Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tearing Down the Haunted House

It's haunted. I know it. You can't be 162 years old and not have a few skeletons in your closets. Which is why I don't go in there after dark, or when its' cloudy outside, or the wind is blowing from the north.

If it blows from the south west though I have no problems. Go figure.

I'm talking about the original frame house on our property which we'll be tearing down this spring. The old girl was in bad shape when we bought this property four years ago, which is why the decision to build a new home out of a recycled grain bin, was a no brainer.

Here's the old girl herself, built in 1856 and home to several families over the decades.

She's covered with cheap vinyl on the outside and had two porches added on in her later years. The roofs over the porches was of poor quality so now both of them are leaking and the floors in them are giving way. Getting in and out of this place gets a bit dicey at times. 

 But, she has served her purpose through her storage capabilities. Keith has used the house's kitchen as his workshop . We didn't trust the wiring in there, so new wiring was run from our electrical post/box back in 2015. That way Keith could use the power tools he needed for building the Grain Bin House.

We also used the old kitchen to store our freezers where we keep all the meat we raise here for our own good eating. After the barn is built these will move into our new barn in a separate storage room. 

 The main portions of the house, the kitchen, living room and downstairs bedroom plus three bedrooms upstairs have remained dry. Thank good ness because we used those rooms to store furniture we still need to sell and/or give away, plus building materials for the rest of the farm, and canning supplies. These items too, will have a new home in the barn when it's done.

The upstairs of the house is cramped and dark. A recently added hall closet-"recently" being in the last 30 years or so-revealed many usable 2x4's Keith will recycle into the barn build.

Because every haunted house needs an EXIT sign don't you think?

Hardware from the mid 19th century.

 Wallpaper in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Good to know we have patriotic spirits about us.

This is what happens when you move from a 3000 SF farm house into an itty bitty Looney Bin

We will pile up debris outside the house as we go this summer, and then rent a large dumpster to haul it all away. I am hopeful we will find some old newspapers, other treasures when we start pulling apart the walls.

The area where this house now stands will be an open park like zone between our grain bin home and the barn, perfect for flower gardens, outdoor seating etc...It will be frustrating to make more messes here on The Poor Farm, but in the end, we'll have a pretty little homestead.

I figure if I keep saying that over and over it might come true. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Big Finale...The Poor Farm Budget 2018

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to move past this budget theme and back into the day to day workings of our homestead. First though,  a summary.

2017 was our first year completely separate from our old Chatsworth farm which was sold for the second time (to good and decent folk) in December 2016. Gone was the income from a variety of sources such as livestock and equipment sales, as well as the extra expenses like two sets of mortgages, utilities and farm upkeep.

We only had to worry about The Poor Farm in 2017. We also had just one regular income-Keith's off farm job- and my small nursing pension plus some cash from pork and beef sales and some Facebook sales of other farm paraphernalia we discovered we did not need, like extra livestock waterers. All in all, we were able to pay our bills and not generate extra credit card debt. We were not however, able to add significantly to our savings.

Which brings me to our new (old) barn. I'll cover those details in a future post, probably towards summer as the barn is completed-we hope. The project definitely ate up what we had set aside from the sale of the Chatsworth farm for it's build -$5000-as well as a good hunk of our minimal savings. But as Gemma Teller Morrow said in the truly awful final scene of season five of SOA, "It had to be done".

Finishing the barn will occur as money makes itself known. Some supplies will come from the original 1856 house (see above photo) as we begin tearing it down, by hand, this spring. For example, we plan to build the barn's loft from the recycled house floor boards. 2018 will be a productive year I am sure.

Budget wise, we expect no significant increases in income but plan to continue decluttering and selling the last of the leftover bits and bobs from the old farm. I also remain hopeful that we can still whittle down some expense areas such as gasoline use, grocery store expenses, (we have big garden plans, our biggest ever) and the ever troubling "miscellaneous" column which includes Christmas gift giving. We must MAKE more gifts this year!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Insurance...The Poor Farm Budget 2018

See the source image

Moving on with our annual financial budget, I'll share with you how we manage insurance costs. In this category we include auto, home and life insurance. In 2017 we also included health insurance because one of us had it, but in 2018 it will be absent because neither of us is covered. But before I hit that hot topic, I'll discuss the more mundane insurances.

Auto insurance. It is required by our state law but we carry only the minimum on our vehicles, liability. It costs us $32.67/month for both vehicles: a 2002 Ford F-150 and a 2000 Dodge neon.  So if one of our cats lights up in my car and the whole thing goes up in flames...we're out of luck. And that cat has lost another life I imagine. 

Home Insurance. Also fairly simple. We wouldn't even have it if it wasn't required by our mortgage lender, but it is, so we do. Cost is $43.08 per month. This was the best price we could find and the company we use has insured our home for twice the present appraisal value because that amount was their minimum. It also covers personal belongings and the outbuildings.

Life insurance.  We each have a term policy payable upon death. We've had the same policies for years and we are rewarded for such loyalty with a steady increase in premiums as we age. I would've preferred a free toaster. Oh insurance, how thou vexes me. We have a combined coverage of $400,000 and it costs us $739 every 6 months or $1480/yr.

We no longer have minor children at home, the most minor one being twenty seven , but we want the surviving spouse to have a nice cushion to live out their days and the ability to stay on this property until their own death. And although we personally do not believe it is a parents duty to leave an inheritance to their children, it would be nice if we could leave enough for them to have a nice weekend away. Certainly, if we still have a mortgage we want our offspring to be able to pay it off.

So, how did our projections compare to actual costs? For 2017 we budgeted $155/month for auto, home and life insurance. Actual spent was $202/month. Not too far off. The additional $47 month was due to the increase in our life insurance premiums we forgot to budget for. For 2018 we've budgeted $220/month. Looking at our projected life insurance costs, we're not expecting a big jump until I turn 60 in 2019.

Now, health insurance. Last year from Jan-Nov. 2017 Keith was covered by his employer at no cost to him. I also could've gotten coverage through his employer but the cost was way out of our budget as Keith's income would've been reduced by 30%. So we said, No Thanks. In Nov. 2017 his employer announced that employees would have to pay a portion of their health insurance. Again, this would've dropped Keith's take home pay by about 20% and we said No Thanks again.

Thus, neither of us has health insurance. because Keith's employer technically offers it to both of us, neither of us qualify for any of Obama's Health Care Plans. We fall between all the cracks . We have handled this by working harder every year to get healthier. We do not take any prescription drugs, handling any aches or pains with holistic or herbal treatments. We do not regularly see physicians. We don't even see them irregularly. We are eating better than we have in decades by avoiding many processed foods and growing as much of our own food as possible. We remain active.

But we are both very aware that a semi-truck could run through us at the corner tomorrow morning, that our hearts might decide a serious arrhythmia would be entertaining, that a bulging aneurysm is lurking in our brains, that cancer could be looming within a pancreas waiting to jump out and yell BOO!

C'est la vie.

Like our dear blog friends Leigh and Dan at Five Acres & a Dream, have recently experienced, accidents can happen anytime, especially for those who do so much hands on work required on homesteads. Like Dan, Keith badly cut his finger using a saw two summers ago. Fortunately his injury was not as serious as Dan's and the total bill was less than $1000. We paid it over time to OSF Saint James Hospital whose mission is to recognize the  Personal worth and dignity of every person we serve regardless of race, color, religion and ability to pay. They were more than willing to set up a payment plan with us. We are blessed to have such a facility in our community. 

It is with these events that you learn to rely on family and friends, and you pay off the medical bills as you can, when you can. Health insurance never guarantees your safety, and none of us gets out of this life thing alive anyway.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Food...The Poor Farm Budget 2018

Image result for funny picture of julia child

"Never eat more than you can lift."     -Miss Piggy

"I always cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food."     -W.C. Fields

"Red meat and gin."     - Julia Child  (When asked what attributed to her longevity)

Food. It rocks my world. I spend a huge hunk of my time in our looney bin kitchen every day, cooking at least two meals a day and often three. The majority is made from scratch. The bread, the cakes, the stews, the roasts, the mayonnaise, the pancakes, the salads. I'm not a martyr, I just play one on TV.

I'd say with prep time and dishes and putting away dishes and getting the dishes out again-I spend about 3-4 hours at counter side every day.

You would think with all that time around food we would've had a better handle on our food budget. Wrong. So very wrong. We budgeted $150/month and we spent (prepare yourselves) on average $408/month. I know. *GASP*

After the shock of adding it all up wore off a bit, I did some digging and revealed some valid excuses for this gross miscalculation. When we came up with the original $150/month we were-in our little bitty brains-thinking only of edible food purchased in a grocery store. What we did not include, but dumped expense wise into this category, was the following:

Meat processing costs of $1370/year for beef and pork. (Except for fish, we raise all our meat.)
Broiler chicks purchase. (When grown we butchered 30 for our freezer)
Garden seeds and plants
Household items like toilet paper, bath & laundry soap making supplies

If I were to separate those items out, and I've decided I won't, we'd be closer to the $150 we budgeted except for the eating out we did. We blame family for that. Hey, if the scapegoat fits...

We'll do  well for a few weeks and then a mother-in-law needs a doctor visit, so we'll take her out on the way home for a meal. Or my sisters and I will gather and it's often at a restaurant and includes a meal. Or, I'll be missing a teen granddaughter and will bribe them to spend a bit of time with me with a meal out. (THIS is worth every penny, they are growing up too fast.) And of course Keith and I still like the occasional Sunday eve. meal out where I get a break from cooking and he gets a break from me whining about all the cooking.

Here's what we are doing for 2018. We raised the food budget to $300/month to account for all the items listed above except the eating out part. That's just weakness on our parts. We decided to invite grandkids on nature walks where we bring homemade snacks with us. (It's worth a shot. We may still have to bribe them with DQ ice cream). I'm going to eat before I meet with my sisters and have just coffee when we get together for gab fests. We're all on diet number 999 this spring anyway, and we're going to invite the mother-in-laws over more often to eat here with us.

But, Keith and I will still have the occasional Sunday meal out to give me a break from cooking and him a break from me complaining about the cooking. 

We're not saints you know.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Automotive...The Poor Farm Budget 2018

Image result for picture of john candy in planes trains and automobiles

Trains, planes and automobiles. A fabulous movie, if you like John Candy and Steve Martin and I do. But for Poor Farm blog purposes we'll just be talking about automobiles.

Our budget for 2017 in this area was $400/month or $4800/yr. Actual spent was $535.33 per month average for a total of $6432.91/year. Over budget by $135.33 per month.

What happened? Old vehicles happened. Keith's truck, an F-150 2002 Ford has 228,000 miles on it. My little 2000 Dodge Neon has 229,000 miles.  As stated on Auto Blog , American cars are aging almost as fast as we baby boomers are. The average age of a car on the road is now 11.5 years. In 2009, this number was lower, at 9.4 years.

Our vehicles are 16 and 18 years old, as elderly as our oldest grandchild. This past year they both required some repairs. Of the total $6432.91,  $2028.96 was spent on repairs alone such as new brakes and radiator for my car, new wheel bearings, manifold, spark plugs and other engine issues on the truck. This equates to $84.54 per vehicle per month for repairs.

Thus the remaining $4403.95 was gas, license and registration expenses** for both vehicles or about $183 per month per vehicle. Since it costs so much more for Keith to fill his truck, about $50, vs my car at around $25 and because the mileage is not so great on the truck, Keith does drive the car to work ( 24 miles round trip) whenever weather allows. My little car does not do so well in snow drifts.

Even with our expenses being over budget, when compared to the cost of newer vehicles, we feel we're doing ok nursing along the two geriatric modes of transportation. In the US today the average car payment is $503 a month, the average car loan is 68 months and the average auto loan is $30,000. When compared to our repair costs of $84/month/vehicle, it appears having a new or newer vehicle is not yet validated.

But, we are realists, and we understand more repairs are likely, so here is our plan for 2018. We've increased our auto monthly budget to $550/month which includes all fuel, registrations and repairs. In addition we are planning for life with just one vehicle. If the truck breaks down to the point that it makes more sense  to purchase a newer used one, we'll purchase one and we'll hang on to the car until it does the same. But, if the car crashes first, we'll get by with just one vehicle, the truck.

A truck is truly essential here, for transporting hay and grain, for hauling home barn building materials, and for taking animals to the locker for butchering.

How about you? Car or truck? New or old? Tips on how we can save even more in this area?

** Car insurance is not covered in these numbers as we budget and account for it along with home, and life insurance. This is a separate category for our budgeting purposes. I'll blog about it soon in this series.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Income....The Poor Farm Budget 2018

The Poor Farm's Phone Booth
My father's old shop stool holds up my aunt Bernies 1960's phone

As promised, I'm going to share our Poor Farm finances as I did last year about this time. Those posts start HERE if you weren't a blog follower then, or just want a refresher. I mentioned then and I'll mention it again  now, homesteaders, small farmers, and those just trying to live on a budget can benefit each other by sharing some of this financial info. Specifics like health insurance for those who work at home, getting by with decade(s) old vehicles and building your own outdoor buildings with recycled materials or new materials bought with cash only, are struggles we can soften through information sharing.

We Americans are quite weird that way though. We have no problem bragging about how much we make, how many things we own, how expensive our vehicles are, how many vacations we can afford, but we are shy about sharing how to survive on LESS. How often do you hear a person say with pride, "I get by on a low five figure income"? Frugality is frowned upon rather than applauded or at least accepted.

I find this sad as we were once a nation that prided itself, especially during depression times, on getting by with very little through self sacrifice ( a dirty phrase during these "entitlement" times) and sharing of resources. During the war effort of the 1940's, rationing and recycling was the norm.  Often this past year, when I've spoken to others about our goal to survive on less and less income, paying less and less taxes, I get quizzical looks at best and out right sneering at worst.

Enough rambling. Let's talk Poor Farm Income

Last year, based on projected expenses, we estimated we needed an annual income of $23, 640. Our actual income for the year (Keith's county custodian salary plus my small nursing pension) came in at $20, 701, obviously short of our projected needs. But never fear, we made up the difference with some beef and pork sales and Facebook sales of pig feeders, seed spreaders and a few other things we no longer needed.

Interesting to note: this is our lowest combined income in the last 25 years. Keep in mind, our children are raised and we are not financially responsible for any elderly family members.

Consequently, because of our low income, our completed tax return (thank you Turbo Tax) will result in a 100% refund of all federal income taxes paid but only 12% of or state taxes are being refunded. Oh Illinois how you vex us!   Therefore one of our goals, not to pay income taxes, was nearly accomplished.

Well technically we did pay them via payroll deductions but we're getting them back. Now that we have one year behind us of low income, Keith was able to submit a new W-4 form claiming he is exempt from paying income taxes. So that money is ours to use right away rather than the US government sitting on it for a year without paying us any interest. Confusing isn't it?  No one said having less was easy. :) 

In my next post I'll share some of our expense areas, specifically those where we did not meet budget, and how we plan to improve in 2018. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

For Every Window That Closes A Barn Door Will Open

 Progress on the new barn, made of old and recycled materials, has been slow with all the debris that has accompanied our Illinois winter this year. Debris in the form of rain, ice, sleet and again tonight, more snow.

Young folk around here have been heard to say it's a rough winter while I keep saying, "Remember the snow of 1967 in Chicago? Not THAT was a tough winter" These kids.

Image result for 1967 Chicago snow storm
Chicago, January 1967   24 inches of snow in one day.

Anyway, Keith does what he can on the barn as weather allows. Yesterday he installed the door going into his shop area. It's a beaut isn't it? We found it-frame and all- at a garage sale last summer for just $20. Sure it's on the ornate 80's side with its gold trimmed glass oval, but it's sturdy and big. The outside gray goes pretty well with the weathered gray of the barn steel. The funny thing is, it's a better door than either Keith or I have ever had on a house of ours-let alone a barn-in our entire lives!

The inside of the door is white and goes with nothing and everything simultaneously. The most important aspect of the door is the fact that just a little bit more of winter stays OUTSIDE of the barn. Except of course for the snow we track in with us.