Live Below Your Means
Shared From MOTHER EARTH NEWS Written By: Joel Salatin
Nothing stimulates creativity and motivation like being poor and hungry do. Teresa and I had limited financial resources — and I’m grateful for that. We both came from frugal families who always lived a little below their means. If every generation spends a little less than it makes and saves that surplus, wealth will accumulate. My dad and mom worked jobs away from the farm in order to pay for the land, but never made a living from the farm. At the time, the farm’s gross annual income was just a couple thousand dollars.
Because their off-farm jobs paid for the land, Teresa and I were able to launch without a mortgage when we decided to farm. That was a huge blessing and leg up, but before anyone thinks this deal put us on farming’s Easy Street, realize that every day, farmers who own their land or have inherited it still go out of business. Owning land does not necessarily lead to profitable farming.
We each brought some savings into the marriage and held off-farm jobs for a couple of years, until we had some money in reserve. In September 1982, I resigned from my position at the newspaper office, where I had been working as a reporter, to begin farming full time.
I was 25 years old, and nobody thought we’d succeed. But we knew that, as cheaply as we were living, we could survive for at least a year, even if the farm business didn’t work out. How did we accumulate those savings on modest salaries? We drove a $50 car. We remodeled the attic of the farmhouse into an apartment we rented out for extra income (we called it the “penthouse”).
We never went hungry because we raised our own food. Teresa canned and froze our garden bounty, and our meals were simple, seasonal and substantial. We cut our own firewood. We never went out to eat, to movies or on vacations, and we didn’t even have a television. (A cookout at the farm pond is still as relaxing and recreational as anything money can buy, and it’s a lot cheaper.)
For a little extra money here and there, I helped neighbors build fence, plant trees, make hay. When you’re living on $300 a month, $600 goes a long way. I guarantee you that we are making the most of those frugal years today because we didn’t let our spending get ahead of us early on. By cutting back on living expenses, we didn’t have to earn much from the farm. Eventually, all the belt-tightening added up.
Since then, we’ve been able to create a successful business, purchase an adjoining farm, and lease 10 pieces of land that are owned by people who inherited or purchased property but couldn’t figure out how to make it profitable.
To continue reading about Joel Salatin’s home based business, check out “Avoid Farm Debt While Growing Your Business“ on MOTHER EARTH NEWS.