We are frequently asked the question “How much does it cost to start a homestead?“ so we thought we’d start a homestead expense report series. Every month we will document how much money we’ve spent on our homestead-related activities and also on running our household. This is to track both our own progress and also to give you some insight as what it costs to start a homestead from scratch.
May 2016 Summary
Crazy April made for a busy May! With many projects in the works we had our hands full and made a lot of progress.
The main projects taking up bandwidth in May were completing the deck project and getting the cedar hot tub to STOP leaking.
First, the hot tub. We’re happy to report, we won! After much labor in the intense sun, fighting bugs and patiently allowing the caulking to fully cure the tub is leak-free! The tub project was a big one for us and required developing many new skills. You’ll find an epic write-up on the DIY Cedar Hot Tub Project page we dedicated to the project. Some of the projects completed were caulking the tub, TWICE, a set of steps to get in/out of the tub. Our first caulking attempt failed because the wood underneath still had retained moisture from past filling attempts. Lesson learned! Steps were a great chance for Alyssa to learn about stair design and theory.
Next, the deck. With a lot of time to invest while waiting for the tub to do it’s thing, we took on a few other projects including using up all the cedar left over from the tub project. Alyssa used some ingenuity and patience to craft a couple nice end tables from branches we had lying around. We found some Adirondack chair plans online and built one with cedar scraps. It fit so nicely with the deck we built 3 more! Working from plans sure was a nice change. Measure. Cut. Fasten. Far less mental strain on the brain than our usual design/build process.
Going back to our creative side we rummaged through our build materials and settled on a old bridge beam riser / pine slab step staircase design. Yay, we don’t have to “hop” (read JUMP) onto the deck any more! It was our first opportunity to work through building a custom riser to fit our exact needs. We learned a lot and used a lot of that geometry stuff they teach you high school, but no one ever pays attention to, because who uses geometry? The stairs make us proud and pushed us to think outside the box. A few more deck projects were completed including building railing with sticks from trees we have fallen, rail tops from cedar.
Summer on the way had the solar bug in us coming on strong. We’ve done really well at documenting our generator usage and expense. Now we’re excited to see how solar can help us real-time offset our expenses. We spent some time on the phone with a few different solar companies and decided on a portable kit to get us started. Though it won’t arrive for another month, a lot of leg work went into deciding where to start our solar journey.
We made a few acquisitions at yard sales and such. Among them a neglected Fisher wood stove, a long list of woodworking and timber framing tools including socket chisels, auger bits, hand saws, sharpening stones and hand planes. Finding these items second-hand saved us a bit of funds over new prices. Some of these tools aren’t even available any more. Moving the Fisher stove twice would be laborious we we took the time to give it a quick restoration and it looks great!
It was a pleasure to have Alyssa’s Grandparents visit for a few days. We do need to be saved from ourselves from time-to-time and welcome a break to enjoy visitors. They were destined for Montana so we joined them for a visit to Glacier National Park. It’s on our list to visit again in the summer once the heavy snow has melted and roads are opened!
Just prior to our guests arrival we completed the installation of our hilltop cistern and plumbing. This means, at least for the foreseeable future and barring any disasters, no more carrying water jugs! Our first year off grid water solution did exactly what we needed and now it’s time to level up. We hauled 1000 gallons of water (to fill hot tub + cistern) with our new IBC Tote in just a few hours and pumped it easily to the top of our hill with our utility transfer pump. For now, it’s an upgrade, but much work needs to be done on a long-term solution.
Wow, what a month! Apparently this pace is “normal” and we just need to accept that! Alrighty, let’s see how we did on our budget and expenses in May.
- Groceries: $605.34
Our groceries were higher than usual this month. Likely because we spent more on alcohol. Seriously. Not Your Fathers Root Beer is flipping amazing stuff, but NOT cheap! In all it wasn’t excessive considering we had a long trip out of town.
- Dining Out: $68.86
Our food out budget was pleasantly low this month. Our guests generously paid for many of the meals out while they visited, so that helped keep this expense reasonable.
- Cats: $40.00
Not sure exactly how much we spent on the kitties but we feed them a raw diet which means buying meat about once a month… check out the homemade cat food recipe we use here.
- Household Necessities: $64.60
We’re REALLY hard on our clothes! Thankfully we are having good fortune finding more at second-hand stores. We bought a few odds and ends like milk crates and small tools too. There were some infrequent expenses like postage etc.
- Coffee: $78.18
With so many hours spent on the road, our coffee expense was up this month. It’s without guilt though. It’s our one pleasure that we both enjoy and makes us happy, even if only for 15 minutes.
- Storage unit: $60.00
- TOTAL: $916.98
- Generator fuel: $93.12
Our generator use was up for the month since we’re using so many power tools that means we’re running the generator for long hours. We also started using our utility pump to transfer water to our cistern. Power consumption is up and likely to stay that way through summer with projects going on non-stop. Giving further emphasis to a) conservation or optimization and b) solar.
- Propane: $25.27
The early spring and warmer weather keeps our propane expense “low”. This is a welcome change from winter.
- Showers: $0
No truck stop showers this month – all showering was done in the trailer. This is just one more cost that has been saved with our septic installation and now our hilltop cistern.
- Water: $4.50
Since we upgraded to an above-ground tank and added our diy cedar hot tub we brought in a lot of water. Until now our water needs were small. We’re still sourcing water from the local watering hole and even with 1000+ gallons it’s beyond affordable. With the help of a food-grade 275 gallon IBC tote we can carry 250 gallons per trip (our utility trailer is on the edge of it’s weight limit with 250 gallons), making this far more fuel/time efficient than jugs!
- Laundry: $28
May was laundry heavy since we are doing more outside work and it seems every day we get filthy. It’s a small expense and we’re still no where near justifying a laundry option on our property.
- Internet: $115
Our internet is really only $65/month but we chose to pay the $300 installation fee over six months rather than up front. Oops! Looks like the installation expense disappears in August. Darn! Couple months to go.
- TOTAL: $265.89
- Car payment: $187
We bought a used Subaru Forester a while back which was a great investment. It hasn’t lost much of its value in two years and we plan to pay off the loan in the next year. For our lifestyle, this was a much better investment than the brand new car that we sold just days prior to moving to our land.
- Insurance: $78
- Fuel: $161.45
Picking up all the parts for our cistern project and visiting Montana were unexpected travel expenses. The good news is our travel is somewhat consistent and within budget even with all the crazy trips. It feels good to have a fuel budget half that of our past daily commute budget and it’s helping us develop our property. A win-win!
- TOTAL: $426.45
Land / Development*
- Land: $357.20
Our land cost $45,000 and we put $5,000 down. The loan is amortized over 15 years with a 5% interest rate. No early pay off penalty. We don’t plan to take the full 15 years to pay off the land, but optimistically hope to pay it off in 1-2 years. Learn about our property here and to find out how we found and purchased this land, read this post.
- Cedar Railing + Deck Rail Materials: $132.50
We were focused on getting the deck project wrapped up. For railing we opted for 2×6 cedar for the weather resistance properties. For ballisters we decided to use sticks for an organic look and to keep cost down, but the frames we built from 2×2 lumber. Small dimension lumber is so affordable it’s not worth making our own.
- TOTAL: $489.70
- Decking oil: $43.42
Summer sun is coming on strong and we want/need to get the decking protected. Anticipating that project we picked up a couple different products to test for durability, look and feel. We’ve applied them in a test area and are awaiting results. That’s a project for next month perhaps!
- Garden starts: $3.29
To add to the garden we snagged a few onion and potato starts. Hopefully we get a bumper crop.
- Hardware: $4.50
Usually this is washers, special screws or something. Can’t recall what it was. Yikes!
- Stove Paint + Masks: $4.50
High temp paint to refinish the Fisher Stove we found. Also grabbed a few masks to keep us from getting high / lung cancer from the paint. YUCKY!
- TOTAL: $55.71
- Tools and Knick Knacks: $99.58
A visit to a local antique store and found many items we’d had on our wish list. Some of the items include a small grill for our dry drum bbq setup, charcoal starter, hand trowel, garden hoe, fire poker, bacon grease jar and strainer, bar clamps and a galvanized water tank. We bought the tank thinking it could be modified for the hot tub. It was a mission failure. Now we use it to store saw trimmings. Good enough!
- Hot Tub Hardware (Stainless) + Caulking $97.41
Our first attempt at caulking failed as the caulking appeared to be cured, but failed as soon as we filled the tub. This mean a near doubling of the caulking cost. The hardware used to assembled and attach benches is stainless. Stainless hardware is pricey at $.50/screw. Well worth the investment though.
- Wheelbarrow repair parts: $8.77
In April we bartered for a pretty cool dumpable garden cart. It was in pieces when we got it though. After fussing with Amazon.com for some garden cart wheels and improperly sized bearings we grabbed a few parts locally and happily now have a BIG garden cart.
- Adirondack Deck chair hardware and lumber: $15.17
Bringing the deck to life with Adirondack chairs from a set of plans we found on Ana White’s website was a fun afternoon project. We ran a bit short of scrap materials so we grabbed a few bits to make the project complete.
- Garden + RV water hoses $66.97
Now that we have water available we need to get it here and there. We bought a nice rubber garden hose and a long RV vinyl water hose. It’s SO nice to have water on tap now. No more running our DC powered pump or hauling water jugs!
- 625 gal water tank, lock, hasp, plumbing: $419.66
After much thought and debate we settled on an above ground 625 gallon poly tank to give us some water on hand. The utility of which is immense, but the primary motivator was the hot tub project and getting the tub full enough to stop leaking. The peripheral benefits are quite lovely too! These tanks are light, easy to transport and likely good for 3-5 years in direct sunlight. Down the road we anticipate using this tank as our transport tank so we can haul in more water per visit. It’s a win-win for our family.
- 1/2 HP Utility Transfer Pump: $149.00
We are fortunate to have a high ridge behind our homesite which we’re using for a gravity fed water system, but first we have to get to the water up there! This pump is durable and easily pushes 200+ gallons up the hill 70′ in about an hour. At 8 amps it doesn’t push our generator hard and it’s a great pump to have around for car washing, fire fighting and other projects. We may even use it to run our hot tub filtering system.
- Food Grad 275 gallon IBC tank/tote $200.00
The utility of these tanks is immense. We currently transport our water from a community water source to our property. Until now we’ve been using some super practical 6 gallon water jugs. We’re now hauling 5 times the amount of water in a single trip. Our small utility trailer and car are able to cautiously transport about 225 gallons each time. This tote and water transport system is easy for Alyssa to operate with no fatigue. It won’t be suitable for winter though except in an absolute pinch so we need to work on a larger cistern before snow flies again. Food grade tanks are a little more pricey, but the peace of mind is worthwhile.
- Beer Keg $85.00
While trying to wait patiently for the welding fabricator to get back to us on hot tub stove manufacturing cost we decided to look for alternatives. Kegs are food grade stainless steel and it was thought that with some small modifications it might be a good stove for the tub. Since it was in the same city where our IBC tote was located we picked one up in case it worked out. SPOILER ALERT: We didn’t use the keg after all so now we’re brainstorming other projects for the keg like maybe a keg-a-que?
- TOTAL: $1,190.53
* These are expenses that should only happen one time, or at least very infrequently. These generally are quality tools and building materials that are reusable.
Final Thoughts and Looking Forward to June
There’s no doubt about it, summer is here and even with the longer days, we’re still short on time to get things done. We’re not too busy however to start using our hot tub! Already in June we’ve acquired a submersible wood stove for our diy cedar tub and have had a few wonderful soaks. We’ll have many more small projects to get the tub finalized so that will be a part of our work in June. Property cleanup, solar, some small concrete tasks and visitors will keep us busy for the coming month.
In all we’re proud of how much we accomplish in a give day, week or month. By tracking our projects, budget, expenses and energy it helps us find joy not just in the task, but satisfaction in our ability to plan and execute projects as a team. It takes sacrifice, but the result of ownership and self-esteem are priceless. Even though our income is no where near what it has been in the past, we’re getting closer every day to a more free way of living, which is the most satisfying thing we could be doing. Much forethought goes into each thing we tackle and requires teamwork, patience and hard work to complete. Finally enjoying the completed project is so rewarding.
In June we’ll be finally enjoying fully the work of the past few months in building a deck and sharing the story behind the project. We’ll also be enjoying fully our new water system, longer showers and being free of using water jugs as our primary water source. Hopefully we’ll finally have a chance to offer hospitality to our neighbors and have a bbq or potluck. Surely many good relationships will come of it.
Between all these projects we continue to do research on our home design, enjoy the sunsets and simplify the things demanding our time/energy.
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