This post isn't necessarily for those who are already homesteading as much as it is for those who are considering it as a viable lifestyle. Those who actively garden and raise animals already know the benefits of homesteading even if it doesn't make one totally independent financially.
First, raising as much of your own food as possible keeps you out of the grocery store! And personally, I think that's where a lot of our cash tends to disappear! It's not that the grocer is evil and must be destroyed or put out of business, but marketing has become so sophisticated and effective that we've come to believe we need all they offer or we'll starve. Or our kids won't really be healthy because they are not eating "enriched" foods. Or we aren't living the good life. And so on.
Sure, you'll need to shop the store every now and then, but not nearly as often, and the more you stay out the less you'll spend. I use to go to the store at least once a week for a major shopping trip where I spent no less than $100 at best. And of course, there were mid week trips for the items I forgot. But since we started homesteading, I might go once a week for about 5 or 6 items and once a month for a little larger trip, but that's about it! (And the time I save from being at the store so much allows me more time at home - in the garden!).
Second, raising your own food makes you less dependent on fluctuating food prices. Perhaps you'll be dependent on the feed producers, but you can usually work around some of that by mixing your own grains, partially pasturing animals to reduce their grain consumption, or growing some of your own feed (more of a challenge!). And there's not as many middle men taking a cut on the grain - especially if you're dealing directly with a farmer or mill.
The cost of that tomato is going to be a lot less when it comes from your own garden as opposed to the farmer three states away. His tomato will be priced based on everything from transportation and packaging to fertilizers and water as well as a profit for his time invested. By comparison, your tomato will only suffer from a possible water bill and a bit of fertilizer. And since you'll be eating what's in season, your saving even more! While I've oversimplified this a bit, I think you get the point.
Third, raising your own food is a long term solution as opposed to an immediate fix. When you go to the grocery store, it's all consumable. Once you eat it, it's gone. But when you practice growing your own vegetables (or raising our own livestock), you are setting yourself up for an on going process. You're learning with each plant you grow and harvest - what worked and didn't work; how to grow that vegetable more efficiently; how it can be done for less. Although you will spend money on tools, they will be used again and again for future harvests, thereby reducing the cost of that item by the food it produces. Seeds can be harvested and before you know it, you're on the road to being more sustainable. For those willing to commit to the long term goal, this is going to save you big time!
Finally, raising as much of your food as possible allows you to fund your own garden or animals by selling some of the extra. By growing a little more lettuce or keeping a few extra chickens, you can supplement your income by selling some of the excess (sadly, milk cannot be included). Set up a table on your porch and sell based on the honor system or just email a few friends and let them know what you got and for how much. People are looking for reliable food sources and this need is only going to increase. We can do without a lot of stuff, but food isn't one of them.
I personally recommend tithing some of your produce by giving a portion away - especially to the elderly and widows who are no longer able to garden or to the truly needy - and then keep the rest for you and your customers. When I do sell something, I prefer to charge less than the grocery store because my overhead is lower and I can bless someone by selling, eggs for example, less than they would have paid if they purchased them at the store. Everyone benefits by this biblical system. (Okay, your grocer isn't benefiting from it, but you'll still need him around for a few items, so be nice to him!)
By writing this post, I do not mean to imply that homesteading is a cheap way to go. While I really do believe you can save money by practicing some of the things I mentioned above, you must remember that it is going to be more profitable in the long term; the payoff isn't always immediate. Perhaps that's why so many don't want to garden or raise animals? It's just so much easier to run down to the market and buy whatever we want and have time left over to do what we want. But there is a price to pay for doing this, too. At least with homesteading, in the long run, you're going to have acquired fabulous skills, you'll be less dependent on suppliers, and you'll save some cash.
How To Get Started Homesteading
• Start by putting aside some cash so that you can homestead without going into debt. Most gardens need tools, fences, and in the Southwest, a watering system. Animals need barns, corrals, and some land. Kitchens need equipment for processing and storing. And it costs money. But you can save and make wise investments in these things by purchasing quality items that will last for years to come, shop garage sales or on-line auctions and sales, or ask for these things as gifts when appropriate.
• While you're saving your money, start researching to know what you want to do with the space that you have. Think long term because you don't want to have to re-do something because you didn't plan ahead. Utilize source materials such as The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan, which I highly recommend for the beginner. Even if you live in an apartment building, it's not impossible. Just think of those old WWII victory gardens! You CAN do this thing! Just get creative.
• Prioritize the things you want to add to your homestead so you have a plan of where you're going to begin. I started with chickens, but someone else may think beekeeping is a better place to begin. It's up to you, your needs, and your land or zoning restrictions.
• Start researching the first item in depth so that you know as much about it as possible. Find someone who is already doing this and ask if they will mentor you. Read books from the library. Find out what zoning ordinances apply to your area.
• Begin purchasing needed supplies for this project as money becomes available.
• When you're set to go with housing, fencing, and supplies, take the plunge and get those chickens, bees, goats, or whatever!
• If you're starting with a garden, have a long term plan, but divide it up so that you can start small and build. It's much easier this way and you'll be less likely to give up. Maybe just planting a few items for a great salad the first year would be a good place to start. Or an herb garden. Many who like salsa start with growing the basics for this hot treat. But once you get the gardening bug, watch out! It's addictive!
• Continue to learn and get support from others doing the same thing. Read this blog and participate in our Community Forum where you can ask questions - and no question is a silly one! It's just new for you and we've all been there! Hey, I'm still asking questions, too! I'd love to have some company!
And I'd love to hear from you if you're thinking of taking those first steps to homesteading. Let's talk!