We made the decision a few years ago to simplify our lives. We didn't have a specific goal, just to downsize here and there. People often ask, how we did it.. Well, it was a long process. Here is a little summary.
In March of this year we decided to move off grid. Off-Grid means not getting our electricity (or for some, water) from public utilities. We had been talking about it for years, just kept saying, someday... well someday came, even if we weren't ready we had to make a first step or we would never get to where we needed to be. We have a generator system for electricity when it is needed. The summer was a trial to see what our needs and wants were. We had planned to use the income from a new job to build a solar bank by fall, but the job was short lived and replaced with a part time income, so our plans have been delayed and we stay on the generator.
Laundry is the first thing that comes to mind when others ask us about electricity. We have a regular top load washing machine. We wash one, maybe two loads a day. We run the generator and use that time to charge and use our laptop and phones and any electrical appliance we may need ( toaster or food processor for example). We have decided that when this washer breaks down, we will invest in either a wringer washer or a bicycle powered washer. We have learned to live with out a refrigerator and we actually prefer it. We have a cooler on hand for the things that need to be cool temporarily, such as yogurt for breakfast and store bought eggs. We also shut off our freezer. It would be great to have back on for food storage, but it is not a necessity at the moment. We do have plans for that with the solar bank. We have a lamp we run with the generator and we have oil lanterns. We do plan to have incandescent lights on the solar grid system. We do hot water the old fashioned way. I looked into a few electric instant hot water systems, and we may still do one. We do plan to have a boiler on our wood stove, and possibly use passive solar for summer use. Till then, we make do. Our generator runs us about $100 a month, depending on our use. Its far more than I would like to spend, but it gets us by for now. We discussed connecting back to the grid, but we would rather put our funds towards a solar bank and not the fees associated with re-connection. We use wood to heat and wood and propane to cook with.
We have also simplified how we eat. Feeding a large family is not as hard as I had first made it. It just took some training! I recall when I was pregnant with my 6th child, our food budget began to scare me. We had just moved into a higher cost area, and our income stayed the same. That sent me to my friend Lisa, a couponista. I was soon transformed into a coupon queen. I did this for about 5 years. I think I saved about $7,000 my first year. A little less the second year and I stopped tracking after that. What I do know is that in 2008 our household grocery budget for 3 adults and 6 children was about $500. We now have 2 adults and 9 children and we budget $700. I no longer coupon but we eat very simple, inexpensive healthy meals. For example for dinner tonight, we had black bean salsa and tortilla chips. The meal for all of us was about $7. Breakfasts are oatmeal, which costs about $2 for the meal.
Another way we simplify is by homeschooling. I have heard some would be home schoolers say they would love to, but just cannot afford to. I know for us, we save money. All my children go to the same school. No driving from place to place, no missed days of work because school is cancelled or a child is sick. No fundraisers for this or that, no over priced school photos and no crazy back to school supply lists. We buy our supplies when they are on sale, and stock up. We use what we find deals on. We use FREE. The internet is one basic expense, the resources are unlimited. We use the library, trades and pass along books. And of course real life presents some of the best learning opportunities! I think the #1 reason my family is so close is that we actually know each other. It has been a blessing in so many ways.
Clothing a family is another daunting task. Twice a year we buy everyone new socks and underwear and shoes if needed. 90% of our clothing is donated. We take and and all clothing donations, (friends, freecycle, craigslist etc) pick out what we can use and pass the rest along to other families. I actually love doing this as do the children. We shop yard sales and thrift stores for what we need to supplement. My two oldest boys are the same size, and if I have learned anything about raising boys, its that their pants have a short life span. I have been lucky so far to find second hand, but this winter, they will be getting brand new and very durable pants. For the girls, I plan on sewing some dresses and skirts for them. We keep 8 outfits on hand per person, this keeps laundry on task. We wear our clothes more than once if they aren't dirty (some are better with this than others).
We drive one vehicle, although we do need two. Our family van is a wonderful vehicle but the gas mileage is not. We hope to have a second vehicle to run errands and travel to work. We buy used and pay cash.
We use the Dave Ramsey envelope system to budget. I recommend it if you do not already use it. I even saw a great app on Pinterest today. Its free and It looks secure. The paid version has the ability to link bank accts, but I prefer the free version, esp since I don't use banks. You can check it out here
Living on less doesn't really mean suffering. I do get that sentiment a lot. But simplifying our lives has brought new blessings. We have more time for self education, we spend more time as a family. We still have our struggles, especially when the economy has reduced our income, but I know we can survive on very little. It may not be everyone's goal for living, but I do suggest that everyone use these guidelines to prepare for emergency. Over the next few months I will be posting more on how to expand on these topics and many others.
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