Project Self Sufficiency: Why Planning Is Spontaneity’s Best Friend

calendarI would like to say I am a spontaneous person. I’d like to, but I can’t. I am, however, impulsive. They sound similar, but impulsiveness is much more expensive, and far less fun. Trust me, I know these things.

Spontaneity is creative, fun, and surprising. Impulsiveness is chaotic, confusing and demanding. Let me give a quick example of each.

A spontaneous farmer gets his work done ahead of schedule and says, ‘Dang, I think I’ll take my wife to the movies.’  An impulsive farmer looks through a seed catalogue, sees a bunch of new or cool varieties and buys them up to add to his usual products without giving thought to the financial, time or space costs, giving himself more work and stress as a result.

The key to opening up opportunity for the former and inhibiting the latter is, planning. December is my planning month. (Note: planning does not come natural to me. It is way to disciplined for my random, extemporaneous mind, but it is a skill I’ve cultivated at great cost over the years). I sit down with my calendar, my budget, my seed catalogs and business plan and work out something that makes sense.

By knowing what I have room for, time for and money for, I can minimize stress and optimize production. I will always ask Brittan’s input, to make sure I’m growing and raising things we will actually use or sell, because my tendency is to grow things that are fun.  For example, we almost never eat eggplant, but I think they are beautiful plants with gorgeous flowers and fruit. They are also challenging for me to grow. Last year, I didn’t ask her about them and planted way too many. Actually, two would have been too many, but I digress.  I wasted hours and hours nursing a couple dozen eggplants only to have 90 percent of them go to the chickens or compost heap (same thing, really).  This year, I will plant a maximum of two, because she reminded me of my impulsiveness last year, so I could work it into my plan.

I use a calendar to write down a planting schedule to ensure I get everything out at the right times. The plan cues me when it’s time to get seed trays started in the greenhouse and when it’s time to feed my plants.

Planning in advance reminds me when to schedule the arrival of new chicks or ducklings. I know when I’m going to buy feeder calves or put my male goats in with the does for breeding.

One of my favorite tools is a planting chart provided free from the University of Georgia Ag Department. I found it several years ago as a .pdf online. While not exhaustive, it gives great guidance on when to plant specific crops for both the spring and fall seasons. I love it. Many States have similar guides. I encourage you to do a search for your area. If you can’t find one, contact your County extension office and see what they have.

As for calendars, this time of year they are on sale EVERYWHERE. Or you can print out a blank one from an online template which is my normal plan. This year, though, I’m going to buy a notebook style like a Franklin Planner so I can keep more detailed notes. Wait, did I just use the word, detail….

Planning is an evolving process, but I encourage you to try it. It will save you many tears and sleepless nights.

Now it’s your turn. How do you plan your homesteading/farming year? When do you get started? Please share, we’d all love to learn from you.  Also, send us any questions you have. We’re in this together.

 

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Why Farmers Market Prices Are Sometimes Higher Than Supermarkets. Hint: They’re Worth It!

Farmers Market

Farmers Market

The other day, I was reading an online discussion about the Farmers Market produce prices and Supermarket Prices. The discussion was both enlightening and discouraging. Let me explain.

The thread began with a consumer saying he was ‘done’ with shopping at his farmers market, because prices were too high; in some cases twice as expensive at the grocery store.  He said that he wants to support local, but not at any price.

On the whole, the responders were supportive and equally frustrated that the prices of everything from tomatoes to eggs to chickens was too much of a budget buster to continue to support their local farmers markets. A few hardy souls defended the markets, but to be honest their arguments were more subjective and heartfelt than objective and persuasive. So, I’d like to address this important issue as dispassionately as possible (which could be difficult because I am a ‘local’ small farmer).

First, there are farmers markets that are very pricey and are aimed at a target market that doesn’t really include the average family trying to manage Dave Ramsey’s ‘baby steps’.  There are also many misconceptions about ‘cheap food’ that are costing us dearly.  I will address both those issues in coming weeks.  For now, though, I will speak to subject at hand.

I loved the discussion comments about wanting to support local producers. It means a great deal that so many Americans see the big picture and want to be a part of a community based economy.  Produce sold at these markets, is however, about much more than supporting local. It’s about quality, flavor and nutrition.

The produce at the Saturday (usually) Market, costs more to produce.  For example, the seeds themselves are more expensive. This is partly because the mega farms can buy in larger quantities and get price breaks. It’s also related to the varieties grown. The seeds of many heirloom and open pollinated vegetable and fruit varieties are much more expensive than the ‘commercial’ varieties.

It is much more labor intensive for the small Market Farmer. Many of them are working alone, or with close family members, to amend soil, make compost, hand water and feed, etc. instead of using big machines to spit out large quantities of chemical fertilizers and hazardous insecticides.

It takes longer to get the local, organic produce to market, so fewer plants can be grown in the same space. Let me give you a quick example. Local, organic tomatoes are ripened on the vine, which takes weeks longer than picking them green, sticking them in the back of a truck and ripening them with gas canisters.  Therefore, it’s harder to replace plants for a second, or different, crop.

And let’s not forget that there are no Govt. subsidies for the Market Gardener.  That makes a huge difference in the cost of production and sale.

The Produce you buy on Saturdays at the Market costs more because it’s worth more.  It’s worth more in terms of nutrition, long term health, and taste.

No one thinks all shoes, tires,  or pickup trucks are created equal; but people continue to think that an egg is an egg and a tomato is a tomato. It baffles me, especially in light of all the information that is available out there.

It is well known that free range eggs are more than twice as good for you than are chicken house eggs.  Free range eggs are high in healthy Omega 3 fatty acids from the chickens eating grass and spending their days out in the fresh air and sunshine. Chicken house eggs are loaded with artery clogging omega 6 fatty acids from living on a grain only diet and living a sedentary life. Do you think something good for you should cost the same as something bad for you?  How much is your health worth.

Tomatoes and other fresh fruits and vegetables grown by local, organic and beyond organic farmers, are loaded with vitamins and minerals that are often missing from the supermarket varieties. And the Saturday Market ones are missing the toxic chemicals the supermarket ones are often swimming in.

Take carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables as an example. In a commercial environment, those vegetables are regularly bathed in a virtual chemical soup bath of toxins. They sit in it, soak it up and pass it on to you at low, low, prices.  Your, Saturday market varieties have likely been grown in well composted, nutrient rich soils and fed only natural fertilizers from things like seaweed. The insecticides, if used at all,  come from things like ivory dish soap, garlic juice, and water.  Do you think those more safely grown might be worth more than the chemical soup kind?

Sometimes what you save on the front end by paying less at the checkout, you pay for down the road in health care.  Produce may look alike, but they are not all the same.

The Farmers Market produce also tastes better.  I can’t even begin to recount the number of people who have remarked on the superior flavor of our produce, eggs and  chicken, as compared to what they get at the store.  What is flavor worth? Only you can decide what it’s worth to you.

There you have it. Farmers Market produce costs more because it’s worth more, just like a Coach handbag is worth more than the knock off at Wal Mart or a BMW is worth more than a Ford. The big difference is that with handbag and car analogies is that cheaper purses and automobiles are not putting your family’s health at risk.

Coming Soon: Part 2, Why Some Farmers Are Driving Consumers Away From Farmers Markets

 

How the Simple And Sustainable View Real Estate Differently And Why You Should,Too – Part 2

Simple living houseIn Part 1, we looked the history of American personal real estate investing. We discovered we had made a mistake thinking that investing in home ownership was the best thing we could ever put our money into. It turns out that houses are just as subject to economic and market pressures as stocks and mutual funds are. So let’s spend just a few minutes discovering a new way to think about home ownership and money.

The Simple, Sustainable crowd want to limit risk and maximize life.  We learned that big, oversized suburban homes, don’t actually improve our lifestyles, they only make them APPEAR to be improved. In reality, those houses have to be filled with stuff. Stuff costs money and generally depreciates in value rather quickly. Financing the typical suburban lifestyle frequently requires multiple incomes, which increases the number of vehicles a household needs. Those vehicles must be purchased, fueled, insured and maintained. The stress of the big circle of the big suburban lifestyle is killing us.

Living Simple, Sustainable lives, means instead of buying as much as we can afford, we look for the minimally viable living space.  It means prioritizing the land over the structures. It means smaller mortgages, spread over shorter periods of time. We think in terms of 15 year mortgages, maximum, and getting them paid off early.

A smaller house is less expensive to buy, to heat and cool, to maintain and to furnish, which reduces our expense requirements even more.  Fewer operating costs allows for faster wealth building or faster mortgage reduction. I bet you can feel your blood pressure dropping just thinking about it.

Besides the financial savings, reduced energy costs benefit the environment by reducing nonrenewable portions of our footprint.

Most Simple, Sustainable lifestyles include growing some, or all of our own food. I’m not just describing the back to the country, homesteaders, like my wife and me. More urban and suburban dwellers are gardening (much of it organic) than at any time since the end of WWII.  Whether the motivation is environmental, financial or nutritional, it’s a win for everyone except big corporations.

Let’s summarize: The Simple, Sustainable, Lifestyle, has less debt, on shorter terms, smaller operating costs, better nutrition, and less stress. We have taken back ownership of our time, our lives and our finances. We are investing in our families and in ourselves, rather than handing our hard earned cash to big banks, insurance, utility and oil companies. We are keeping it and using it for things we value rather than handing over to someone else.

I remember once, a friend parking his big, new, heavily financed truck next to my little runabout commuter car. As we got out and started walking to the office, he said, “Geez, Sam, what is that thing you’re driving?”

“Paid for”, I grinned. Years later, I’m still grinning.

There is a revolution happening all over America. Some haven’t caught on yet, but the movement is growing. Americans are beginning to think differently about real estate and home ownership. Rather than throwing money after the appearance of wealth, we are looking at ways to build REAL, tangible, cash in hand wealth. We have minimized risk, have more liquid assets and own our houses outright. We have less stress and sleep great at night. We’re not afraid of the next economic bubble. We have created a kind of immunity.  We love our simple, sustainable lives. And we’d love to have you join us.

I sure would like hear from y’all. Drop in a comment, or send an email with your thoughts on how you’ve simplified your life, or how you’d like to. After all, we’re in this thing together.

 

 

 

 

I’m Not The Debt Police, I Just Think I Found A Better Way.

Not surprisingly, I still get email (or tweets) from people who’ve read IOU NO MORE, and want to know more about why I think managed debt is all that bad. (I got that question just today via one of the discussion boards I’m on).  After all, well managed debt allows us to have nicer things and can improve our credit scores. Right?  Besides, Sam, I get a tax break on my mortgage interest.

Those are all fair points and I’d like to address them, briefly.

First, I’m not the debt police.  I have some very strongly held positions on the subject, but I’d never dream of getting all up in someone’s grill who disagreed with me.  So when you read my reply, take it as advice from someone who cares about you, your family and your future, but who will not judge you.  This is a safe place.

Let’s take the objections out of order. 1. Managed debt improves our credit scores.  Yes, that is true, but so what?  Why do I want a big credit score?  Unless, of course, I plan to borrow more money, that is.  Dave Ramsey calls a credit score, “An I love debt, score”.  I tend to agree.  People scramble like crazy to get the right balance of credit cards, auto loans and mortgages to see how high they can get those scores.  Why?  So that when they want to borrow more money they can get it at a lower rate.  I’m never going to borrow again, so I’m not impressed.

The math doesn’t follow the logic, either.  If I have debt, I’m getting stars for paying the bank all that extra money so they will want to loan me more.  If I have no debt, though, I’m able to pay ME all that money I was paying the bank.  Would I rather pay the bank or pay myself?

The better rate argument is also somewhat of a myth, too.  Take a mortgage for example; if you have a good income track record and can make a strong down payment, you’ll get a mortgage at a good rate and you won’t have to sweat those worrisome debt to income ratio investigations.

Now, let’s dive a little deeper on the mortgage interest thing.  Let’s suppose I have a $100,000 mortgage at 3.5% because of my outstanding credit score (which I could get with a good down payment, but we already said that).  I get to write my mortgage payment  off my taxes, right?  Not exactly. It’s not my mortgage payment I’m getting to deduct from my taxes, it’s the interest. Not playing the compound interest game, I’m paying the bank $3500 in interest.

If I’m in a 28% tax bracket, the tax break on $3500 is $980.  So I’m paying the bank, $3500 to keep from paying the IRS $980.  Someone please help me understand how that’s a good deal.  I’d rather pay the Govt. (even administrations I don’t like) $980 and keep the $2520 for myself.

Even if I was desperate to unload $3500, I’d rather give it to my favorite charity where I know the money is being used wisely than to any Government, because they can’t even spell, ‘wisely’.

Let’s move on to the ‘allows us to get nicer things’ objection.  I’m not really thinking that’s true.  I’ve never known anything that can’t be purchased with cash at least as easy as with credit.  In fact, many times you can get a better deal by laying down ‘Benjamins’.

What credit DOES allow you to do, is be impulsive and buy the ‘nicer things’ before you can actually afford them.  We can achieve instant gratification.  Is that a noble goal?

In Sam’s  world, it’s all about risk management.  The less debt I have, the less risk of either the country, the bank, or I have financial challenges.

Debts I DON’T owe can never be called in.  If I have no debt and the country, or my state goes belly up, I don’t have to worry nearly as much as if I have outstanding debt.  If something crazy happens and I lose my job, I don’t have to worry about losing my house or my car or legal action.

One more thing; if I eliminate debt, even well managed debt, I have something I didn’t have before…cash.  With cash, I can buy all the nice things I want.

Now you know why I believe and practice what I do.  If you feel differently, it’s ok.  I’m not going to get mad at you. You get to choose for yourself how you want to manage the money you work for.

What’s REALLY weird about my financial views is not what I think about debt. Those are radical, but not weird. What I believe about preparing for the future and the Stock Market is radical AND weird.  I’m way out of the norm on that one, but it will have to wait for another day.  I’ve caused enough turmoil for one Monday.

I would love to hear from you about your money management challenges and victories. Are you debt free? Are you working a plan to become debt free?  Do you wish someone would help you get on the road to freedom? Do you pooh, pooh the whole idea?  Let us know.  Let’s talk.

 

Economy Up. Economy Down. The Debt Free Never Worry.

One of the great things about being debt free (except our mortgage), is the lack of worry about the economy.  Oh, I don’t like the way things are going, but I can’t make the Government take responsibility for their finances, but I refuse to let Washington ruin my life with their irresponsibility.

Here’s the deal.  Brittan and I have zero debt apart from Mortgage stuff.  We have no car payments, no credit card balances, no student loans. We live on what we like to call… A BUDGET.  It looks like this:

1. Tithe – God Comes First

2. Food – Because we grow most of our own food, our grocery bills are fairly low

3. Shelter – House, utilities, insurance

4. Transportation – gas, oil, maintenance

Those are the 4 perimeter walls of our budget. Once those are taken care of, we budget the other things we need and want. Since we have no debt, budgeting has become pretty easy.

We have an emergency supply of about 6 months cash and a year of food and basic staple goods. We also have 2 years supply of seeds and livestock to raise our own food.  By the end of 2012 we should have over a year’s emergency fund and up to 2 years supply of staples. 

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, if you’d like to know how you could be debt free FOREVER by following ‘the simplest money management plan on earth’, check out www.iounomore.com.  Don’t let the headlines make you worry. Take control of your own future and sleep in peace.

 

 

 

Car Fever – A Narrow Escape

We don’t do debt.  Everyone who knows us, knows that Brittan and I believe the only tolerable debt is mortgage related.  Even that is only tolerated with reluctance.  We don’t have student loans, we don’t have credit card balances and we don’t have car loans. If we can’t pay for it, we don’t buy it.

We almost fell off the wagon this weekend. Before you panic, I said ALMOST.

Here’s what happened.  All our vehicles are old.  Our two cars are 2000 models.  Our farm truck is a 1997.  It was the truck that nearly did us (me) in.

With vehicle age comes an ever increasing collection of issues. The truck has them. Over the last year, the old GMC has had a few problems. We painted it back in the summer. We put new tires on it and and put in a new master cylinder for the brakes.  Last weekend as I reached over to close the driver’s side door, the arm rest came off in my hand.  That’s not really supposed to happen. Then the water pump started leaking. The timing of that stinks because I have to take a couple of cows to the processor this week. Sigh.

Did I mention that a Livestock Guardian Dog chewed up the seat? It was like a scene out of “Turner and Hooch”. “Not the car! Don’t eat the car!”

As we pondered the situation on Friday, we concluded that a new truck was in order.  The problem with that is, we have used a lot of expendable cash building up our farm and farm business, so the car fund consists pretty much of whatever we can find on the floor under the seats. The only way a new (to us) truck was in the cards included a car payment.

We talked about it at length and I had numerous justifications.  It wouldn’t be much. It would be a short term. I’d pay it off early.  Yada, yada.  For the first time I can remember in my life, I had CAR FEVER. And it was a bad one. Because I’m not a regular sufferer, I hadn’t built up much immunity.  I was in a bad way.

Brittan offered up a weak, “I don’t want any car payments,” but it was easy to see her heart wasn’t in it.  You could see in her eyes that she was imagining driving a shiny new pickup, one that had all it’s parts and all it’s parts worked.

I went online and looked at both private ads and at some dealership offers.  First, I got sticker shock.  Then I got discouraged. Then I started to get practical.

Did I really want to make monthly payments? Did I really want to buy a shiny truck only to fill it with manure from the mule pasture?  Did I really want to violate all the principles I’d been preaching for the last 6 years?  The fever broke.

I filled the radiator with water while Brittan called a mechanic friend.  We drove the truck out to the farm where our friend could work on it.  We went to the auto parts store and bought what we needed. Brittan also picked up a car seat cover to hide the chew work performed earlier.

By mid afternoon, the truck was running fine and our wallets were only a little lighter.  The parts weren’t all that expensive and our friend got a nice day’s pay while we were spared from doing something really stupid. Of course, there’s still no driver’s side arm rest, but stuff happens.

We were in the ‘red zone’ for a while and it was dangerous there.  We’re safe now, but we’ll have to get busy rebuilding the car fund, because eventually we WILL need to replace one of our ancient road warriors. And car payments are unacceptable.  Unacceptable, I say.  Too much money and too much risk.

Folks, it’s always Car Fever Season somewhere. It can be bad, even financially fatal. Take precautions.  Be prepared. Don’t be a victim. Take my advice. I’m a survivor.