Building Own home
This guest post from Ian is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. It’s the extended version of the story he shared in his prize-winning entry to this year’s GRS video contest. Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes.
It dawned on me in college, having experienced several different summer jobs, that I really didn’t like being employed. Sure, the money is nice — but it’s just no fun at all to spend your days working to reach some boss’s plans or goals. I’m sure there are some folks out there who find a 9-to-5 job fulfilling, but that sure ain’t me. There’s too much fascinating stuff out there to learn and do to spend 40 years in a cubicle. The mere thought makes me shudder, and I wanted nothing to do with a career.
Most of the financial advice out there is geared towards building up a big account to retire on. I figured that I would enjoy taking a different route — reducing the total income I needed to live on. With a significant reduction in expenses, it becomes feasible to live very comfortably on a part-time income, or even just income from hobbies. How do you reduce your expenses that much? Live off the grid.
Ian’s prize-winning video contest entry
By “live off the grid”, I don’t mean abandoning all your possessions to live in a shack in the woods. I mean taking control of your necessities and providing them yourself instead of relying on other to do it for you (and paying them to do so). Going offgrid requires a greater up-front payment, which is rewarded by great benefits in the long term (sound familiar?). Building a house yourself is a huge investment in time, sweat, and cash — but it allows you to enjoy freedom from rent or mortgage for decades. Like cooking at home instead of going out, but writ large (hundreds of thousands of dollars large).
Note: My decision to follow this path was not purely a financial one — I simply am happiest out in the boonies. There are too many people in the city, and it’s just not enjoyable for me. I want some space. You may be different — and probably are.
The more I looked at the offgrid option, the more financial advantages I saw in it. By choosing an earth-bermed home design, I could minimize heating and cooling expenses, as well as exterior maintenance. Having my own well and septic system eliminate the water bill, and having my own photovoltaic system for electricity cuts out another bill. My consumable fuels for the home are limited to some wood for winter heating (easily collected from the property) and propane for cooking (for which a couple hundred gallon tank is nearly a lifetime supply). Add some food production on the land, and you can also reduce grocery expenses.
Does this mean intentional poverty? Absolutely not. It means that I can have great quality of life, make $10, 000 per year with a part-time or online gig, and have more disposable income than most middle income debt-ridden wage slaves.
At the time I put this notion together, I was in the middle of getting a fancy engineering degree from a fancy university. I had been losing interest in engineering as a field to work in, and opted to jump to a more hands-on field of study and get the fastest two-year degree I could. I judged that it would be better to leave with some sort of diploma than drop out altogether.
At the same time, I started looking for affordable rural land. I had a small inheritance from a great grandparent that I had been saving for something significant and meaningful, and a piece of land seemed like the perfect use for it. I eventually found a 40 acre parcel in the Southwest for less than $500/acre. I ditched school for a week to camp out on it, and fell in love. It had a good southeast facing slope for my passive solar house plan, and everything else I wanted in a parcel.