Monday, January 30, 2017

Income...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

My writer's studio waiting out the winter.

I've saved the best for last, talking about income, because for the first time in our married lives, it's simple issue, we have very little of it. We could easily have more. if we wanted,  I could go back to nursing, we could ramp up our livestock sales, I could sell my soap to large stores in large quantities but NO. We have already lived that make a lot, spend a lot, owe a lot lifestyle and we don't want to revisit it. We are choosing to keep our income at the level we need to meet expenses, for 2017 we estimate about $22,000 a year, all sources combined.

This will keep us at that 138% of the poverty level for two in Illinois of  $16,020.  Our ultimate goal is to need less and less money, so Keith can again be home full time, but we have so much more work to do before we're that self-sufficient.

Where then will our income arise? Primarily it will be Keith's new off farm job, his first non-farming job in decades, which he started today, which has benefits, and a regular schedule, and takes place indoors.  A huge change for a guy who has worked outside the majority of his adult life, but surprisingly he's looking forward to it.

And I am looking forward to the opportunity to work from home, to being responsible for more of the farm chores, to literally being the one keeping the Looney Bin  fires going while Keith is at work. The new job timing was perfect as  it was the last of our 2016 meat sales that got us through January. Additional, much smaller amounts of income will come from my soap sales and hopefully, some writing gigs. That degree of mine is nearly eight months old, time to put it to serious use.

Speaking of which, I do moonlight as a poet, CNF and  short story writer, so if you have a similar interest in the written word please check out my other blog. My followers there are on the low side, primarily because I blog here more often, so you could say I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul. Go ahead, say it. But, I'll be spending more time over there talking about my failures, and a few successes, as an "emerging writer," as they say in the trade.

I understand it's unusual for folks to talk money the way we have, folks generally prefer to brag about how much money they make, rather than how little, but I've done it for two main reasons. One: to help others who are in the process of either downsizing their lives intentionally, or for whatever reason are learning to get by on less, and two: because it helps keep us accountable. At the end of each week Keith and I review each expense area, and compare it to our budget. Then at months end we'll have a good idea how we've managed and what will need adjustment.  Our auto expenses for example, were way over budget as my 15 year old car needed new brakes, while at the same time Keith's truck had manifold issues. Fortunately we spent very little in several of the other categories.

It's become a game for us, sort of how low can we go? When it comes to purchasing anything, we ask ourselves: can we make it? can we borrow it? do we really need it? who will make fun of us for wearing it? can we get by without it? for how long?

Soon, I'll share a building project we are planning. Hint: it includes large amounts of rubber.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Livestock...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

With less than a week left in January, our Poor Farm Budget month, I thought I better hit a couple more key areas, livestock being one of them. It's an important area since we raise 100% of all our own beef, pork and chicken. We plan to expand it to include rabbit in 2018.

Our monthly budget is just $50/month or $600/year and our livestock includes: four beef steers, one milk cow, one pregnant heifer, one horse, two guard dogs, three barn cats, about 60 chickens and ducks and four feeder pigs.

So now you're shaking your head, how can we possibly feed all that livestock on just $50/month?!

By bartering.

It's an age old technique used by farmers/homesteaders/good neighbors for centuries. Rather than exchanging money for goods, we exchange labor or goods for other goods. For hay and grain specifically, Keith trades his labor for feed with another farmer friend of ours. So many hours of work equals so many bales of hay/straw or bushels of grain. In addition, if Keith if cleaning out a barn or other storage building of our friend he is often given the old hay/straw/corn cobs on the floor of that building, which we use for bedding or composting.

The fact that we do not feed grain to our steers, cows, or horse, also keeps costs down. Only the chickens and ducks get grain in the winter while in summer they forage for themselves: lots of bugs, ticks, small snakes, mice for them to dine upon. As we only raise hogs through the summer, our grain costs for them occur only April through August.

We own seven acres and about six of them are in pasture, this means we are not buying or bartering for hay from April through October. Soon, our pregnant heifer will calve (in April) and then we'll decide which of the two milk cows to keep, we don't need both so the other will be sold. Of the four steers, one goes to the locker in June, leaving three smaller ones to raise for beef over the next two years.

We'll be taking many of the extra ducks/roosters to the animal swap/sale in Kankakee in spring reducing our livestock numbers even more. As the numbers decrease we plan to grow our own hay for the winter which would limit Keith's time working off our farm for feed .

In April we'll bring home four 8 week old piglets and raise them on pasture, grain and milk until they are locker size at the end of August. We'll keep the meat from one and sell the other three. They will also get a good amount of extra garden produce, old eggs, apples that have fallen to the ground and the occasional duckling protein snack they grab when mama ducklings get distracted, on their Smartphones I suspect.

The dogs and cats get generic dog/cat food as well as table scraps/freezer meat/bones/older lard we've had stored. They are working farm animals and they eat like such. They are not above eating rabbits/ racoons/moles/mice/birds as well. But they never go after chicks or ducklings, they learned at a very early age, that was not acceptable.

Ashland though, the German Shepard, does like to chase the ducks just to make them fly. he is annoying that way.

Animal illness is rare and when it occurs we prevent and treat with diatomaceous earth (all of our animals) and powdered garlic (only for hogs and cattle). Having our animals out on pasture (muddy as it is right now) and not confined in building, makes for healthier stock. We do have a great vet who comes for emergencies, but it is a rare event.

The horse, you might have guessed, is pure luxury. I suggested to Keith we sell her, I don't ride her enough to validate the hay expense in my mind, but Keith knows I love her so we came up with this plan. If I do not ride here regularly this summer, (or teach her to pull heavy items about the farm) she goes away in the fall. A fair deal I think.

So, spill your guts. If you have pets/livestock, how do you keep your feed and vet costs at manageable levels? How do you validate their presence? Are they for pleasure or must they earn their keep either in the work they do or the food they produce for you to eat?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Utilities, phone specific...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

Image result for Picture of pink princess phone

Well, now I've done it.

After reading all the great comments about phones and how you, my esteemed followers keep your costs down, (I especially loved Cro's comment " I don't bother with a mobile phone. If they want to contact me, they'll have to wait till I'm home") I took the leap this morning and cancelled my Smart Phone.

It felt a bit like chopping off my thumbs.

T. But, the immediate financial savings realized have elevated my mood. We were paying $120/month for one Smart phone and one basic flip phone. As of this coming Monday, when my flip phone arrives, we'll just be paying $45 a month for both phones, a savings of $75/month or $900/year.

The customer service employee asked why I was downgrading, but never tried to talk me out of it, yet she did say she could not remember the last time anyone had called to decrease their service or downgrade to a simpler phone. Everyone, she said, wants bigger, better and faster.

I get to keep my old Smart phone which is great because I love its camera, and I can still connect to Wi-Fi with it, if I am so inclined say, in a restaurant or just outside on our property since we already pay for Internet here. But  I plan to get away from my obsessive habit of always being connected all of the time. Just because I see an unusual hawk in the yard doesn't mean I have to look it up on Google that second does it? Well, I did, meaning while looking at my Smart phone screen I was missing the birds real beauty, its antics, and probably oblivious to its swooping down and carrying off our ducklings.

I will also have to stop my annoying habit of telling my adult kids to "Look it Up" on their Smart phones when we are in disagreement about something like the US's educational requirement for the Supreme Court. Turns out they don't have to be an attorney first.

Not having a Smart phone in the car will mean that while my husband is driving, I could be writing, reading a book, or how about this? Actually talking to him instead of surfing Facebook, doing non-sense texting or checking my emails. We will also go back to hard copy maps or look up directions on our home computers before leaving for an unfamiliar location.

I think we can do this, I really do.

And when our kids make fun of us, as they will, I'll just remind them that I was the first manager in our hospital to get a portable phone for my car back in 1988 and the first to have a laptop in 1993. Once upon a time, before I was an embarrassment, I was cool, very very cool.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Utilities...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

Utilities. We have them. At one time when we planned to downsize our lives and move to The Poor Farm we did fantasize about being 100% off grid, but now we're not so sure that is a reachable goal. whirling quickly towards our 60's, our limited resources have altered our dreams.

Solar or wind power for electricity for example, probably not going to happen. We'll see. In the meantime, our total monthly budget for utilities is $283/month and breaks down like this:

Electricity budget/month is $80. Sadly it is via Commonwealth Edison, which is not well known for their customer service. Our power goes out about every other month, at all times of the year. Usually only for 1-2 hours, but in bad storms we can lose it for up to 8 hours. Too many customers and not enough equipment we hear. It is the only electric company that serves this area. We do not have central air but do use a window air conditioner occasionally on very hot summer days. We also have three freezers (kept in the decrepit house) that we use for meat and veggie storage. Soon we'll be down to just two freezers, plus in the Looney Bin: one small refrigerator, one washing machine, a 20 gallon water heater and a small water softener.

Heat: ZERO! Our sole source of Looney Bin heat is our Rocket Mass Heater. Because it burns only sticks of wood, one to two inch diameter rather than logs, we use scrap wood, twigs, cuttings from here on our property. It does take time to collect and sometimes split larger hunks of wood into smaller sticks, but there is no cash layout involved. We estimate we will burn less than a half cord of wood to heat our home for the entire year, October through March, since we fire up the heater only 2-4 hours each day and not at all on days when it is more than thirty degrees outside. When the RMH is running, inside temps are 70-72 and stay there a good 8 hrs after the fire is out. On winter days when it is not burning, inside temps are 60-64 degrees. Perfect Irish sweater weather.

Water: ZERO! We have a 150 foot well which supplies our our water needs for us and our livestock. Water heating expense is covered above under electricity.

Garbage: ZERO! We are allowed to burn trash here in the country and recycle lots of non-burnable things all over the farm. Anything that requires a dumpster we haul into town once every couple of weeks to a free dump site.

Phones: $120/month through Verizon.  Keith owns a basic flip phone and I have a smart phone. I used it often when we had our own organic meat and raw milk business as we juggled hundreds of customers each month and several restaurants . Then, it was very useful when I was in school full time in 2014-2016 but is only a luxury. So, we'll be looking into a basic phone for me and kissing the smart phone goodbye. Hope to slash this budget in half soon.

Internet budget: 60/month. The internet service through Frontier will stay, as vital for my writing career and since I'll be giving up the smart phone, I'll need a place to blog, and check weather, and recipes, and chat with my sisters and to watch how to YouTube videos and on and on. I can give up a lot, but not the internet, at least not yet.

TV budget: $8/month for Netflix. We do not watch cable or any other service. Netflix is more than enough.

Propane budget: $10/month for my cook stove. I have a four burning gas stove we converted to propane and a small 100 pound propane tank that sits outside my kitchen window. The tank gets refilled about every 6 months. I do cook meals/ bake everyday and can our produce as well. We do reheat food on the RMH but since we don't burn it everyday, and only half of the year, it's not used for regular meal preps.

So, I ask you, what does your utility budget look like? If you use solar or wind power for your electricity can you share your costs for that? Tell me how you heat your home and at what price. Do you use a basic phone? Smart phone? How much is Internet in your neck of the woods or plains?

Can't wait to hear.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saponification Saturday

Need a break form budget planning 2017?  Me too. Let's talk soap instead.

Thanks everyone who bought soap over the Christmas season, it was a blast sending it all over the country. My production has been slow the first part of this month but it will be picking up soon as more supplies arrive. I was gifted some grand new soap molds (Thank you Brownells) and I'll be using them in the near future.

For this next week, all ready to be shipped out, I have  fun bars created with five different colors and an essential oil blend of lavender, lemon grass and grapefruit. It's light and happy. Just like me! (Ok, now I'm just pushing it.)

Sometimes I like the bottom of my soap logs as much as I do the top. This is one of those times.
The finished bars are a bit Cheshire cat is appearance, crooked smile and all.

And each bar is different from the next since I used a funnel to pour the soap. As the soap thickens the lines look different.

Made with Sweet Almond oil, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil and Shea Butter, these will have a moisturizing lather with a sweet spring like smell. I have only nine left as a few drop by visitors grabbed a few. 

Here's how it works.

Each bar is just $5 and is a hefty 5.5 oz chunk of a bar. Far cheaper than you will find on ETSY  or other websites. I keep costs down NOT by using cheap base oils or less expensive fragrance oils but my using recyclable packaging and forgoing costly labeling/marketing. I do not sell in any stores or on any other websites.  I do not sell wholesale but will take special orders with two month lead time. I use only natural plant  materials or clay powders for coloring and high quality essential oils for wonderful scents . My supplies are limited (the Looney Bin is small and has limited storage) and I rarely make the same bar exactly the same twice, I like to keep the process creative and fun! I post soaps here as I make them, sometimes every Saturday, sometimes only once or twice a month. 

It is first come, first serve, so if you are interested please email me at Postage in 2017 is as follows:

1-3 bars      Priority Mail $7.15
4-10 bars    Priority Mail $13.60
11-20 bars  Priority Mail $ 18.85

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Farm Maintenance...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

Horses muddy paddock in front of property

I hate the farm at this time of year. Ugly. Super ugly. Bleak. Especially with the crap weather we've had this winter. so far. Rain. Snow. Ice, Freeze. Thaw. Freeze. Mud, Sleet. Fog. WIND WIND WIND. All of that, in fact, we've had just over the last 6 days. Mother Earth, make up your flippin' mind.

View from Cow Milking Shed
My Writing Studio in a bleak landscape.
Poe and Plath would approve.

It affects our ability to work outside,  our old wood buildings, our fences, and our mental attitude,  It's tough on animals too, but I'll address that in the livestock section of the budget coming in a future post. Today I'll focus on our budget of just $50 month ( $600/year) for farm maintenance. This includes: fencing, building repair, pasture upkeep, and landscaping.  Keep in mind the following: my husband is capable of doing most anything, woodworking, basic electrical and plumbing, fencing, etc. That saves us a ton of cash alone. We also have three sons who possess similar skills plus mechanical and small engine know-how and they all live close by. To add some icing to our self-sufficient maintenance cake, Keith throws away very little in the way of materials. 

This can at times be an irritant to me, as I think we save too much, but there have been many times we've  needed a particular bolt, piece of wood, certain size hinge, and Keith was able to root around in his "inventory" and unearth the item for use. He even saves nails from old wood before we burn it. He is a man of great patience, whereas I am a woman who can be a big pain in the ass. Lucky him. Thus, for the sake of marital bliss, I have shifted my goal of getting rid of junk to a more reasonable organizing and efficient storage of "junk", which many times, is not junk at all. 

This past summer, one of my sisters gifted us with all the fencing materials from their property (they sold their horse) which will now meet our fencing needs for at least the next five years. Our immediate needs are tons of gravel for our drive and parking areas, mulch for our walkways around the Looney Bin, relocating some of our fencing for improved animal pastures, garden enclosures, shoring up of our current feed shed until we can build a new one, trash tire removal and landscaping for soil erosion issues. 

Fortunately, our kids gifted us with several gift cards this Christmas for home building stores like Menards. (They know not to buy their mother bubble bath :0 ) This will help us purchase the items not found in our piles of inventory and allow us to stay within our budget. We hope. So tell me, how do you deal with maintenance on your farm or homestead? Do you plan ahead or wing it as you go? What takes up the majority of your resources? Do you barter for repair services? Spill it people. 

A final picture of our current weather,  proving winter also has a beautiful side,
 if we pause long enough to recognize it. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Our Serious Food Obsession...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

Since we're already a third of the way through the first month of the year, I've decided to carry on with our budget conversations until February. It's hard to get any outdoor projects done at this time of year anyway, especially tonight when the winds are upwards of 50 mph and the majority of our buckets, feed pans, shovels, totes and wheelbarrows are blowing across the neighbors fields.

Not to mention the ducks.

So, onto our food budget. In years past we had a garden, raised our own meat and like others who work hard everyday and feel exhausted at supper time, we did our share of eating out. Last year we really reigned that in knowing what 2017 would bring and now, here we are, with  a projected budget of just $150 a month.

This $150 must cover the following: food purchased at the grocery store, seeds or plants for the garden, any supplements we can't grow (like tumeric powder) and any over the counter meds. Right now the only med either of us take occasionally is ibuprofen and that is getting less frequent as we use more natural anti-inflammatory treatments like apple cider vinegar.

Obviously, there is no fat (sorry) in this food budget for eating out. Of course I broke that rule today when I had lunch with a friend. But, since I made this lunch date many weeks ago, I've cut myself some slack. I'll have to make it up by buying generic coffee. Not hardly. I can give up many things but good coffee is not one of them. So instead I'm giving up flavored teas, my beloved smoked salmon and learning all I can this winter about herbs I can grow to make my own teas and figuring out a way to raise salmon in the Midwest.

Over the years we've learned to shop the perimeter of the store, where all the fresh veggies and fruits exist, and thus ignore the middle aisles filled with processed and packaged foods. I do still buy pasta and rice but pasta making is another skill I plan to take on this year. My own canning has replaced
 90 % of our canned goods  we used to buy at the store and we are weaning ourselves from eating fruits etc... that are not in season.

We need hoop houses, a green house and as I mentioned before, a root cellar to preserve our root veggies, pumpkins and other squashes over the winter. We don't use coupons as we shop primarily at ALDI's where coupons are not needed since the food is already the cheapest in the county. Packing my own bags is easy, especially when the reward is paying less.

I now bake all our snacks, cakes and about half our bread needs. The goal is 100% of our bread needs by the spring. It's a learning process for me, I'm good with basic sandwich bread, and I'm getting better at hamburger buns, but my homemade crackers sort of suck. Twenty years ago I worked full time in nursing, and used to send my kids across the street to the restaurant in town to buy milk for their cereal. We ate carry out food 3-5 times a week.  Ten years ago I worked weekends only and cooked during the week bringing home carry out 1-2 times a week. Now I cook every day, often freezing leftovers for guests or Keith's lunches and we never bring home carry out.

So tell me, what do you spend on food each month? For how many? Where do you shop? How much of your own food do you grow? How much do you bake ? How often do you eat out? What else do you do to keep purchased food prices under control?

Can't wait to hear from you. Now I'm off to make some popcorn, which our middle son grew for us here last summer, which is amazing when cooked in coconut oil and smothered in butter from grass fed cows and sprinkled with sea salt.

Oh how I love popcorn. Now I just need to learn how to make sea salt.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Auto, Home and Life Insurance...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

Image result for Picture of car pile up 1930's

Let me just say a big THANK YOU to all of you who have chimed in on the discussion we've had on the last few posts regarding  The Poor Farm budget 2017. I loved learning about the issues you deal with in other parts of the US, as well in other countries, especially in regards to health insurance.

Today I'll address another big ticket item in our budget for this next year, all the other insurances besides health care. Based on what we paid last year, our budgeted amount for all three (auto, home and life) was  $211 per month. It breaks down like this:

Auto was $65/month (Grinnell) for two vehicles: a 2000 Dodge Neon and a 2002 Ford F150 truck, both of which are paid for and have approximately 215, 000 miles each.  Auto was fairly high since in the past we both drove many miles in the delivery of our old farms products to several restaurants in Chicago and four grocery stores. Every day we were running somewhere so our chances of collisions were great. The  last two years I drove 150 miles a day back and forth to school. Now however, we are home more than we are gone and our mileage will drop significantly.

Home was $41/month (Belle Prairie) based on the Grain Bin House estimated replacement amount of $50,000. This included our home and belongings. But, we built the GBH for approximately $30, 000 including the new septic system and we've downsized our belongings by over 50%.

Life  was $105/month (Northwestern; Term life) for two policies, one for Keith and one for me. We want to be sure when one of us dies that the other has the mortgage covered, plus no worries about income, and if we were to die before we have our home cemetery plans in place, we want to make sure there is enough to cover burial expenses. We don't want our kids to carry that burden. We've had both these policies for over 20 years and we will look into them at a later date for possible reductions as well.For now we are leaving as is.

Obviously we had room to shrink our expenses here so a few days ago we went insurance shopping. We visited three offices in nearby Pontiac searching for one agent and one company to cover at least home and auto needs.  We were amused by the differences.

 Allstate for example does not insure any "converted buildings" and refused to cover our Grain Bin House, so we left them and went to an insurance broker who was very nice but couldn't give us any quotes that day. He would have to come out and see the property next week. Our third visit was with State Farm and we were very impressed with the time the agent took with us, her professional manner, and most of all by the rates quoted. So State Farm was our choice for 2017. (Note:We did not consider staying with the current company covering us as we were very dissatisfied with our agent.)

For auto we lowered our coverage overall from 250,000 for an uninsured motorist collision to $25,000 (Illinois state minimum) and we eliminated collision coverage on our vehicles. If they are hit and totaled, so be it. I guess we'll walk more. New monthly rate then for both vehicles, just $28.

For home, we kept the same replacement amount, $50,000 (still significantly more than what it cost us to build) and we dropped the replacement amount for our belongings. Less stuff to replace. There is still some coverage for accidents on our property to others but not much, since we no longer have farm store visitors coming and going.  Our new monthly rate, only $22.

To recap:

2016 cost per Month
2017 Cost per Month


Thus overall we've decreased our insurance costs per month by about 50% for home and auto and with leaving life insurance the same, by approximately 27% across all three, just by reading our policies closely, decreasing some of our coverage and taking the time to shop around.

Now tell me your experiences with each, how do you manage?