Growing square footage of our houses in the United States and around the world has me thinking more about the psychological, environmental, and fiscal impacts of our choices. CNN reports that the average home size in the US is 2,598 sq ft, as of 2013. Pew Research Center shows that the average family size in the US is 2.6, which leaves us with nearly 1,000 sq ft per person.
Garrett and I share a 536 sq ft house, which I’m calling one of the many types of “Alternative Living Arrangements” we’re exploring in this series of guest posts from those who have also moved away from the 2,500 sq ft way of life.
Matthew of Weekend Homesteader is the author of the second post in this series. Enjoy!
Matthew is the husband of a beautiful, polymathic wife, the father of a brave, nature-loving two-year-old girl, and is creating a self-sustaining homestead for his family in the upper Midwest. His goal is to inspire others to make use of the resources they already have, operate a business-like approach to homesteading, and enjoy life and time with family and friends along the way. Follow his blog at WeekendHomesteader.com or on Twitter @wkndhomesteader.
We’ve been living in the country for a couple years now and are continuing to work on the self-sustainability of the place. As we don’t want our homestead to become a money pit, we’ve created opportunities to make it pay for itself. Our business plan shows that we could be turning a profit shortly on this investment and then, rather than repaying the mortgage to the bank every month with the money I make at my day job, I will have this place paying itself off, serving as a solid side hustle and a substantial income generator for my family.
Before we settled on this home, we compared all the available properties with a checklist of requirements. Instead of the typical dream house wish list, we considered which resources were available on the property, for example: water, tillable land, outbuildings, the sustainability of the house, distance from town, and the cost versus income potential of putting these resources to work. After carefully reviewing our options, we decided on an older home in the woods, on a dozen acres beside a small river, with a couple outbuildings that would support my business plan of creating income from my expanding interests and hobbies.
As the business owner of this homestead, I am applying common business practices that every owner must have in order to be successful. Activities such as:
- Developing a business plan – my strategy and goals, which will equate to success
- Consulting with a financial manager – for budgetary purposes, forecasts, accounting, and tax planning
- Planning staffing needs – seasonal help when I need it
- Creating marketing campaigns – so people know about my products and services
- Developing sales and distribution targets – optimal market locations and quantities needed
- Becoming an operations manager – learning the skills I need to keep equipment running well
The mortgage, taxes, and insurance are my largest expenses. But I’m not overly concerned about this because, according to my business plan, I should be able to cover those costs with the income ideas I have for the homestead. My wife and I were talking about the time value of money, a concept that she understands quite well, and that helped ease my concerns about taking on the mortgage in the first place. In short, we’re not stuck in a crippling mortgage, but rather have an opportunity to put our investments to work.
To begin with, I offset expenses by renting out the mother-in-law unit in the basement right after we moved in. Renting out that space has reduced my family’s monthly mortgage contributions substantially. If the homestead we chose didn’t have the apartment, I had considered renting out an unused room in the house to a trustworthy college student who is looking to escape the on-campus scene. Renting space to the right tenant is an excellent way to recoup some mortgage and operating costs right away.
You wouldn’t believe how easy chickens are to raise. And family, friends, and neighbors buy up the organic, free-range eggs readily. Right now demand is exceeding production, so I’m revisiting my business plan to accommodate this. Surprising to me, I don’t have to babysit the chickens every day and can still be successful in this venture. I fill the feeders and waterers once a week and let the hens do the rest. With enough space and an affordable source of feed for the chickens, I recommend raising chickens as a fairly simple source of income.
There are some areas in the outbuildings that we’re not using right now for any productive activities, so I started renting out space to a few friends. Around here people acquire lots of big toys like RVs and campers, boats, motorcycles, and snowmobiles. So after a quick call to my insurance provider to determine liability, I let some friends know and am now collecting a small income in storage rental.
After assessing that we had a good number of maple trees on the property, my wife surprised me with a startup kit for tapping my own maple syrup. Starting with just one maple tree, a spile, a bucket, a stainless steel buffet pan, and a high-pressure gas burner, an idea was born. After the spring sap run my first year, I had bottled enough maple syrup to offset the expense of the kit and the need to purchase any more syrup for my family that year. While I didn’t sell any syrup that year, I had enough left over to give as gifts and then the next year produced so much syrup that I began distributing to others. Now I’m considering building my own sugar shack and increasing production so that we have another reliable source of income being generated from our homestead.
Above are Matthew’s wife’s grandparents and great-grandparents, the four on the right, in 1961. And the vat that they’re evaporating the sap in is the same vat Matthew uses for the syrup he produces.
Spending time at home with my family and succeeding in creating a self-sustaining homestead is one of my dreams. So, in addition to creating passive income through various channels – such as blogging about my weekend homesteading adventures – I continue to look for ways to put my investment property to work for me.
Money saving ideas that have worked for me already include:
- Being a hunter/gatherer – reducing my reliance on the supermarket
- Ordering in bulk (50lb bags): items like green coffee beans and other grains and legumes, which is significantly cheaper and healthier than purchasing already processed beans and grains
- Gardening to replace grocery store trips
Some of the money making ideas I have for the future are:
- Selling handmade crafts from items salvaged from the yard; canes, coasters, wood-burned & engraved signs
- Home brewing to cut down on alcohol expenses
- Self-constructing and renting out a small cabin by the river’s edge
- Growing specialty crops, mushrooms, and microgreens
Rather than being sucked into a mortgage money pit, I’m operating my homestead like a business and am going to make this investment property pay for itself year-after-year by turning on my homestead hustle.
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