The Cost of Living

By , October 18, 2012

Yesterday, a reader named Jacquie commented:

“Ever since I can remember I have wanted this lifestyle. It’s tough here because everything is about money. You are expected to work all year round for someone else and to not have any time to save food for yourself or make blankets for christmas presents. I’ve always thought about Alaska as a possibility and I’m not afraid to work hard at an honest life. How can I do this? What did something like this cost you?”

Rather than replying to her comment directly, I realized my answer would be long enough for a post on the subject.

Zeiger homestead in autumn

Whatever the cost, we’re willing to pay . . . (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

The first question: “how can I do this?” varies greatly according to circumstance, opportunity, and resources. Jenna Woginrich shows how to pursue a simpler, more self sufficient lifestyle where ever one may be in her book, Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life (reviewed here on the blog). She shows that location doesn’t matter so much as one’s desire to live the lifestyle. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who seeks a life like ours.

On the other hand, I’m not the best one to advise people on starting such a life. We’re succeeding at it largely because we’ve generally been more frugal than most, willing to live a simpler lifestyle than most, and acquired many of the skills we need to live this way early in life. If that’s not true for you, you may have a harder time adapting to the lifestyle.

As for cost, my initial response is that it cost us very little. That’s because I thought first in monetary terms. We had earned and saved enough over the years to buy a home and eventually invest in a little bit of remote property. By the time we sold the house to pay for the homestead, we’d built up enough equity to pay off the new mortgage in a very short time. Sales of most of the remote property helped as well. Financially, moving to the homestead compared favorably to moving to a nicer home.

Tallying the real costs presents a somewhat different picture.

We’ve reduced the time we spend working for others; Jacquie’s observations on the matter are very similar to our own. Devoting so much time and effort to working for a wage rather than directly for the family rubbed me the wrong way, and led directly to the choices we made that helped us change our lives. On the other hand, we’ve had to make do on far less income. We’ve also lost the security (or illusion of it) of health insurance. We’ve had to forego family visits to a large extent, and accept that those will become even less frequent as we age. Almost everything we do takes longer, requires more planning and effort, and requires overcoming obstacles unknown to most of our countrymen in this modern age.

These are trade-offs, but so far, they’ve been well worth it. These “costs” buy us a larger sense of contentment, well-being, and satisfaction than most people know, more family time, more freedom. All in all, I’d say it’s been well worth it, and I think most of the posts on this blog illustrate the myriad ways in which our lives are better—richer—for having chosen this lifestyle. It is, indeed, the cost of living, and we’re willing to pay the cost as long as we’re able to do so in order to live the way we do.

By the way—Happy Alaska Day!

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

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