Income Options for Homesteaders
When you picture yourself homesteading, do you imagine you will quit your 9-5 job, retire to 100 acres in the mountains, and live off of pasture raised meat and a permacultured food forest? Everything is self-contained, you are free from consumerism, you harness your energy from your solar array, make your food on a woodstove and you get to choose if and when you interact with society. Lovely thought isn’t it?
Unfortunately, it isn’t practical.
Even if you have the cash to cover the initial homestead setup, you will still need an income to cover ongoing costs such as gasoline, clothing, tools, repairs, building materials, foods that cannot be produced on your homestead (i.e. salt), medicine, veterinary supplies; not to mention taxes, insurance, and some form of health insurance or cash for health care.
Before you get frustrated and throw in the towel, know that there are options for you to have your cake and eat it too. Just understand there will be some sacrifices to get what you want.
How Homesteaders Can Earn an Income
One or both spouses work outside the home, full or part-time
One or both spouses own their own business, farming or non-farming related
One or both spouses telecommute or freelance from their home office, full or part-time
The homesteaders have a significant amount of savings so they do not need an income
Working Outside the Home
Working outside the home tends to come with the benefit of health insurance if you are a full-time, which can be very helpful for families with small children or those who are chronically ill. The downside is you will need to live close to your place of work and will be away from the farm most of the time. In addition, you are working to make someone else profitable and of course, you are always subject to cut-backs and layoffs.
Owning Your Own Business
Owing your own business is beneficial in that profit goes directly to you, rather than a corporation. This is probably the most satisfying of all the income options, but it also comes with the most challenges. Probably the most difficult part is coming up with the initial business idea. There is a lot of research and testing involved and it can take years to develop a product or service and customer base. In addition, you will be responsible for managing all aspects of your business from customer service to sales and marketing; or be responsible for managing a team to assist in those areas. You may also have to carry your own business and health insurance.
Telecommuting or Freelancing
Telecommuting or Freelancing has the benefit of being able to work full or part time from your home, which can be almost anyplace you can get high-speed internet. This can be really convenient as most positions have flexible hours, allowing you to work the farm during the daylight hours. The downside is the jobs are highly competitive, are usually short-term contract positions, and usually require you to have your own computer, software and maintain your own high speed internet connection. Some customer service positions will also require you to have a land line.
Obviously this is the option we would all like to have, but not all of us are willing to make the sacrifices to get it. The first step in this plan is estimating how much money you will need to live off of for the rest of your life. No easy task! This has to take into account all possible incidents and accidents, and of course plan for inflation. The next step working and saving until you have that amount of money in your savings account. It requires cutting back on all expenses, purchases, vacations, everything…until you get that money saved. Your income level will determine how quickly you hit that savings amount, and don’t kid yourself; it could take many, many years.
Or you can just play the lottery.
The Real Goals
No matter which path you choose, the main goal-the first goal-should be to eliminate all debt. By eliminating debt, you are free to choose any job you want and to live any way you want. You still need an income, but instead of paying on a 40-year mortgage and leasing two cars, you only have to make enough money to cover basic necessities. You can do that scooping ice cream, selling plants, or knitting sweaters.
The second goal should be to reduce the cost of necessities. This is where homesteading can come into play. If you set up your systems properly, you can grow the majority of your own food and create the majority of your own products. Notice I said "majority", not "all".
The third goal is to diversify your income. You will still need to have money coming in, but you don't want to just rely on selling ice cream as your only source of income. What happens during a blizzard when ice cream demand is down? That is when you start your sweater business!
Having Multiple Streams of Income
Whether you are a homesteader or not, it is always wise to have multiple streams of income. This mitigates your risk in the event you have a business fail, lose a job or have emergency that eats up your savings. This means diversifying your income sources, creating passive income revenue sources, and always having a backup plan in case all else fails. Every hear the saying, "don't put all your eggs in one basket"? That is the philosophy you want to take.
Careers can be volatile. You can have the best job or business one day and cutbacks or competitors can leave you with nothing the next. Diversifying your income is ideal for reducing risk. An example of how that would look for a couple wanting to homestead may look like this:
Year 1-4: Both spouses working full time outside the home to pay off debt and build savings.
Year 4-8: One spouse continues to work full-time and carries insurance while other spouse starts home business and begins homesteading.
Year 8-10: Assuming home business is a success, the working spouse moves to part-time job while starting a part-time job telecommuting.
Year 10+: One spouse continues to run successful home business while homesteading and the second spouse has a part-time, telecommute job while starting a second home business.
Of course, this is a hypothetical scenario and is highly dependent on your skills, needs, and the job market in your area. But it shows how a couple could diversify their jobs while building their homestead and working towards operating partially or completely from their home.
Passive Streams of Income
The most valuable commodity is time. We only have so much time to work and make money and to homestead, and most of us would rather spend more time homesteading. If you can set up income generating streams of income that are passive, then that is the most ideal situation of all. Passive income usually involves working once then continuing to collect money on that work over time. Examples include:
Blog or Vlog: Creating a blog or vlog then collecting ad revenue
Downloadables: Write a book or create an instruction manual then sell copies
Real Estate: Risky business but those who are successful can make money flipping houses or renting property
Affiliate Marketing: Amazon affiliates fall under this category. Refer people to their site and collect a portion of their purchase
These are just some of the examples of passive income. Do some research and you can certainly find a lot more passive income ideas. I highly recommend you make one or more of these part of your long-term financial plan. Just be sure to do your research carefully and be cautious of how much money you invest; in particular with investments such as real estate which can set you back significantly if the market takes a turn.
Trading or Bartering
While not a source of income, I think bartering needs to be mentioned in this article as a great resource for obtaining supplies, food, animals, or products. It obviously has its limitations, but networking with other homesteaders or even non-homesteaders in your area is an excellent backup plan.
Choosing to be Non-Traditional
You really can't buck the system and expect there won't be some challenges. Our society expects you to to graduate high school, go to college, rack up bills, get married, have children, and continue to consume while saving for the ever-elusive age of retirement. You can choose to opt out of the system, but you will still need to rely on the outside world to a certain extent. That will cost money.
But the good news is if you can eliminate your debt and live super frugally, you don't have to be locked into a dead-end job. If you can reduce your expenses to a minimal amount, you can choose to do almost any job you want. Want to try your hand at whittling flutes? Do it! If you love it you can start your own whittled flute business. Just don't quit your day job until you know that the flute business will cover your expenses and be sure to have a backup plan in case people stop wanting flutes.
In another article, I will cover telecommuting jobs for homesteaders and give you an overview on telecommuting, what to expect when applying, and some of the pros and cons to each of the main job categories. I will also give you a list of sites to search for these jobs.
I hope this has been helpful to those of you starting your homesteading, self-reliant journey. If you have any other suggestions that you think might be helpful, please feel free to leave your comments below.