If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time you’ve probably picked up on the fact that my family is not rich. (Not monetarily, anyways.) We’re not even in the “middle class” category, financially speaking.
To put it simply, we’re flat broke.
Don’t get me wrong. God has been so good to us. We always have enough to get us by. But most months, it’s just enough. Which is all we really need, but it can make homesteading projects tricky to afford.
Sometimes, it seems like there’s never enough money to cover all of the projects we want to do. One of the problems with being a homesteader is that you are always looking to expand, to grow, to develop as a small scale farmer. This is part of why you love to homestead – but also what makes it expensive.
Why is it that we feel we have to spend so much money on projects anyways? I always wonder how they did it back in the old days, when everything was made from raw materials.
Is it that we have lost the skills to build as they did, or are we too good for primitive structures nowadays? Perhaps for some of us it’s a little of both.
I’m sure a lot of you are in the same boat, and you feel trapped. You want to homestead. You want to have a piece of land and grow a garden or raise livestock. But you don’t have any extra income to get started. And you wonder how other people do it.
I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to be rich to get started homesteading. You don’t even have to have two incomes.
Allow me to dispel a common assumption which seems to be holding a lot of people back-
It’s TOTALLY possible to homestead with zero money to start with.
Will it be glamorous? Probably not at first. Your homestead might look a little rough around the edges for a while. But don’t let that discourage you. When you’re living on very little income, you really have to grasp the frugal mentality of the Great Depression era:
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
We’ve all heard it. But how many ways do we apply it?
When I sit down and think about it, it is my opinion that there are only four must-haves for beginning your homestead without upsetting your delicately balanced budget. And none of them cost a dime.
Once you’ve obtained a firm grasp on these four things, nothing will stop you from achieving your self-sufficiency goals.
Are you ready for them?
Table of Contents:
Resourcefulness. Creativity. Determination. Contentment.
Honestly. That’s it. If you can muster up enough of each of these, there’s no limit to what you can do.
Let’s go through them one by one, in a little more detail so you understand exactly what each entails. Because although they seem simple on the surface, these character attributes can take hard work to obtain if they don’t come naturally.
When I speak of resourcefulness on the homestead, I’m talking mainly about making the most of what you already have available to you. When a need comes up you look around to see what you have and how you can make it fit your needs.
For example: you’ve started your garden and you really need a trellis for your sprawling pea vines to climb. But you really don’t have any extra money to buy one. What do you do?
You learn to be resourceful! Do you have an old crib stashed away in the attic? The frame would make a fantastic trellis! Is there an old ladder laying around just waiting to be taken to the dump? Give it new life in the garden!
Don’t have anything but a ball of twine? Grab your hatchet and get to work turning small, fallen branches into a sturdy trellis frame. You can use that twine to tie sticks together or to create a net for your plants to climb.
Here’s a trellis I made one year out of twine and branches for my cucumbers to grow on
And here’s a tomato cage I built one year with sticks and twine:
They weren’t fancy, although I do love the rustic look to homemade structures such as these. They were made from materials I had on hand, so they didn’t cost me any extra money. And they served their purpose just as well as anything that would have come from the store.
We can’t forget about the $5 greenhouse we built from old windows, pallets, strips of corrugates sign material my husband brought home from his printing job, and some scrap lumber.
Eventually we invested another $100 to buy proper greenhouse roofing to make it leak-proof. Although it is currently unheated, it’s still a great place for starting seedlings in early Spring.
Although our chicken coop is nothing fancy, it was built from materials we had laying around plus the price of a new box of screws. Again, it serves its purpose just as well as a more expensive coop would.
The chickens are safe from predators, and have somewhere out of the elements to roost for the night. They don’t care if their home cost $500 or none at all. I still haven’t painted the coop yet. Maybe one day I’ll find that spare moment I’m always seeking out.
How about the herb bed I created out of an old industrial fan box and reclaimed handmade bricks? I still love how this turned out. Each year it’s prettier and prettier as it fills out and overflows with flowers and herbs.
And then there’s the simple pallet fence we made to keep the deer from eating our fruit trees:
These are just a few examples of how we’ve been able to build our homestead with very little money.
Being resourceful also means you keep an eye out for things that other people are throwing away which you might be able to use. On a frugal homestead you will likely find piles of what look like junk here and there, but when you look at these materials from a homesteader’s point of view, they are treasures just waiting to find their purpose on the homestead.
Sometimes you get lucky and find some really useful stuff that people are just giving away. Like this rabbit cage we found for free on Craigslist. This is one of three that we got, actually. Although we didn’t have rabbits when we scooped up these cages, we knew we could use it for chickens now and maybe rabbits down the road. It’s good to always be thinking ahead.
We were also able to put a much needed walkway to our front door with some extra pavers my dad had leftover from a project.
I haven’t had a chance to write about it yet, but here’s a photo I took during the progress. It might not be completely level, and it might be a little off-center with the fence (oops), however it saved us over $1000 to do it ourselves (I couldn’t believe the quotes I got for a contractor to do it for us!).
Although we had zero experience laying a sidewalk, after watching a few YouTube videos and reading a handful of tutorials we gained enough confidence to try to tackle it ourselves.
I’m glad we did. It may not be perfect, but it keeps the mud off our boots. And it didn’t cost a small fortune, thanks to my dad for the free pavers.
It doesn’t hurt to let other people know what your needs are. If there’s something you’re looking for, ask around! “Hey, you don’t happen to know anyone with some old windows laying around, do you?” You never know when somebody has exactly what you need and would be more than happy to get it out of their way.
You know, resourcefulness really goes hand in hand with another important trait…
Sometimes you’ve gotta get really creative to make what you have available to you work to your advantage. It’s like that saying…
“Necessity breeds ingenuity.”
It really is true. When push comes to shove, you get creative.
We’ve had to get creative a lot here on our homestead. Sometimes it was just a temporary fix, but whatever we came up with always worked well enough for its purpose until something better came along.
Sometimes creativity comes just for fun. Like the time I really wanted some decorative garden markers to help me keep track of where I planted things.
Up until then I’d been cutting strips off a set of broken mini-blinds and making garden markers with them by writing names of plants on each strip with a Sharpie. But these were lost in the dirt over time and the words faded from sun exposure. I wanted something easy to see and longer-lasting.
Instead of buying generic garden markers from the hardware store, or paying a pretty penny to order cuter ones online, I decided to make my own!
I scrounged up a box of old tiles I had picked up for free somewhere years earlier, I pulled out an old box of acrylic paints I had laying around, and I had a little fun creating something unique and useful.
Sometimes creativity is necessary for more important situations, such as trying to finance a project or pay for an unexpected circumstance. Think of some creative ways to use what you have to make a little money, and put your skills to use.
Creativity is thinking outside of the box. If you can combine that with resourcefulness, you’ll find that you can accomplish a whole lot with very little.
Homesteading isn’t easy. Homesteading when you’re flat broke can seem impossible. And it will be, unless you have determination.
I’m telling you, it can be extremely discouraging at times to look around at all of the half-started projects just waiting for the right materials or enough time or even perhaps a helping hand to come along so they can be completed.
The projects never end. Neither do the setbacks. The goats will get loose and eat every one of your young fruit trees and berry bushes to the ground.
Your toddler will let the chickens loose and before you realize they’re out they’ve scratched up all 200 tomato seedlings you’ve spent months raising from seed and had just put in the ground.
Disease will plague your grapevines. An early frost will wipe out your entire garden. Worms will ruin your raspberry harvest. Predators will kill your livestock.
It goes on, and on, and on.
This lifestyle can be costly, especially when starting from scratch with zero experience. Money will be lost. Time will be wasted. And hard work will have to be repeated.
Homesteading can often feel like you’re taking three steps forward and two steps back. But the important thing is that you keep moving forward!
You must be determined to succeed at this thing called simple living. I promise, it does get easier with time, for with experience you make fewer and fewer mistakes and progress comes in leaps and bounds.
You must maintain a spirit of determination. You’ve gotta be a fighter. If you have determination, you can make your homesteading dreams a reality no matter what your current situation is.
Equally as important as resourcefulness, creativity, and determination, contentment is especially required when homesteading on a tight budget.
I’m not speaking of settling for less than what your heart desires, rather I’m encouraging you to be at peace with where you are in this moment as you work hard toward your goals.
If you are not content, you will get discouraged. When you allow discouragement to overcome you, you lose your determination. Without determination it’s hard to muster up creativity, and you can’t be as resourceful without creativity. They all go hand in hand.
Being content is having patience. When you really don’t have extra money to do the things you want to do, or buy the things you want to buy, you must be content to do the best you can with what you do have.
It has always been my experience that when you are patient and instead of rushing out and spending money you wait and make do, eventually exactly what you need will fall right into your lap- often for free or for very little money.
I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me. I feel like it’s the Father’s way of blessing us for being good stewards. And sometimes when I’m patient things work out much differently than I had planned, and it ends up being a really good thing that I didn’t spend that money as I wanted to.
It’s also important that you don’t compare your homestead with other people’s. It’s easy to fall into the trap of discontentment when we start looking at how beautiful or productive other homesteads are. Pinterest can be a great place for inspiration, but it can also make you feel inadequate if you aren’t careful.
Guard yourself against keeping up with the Joneses. We are all at different stages in life, and we all have a different journey to take. Instead of looking around and wishing you had this or that like so-and-so does, look around and be grateful for all the things you do have.
Getting Started Homesteading With Zero Money
Once you’ve nailed down these four character attributes, you’re ready to build your homestead on a budget. You’ll of course need to find some land first. The best way to do so is to look for cheap land at private and state auctions or sales.
Some states even sell their surplus land to nonprofits or similar organizations, giving you some wiggle room if you’re interested in starting an educational homestead.
Sometimes, you may even be able to find free land. Just make sure you always consult with a lawyer or professional before jumping into a land deal that seems too good to be true!
1. Finding Free Building Materials
Use resourcefulness to make fences, coops, cages, trellises and other structures you’ll need for gardens and livestock from whatever materials you can get your hands on.
Watch Freecycle, Craigslist, and Facebook Yard Sale groups for freebies and good deals on materials you’ll need. Gather the courage to ask friends and family if they happen to have any of what you need laying around, or perhaps they’d be willing to trade something for it.
Keep your eye out for homes under construction or other such projects which might yield free building materials which would have otherwise gone to the landfill. In this way you’ll slowly be able to build everything you need while spending very little money or even no money at all.
Speaking of the landfill, don’t be too proud to scavenge. Once, I made a trip to the landfill and watched another patron throwing out unused rolls of chicken wire, a great table, and a few other practical items – all in great condition.
It doesn’t take a lot of cajoling to convince somebody to let you take their trash – after all, they’re paying to throw it out, so giving it to you saves them money and the hassle. The landfill is a great place to score some serious treasures.
And on the flip side, be sure you throw NOTHING out. Don’t waste time and money by dragging old scrap lumber or metal to the junkyard. Have a designated area for your homestead where you can store items for future use. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished a small construction problem with some scrap pieces of lumber left over.
The key here is organization. I try to catalogue and hang on to everything I use and have left over after a project. This lets me plan for future projects, and also makes me aware of what materials I have when I am beginning the next project.
2. Finding Free Livestock
We’ve been blessed with many free animals over the years, including chickens, guineas, turkeys, rabbits, and goats. (Remember the Free Chicken Fiasco I wrote about a couple of years ago?)
In the beginning stages of building our homestead, I watched the FREE STUFF and FARM & GARDEN sections of Craigslist every day.
Every now and then, some poor soul was too tired or too busy to take care of their farm animals and just wanted somebody to get them out of their way. I’m sure it helps that we live in a rural area. You might expand your search to more rural areas around you if you live in a city or suburb. Anyways, we were more than happy to be of assistance and take these animals off their hands.
It also helps tremendously to network with other farmers and homesteaders in your area. Make lots of friends!
Not only are they amazing for support, advice, encouragement, and even physical help, but when you surround yourself with like-minded folks they will know you might be interested when they have an animal they need to re-home. Make sure you are that friend in return as well.
There have been many occasions when friends have given us animals simply because they didn’t want or need them anymore.
Don’t forget the power of bartering! You never know when you might have something another person would be willing to trade for, whether it’s a good or a service. Tap into your resources to acquire the things you need.
We frequently borrow tools from our neighbors, and they often borrow some from us. Not everybody on the block needs to own a circular saw, or a livestock trailer, or whatever.
Having one, and making sure you maintain those deep connections with your neighbors so you can borrow those items in a pinch, is really important.
Trading skills is a great way to save money on the homestead, too. If you’re not good at plumbing, have Dave the guy with all the plumbing experience come over, and maybe next time you can help him with his carpentry work that he’s not so hot at.
3. Finding Free Plants and Seeds
Start your garden by looking around to see what you already have available.
Do you have existing landscaping? Research each plant to find out if it’s edible. You may be surprised!
What grows naturally around you? I bet you’d be surprised by how many wild edibles you have growing right underneath your feet. Do you know of a patch of wild blackberries you can dig up and transplant into your yard?
Do you have a friend or family member who might have plants they’d be happy to divide and share with you? Start asking around!
I know I’m personally happy to share raspberry plants, elderberry sprouts, and herbs that are going crazy here and need thinning out.
Do you have plants you can trade for others you need? I once put out an ad on Craigslist to trade plants. I was so excited when a lady not too far from me responded and was happy to dig up plants she had in exchange for the ones I had to offer. Again, this is being resourceful and making the most of what you have.
Seeds can also be easy to come by, especially if you surround yourself with gardening folk. Often people will buy new seeds every couple of years, and will be happy to give you their older packets.
They may not have as high of a germination rate as fresh seeds, but you’ll likely still get a few plants out of the pack!
And from there, if they’re heirloom varieties, you can save the seeds from the produce you grow and have an abundance of seeds to plant, trade, or share the following year.
While we’re at it, plan your garden wisely. If your family hates artichokes, do you need to plant them? No. If you find that you’re wasting your garden produce by growing plants that either a) have no place in your daily diet or b) are too difficult to grow, get rid of them.
4. Blessing Others and Being Blessed
One of the beautiful things about homesteading is the importance and value of relationships. It’s easy in today’s world to be too busy to take the time to share your needs and to find out the needs of others.
But when we take the time to do these things, we find that not only are we blessed but we have an opportunity to be a blessing as well. I have found that the more you bless others, the more you are blessed yourself.
As you grow and get established in your homestead, be sure to give unselfishly and generously to others who are just starting out and need a hand. You’ll find that it comes back ten-fold.
I have many homesteading friends who volunteered at a food bank. It may be tough to find time to do this in your busy schedule, but it’s a great way to make friends, give back to the community, and a side perk? Most banks let you take home groceries at the end of the day, even if you don’t qualify financially.
Start Making Money To Support Your Homestead
Once you’ve gotten off the ground and have a little homestead up and running, however crude or rag-tag it may be, over time you’ll discover more and more ways to make a little money to support your homestead’s growth.
Here are a few ways you can earn extra money homesteading:
- selling eggs
- selling “hatching” eggs (fertilized)
- selling chicks
- selling chickens and other animals
- selling meat
- selling seeds (make sure you aren’t violating any laws)
- selling extra produce
- selling compost or topsoil
- sell wool or fiber
- produce YouTube “how-to” videos
- sell forage products (like wild mushrooms)
- sell cut flowers or herbs
- start a small embroidery business
- selling seedlings
- start a small-scale nursery
- sell honey
- selling potted plants
- selling homemade products (soap, for example)
- selling milk (if it’s legal in your state)
- selling baked goods
- start an Etsy shop
- teach a class
- do repair work
- teaching classes
- write an e-book
- start writing for a local paper or contribute to other websites/magazines
Another great way to ensure you always have a small, but steady, stream of cash flowing in is to constantly scour your home for items you no longer want or need.
Keep a “for sale” box at all times in your basement or attic, so that you can toss any items in there you’d like to sell. This is a great way to get rid of old children’s’ clothes, toys, or other household items that are in decent condition, but no longer have a place in your household.
Start saving money
While it’s great to be able to repurpose, recycle, and thrift, at some point it does come in handy to be able to save up for the items you actually need and want to buy on your homestead.
No matter how you make your primary income – whether it’s on the homestead or off it – cut back on your expenses as much as possible, and put away a small amount of money at a time so that you have plenty left over to fund some of your more expensive projects.
Another note is that, as a homesteader, emergencies do come up. A lot. It’s incredibly stressful to find yourself in a situation that requires a bit of cash to fix when your bank account is totally dry. Having a little bit of a slush or emergency fund built up can often help get you out of a tight spot.
An easy way to save a ton of money is to slash expenses from your food bill. Many people easily overspend on groceries. If you’re growing a certain crop in your garden and find that it fails, don’t panic!
Hit up the local farmer’s market and buy an excess of cheap produce that you can freeze, can, or dehydrate for winter. Always buy in bulk, as this will help you save money now as well as in the future.
Plan all of your meals. This will eliminate the need to use pre-made meals or go out to dinner. Plus, ti creates a nice routine for your family and makes dinner time way less stressful – you’re always ahead of the eight ball.
Cook only with the items you have on hand, and get creative! Make as many items as you can at home instead of buying them at the store, like your own bread or cheese.
If you’re raising all of your own food, then this one is kind of a moot point. But you can still save money on your animal feed.
Grow your own alfalfa sprouts to feed your chickens, or hit up the local food pantry for expired canned goods you can feed to your pigs. The food bill doesn’t just entail the food inside your pantry – it also includes the items inside your grain shed.
Whenever possible, try to use cash. This is especially true if you’re looking for a bargain on Craigslist, at a thrift store, or from another homestead seller. People are often willing to give you a better deal if you’re using cash versus, say, a credit card or check. That’s because it’s way less hassle for them!
The benefit of using cash is that you can only spend the money you have designated yourself. You really can’t overspend at all. If you’ve found yourself relying on credit cards or store credit too many times in the past, a cash-only system may be the best option for you.
Remember that the little things COUNT. If you can pay just a little bit more on a bill (like a mortgage or tractor payment, for example), you could knock years off the life of the loan.
This might be challenging in the short-term, but you’ll likely find that once you get into the routine you don’t even notice the little bit extra.
When you do have to rely on the store for groceries or other household items, find as many savings as you can. This takes some forethought and pre-planning, but look for coupons and other discounts to help you save some serious coin.
Start learning how to fend for yourself
Learn as many practical skills as you can. Do this by reading books, watching YouTube videos, or even listening to podcasts. The more you know how to do yourself, the less often you’ll have to hire things out.
You can tutor your own children, sew and mend your own clothes, or repair your own gutters. Why pay someone else to do something you can easily learn how to do on your own? Learn how to hunt, fish, and preserve your own food so that you can rely solely on yourself for life’s most basic sustenance needs.
Similarly, instead of relying on the water or power systems, learn how you can create your own infrastructures. Harvest rainwater, haul water from nearby streams, or drill a well.
Consider investing in a small solar or wind system, as these are often subsidized by the government. The initial startup cost might be expensive, but I know many homesteaders who now receive a hefty check from the government and all they have to do is look out at the windmill or solar panels on their lawn.
Think about the future, not just about today. This applies to all aspects of homesteading, but especially in regards to saving money.
Preserve your own food so that you don’t have to rely on the grocery store during the winter months. Plan your meals. Think about what projects you want to accomplish in the future, so that you can start searching for free or inexpensive materials now. Don’t put anything off until the last minute.
Make lists, have an organized calendar, and block out everything you want to do. If you throw yourself into all of your homesteading projects without a concrete plan for how you are going to proceed, you’ll find that you waste a lot of money and resources trying to figure out what to do next. Think carefully about every step and don’t “wing” anything.
Of course, it takes time to build up to a point to where you have enough experience to have some authority on the matter. But I promise, the more you work, the more you’ll find that you have to offer and the easier it will be to make a little extra money to fund your homestead.
Again, it boils down to four basic things: Resourcefulness, Creativity, Determination, and Contentment. If you have them, there’s nothing to hold you back from achieving your dreams.
Don’t let a lack of money keep you in a rut. If we can do it, so can you!
The best way to save money on your homestead is to become truly mindful about what you do, and what you don’t, actually need.
Our grandparents survived the Great Depression by thinking hard and long about everything they ate, purchased, or threw out. There’s no reason that you can’t do this today, even if you find yourself surrounded with modern day luxuries.
Now that you’re full of inspiration, check out my article on getting started homesteading even if you don’t have land: How To Homestead Wherever You Are!
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.