This subject is on my mind quite often these days. With an uncertain dollar, strained international policies, and all manner of trouble around the world, being self-sufficient is something I would like to achieve someday. Many people have a distorted view of what this means. Perhaps thoughts of living on a mountain top and never showering, a solar panel on the roof of your small shack, and little contact with the outside world come to mind. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are several aspects of life that all fall into categories which need to be addressed in order to be self-sufficient. The first few that come to mind are, of course, food, water, energy, shelter, and the like. I would like to suggest that one of the biggest, most often overlooked aspects of being self-sufficient is your finances or, more directly, debt. No matter how energy efficient I make my house or how much food I grow, no matter what I do, if I have people knocking down my door wanting my car, house, credit card payment and blood, the steps I have taken will not avail me much.
While most of us cannot afford to pay off our house in a hurry, let alone all at once, there are several steps you can take to put yourself in a safer position. The first and most obvious is live within your means. If you don’t have an extra fifty bucks to go out to dinner, then don’t put in on the Visa. Stay home. I know this is hard for some, but it is a step that will make a huge difference. Don’t spend what you don’t have.
The next thing to do is pay down or pay off your debts. I am not a financial adviser, CPA, or accountant, but I have done my research and it only makes sense. Pay down the account with the highest interest rate first. Pick one credit card, car payment, or loan and focus on eliminating it. Obviously you have to keep making payments on all of your obligations, but if you have any extra put it in the same place each time. It will feel good to see that debt shrink and will encourage you to stick to the plan.
Once again, you don’t have to be a CPA to know that saving is a good idea. Even fifty dollars a month in a bank savings account is better than nothing. If you are able, look for higher yield CDs or money market accounts. Personally, I would have nothing to do with the stock market right now, but if you must, be cautious and never invest in something you know nothing about. For a worst case scenario, consider gold or some form of a tradable commodity. Lastly, wherever you decide to put your money, remember: diversify and never put all your eggs in one basket. Ever heard of Bernie Madoff?
Now let’s look at some of the things that are more commonly thought of when self-sufficiency is discussed. I’ll start with food. Depending on your location, you may be able to do more or less. I live in the country, so we have some chickens and we’re looking at getting some other livestock. Now this may not be for everyone, and if you live in an apartment there is just no way.
For those who have even a small amount of land I recommend starting out with chickens. You order them as baby chicks and they are great fun to watch. Building a chicken coop or cart is an easy project and can be a good learning experience for children and adults alike. I could ramble on for pages about care and breeds, but that is outside the scope of this article. Do your own research and make an educated decision. For those who are interested, we have Buff Orpingtons. As with many things, there are pros and cons to having livestock, the biggest problem being that animals take a lot of work. I recommend livestock only for those who are serious about being completely self-sufficient and live where it is possible. As far as meat goes, remember that hunting is an option if your location permits.
Gardening is a much simpler task to start with. There are many resources available online to help you plan a garden and grow more food and better food. I would like to point out that while fresh produce is great, remember to grow items that can be stored for long periods of time or that can be canned well. These can include carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, apples, etc. Set aside a cool dry place for long term food storage and consider an extra freezer, keeping in mind its energy needs. Plan for easy access to all of your plants and use some form of weed control other than pulling. Weed pulling can never be completely avoided and I have never met anyone who really enjoys it, so do what you can to keep it to a minimum. Gardening can be very enjoyable, gratifying and another great learning experience for kids.
People with little or no land can still garden on a small scale. Container gardening has become quite popular in recent years. Just about anything you can plant in a pot will do. Once again, do your research and plan ahead to maximize your space. Don’t bite off more than you can chew or it will become frustrating and discouraging.
Energy is the last topic I am going to take on. We use energy every hour of the day. In the past people had different expectations of how life should be. Today, however, we have grown accustomed to our comforts and most of them come with an energy cost, making it is necessary to plan for our potential off-grid needs. While most of us will keep using traditional power service, it is important to assess what you will want to have available if that service is interrupted or cut off. Another less dire way to look at this is: how much money do you want to save on your power bill each month?
I have written on alternative energy solutions before. I will take the time here to point out that both commercial and DIY solutions are available for solar, wind, and hydroelectric power generation. If you decide to go the DIY route don’t try to power your whole house on Day One. Move in stages and use guides to simplify the process.
In the same vain, we all like to be warm, and while one could be self-sufficient by wearing a jacket, I recommend planning for some heat. Don’t plan on using your electricity for your primary heat source. Even with the most efficient technologies heating is an energy hog. The two best things you can do for your independent heating system are insulating your house and using wood. Have an energy audit done. Plan to add insulation where it is needed and fix leaks. This will help your energy bill now and your self-sufficiency plan in the future. Outdoor wood furnaces are a great way to heat with wood.
They work by heating water, which is then pumped throughout the house and used for radiant heat. This can be done within a forced air system as well but is less efficient that way. Wood furnaces are quite efficient and often only have to be filled once a day. Not only do they heat your home, but they also provide hot water. One other system to consider is geothermal. A geothermal system works by removing heat from the ground then transferring it into the house just like a standard heat pump. The difference is that the ground stays at a constant temperature of around 56-57 degrees. That is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, so the exchanging system has to do less work. These systems are very efficient and costly, but don’t require splitting wood.
I have touched on many things that can be done to move towards self-sufficiency. When pursuing this goal I recommend careful planning and a lot of research. I have linked to several helpful sites and resources throughout this article and am sure that with the help of Google you can find a wealth of knowledge. Have fun and keep in mind that living self-sufficient is not just a thing you do, it’s a lifestyle.
Kristopher Schmandt regularly contributes to http://www.restorationjournal.com