortgage, a little money in the bank, and Social Security for income, they
settled into a life of fishing, gardening, golf, bowling, cards and
playing with their grandchildren. More hard work than planning got them
to this place, but theirs was a good retirement nonetheless.
For me—turning 60
in the middle of economic turmoil—retirement planning feels more like
studying feng shui before arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I
began homesteading somewhat late in the game and am a long way from
self-sufficient. I have gray hair, a sizeable mortgage, no money in the
bank, and I’ll probably outlive Social Security. I can’t guarantee that
any amount of hard work can keep the ship afloat. But
I’ve decided that I have the heart of a
homesteader, and I’m determined to enjoy the Golden Years on my five
wonderful acres of country. Since I already
know that homesteading is the answer, I simply have to ask the
question. Retirement or rejuvenation?
Hints for a happy
retirement and tips for financial survival can be found almost everywhere,
although they now frequently include the delaying of full retirement. A
closer look at these suggestions reads much like a “how to” list
for successful homesteading: live with a purpose; simplify; nurture
relationships; help others; and, remember that it’s not all about money…
just to name a few. We should have a built-in advantage. But in these
challenging times, even the most experienced homesteaders can use some
reminders. Here are five ideas to get creative juices flowing:
1. Identify your greater goal, and measure every decision against
it. Homesteaders tend to be
creative people with a wide range of interests. While that generally
serves us well, it can also lead to dabbling and a dilution of
resources. I, for example, am a seed catalogue junkie who wants to have
a little of everything in my garden. However, one of my major goals is to
lower my expenses by growing my own food. This year that means focusing
my limited dollars on those vegetables that yield the most for the pantry
and freezer. I can channel my creativity into preservation methods and
healthy recipes rather than a multitude of varieties.
Those of you who’ve
been producing vegetables, herbs, or livestock for sale may have to make
similar choices. The price of supplies is going up and many customers will
be cutting back on purchases. You may need to refocus on feeding yourself
with your harvest and generating income from other sources.
Animals are another
area of both interest and challenge. I really want to share my retirement
years with some large rescue animals. My greater goal, though, is that any
animal on my homestead has relatively free range, with good feed and
housing. While finances are so tight, that means I have to limit myself
to chickens for now. I can add more, to increase production for my own
food and have some extras to sell or share. But my enjoyment of large
animals will have to come from my neighbors’ horses and cows, as well as
the deer who free range through my woods.
2. Do your math and choose accordingly.
It’s more important than ever
that you have a firm handle on income versus expense. Exactly how much
are you spending on transportation, insurance, and utilities? These are
often areas where you can cut expenses and enrich your life at the same
time. In the interest of limiting my debt, I drive an old, small pickup.
My outside job offers me the flexibility of working from home sometimes.
By eliminating two trips per week to the town where I work, I save enough
on gas to pay for high-speed internet service. That, in turn, allows me
the opportunity to earn more money from home and further reduce my debt.
deductible on house and vehicle insurance is another way to limit your
monthly out-of-pocket expenses. However, it’s important to have
enough of a cash reserve to pay that deductible should an emergency
arise. If you work an outside job that pays every two weeks, and your
budget is based on 24 pay periods, the “extra” check you get twice a year
is perfect for starting or growing that reserve. The cash reserve
principles recommended by financial advisors can also be expanded to feed
and supply reserves for homesteaders.
That brings us to a
great shopping tool known as the price book. Online sources offer forms
that you can print to get started. I enjoyed poking around on
www.grocerypricebooks.com. What it really amounts to is serious
tracking of prices on items you buy regularly. I, for one, would much
rather be working outdoors than doing any kind of shopping. While I keep
a budget and try to minimize trips to town, I’m as quick as anyone to be
“taken in” by a sale sign on a store shelf. Keeping a price book
encourages you to pay closer attention to trends, and take advantage of
the lowest prices to stretch your resources.
Couponing is another
tool that continues to grow in popularity. If you’re old enough to
remember when coupon clipping meant scouring the weekly papers to find
products that you might actually use, you may not be a big fan. The
personal computer has changed the game completely. Both coupon websites
and many homesteading blogs give easier access to bargains on items you
need regularly. Couponing can even offer a way to donate to causes that
you couldn’t otherwise support.
3. Perfect the art of barter.
Though trading your products for the goods and services of others is as
old a practice as homesteading itself, now’s the time to think even more
creatively. Sometimes, older homesteaders who struggle with the heavier
physical work can spend a bit more time online doing comparison shopping
and couponing for barter. They could also take charge of a loose
bartering network among friends, by computer, phone, or word-of-mouth.
When my mother-in-law got too infirmed to do anything that required
standing, she was still able to sit at the kitchen table and coach the
entire neighborhood through canning. In exchange, we picked and canned
vegetables that fed her through the winter.
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