Making Homesteading Work: Budgeting and Maximizing Food Usage

Making homesteading work in these modern times can be a challenge. Even keeping up with just the minimum of home and property bills requires a sizable income, at least until you own your property outright. For many households (perhaps most) that translates into dual income necessity, or at least a supplemental secondary part-time income. This can make homesteading and being self-sufficient a challenge; a challenge that many give up Happy Homesteadon, and understandably so. Life today is harried, busy, stressful, and expensive.

So does that mean that reaching your homesteading and self sufficiency goals is beyond you? Certainly not. But it does require some thought and planning. It requires give-and-take (but all good things do, don’t they?) and it requires finding ways to cut money from a typical modern household budget to accommodate for either the cost of homesteading and animal care or the cost of “lost” income.

Doing the Income Dance

To give you an example, in our household my husband runs his own logging business and I help out on the book-keeping end of that. I also work from home part time as a freelance writer. Largely, though, we rely upon my husband’s income so as to free up my time for home and homesteading. My work and income is kind of peaks and valleys, intentionally so, and therefore is not as reliable. I’ve limited client commitments and am working more towards independent publishing and blogging, which gives me the ability to work more during “off peak” garden and homesteading seasons and reduce or even eliminate my workload during those times of year when the gardens, food preparation, and preserving requires more of my time and attention.

In essence what we are doing to make homesteading work here is in part “sacrificing” some of the more modern lifestyle and stuff (but not all by any means) and working to strike a balance in the budget that works. The more we produce here the lower our food bills outside of the homestead, but we are not able to completely wipe them out. In addition, proper animal care does require us to maintain a feed budget. We moderate that the best we can (more on that another day) but it still remains a line item in the bottom line.

Considering the Costs

One of the things we do do to find and maintain this lifestyle-budget balance is to consider the costs of a typical grocery budget and then match that against what I am able to produce or provide by trading “working” (as in, paid work) time for home provision and production time. It turns out that I can actually break even or perhaps even do better by not working outside the home. Using USFDA figures, a modest estimate of what a family of four can expect to pay for a moderate food expense is over $1,000 per month for a couple and two children in the 6 to 11 age range. Now consider that I have 2 children older than this (our range is more like 8-14) and that we are a family of six, not four. Using the formula provided by the FDA and calculating out the cost to feed a family of our size, gender, and age make-up, the average moderate food expense for us is estimated at a whopping $1511.36 per month!

So for us it’s easy to place a monetary value on my not working just by looking at what our grocery cost would be if I were not able to be here and not able to produce the volume of food that I/we do. Even considering feed costs and animal upkeep, we’re not spending anywhere near $1500 per month. And then to that we could start adding in all the other factors…for example, the quality of the food, the health and well-being benefits of not pickling ourselves in preservatives all the time, the body benefits of the activity of animal care, not having the expense of vehicle upkeep, gas, etc. that comes from commuting, not incurring daycare costs for after-hours or vacation and sick days, and on and on. So…

Where am I going With This?

Yes, that's a lot of tomatoes. But you can make them pay in more ways than you'd think!

Yes, that’s a lot of tomatoes. But you can make them pay in more ways than you’d think!

Well honestly when I started out this morning I intended to map out all the ways that I utilize the milk supply from our backyard Jersey cow to justify her expense and see how we make her pay us back. Clearly I’ve veered from that a little, so we’ll get into that topic in an upcoming post.

I guess for today, then, we’ll just take this post as a primer for that conversation and others, the basic theme of which is finding the ways to make a homesteading and self-sufficient lifestyle pay and the ways to incorporate that with living in today’s modern society, all things considered. If there is one thing to take away for today, it’s that there really is a real, not imagined, monetary trade-off to homesteading and if properly planned and managed you can actually make the rewarding lifestyle you have chosen, or are thinking about choosing, pay.

For me personally, given my role here in our household, that falls to utilizing the food we produce as best I can to cover as many budget-bases with it as best I can. So, as mentioned, as we progress I’ll start listing and laying out the varied ways I’ve found to maximize that food use. By no means will my lists be the be-all and end-all, but they will be (good, I hope) examples of what you can get out of a basic homestead and how doing that makes the whole thing feasible.