Whether you’ve been living the off-grid lifestyle for some time or are a newbie, whatever stage you’re in there is plenty you might wish you could go back and tell your just-getting-started self. Knowing what you should avoid is just as important as knowing what you should do as you get going. A difficult yet gratifying endeavor, Marty Raney, host of Discovery’s Homestead Rescue (which is casting its new season right now, by the way—skip to the end for more details!), put it best when he said to Hollywood Soapbox: “Who wouldn’t want to live simply? Who wouldn’t want to live freely, and who wouldn’t want to live less stressful and self-sufficient, quite frankly?”
In the spirit of making that dream come true, here are eight homesteading pitfalls to address that could bench your aspirations before you get a chance to really join the game. Failing to plan is planning to fail so give yourself the best possible chance at success and homestead longevity by ensuring you’re not making these rookie mistakes. (And if you already have, be a friend and share this with someone you can help not make the same blunders.)
Homesteading Pitfall #1: Failing to Budget
Among many reasons a lot of new homesteaders get into it at all is for not only the long-term sustainability of the lifestyle, but also for the possibility—and probability—of lowering one’s expenditures in general. But just because you may eventually be saving money and spending less doesn’t mean there aren’t upfront costs to getting started. It’s important to sit down and map out your expenditures and expected ROI (return on investment) on each and every line item. Think of it like a business plan—any good business plan comprises:
- the business’s mission and goals
- the methods for attaining those goals (remember, both successful and unsuccessful homesteaders have the same goal; it’s those who implement a system and follow it that get the desired result.)
- the time-frame in which the goals must be achieved
- a budget
Make a 1-year plan and a 5-year goals list. Then break down those goals into the step-by-step system that will set you up for success. And if numbers and spreadsheets intimidate you, bring in an accountant or someone you trust to ease the stress.
Homesteading Pitfall #2: Not Fully Researching a Property Before Purchasing
This plays in with your business plan and budget. Plenty an aspiring homesteader with stars in their eyes have purchased a plot of land or potential homestead without fully vetting the premises—only to make it theirs, show up, and find the water doesn’t run clean, there’s no way to get electricity to the location even if they wanted to, or the existing home is so far from up to code that the associated fees outweigh the mortgage—among a plethora of other issues! Do yourself a favor and never purchase a property sight unseen, no matter how good the deal seems.
Homesteading Pitfall #3: Not Knowing When to Outsource
So you want to live a self-sufficient lifestyle, but no one gets there in a day and few get there on their own. You have an immense amount of research and learning ahead of you, but sometimes you will need to recognize when your next step is beyond your capabilities—and that it’s OK to bring in reinforcements. Take some time to think through and honestly assess your skills, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth and education. Check out the non-exhaustive categories below and fairly grade yourself. Are you an A+ performer in each of these? Anywhere you grade yourself a C or below, do some research in your local area and find experts you can hire to teach you what you don’t know. Or better yet, make a trade or barter your goods, services, or expertise for theirs.
- FOOD: Gardening, raising livestock and poultry plus performing animal aid, fishing, hunting, butchering, preservation, composting, pest control
- HEALTH: Water sourcing and filtration, first aid, making remedies and medicines
- HANDYWORK: Home repairs, woodwork, electrical work
- HOMESTEAD UPKEEP: Plumbing, carpentry, utilizing power tools/machinery, creating modern creature comforts to the extent they’re desired
- ENERGY GENERATION
And remember: an enormous amount can be learned online these days, like where you’re reading now.
Homesteading Pitfall #4: Forgetting to Prioritize Your Health and Strength:
There’s no question—homesteading is highly physical. Many health benefits can be reaped from the lifestyle alone but if you want to make the most of yours, make sure to prioritize strength training, cardiovascular health, and proper nutrition. Active homesteaders burn far more calories than the average non-homesteading adult; you need to be meeting all your physical and nutritional needs to do the work you want to do, and to do it well. And although much of your work is a workout in and of itself, a bit of strength training each week will also fortify your bones and muscles to keep up with the physicality of your chosen life.
Homesteading Pitfall #5: Fear of Failure and Hard Work—Very, Very Hard Work:
An absolute guarantee for any homesteader, beginner or veteran, is that you will fail, you will fail hard, and you are likely to fail often. Your outcomes will be a direct reflection of the quantity and quality of work you put in each and every day. This is no hobby—it’s a way of life. But don’t let this deter you from the dream if you really mean it. The failure is normal and the hard work is required, no shortcuts allowed. As long as you’re willing to learn from your homesteading failures and keep going, each setback will be a worthwhile teaching tool.
Homesteading Pitfall #6: Ignoring Income Streams from Your Homestead
As you ease into homesteading, it’s highly likely you haven’t quit your day job. But if eventual total self-sufficiency is your goal, start paying attention to ways in which your homestead might also generate revenue:
- Perhaps your fruit and vegetable farming is producing more than you can eat, preserve, and repurpose on your own—check out your local farmer’s markets and open a stall. Create and sell jams or preserves and canned vegetables, sell eggs, make and sell jerkies, sell seeds. If your thumb is particularly green, selling seedlings is always desirable; not everyone has the patience to create the perfect conditions for a new crop, and plenty of seeds never grow at all. You’ll have skipped that annoying frustration for your customers by selling them a plant that’s young and ready to thrive. PRO TIP: Ideally, find a hole in the offerings of your local markets and fill that niche. Soon, customers will be seeking you out because your offerings are special and rare.
- Raising cows or goats? Fresh milk is always in style for the homesteader and general population, and the delivery services we often associate with the mid-1900s are making a comeback. Survey your area (even by word-of-mouth!) and see if there’s a demand for local milk delivery to your neighbors and anywhere within reasonable driving distance. The profit margin on milk is fantastic.
- If you’re producing milk, you can make cheese, and if you have fresh-milk customers, the same base will likely buy your cheese.
- Create giftable potpourris, bath “tea” sachets, and similar items by infusing your dried and preserved flowers and leaves with essential oils or other fruits from your homestead. Plan ahead for holidays like Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, and Christmas when such handmade gifts and homemade goods are in high demand.
Homesteading Pitfall #7: Confusing Animals with Pets
Your homestead is a business and eventually, your livelihood. Avoid the pitfall of viewing the animals you raise, and potentially breed, as pets alone. One way to do this is to focus on raising animals that serve more than one purpose. Can your cattle provide milk and eventually meat, your poultry eggs, and—one day—meat? Will the output of each animal not only pay for itself but also bring in profits? If there are children in your household, at the very beginning is also the best time to explain and teach them about the circle of life, the food chain, the purpose animals serve, the care they require and deserve, and how a household pet differs from a homestead animal. You’ll avoid hurt hearts with your kiddos if they can understand and differentiate between the two early on.
Homesteading Pitfall #8: Losing Your Sense of Humor
There’s no doubt about it: Homesteading is not for the faint of heart. Not ideal for the high-strung or anxious personality type, homesteading will teach you lessons you never considered and personal growth will abound in your home.
Maintaining a healthy sense of humor on the homestead, flexibility, and the ability to roll with the punches will take you a long way in your new self-sustaining lifestyle. Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong will.” Embrace that early—and daily—and you’re setting yourself up for exceeding expectations versus being let down by the inevitable mishaps and setbacks.
If you’ve read this far and are still keeping all your browser tabs about homesteading open, you are clearly the type who is willing to do what it takes. This is not a lifestyle or line of work for the faint of heart, but instead for the grittiest and perhaps most idealistic among us. If you’re willing to not only dream but to do, to not only set goals but to implement the systems and plans required to achieve them, it is one of the most rewarding life paths one can follow.
And if you could use some hands-on help like we talked about in section 3 above, Discovery’s hit show Homestead Rescue is casting for its latest season! In each episode, Marty Raney, a long-time expert homesteader, his family, and crew spend a week helping rescue a newbie homesteader from that big F—failure. Raney and his team know that living in the middle of nowhere and off the common grid can be a real struggle, especially when you’re building and maintaining your own homestead. This difficult lifestyle poses plenty of challenges and dangers for those unprepared, including dealing with harsh weather, preparing for medical emergencies, and maintaining a baseline level of modern conveniences.
It takes a lot of determination to leave civilization and build an off-grid homestead from the ground up. If you’ve been hitting wall after wall while living a self-sustaining lifestyle or have been struggling to reach your off-gridding goals, the Raney family may be coming to your neck of the woods next. Apply for the show here and get the rescue you need.