Self-sufficiency and sustainability are buzzwords—not only used in the close-knit homesteading community, but by corporations who want to cash in on a trending value system to make a quick buck. In order to cash in, however, they had to make some changes. Changing their products would take time and money, so they went about changing us. Through a bombardment of slick advertising, they have convinced the American people of something that is patently false: in order to be self-sufficient and live a sustainable lifestyle, we need to buy something, and the more expensive the product is, the more sustainable it must be. Our great-grandparents would not be pleased. Luckily, everything old is new again… learning to save money, self-sufficiency, and sustainability included.
A better way to live is in all of us. It is hidden, sometimes deep, in our collective memory. It may take some digging and it will definitely take some healthy skepticism, along with the courage to call a lie and lie when big corporations try to sell you something you don’t need. You can save time, money, your health, your family, energy, and the planet, and you don’t need any fancy gadgets to do it.
When presented with the concept of self-sufficiency, most people will throw up their hands and cry, “Who has time for that?” This is one of the most insidious lies used to convince us that we barely have enough time to consume, much less produce. The fact is, if we stop consuming (products, technology, resources), we free up a great deal of time in which we can create the life we want.
Although I have divided these tips into categories, each tip provides more than a single benefit. Obviously, if you are saving energy, you are also saving money. If you are cooking from home, you are saving money, time and your health. It is important that you not think of this in terms of all or nothing. Pick a few things you can do and gradually add more self-sufficient activities as you feel so inclined.
There are several things you can do to save on your energy bill. When you work to decrease your energy consumption, you are not only saving yourself money, but you are helping the environment by reducing your carbon footprint. Wherever you fall on the issue of climate change, it is clear that we consume more than we need. A little bit of personal responsibility can go a long way towards creating a more fair and sustainable world.
First, what chores can you do with less energy? Do you need to use your vacuum every day or can you use a broom? Can you wash your laundry in cold water? Can you do your baking in the cool of the morning or evening instead of during the heat of the day?
If you are keeping a half-empty freezer, fill it up with jugs of water. A full freezer doesn’t have to work as hard as an empty one. And if you use a dishwasher, only run it when it is full.
Line-drying your clothes can save you up to $200 a year in energy costs. Line-drying is also much gentler on fabrics, allowing you to save money on clothing. Hanging your clothes out to dry helps remove strong odors without chemical perfumes and dyes, saving you even more money. Finally, line-drying can reduce the average family’s carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds a year.
You can cut energy costs with your entertainment choices as well. Instead of spending hours on screen time, whether television, computer or phone), do something that consumes zero energy. Go outside, read a book, play a board game, learn a musical instrument, take a bike ride. The choices are limited only by your imagination.
A lot of people do not believe this, but you can save a lot of time and money by cooking your food at home. It has always been cheaper to eat this way, but the gap between cooking at home and dining out is growing larger. Make an extra pan of the main dish and freeze it for a convenient “heat and serve” meal on busy nights.
Baking your own bread is another healthy, money-saving tip that really adds to your quality of life. According to Mother Nature Network, you can save anywhere from $1-$4 a loaf, which adds up to $80-$320 a year for the average family.
Many people are nervous about baking their own bread, but it is not as hard as you think, and it only gets easier with practice. Below is a recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, but if you are still nervous, go ahead and invest in a bread machine. It takes all the guesswork out of the equation and gives you a perfect loaf every single time.
Five-Minute No-Knead Bread yield: 4 1-pound loaves
- 3 cups lukewarm water, plus 1 cup for baking
- 1 Tablespoon granulated yeast
- 1 – 1 ½ Tablespoons kosher salt
- 6 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, measured by the scoop and sweep method
In a large bowl, mix the yeast, 3 cups of water and salt. Don’t worry about dissolving the yeast. Add all of the flour and mix until everything is well blended. Do not knead. The dough should be uniformly wet and loose.
Loosely cover the bowl and keep at room temperature for two hours. Put it in the refrigerator for 24 hours before making your first loaf.
Flour hands and cut off a 1 pound piece of dough. Do not punch down. Gently stretch the surface of the dough, tucking ends under the ball and rotating it a quarter of a turn as you go. Place the shaped ball on a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel and let it rise for 40 minutes.
Preheat oven and baking stone to 450 degrees. Place an empty metal pan on the bottom rack.
Dust the top of the loaf with flour and slash a 1/2” deep cross on the top. Slide dough onto a baking stone. Pour 1 cup of hot water in a metal pan and close the oven door. Bake 20-35 minutes, until crust is brown and firm to the touch.
While you are saving money in the kitchen, don’t forget about food preservation. Food preservation can extend the shelf life of food, eliminate food waste and allow you to take advantage of low prices if you are buying in bulk. Freezing and fermenting food are the cheapest and fastest methods of food preservation.
If you have never fermented food before, I suggest starting with citrus. It is simple to do and easy to incorporate into everyday meals.
Preserved Citrus (Limes, Lemons, or Oranges)
- limes, lemons, or oranges
- kosher salt
Rinse fruit and pat dry. Cut off one end and stand fruit up on the cut end. Make two slits to form an “X”, cutting ¾ the way down. Pack a lot of salt into the slits and place fruit in a jar, pressing to release the juice. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours. Uncover and press down every day for three days until fruit is softened and submerged in juice. If there is not enough juice to submerge fruit, cover with water. Chill one month before using.
To eat, remove the flesh. Keep and eat the rinds. You can add rinds to yogurt, vinaigrettes or as an edible garnish for grilled meats and seafood.
What you do in the kitchen can help the planet as well as your pocketbook. Start by buying whatever you can in bulk to reduce the amount of disposable packaging. Save and reuse the containers you do have to purchase. They are handy for everything from storing leftovers to transporting fishing worms.
Consider participating in “Meatless Mondays” to reduce your consumption of meat. We know plant-based diets are beneficial to human health and, if you consume industrialized meat, is better for animal welfare. A plant-based diet also helps to fight climate change and is easier on your budget, especially if you are growing your own produce.
Use cloth instead of paper whenever you can to cut down on landfill waste. Cloth napkins are beautiful and easy to care for. Even if you are a beginner on the sewing machine, double-sided cloth napkins are simple to make. The benefit of making them yourself is that you can use scrap fabric you have on hand, and you can make them in the exact color and style you want.
To make a set of six napkins, you need twelve squares of 18 x 18” fabric, matching thread and a sewing machine. Stack the squares, 2 by 2, right sides together and pin. Mark a 3” opening on one side with two pins.
Sew the squares together with a 1/3” seam allowance. Clip corners and turn right side out. Push corners out with a chopstick.
Press the edges so it lays flat, folding back the lips of the opening so they become invisible. Topstitch along all four sides, about 1/8” from the edge.
Your health, and the health of your family, is another topic old-fashioned advice touches on. When it comes to health, it is best to make sure you are covering the basics. And the basics start with eating good food.
We’ve already covered some of the benefits of cooking at home, but the biggest benefit is that you know exactly what ingredients are in your food. You can tailor your meals to meet the needs of your family.
Of course, homesteaders know that good food starts in the garden and animal stalls. Growing and raising your own food is cheaper, better for the environment, saves energy and is by far the healthiest thing you can do for yourself and your family. If you get your children in on the action, it also teaches responsibility and creates a well-deserved sense of pride. Not to mention the money you save by working the farm instead of going to the gym!
In addition to good food, make sure everyone gets enough hydration and rest. Hydration is another area you can pinch pennies for your health. Soda and store-bought juice contain a ton of sugar. Water is free and good for you.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how we can improve the quality of our lives by following some old-fashioned advice. It turns out, grandma really did know best!