July 24, 2024

(Continued from Part 2. This concludes the article.)

Financial Concerns, Taking a Vow of Poverty

In my case, retiring early and cashing out most of my 401k took a leap of faith to say the least. It helped that I was debt-free and willing to put up with almost any inconvenience and suffer financially if necessary if it meant finally getting to live my dream life in the country. That was my primary goal above all else. How to get by if the funds ran dry was only a secondary concern that I’d deal with later if necessary. That’s how bad I wanted to make it happen. If I had to stock shelves at my local grocery store until my social security checks started rolling in, so be it. If I had to live off my preps for five years, what an opportunity!

For those who want their own little place in the boonies but think they just can’t make it happen, I can’t stress enough this mindset of taking a leap of faith, tossing convenience to the wind, adopting the attitude of sucking it up, toughing it out, and doing whatever it takes to make it happen. If it becomes your primary goal in life you can make it happen. And I’m not just parroting Vince Lombardi here. There are much cheaper ways to build a residence than I did, I just had a certain kind of house in mind since way back when. Sheetrock and paint are much less expensive than wood walls inside. Some people can start out in a mini house and then upgrade later, then generating income by renting the mini as an Airbnb. The norm before mortgages were invented was to build a very small one- or two-room house when the family was small, designed to be added on to later. An addition was added as the family grew, and often a second addition later on, if needed.

There are many alternative building methods that are worth investigating, some require lots of work but not lots of money: cordwood, hay bales, and rammed earth to name a few. Research these before you scoff! Some are pretty ingenious. In high school I had a friend who build a house from “short ends”, stacking them like bricks. Short ends are the pieces the sawmill cuts off the end of milled lumber to make it an even 8’, 10’, etc. They were available from her local sawmill for $5 a pickup load, $10 for anything larger. One of my local sawmills lets you have all the short ends you want for free. They also make great kindling and firewood.

When I moved here after taking a 50% cut in pay, of course my income wasn’t going to be what it used to be. I had retired ten years early and basically had to take a vow of poverty for two reasons. First, I wasn’t sure how much it would cost to build my tiny little dream home. Secondly, I had only a very rough idea of how far my remaining funds would stretch once the house and shop were completed.

When I bought my property, I eschewed conventional wisdom and cashed out most of my small 401k. Talk about leaving the safe harbor! Between my 401k and savings I was able to buy my property, build the small house and shop, and have enough to live off until my social security began. Had I not been fortunate enough to have the savings, or the intestinal fortitude to cash out so much of my 401k, I still would have moved to the country and worked at a lesser-paying job to make my dream come true.

While growing up, my dad always said, “There’s needs and wants. Learn to distinguish between the two and your finances will go a lot further in life.” Understanding that difference and my second-nature frugalism over the years had paid off. I’ve never owned a new vehicle (the newest one I ever owned had 87,000 miles on it) and other than that $10 dollars my sister loaned me for the Jr. prom, I’ve never made an interest payment of any kind other than a mortgage payment. Avoiding interest payments and car payments and living a very frugal lifestyle all my life was a big factor in allowing me to save a lot of money every month and buy my homestead when I did. I’ve never been interested in “toys,” other than kayaks and mountain bikes, and have never been in the habit of making impulse purchases or wasting money on things because I “deserved” them. The only thing I deserved was a little homestead in the country. Whenever I go shopping, I always have a list, get in and out of the store as quickly as possible, and only rarely ever buy anything that’s not on the list. I steer clear of the Thin Mints aisle altogether. When we cultivate certain habits, we can stay out of debt and money can be saved a lot more quickly.

Living on savings for ten years can be a scary proposition, even for an ultra-frugalist like me.

Food-wise, the garden and chickens were a big help. The chickens laid a lot of eggs and most of them were given away or bartered for things like meat. I had a Country Living grain mill and one of my daughters gave me 300 lbs. of wheat for my birthday. Buckets of wheat, beans, rice, flour, and sugar from my storage were not only a huge help but gave me more experience in developing recipes for and living off the kinds of food we’ll be eating if the SHTF. You’d be surprised how many months $100 worth of pinto beans and rice can stretch. In addition to the stores I already had, I bought 20 buckets of food storage at a prepper friend’s auction when he passed away. I got the whole supply for $10. I bought it strictly for the gasketed food-storage buckets but discovered that everything inside was still edible even though some of it had not been rotated. The majority of it was only a few years old based on some of the use-by dates. That went a long way towards cutting my food bills to less than $100/month. The 20 lbs. of popcorn were like gold.

My mother passed away and left me a small sum of money which was a big help. It was enough for an average person to live four months on but I was able to stretch if out for almost a year. I average around $750/year selling beehives and honey. I sell half and mostly give the other half away to friends and neighbors who always end up returning the favor so it’s actually a good barter system. The year before I got my bees, my total income was 75¢. Three times I saw carts at Aldi that were left in the parking lot so when I took them up front I got to keep the quarter. If 75¢/year isn’t poverty, I don’t know what is! But I was living the dream.

The last two years of my poverty adventure were especially nerve-wracking as I had to lower my monthly savings withdrawals to $500/month. Loving a challenge and having a strong philosophy of self-reliance and a “suck-it-up-buttercup” mentality, I made do and cut as many corners as I could. I’ve never owned a television so there was no cable bill. I bartered with a friend to put my phone on their plan and pay for it as well. I own my property free and clear, the taxes are incredibly low, no water bill, I heat with wood I cut from my own property, and with my grid-tied solar panels the very small electric bill is just to pay the meter charge. So my monthly bills are almost non-existent.

Again, I took a leap of faith, sailed out of the safe harbor and most of the details took care of themselves like they always do, often in unexpected ways.

Do I Have Any Money-Making Options?

One thing that took some of the edge off my financial concerns was that if it became necessary, my best option for making money would be to use my guest bedroom as an Airbnb. I’m guessing there would be people wanting to experience an off-the-wall vacation while visiting some of the local tourist and recreation spots. Other customers could be those wanting to experience an off-grid lifestyle before taking the plunge and moving to the boonies themselves. I could teach homesteading skills and show them the ropes on many topics: gardening, beekeeping, firewood production, prepping, frugal living, home-canning, solar-drying food, food-storage essentials, solar power and projects, and how to properly nap in a hammock under the walnut trees on hot humid days.

Would I Do It Again?

Absolutely! There’s nothing to even think about. I’d start five or ten years sooner though.

Compared to how I felt at 62, I felt like a spring chicken while building my house and shop at age 52. Having a son in his 20s coming to help for weeks at a time was also huge help. It would have been more challenging and difficult at 62 and by then my son was married and settled down. I’m thankful I retired early and made my dream a reality while I was still young enough to have the strength and fitness to get everything done.

Some of my family and old friends no doubt think I’m two fish short of a full stringer for giving everything up to live in the backwoods in a small house that doesn’t even have a flush toilet. But all the money in the world can’t compare to living the lifestyle I’ve dreamed about since I was in my single-digit years. I can honestly say if someone offered me a million dollars to move back to my old hometown and live that lifestyle again, rolling in the bucks, it wouldn’t even be tempting. That’s hard for 99% of people to understand or believe. Adjusted for inflation, my grandfather was a millionaire. But to look at him and his vehicle, people no doubt thought he was homeless and living out of his car. But he was living the lifestyle he wanted, where he wanted, on his own terms and really had no use for all his money. I understand exactly how he felt and not only has he always been my biggest hero in life but he also saved me a spot right next to him on the Group W bench.

Would it be nice to have a brand-new F-150 sitting in my driveway? A zero-turn mower? The time and money to hit some of those bucket-list adventures I never got around to? Yes! But no regrets. I can’t even express how comforting it is to know that now I won’t be on my deathbed wishing I had taken the leap of faith and lived my dream life. I did it. I didn’t work more hours in an office, make more money, or had that $2,000,000 net worth had I’d stayed where I was doing what I was doing. While it would be great to own a zero-turn mower and a new pickup (in that order) I don’t waste time wishing for things. If there’s a God and He lets me into heaven, I hope He’ll let me mow the grass there on a shiny new zero-turn mower. But I don’t need one here.

I applaud my family members who’ve done so well. My hat’s off to them and I couldn’t possibly be prouder. They’re happy with their choices and I’m happy with mine, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And they know that.

I have many regrets in life, but buying my property at 50 and retiring at 52 to finally chase my dream and attain it isn’t one of them. Life hasn’t been the same. I put my worries behind me when I talked to my boss that day and clearly saw the regrets I’d have if I didn’t hop to and go going on the business of living a self-reliant lifestyle. Many people’s single biggest fear would be the financial unknown, but I had to let that be what it was going to be, I couldn’t let it get in my way. My biggest life’s worry was that I’d spend the rest of my life working for others at the expense of not doing the really important things in life. It’s been a great journey so far.

I know I’m not alone in the desires I felt to build a little homestead in the boonies. I’m not alone in wanting to live a self-reliant lifestyle, using it as a springboard to prepare for the possibility of a SHTF scenario we seem to be heading for on this planet of ours. For those who share the same feelings, I can only say that life doesn’t last forever! Sometimes we have to take some risks to pursue what we want most before it’s too late to enjoy it. I have no regrets about the decision I made to get to where I’m at right now. I spend more time worrying about hive beetles and getting my tomatoes planted on time than I do about what my future holds. I’ve noticed in life that everything always has a way of working itself out, it always has.

If you’re still wanting and wishing to get out of the city and move to the country, perhaps it’s time to take the leap of faith, sail out of the safe harbor, and make it happen. If not now, when?