One of the most difficult parts of buying land and starting an off-grid homestead from scratch is coming up with enough money to buy what you need without going broke or using credit. Whether it’s building materials, clothing and essentials, tools or an off-grid hot tub, chances are you will need a lot of stuff! One of the best ways we’ve found to save money is simply by finding reclaimed building materials, and we want to share our tips and tricks!
When we were getting ready for our move to our land, we worked hard to turn some of our assets into cash (such as selling my brand new car and selling Jesse’s business) so we had a decent nest egg at the start of our journey.
Even with a decent nest egg and a lot of hand-me-down tools from Jesse’s dad and grandpa, we were still going to need to acquire a significant amount of materials and tools.
Things get broken, we knew we had most things we’d need, but more would become obvious as we went along.
Here is just an idea of the things we were/are wanting to get done in the first 6 months or so:
- Get a septic permit and Install a septic system ($4-6,000)
- Buy a 3,000 gal cistern ($3,000 + Installation)
- Buy an older pickup truck ($1,750)
- Buy a generator ($2,300)
- Buy a travel trailer ($2,750)
- Down payment on our land ($5,000)
- Install a solar charged inverter/battery system ($6,000)
- Buy various homestead tools for building our timberframe barn including an Stihl MS660 (92cc) chainsaw ($1,300 new), 36″ chainsaw mill ($300 new), a 4×4 quad with a winch to haul tools and materials, plow the driveway and most importantly transport US around the property ($1000).
- Pouring concrete footings ($750), renting an excavator ($275/day), buying lumber to build a deck for our trailer ($250), buying a carport to protect our RV from the rain ($500)
- Get our off grid internet installed ($500)
As you can see, this comes out to over $27,000 and that is no small amount of money!
While we had a decent nest egg due to selling my new car and Jesse’s business and learning how to earn an income online over the past 2 years, the whole idea of buying land to build our house was to use labor and time rather than loads of money.
We don’t want to run down to the local building supply to buy all of our tools and materials… we’d like to spend as little money as possible and where practical.
Even though we’ve spent a good deal of money to get situated on our land, we have some tips and tricks to share that have saved us over $15,000 to date in not just finding reclaimed construction materials, but tools, assistance and more.
Our efforts outlined below have opened the doors to many opportunities that have saved us real money and have even helped us to build relationships that will open the doors for more opportunities in the future.
How to Find Reclaimed Building Materials, Tools & More
1. Talk to friends and family.
This may be obvious so we’ll start here, but a great place to start is by talking to family and current friends!
Many people have tools and second hand building materials that they’ve collected in the past and are no longer using, or aren’t using at the moment.
If this is the case, it is likely that relatives would love to give you a helping hand by lending or give you some tools, spare materials or just “stuff” from projects they have done in the past.
In our case, Jesse’s grandpa was a contractor and he left behind an entire shed of tools that nobody was currently using.
We were able to get our hands on a table saw, chop saw, skill saw, reciprocal saw, corded drill, hand saws, transit level, many feet of wiring, floor jacks, angle grinder, tool boxes, hand planes, chalk lines, drill bits, hammers, crow bars and loads more tools that add up quick when purchased new. This saved us several thousand dollars in tools.
2. Scour Craigslist for good deals on second hand construction materials and tools.
Craigslist is probably the most obvious place to go for tools and materials.
The key to shopping on Craigslist is to know exactly what you want, create saved searches and when a new listing is available, jump on it immediately.
When we were looking for a used pickup truck, it took quite a while and when a quality truck was available, many people were calling on it and it just so happens that we showed up first with cash in fist, hours after the truck was posted. That thing was going to be a goner within 12 hours max!
Was it convenient timing? Of course not! We just found a way because we knew what we were looking for.
However, be sure to do your homework and use your head when buying off Craigslist.
If you have to travel too far to pick things up, calculate the cost of fuel and sometimes, it’s just not worth it.
We like to buy things brand-name (not off-brands) that we know have a lot of life left in them AND we can get serviced such as power tools. Also, take into consideration that you will likely lose any warranties on tools that you buy so the savings needs to be worth it… otherwise, just spend a little more to buy new with a warranty.
There is always risk when buying used, but managed it can be very rewarding. Our rule of thumb is to pay no more than half of what a tool cost new.
Often times older tools are better than newer tools especially anything gas powered as emissions laws are always making these tools harder to operate. So for us an older chainsaw for example is actually better.
Sometimes, you can get lucky with finding reclaimed building materials if you pick them up.
The other night we were doing laundry and I decided to check Craigslist on a whim. Just hours earlier, someone posted a bunch of metal roofing for $300 (buyer to disassemble). Even though we were extremely busy, we took a trip to go check it out and it looked awesome!
Not only was the roofing available, but the entire house was up for grabs as it was just days away from demolition!
We rearranged our schedule to spend the next 4 days gathering the roofing and other materials. We worked our butts off and collected 70+ sheets of metal roofing (~$2,000+ new), 2×4, 4×4 and 4×6 lumber, a couple car batteries, a 100’ extension cord, step stool, wheel barrow, 12′, 16′ and even 20′ cedar poles, 30 cedar rafter poles and more.
All for $300 and a few days of our time. We now have all the roofing we would possibly need for our barn / apartment.
We see deals like fairly regularly Craigslist. We also see a lot of discounted lumber, pier blocks, doors, windows, bricks and many other materials.
Know what you need (or will need) and go get it when it’s available!
Remember this strategy takes a lot of time.
We don’t have television, we don’t use our personal Facebook accounts nor do we use our cell phones to play video games. We use all that time saved to search for things we need at a huge savings.
If there’s something particular you are in search of, set up a Craigslist alert so that when something is posted that fits your criteria, you will be notified immediately.
We have multiple Craigslist alerts set up at the moment.
One last tip for being a Craigslist master… Give them something to hold the deal.
Nearly every single large purchase we’ve made on Craigslist we didn’t pay for on the spot.
For example our RV we purchased with just $100 and a hand shake as a security deposit. The agreement was we’d bring the balance as soon as our land closed escrow. This ended up taking nearly a month and while the seller had to wait for his money, we didn’t haggle on the price and we agreed if we didn’t follow through they could keep our $100 for the inconvenience.
As it was we didn’t even have the full amount for the RV at that moment, but you can’t simply go get the RV you want whenever you want at the price point.
So the tip is to have a small amount of cash with you at all times. This technique has helped us secure many sales before we had the full funds available.
3. Find reusable construction materials in Facebook groups.
Surprisingly, Facebook can be used for more than stalking your friends and comparing yourself against everyone else.
If you haven’t utilized Facebook groups, now is the time to start!
Depending on the area you are in, there may be Facebook groups in your area created for the purpose of posting stuff for sale. There are a few groups we keep an eye on as well as get involved in.
In our local groups, most of the stuff doesn’t even make it to Craigslist! We’re so happy we found these groups otherwise we’d be missing out on lots of great deals!
Recently, we’ve been keeping our eyes out for a used planer. It seems that used planers aren’t in abundance locally, yet we don’t want to pay $400 for a new one as we only need to plane a few boards.
We posted an “ISO” (In Search Of) ad in one of these local Facebook groups and found a guy that is willing to let us borrow us planer for a day to get the job done. I’m sure we’ll find a way to return the favor at some point and we’d be more than happy to lend out our tools if someone was in need as well.
We’ve also seen people advertising that they are in need of a demolition, and they would like someone to do it in exchange for the materials.
Or, you can find really cheap construction materials if you’re willing to disassemble them yourself. Lots of great deals for those that are willing to keep an eye out!
There may also be groups for bartering. In these groups people post things that they either have or are in search of.
Lots of people have tools and materials that are just sitting around, or they no longer need, and may be open to a trade of some sort.
Here is a link on how to search for Facebook groups to join.
4. Try your hand at bartering.
I’ve touched on bartering already a couple times within the blog post, but it deserves its own mention.
First of all, the government doesn’t want anyone bartering because it can’t be traced or taxed. It would also lend to strong communities and reduce the need for money all together.
Oh, how terrible it would be if everyone were to trade!
Think about it: Let’s say you LOVE gardening.
You love nothing more than to have a large, thriving garden and you produce so much food that you have plenty to give to others.
Now, let’s say you HATE hunting! You love meat but hate the idea of doing the hunting yourself (guilty!).
What if you would trade vegetables for meat? This could save you a couple hundred dollars a month doing what you are already doing.
Depending on where you are in your life, bartering can be a great way to find reclaimed construction materials.
In preparation for our journey we were looking to save as much cash as possible so that we could buy land. We ended up rehabbing an entire house for 9 months in exchange for a place to live.
While this would have been a bad trade for us past the 9-month mark, it helped us use our labor to achieve our goals rather than creating more cash. It always gave us full freedom as we controlled WHEN we did our work so we were free to move about.
Here’s another example: One of our neighbor’s approached us as he knows we have a marketing consulting business and a internet savvy. He was hoping we could help him market some of the more difficult to sell trees in his nursery.
We are helping them with marketing in exchange for using some of their tools (like this flatbed trailer which was a lifesaver on the recent demolition project) and even receiving some lumber for building projects.
This will be an on-going relationship, but we each have skills or resources that the other finds useful.
Relationships like these are a win-win when both parties respect the agreement.
If you need tools, lumber, a place to live, and it doesn’t seem like you can create enough cash or you simply don’t want to be a corporate cubicle slave, then think about what you can offer in exchange for what you need.
Many people will say no to trades, but some will say yes. However, you don’t ask, the answer is ALWAYS no!
We’ve been “turned down” multiple times so far but nobody has ever been offended! They simply aren’t interested in what we have to offer for the time being.
5. Post a flyer up around town.
Our biggest money-saver to date has been our flyer. Many stores have bulletin boards for flyers and what not, so put one up!
In our flyer, we created a short bio with a photo of our smiling faces. We feel that this shows a little bit of our story an also puts a face to the names which may encourage folks to call.
We then included a list of the building materials or tools we were looking for and mentioned that we were interested in trades.
Lastly, make it easy for people to call you.
The town we live in seems to be about 50 years behind in technology so the “take a phone number” approach works really well. In towns that have a larger adoption for technology, a QR code might work. You can create many types of QR codes including a link to your website or simply a code containing your contact information. Again, make it easy for them!
Here is how our flyer alone has saved us $5,000+ in construction materials, from one man!
Shortly after posting our flyer, a kind gentleman gave us a call. He is long time contractor and remodeler so naturally, he had lots of leftover building materials laying around from past jobs.
We ended up getting tons of fiberglass batt insulation for $50 ($500+ new), 5 double-pane vinyl windows for $200 ($1,000+ new), 2,000 bricks for $75 ($4,700 in value because they are “petina” bricks), 200 sq ft of new-in-box travertine ($450 new), high-density foam insulation ($550 new), work lights, buckets of electrical and plumbing materials, two wood stoves ($520 new), thirty 1x6x10′ cedar boards ($450 new), one sheet of plywood and more.
Talk about hitting a gold mine!
We didn’t budget for these materials, even at a severe discount, but we made it happen because we didn’t know if this sort of opportunity would come up again.
We spent around $800 for the entire lot which we’ve valued at over $10,000. We also figured that if we didn’t need the materials, we could resell them at a profit or use them for barter.
6. Visit pawn shops.
This isn’t something we even thought about until someone suggested we stop by one about a week ago when looking for power tools!
We were in need of a planer and chop saw and someone suggested a local pawn shop as they often have good used power tools.
While we didn’t find a planer, we stopped by a few and they all had quality, name-brand tools!
We probably won’t make any special visits to the city to visit pawn shops, but if you drive by one and are in need of something it doesn’t hurt to pop your head in. You may even be able to call ahead or use another great technique, get on their waiting list.
Pawn shops love nothing more than to have a tool pre-sold. Tell them what you’re looking for and have them CALL YOU when they have one available.
Treat pawn shops like you would Craigslist or any other deal… if they have what you need, buy it up immediately!
However, also do your homework to make sure the savings is substantial enough to not buy it new and have a warranty.
7. Get to know your neighbors… bring cookies and/or beer!
This may sound like another crazy idea, but go out of your way to meet your neighbors.
We’re not talking about just the people that live over the fence, but get to know the locals.
Just to be clear, we are not building relationships to “use” people for their stuff, but simply because it’s a great and gratifying thing to do. It’s called a community. A lost art in many places.
When we’re out and about, we frequently engage in long conversation even when we have a to-do list a mile deep. To us, building relationships is important and critical to not only survival but for a strong community.
In getting to know the neighbors and locals, we’ve learned a lot of history of the town, start to hear the same names again and again, and have been building an alliance that we can go to for help, and also help out when they are in need.
One thing we like to do is always have some drinks on hand, or cookies! I find a way to make cookies even though we are living in a travel trailer!
If someone stops by, we love to offer them a beverage (coffee, beer, cider, root beer, etc.) and simply chat with them for a while. We’ve had many neighbors stop by simply because they noticed that someone new was in the area.
If people don’t just show up at your new property (some properties are more hidden than others), then you could try knocking on your neighbors’ doors with some cookies or something, just to say a friendly hello.
We love our new neighbors! Not only is most everyone similar-minded to ourselves, but we really feel that the community is extremely strong, everyone is passionate about keeping a safe neighborhood, and we’ve had just downright great conversation that is extremely refreshing and connecting after a long day of work.
We’ve also had people offer to help us with finding building materials, labor, crossing their land to get to ours for lumber, and more. Just recently one neighbor offered to give us 1/2 of the reclaimed building materials from an old barn if we were to take it down ourselves.
8. The goldmine of finding reclaimed construction materials is a demolition.
We stated this already above in this article, but one of the largest ways we’ve been able to collect salvage building materials was through a demolition that we found on Craigslist.
Demolitions happen every single day, but people don’t know about them! People even PAY MONEY to have their buildings demolished that have perfectly good materials that would be great for reusing in construction!
One way you can find demolitions in your area is on Craigslist. They may not be advertised as a demolition, but you may be able to find hints of a demolition in the Craigslist ad.
When we took advantage of a demolition, the add on Craigslist was simply for reclaimed metal roofing. The contractor didn’t think it’d be worth his time to advertise the wood but when we inquired, he was more than happy to let us have whatever we could salvage!
Here is how we earned $7,000 in reclaimed construction materials on that demolition alone. Because we invest in quality tools such as a portable generator, we are able to take advantage of lots of these types of opportunities that others would have to pass on.
Another thing you may be able to do is reach out to independent contractors, construction companies and demolition companies.
You may face a lot of rejection, but someone just may say “yes” when you ask if they can let you know about their next demolition. Not all contractors will be willing to let you get involved for obvious safety and liability reasons, but some may just be okay with it… especially in smaller towns where things are less “official”.
Oh yea… we also did this at the beginning if winter when it was cold!
The reason we were able to happily do this is because we’ve learned how to dress warm in winter… which means we can happily take opportunities that are thrown our way even in the coldest of weather.
9. Practice giving… follow the golden rule.
This is something that is not always easy to do in a time where many people feel scarcity, but try following the golden rule and treat others how you wish to be treated.
One thing we always try to do is to be giving. Don’t confuse this with being a push over or getting taken advantage of, but practice being nice to people.
Call it karma, the law of reciprocity, or whatever you want, but people who are giving find themselves with a lot more opportunities than those that choose to hoard.
Here are some ways we’ve practiced giving since we’ve been up here:
- Brought our septic installers beverages: When our contractors first arrived, it was fairy warm. We brought them out some microbrew, natural root beer. The next time they were out it was a cold, dreary morning. We were on a coffee run for ourselves and decided to pick up a couple extra mochas. This was such a minimal expense on our end but I’m sure it made their work a little more enjoyable. It’s a proven technique to motivate your helpers and get their very best work.
- Offer help to those that are older: We’ve come across many folks that are older than ourselves (60+) and frequently offer our labor if they are ever in need. One couple needed a bunch of their property thinned and although they haven’t taken us up on our offer, we’d be more than happy to help them thin out their property as we’re both young and energetic. Oh, and we have a monster chainsaw and aren’t afraid to use it. Haha!
- Helped some kids with their lemonade stand: This was on our last trip up here to look at property, but we noticed a couple young lads on the side of the road that were selling lemonade. They had no sign. We ran to town and bought supplies to make signs with them to help them gain some much-needed exposure! We ended up meeting their father and made another great connection. Here is a fun video of of helping with the lemonade stand!
- Throw a BBQ: One great way to meet more people is to throw a BBQ. Throwing a BBQ for 10 people or so is quite affordable, especially compared to taking everyone out to a sit-down dinner! This can be a great time to share delicious food, drinks and have some great laughs around the fire. We did this with Jesse’s aunt, uncle, the new neighbors, and by the end of the night all of our faces hurt from laughing so much!
- Engage in small talk & ask how people are doing: Coming from the city, people rarely ask how one another is doing and everything is simply a transaction. We really notice this now that we’re not in a big city. When we go out to eat or run an errand, we often engage in conversation with the folks helping us. This has also helped us to develop relationships and make friends. Many people aren’t accustomed to people caring about them so when you do, it’s extremely refreshing and makes someone’s day just a little brighter.
- Look for opportunities to help others out: When we’re engaged in conversation, we keep an ear out for things people need. If someone has a project coming up, we’re quick to offer our tools, trailer, or whatever else we have that we’re comfortable lending out.
Not to be all new age and stuff, but try to be a likeable, trustworthy person and you may be surprised at the opportunities that come your way.
If and when the day comes that the dollar no longer has any value, relationships may be all that we’ll have, so form them wisely!
To wrap this up, we want to leave you with the idea that you just need to be creative. Instead of whipping out your credit card every time you need something, ask yourself the question “How can I do this without money?”
Many times, especially early in your journey, you may find that you have no choice but to use money. However, finding reclaimed construction materials and tools is a skill as with anything and you simply need to practice.
The reason we’re able to practice and find so many great deals is because our income strategy involves having little need for money in the first place which frees up our time to put towards education and learning.
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