Many people dream of one day having their homestead, where they can live as sustainably and self-reliantly as possible. But for many, the dream feels out of reach – often for economic reasons. If you are one of those people, you might be wondering how people afford to homestead.
Many people afford homesteading by initially keeping their part-time or full-time job and gradually increasing the level of their self-sufficiency. They make money from a market garden, livestock, trees, visitors or teaching/sharing their skills.
By looking at each of these issues in turn, you should be able to find a pathway forwards. While there are certain characteristics that most if not all homesteads share – there are also many differences between them. There are a great many factors that influence which approach or approaches it will be best to take.
Remember, homesteads come in many shapes and sizes. And you do not need to eat the whole elephant at once. You can take it one bite at a time. Even if you are firm in your conviction that the homesteading lifestyle is right for you, you do not necessarily have to do it all at once. You can take things slower and ease into it. You can start your journey to a more sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle one step at a time.
You can enjoy elements at least of a homesteading lifestyle whether you have a small urban backyard or a number of acres. While a larger and more complex homestead can cost a pretty penny, smaller-scale operations need not cost all that much at all.
Do You Need To Give Up The Day Job To Start Homesteading?
Having read the list of expenses outlined above, you may well be thinking to yourself that there is no way that you could achieve this if you give up your day job. But do you need to give up your day job to start homesteading?
The truth is that many homesteaders start out on their journey with full-time jobs. They may work outside of the home in order to raise the seed money for the project. They may even continue to work even while they start their homesteading journey.
Many families are able to afford homesteading because at least one member of the family has a full time ‘9 to 5’ job. This may not seem ideal. But it can be a sensible way to begin to transition into this different way of life.
It can be a good idea to take a pragmatic approach and keep existing employment until you are able to get a stable and ideally profitable homestead up and running. Realistically, the burden of mortgage debt can mean that it makes sense to work off the homestead until property debts have been reduced significantly or paid off. Unless you are able to buy a property upfront without going into any debt, this is an issue you may have to contend with.
However, as we will discuss later in this article, it is possible and achievable to turn a profit and make homesteading your full-time concern. You don’t need to give up your day job. But homesteading can one day give you that option. It is just unlikely that day will come right away.
Do You Need an External Income Source on a Homestead?
Some people believe that you will always need an external income source on a homestead. But while it is often expedient to start out that way, long term, it is perfectly possible for a successful homestead to meet most if not all of your needs.
One important thing to remember is that money is not the be-all and end-all. Though few of us will be able to entirely turn our backs on the modern world and live cash-free, homesteading is often about breaking our slavish connection to the world of capitalism and finances.
There will likely always be some financial costs. But when you move to a homesteading way of life, you will find that, over time, you need far less money to maintain your way of life. Often, by making the most of natural resources and reclaimed resources, you will be able to cut considerably the amount of money you have to spend.
In collaboration with other homesteaders and others in your community, you can also often move closer to a cashless society – exchanging goods through gifting and barter type systems as well as in traditional financial transactions.
How Can You Make an Income From Your Homestead?
When thinking about how to make an income, and a profit, from your homestead, there is one key tip: diversify.
As a homesteader, you need to be able to wear a number of hats. You need to be able to multi-task and turn your attention to multiple different avenues at the same time. Homesteads that focus too narrowly on one income stream are typically far less successful than those that have multiple strings to their bow.
Reliably and sustainably, making a profit on a homestead means creating diverse systems. From the plants you choose and wildlife you attract to where and what you sell, diversity brings stability and insulates you from future shocks.
To help you understand how people not only afford homesteading but also make a profit from it, let’s take a look at some of the potential revenue streams that can be explored:
Making Money From a Market Garden
One of the obvious areas to explore as a homesteader is becoming a market gardener. But as a food producer, margins can be tight. It is important to do your market research, as in any other business, to find out which produce might be in favor (and command the best prices) at different times of the year. Research the market for organic produce in your area, and find sales routes to go down. Will you sell direct to customers, through a CSA scheme or farmers’ markets? Will you sell to restaurants or other businesses?
One thing to consider is that profit margins may be higher if you process goods instead of, or in addition to, selling fresh produce. For example, you might make preserves – jams, jellies, or chutneys. You might make drinks or baked goods from the produce you grow.
You might also sell other goods made with things you grow in your garden – soaps or other cleaning or beauty products are just one example.
Making Money From Livestock
The most obvious ways to make money from livestock are by selling eggs, milk, meat, or the animals themselves. Again, it is very important to do your research and to understand what will less well, to whom, and how, in your area.
But there are some other avenues to explore. For example, excess manure might be sold on to other gardeners or farmers. You might also gain yields such as feathers, hides, tallow/lard or fibers, that can be sold as is or made into ranges of products for sale. Again, processing and manufacturing can often increase profit margins. A well-made wool sweater, or a fresh-baked cake with eggs from your poultry, for example, could yield much higher profits than more obvious livestock enterprises.
Making Money From Trees/ Non-Timber Forest Products
Planting more trees on your homestead is always a great investment. You can, of course, raise trees for timber. But more interesting is the potential of a wide range of non-timber forest products. From fruits and nuts to mushrooms, to resins, gums, and saps there are many, many interesting ways to make money from standing trees on your homestead.
Remember, financially as well as in ecological terms, there can be far more value in leaving trees standing and creating an abundant forest or woodland ecosystem than there can be in chopping them down.
Making Money From Visitors
Though there are many ways to make money directly from what you grow and rear, making a profit on your homestead does not need to involve only these things. Homesteaders often find that to make a profit from their homestead. It makes sense to explore the avenue of welcoming visitors into their properties.
Creating a bed and breakfast, camping, or glamping business on your homestead is one way to diversify. And all your other homesteading endeavors mean that you should be able to draw people in throughout the year.
Or you could hold weddings, other events, or seasonal happenings on your homestead. Think Christmas fairs, Easter egg hunts around the baby animals, Summer fairs, pick-your-own events for summer berries, apple picking, or pumpkin patch events in fall. These can also be ways to make some extra profit on your homestead.
Making Money From Teaching/Sharing Skills
One other important avenue that many sustainable homesteaders explore in order to be able to afford homesteading is teaching or sharing skills. As a homesteader, you have a body of knowledge that will be very useful to others who want to live in the same or a similar way.
Some homesteaders find that teaching in the fields of permaculture or sustainable living can be more lucrative than other revenue streams. And while this can take them away from day to day running of the homestead a little, it is enabled by their lifestyle and is one more way to make money, as well as spreading the message of sustainable living to others.
You do not need to explore these last two options to afford homesteading. But they can help you diversify and put your eggs in as many different baskets as possible.
Reducing Ongoing Costs
Considering the size of the home on your homestead is just one way to reduce ongoing costs. There are also a number of other ways to reduce ongoing expenditure on your homestead. Here are some general tips:
- Take a DIY approach – do as much as you can yourself.
- Invest time in learning skills that allow you to become as self-reliant as possible.
- Embrace and use natural resources from your immediate environment as much as you can.
- Make use of trash or items that might otherwise be thrown away. Choose second-hand options rather than buying new. Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle.
- Ensure your garden is as self-sufficient as possible. Make sure you have a good composting system in place. Manage water on your homestead wisely and well. Try to take your own cuttings and save your own seeds.
- Consider making your own livestock feeds, ideally growing your own ingredients, but sourcing ingredients wholesale if you cannot. Let livestock free range as much as possible to increase the amount of foraging they can do and reduce feed needs.
What Are the Ongoing Costs on a Homestead?
In addition to taking a careful look at upfront costs, understanding how people afford homesteading also involves taking a look at ongoing costs on a homestead. Ongoing costs will include:
- Property taxes and other such obligations.
- Maintenance and general upkeep costs.
- Food for you and your family (if the homestead cannot, or cannot yet, provide for all food needs).
- Seeds and plants for each year’s planting (if the homesteader is not, or not yet, saving all their own seeds and propagating their own plants).
- Livestock feed (if the homestead is not, or not yet, providing all the feed required).
- Medical and veterinary expenses.
- Ancillary expenses – clothes, household items, entertainment, etc., for you and your family. (When embracing a homesteading lifestyle, reduced consumption is the norm. But even when you are trying to be self-reliant as possible, there are still likely to be a number of things you need to buy.
How Much Does It Cost To Start A Homestead?
The cost of starting a homestead depends on a couple of factors:
- if you already a property or if you need to buy one,
- how big you want your homestead to be,
- the cost of the land in the area you want to settle.
The first thing that will determine how much it will cost is where you are starting from. If you already have a rural property or even a city home with a garden, you may well already have got the highest upfront cost out of the way: the property itself.
Finding and buying the home and the land associated with it will usually be the main barrier for people who would like to live in this way. Of course, how much it costs to find a place suitable for starting a homestead will depend on where you live and property and land prices in your area or in the area to which you wish to move.
The costs of land will often be much lower than the costs of land that comes with a house already on it. But of course, you will need to make sure that any land that you consider will be suitable for your needs and that you will be able to get planning consent to build a home.
Even with the home and land out of the way, other start-up costs can also vary significantly. One factor that influences this, of course, is the land itself. How much land is available? How fertile and productive is it currently, or can it be? The costs of starting a homestead on damaged or degraded land may be much higher than starting one on a piece of land where a thriving ecosystem is already in place.
Find the right piece of land, and you will, of course, have a range of ‘free’ natural resources at your disposal. And will have to spend less to get your homestead up and running.
What Up Front Costs Need To Be Considered?
There are many upfront costs that may need to be considered if you have decided to start homesteading.
- The cost of buying a property or piece of land.
- Construction costs if you plan to build a home.
- Costs of installing basic infrastructure to provide you (and your family) with energy and water. The means to generate renewable power, rainwater harvesting, spring connection, boreholes, or wells if you are not connected to the grid. Perhaps the installation of roads/paths, pipework, wiring, and other infrastructure.
- Seeds and plants – and everything you need to create your food-producing garden.
- The costs of purchasing any livestock you wish to keep and to build housing, fencing, and everything else you need to keep them.
Reducing the Costs of Starting a Homestead
One key way that people afford homesteading is by seeking out solutions that considerably reduce the upfront costs of getting started.
First of all, let’s think about the biggest cost – sourcing and buying the property in the first place. Well, as mentioned above, you may not need to do this at all. You may be able to embrace homesteading in your current property – even if you live in a city. There are a number of examples of successful homesteads operating from just 1/10 acre, or even less!
If you do dream of having an acreage out of town in a beautiful rural area – you are not alone. This is a dream for many.
One interesting thing to consider if you want to keep down the costs of buying land in the first place is that you don’t necessarily have to go it alone.
My wife and I have a small rural homestead. We live in a large five-bedroom property and are currently turning an old stone barn into our forever home. We have a walled orchard/ forest garden, a polytunnel, vegetable beds, and rescue chickens.
But there is no way that we could have afforded to purchase this place on our own. Our solution to bring our dream within reach was to go in with relatives on my wife’s side. Four of us combined our resources, and we are buying this place together. The large house is big enough to accommodate all of us, with another friend also currently staying with us. We have some communal areas, but our own private spaces too.
When our barn conversion is complete, my wife and I will have our own space while still enjoying proximity to our ‘neighbors’. Co-housing is an interesting way to afford homesteading if you cannot afford to purchase a property on your own.
Renovating Old Agricultural Buildings
Our story also shows how you may be able to cut the costs of creating a home on your homestead if you are willing to undertake some renovation work and perhaps convert an agricultural building rather than starting with a ready-made home.
Renovation can sometimes be more costly than building from scratch. But it could, in some cases and in some places, be more affordable to buy a piece of land with a barn, for example, than buying a piece of land with a house on it already. And you may find it easier to get planning consent for a conversion in some areas, even when rules will not permit you to build on the land from scratch.
If you do decide to buy land and build your own home, one way to save money is to self-build. There are a number of interesting ways to build your own sustainable home, even if you have never done any construction before.
One interesting option, for example, is straw bale construction, which involves using this cheap agricultural byproduct, along with wood and other eco-friendly materials like clay that can potentially be sourced on the land itself, to make the structure of your home.
The most affordable and sustainable self-build options will, of course, involve using construction materials that can be sourced on the property itself or bought cheaply from as close as possible. Clay/cob/abobe bricks, earth/earthbags, natural wood/timber, and natural rocks/stones are all materials that can be used in sustainable construction that you might be able to source on site.
You might also be able to find ways to use waste materials – such as in earthship style homes. These use tires and other trash to build the walls of a sustainable home.
Tiny House Living
Whether or not you are able to build using materials from the land you have purchased, another thing to consider is how large your home has to be. Tiny house construction will, of course, significantly reduce materials costs – and can also reduce energy costs over time.
Can a Homestead Be Self-Sustaining in Financial Terms?
In order for a homestead to be self-sustaining, it must be able to meet all financial commitments and the needs of its inhabitants without an external income source. Being able to afford homesteading means being able to balance the budget and ensure that you stay afloat.
It is perfectly possible for a homestead to be self-sustaining. In other words, for it to make as much money as it costs. In fact, this is something that is often fairly easy to achieve. A well-run homestead does not need to have high ongoing financial costs. So the money it needs to make can be minimal.
Many homesteaders find themselves at this point. They need far less money because of all the other yields that the homestead provides. And a few small-scale sales or minor enterprises can meet all their obligations.
It is taking things to the next level that can be more of a challenge.
Can Homesteading Be Profitable?
Once a homestead is more or less self-sustaining, financial profit may not be a paramount concern. But homesteading can be more than just a way of life. It can be a business too. If you want to make a homestead a viable business proposition, you need to find some ways to make a profit from your property.
Making homesteading profitable is far more difficult than simply making sure that you can afford it and that it is self-sustaining. But with hard work, effort, and time, it is definitely possible for homesteading to be profitable.
Homesteaders will agree that value does not only lie in financial profit. When assigning value, we need to look not only at the financial sphere but also at the environmental and societal gains. ‘Triple bottom line’ accounting can help you see what your homestead really has to offer.
But profit in a purely financial sense can be useful because it can demonstrate to others the benefits of living in a more sustainable way. It can show that you do not necessarily have to experience a dip in your quality of life – and indeed, your life can be enriched by – homesteading and all it can bring. Excess profits can be plumbed back into the homestead and used to improve it. Or used for those treats and little extras that you may have been missing.