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Posts Tagged ‘finances’

After several frustrating attempts at getting various fencing supplies out to the Acreage, Hubby and I caved and acknowledged that we really do need a truck.  So far, friends have been very kind in helping us get the things we need out here, but most of our friends are not from our immediate area, and we have to wait for them to be passing through in order to use their vehicles.  The Co-op Agro Centre will deliver, but they charge basically a dollar a kilometer, so whatever we get delivered had better be big, as it’ll cost us around a hundred bucks.  That is not really the preferred option, since we were planning to do the house renovations, fencing, and barn roofing as we could afford it, $200 here and $500 there, but it makes no sense to do that if your material delivery makes up a third of the material cost.

 

Once we recognized that we needed a truck, we started saving up for one.  We had seen some appropriate vehicles advertized locally – our plan was to go for our usual:  a fairly cheap older model, preferably ugly as sin, but in decent mechanical shape.  I hate to be the first to scratch the paint on a vehicle, and this truck is going to see some heavy use.   A good friend of ours, a mechanic, even sat down with us and helped us find some good options, and offered to test-drive vehicles in his own area on our behalf.  We figured we’d saved enough for purchase price plus insurance, as we started the hunt.

 

Then, last weekend, the stove bit me.

 

When I say bit me, I mean, sent a jolt of 220v up my right arm, totally unprovoked.  I had set the kettle on for a cup of tea, and it had boiled.  I reached over to turn the burner off, and whammo!  I dropped the kettle (luckily without spilling boiling water all over myself, and went to lean against the wall and cradle my arm and whimper for a minute.  I got a funny twitch in my right eye, and my heartbeat did a few swoops and skips, but I was mostly okay.  The stove, however, clearly had to go.  Hubby went downstairs and turned off that breaker, and I finished making my tea.
Of course, the stove, being quite probably older than Hubby or I, was actually hard-wired to the breaker box, and could not just be unplugged and moved.  Noooo, we actually had to get a professional in if we wanted to fix it.

 

We had actually purchased a new stove back in March or April, when we ordered the new fridge – those darn delivery charges made it more economical to buy a stove we knew we weren’t going to use for months, rather than getting it delivered later.  It has been sitting in the corner of the kitchen, quietly accumulating stacks of papers and holding up various half-finished projects.  While I would rather have been using it the whole time (you would not believe how filthy the old stove was), that little wiring problem promised to be just a little too expensive to be worth it, at least until we had a few more bucks saved up.  Then, of course, life intervened…

 

On Monday, I started calling around for an electrician, and the first place I called assured me that they could get someone out the very next day…for a price.  Hourly rate for the travel time, to be precise, plus mileage.  The fellow I talked to was very pleasant, though, and I liked that he did not talk down to me, despite me clearly not knowing much at all about electrical, and being a gal, to boot.  I booked an appointment.

 

Tuesday morning, the workman arrived, and he was also pleasant and personable, with the added bonus of being able to explain what he was doing in little words for the non-technical.   There were concerns that the wire running to the old stove would not be heavy enough to support the new stove, and that would have added a hundred bucks or more to the bill – apparently copper is expensive, these days – but luckily, we did not have to replace any wires.   He had a nice, shiny new outlet wired into the wall in short order, then, I told him that I would like quotes on a couple of other things, while we were at it.

 

I know the panel in our house is ancient, probably dating back to when Rural Electrification actually made it here, likely in the early sixties, though it is also possible that it dates right back to when the house was built.   Since then, someone installed a light fixture here and a dryer plug-in there, and added a bunch of circuits to the panel, without adding enough breakers to manage them.   As well, the service is 60 or 70 amp, not nearly sufficient in a time when 100 amp is considered to be standard.  I asked the electrician for a quote on fixing the incoming service and replacing the panel, as this place is unlikely to sell without that being upgraded.   He took a look, and told me he would mail a quote later, though he suggested I be sitting down when I look at it.  Ouch.

 

I also took him around the yardsite, and asked him what it would cost to bring down all the wires running to various buildings, then re-run proper service to the barn.  He went around with a little tester, and discovered that there is actually electricity to a bunch of buildings that I thought were not working anymore, plus he discovered a wire just laying on the ground (formerly running to one of the garages) that was also hot.   I am so glad I asked him to have a look around, as Hubby was planning to mow that area, with the metal scythe, later this week.   My little 220v jolt was unpleasant enough, I can’t imagine what hitting a main wire with a metal implement would be like.  The electrician fixed that one up right away, and said he would send a quote for the rest of the work later.   I would love to get a light or two in the barn, and maybe even a plug-in, though I expect that will be out of our price range for the immediate future.

 

At any rate, we got the bill today, though not the quote for fixing that stupid (dangerous) electrical panel.   I’m thinking we’ll have to start over with saving up for the truck…

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…And I really mean that.

We’ve pared down our grocery bill, we’ve been skimping on heat, turning out lights and appliances as soon as they’re not needed,  and watching our water use like hawks.  We’re doing things the hard way, digging post holes by hand, rather than hiring a guy with a tractor, and wearing shoes with holes in them.  This lifestyle is still costing us a small fortune.

It would probably be cheaper if we had opted to ease into this whole project, by maybe just putting in a garden this year and getting chickens next year, or planting a couple of fruit trees each year, rather than a hundred at once.  Unfortunately, I am not patient that way.  While we are not exactly throwing money around frivolously, the infrastructure is a big up-front cost, along with the up-front cost of obtaining the seeds, and tools, and livestock, and feed.  Then there are the fruit and nut trees, and the shelterbelt.  This is not to mention the truck we are going to need, nor the tractor, nor the lost wage from Hubby switching from a day job to doing the farm work.  Once we’ve gotten all of these things in order, then it will be cheap to maintain, but for now, sticker shock is getting to me.

I guess it is the same as anything else, though – you get what you pay for.  You can get a mid-price pair of solid boots that will last for a few years, or you can buy your footwear on the installment plan, paying $20 every few months, which always seems to cost me more in the long run.  We do the same thing with groceries – buy in bulk, and pay more at a time, but less per pound.  In that vein, we’ve chosen to go with papered livestock, because the offspring will be worth more when it comes time for us to sell, so in the long run, it will make us more money.  In the meantime, I console myself with the thought that I bought four (!)  goats for less money than we spent on a week in Cuba last fall.  The goats will last longer, at least.   It is just that now we need a barn,  and hay, and straw, and buckets, and a pitchfork, and a fence, and and and…I can see why you need to inherit a farm in order to be profitable at it.  And that’s just the goats!

Someday, I hope, we won’t be paying for groceries, and we’ll be getting better quality (free range, organic, etc) as well.  Someday, I hope, we can sell eggs and milk and goats and produce, and get some (or all!) of the outlay back.  For now, though, we spend and spend and spend…

I sure am glad we saved up for this, but I’ve got to say, much like everyone else I’ve ever spoken to who has purchased a house or an acreage, I underestimated what this was going to cost.

Which is not to complain.  Every morning, seeing all of the ducks and geese and patchwork fields full of tractors and cows, I remember how unspeakably lucky I am just to be here in this place.  Hubby and I are very happy here, and although it is only supposed to be a temporary stop, we’ve fallen quite in love with this acreage.  I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be right now, nor anything else I would rather be doing…I just wish we could do it all a little cheaper, somehow…

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With the recession, Hubby really did not work much for a good chunk of the last couple of years in Alberta, so we got used to not relying on his income – it was decidedly unreliable.  When we moved to Saskatchewan, we decided that hubby’s job would be renovating the house, fixing up the landscaping, and managing the garden and animals – if we can turn a bit of a profit when we sell, we will call that his wage…lump sum, rather than monthly.  In the meantime, I can claim him as a dependent for taxes, which should actually make quite a difference for us.  In the meantime, while we are waiting for gardening weather, as well as actual possession on the acreage, Hubby has been a House Husband.

 

I love it.

 

I get up in the morning, and the coffee is ready.  The cats have been fed, and the dogs let out for a pee.  He even starts the car for me.

 

In the evening, I come home from work, and the floors have been vacuumed, or the kitchen mopped, or more moving boxes unpacked.  Laundry is clean and folded.  The dishes are done.  Supper is on the table, or nearly so.   And, I must say, Hubby is a good cook, and getting even better.

 

The dogs love having someone home all the time.  Hubby is happy, working for us, rather than someone else.  He’s enjoying the ‘vacation’ from hard physical labor, day in and day out.

 

When we were both working, we split the chores, and were both tired and grumpy and doing half-assed jobs of things.  We ate out more than we should have.  We felt like there was never any reprieve, that there were always dirty dishes in the sink.  Since moving, I’ve eaten a hot, home-cooked-from-scratch meal every night.  Boiled eggs or yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast, and packaged leftovers for lunch.   With no chores to do except hauling my sorry butt into town and putting in my 8 hours, I am less stressed, which makes all of us more happy.

 

Financially, we’re pretty sure we can make this work.  Granted, things will probably be tight at times, but we’ll be spending less money at restaurants, and, eventually, growing some or most of our food.  Less on shopping and entertainment, too, since we really don’t go into town.   I make a decent living, and we’ve lived without Hubby’s income on and off for months at a stretch.  We’ve always both been pretty frugal, and we don’t have car payments or anything like that.  The mortgage is about the same as rent in Alberta was, even with insurance included, so it’ll be manageable.  We’ve always set aside a portion of our income into savings, and we can pull from that a little, if we have to.   It will be better once we clear off the last of the student loans, but it’s do-able now, we hope.

 

We’ll see how much housework really gets done once Hubby is also managing renos and chickens and a garden, but really, this has been heavenly.  I don’t understand why more people don’t live like this.  House Husbands – everyone should have one!

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Hubby and I went to a dinner theatre, last night, as a last-chance date before I go out to Saskatchewan (he is staying behind until we get possession of the acreage).  Hubby got the last two tickets available, and we wound up sitting with another couple at a four-seat table.  There was quite a stretch of time between dinner being finished and the play beginning, so we struck up a conversation with our table mates.

 

Turns out, they were farmers, and had driven an hour into town to get a little culture.  I mentioned that we were moving on to an acreage soon, and that eventually we’d be moving out to a farm, ourselves.  They have been farming grain and cattle for 30 or 40 years, and seemed like real salt-of-the-earth folks.   The conversation revolved around water wells, cisterns, cows, and Mexico vs. Cuba for vacation destinations.

 

After, as we were pulling out of the parking lot, Hubby commented that our table mates were probably sitting in their truck right now, shaking their heads at us.  He commented that they probably think we’re completely crazy.  I mean, who would want to get into farming?  It is hard work, and the pay is the pits.  Around here, most farmers are in debt up to their eyeballs, and the vast majority of farmers I know have an off-farm job.

 

I told Hubby that we have a couple of advantages.  We don’t know what’s impossible.  And I already have a good off-farm job.

 

We’re never going to be wheat farmers.  The equipment costs so much, we would never be able to afford it, and still compete with the huge grain farms in our area.  But I think there is a market for local tree foods – the 100 mile diet is in the popular lexicon, and we’re within 100 miles of a couple of decent sized cities.  Wheat and chicken and potatoes and beef and lentils are easy – these are major Prairie crops, so they are common, and relatively cheap.  I bet folks would really love to be able to get their hands on 100-mile hazelnuts, though, or 100-mile apricots, and I would additionally bet that they would pay a premium in order to do so.   Especially if they were also organic.  There are lots of niche-market options, and we’ve half a mind to try several.   Planting and watering a few dozen trees is a far cry from farming wheat.  These are crops that don’t need a lot of space or machinery or money to get into…just some foresight and time.

 

Now, we’re never going to get rich selling locavore hazelnuts at the farmer’s market.  I do think, though, if we plan and market and manage well, we can make our income exceed our outgo.  And have our ideal lifestyle while we’re at it, with space to roam, good food that we grow ourselves, and a job for hubby that does not involve selling his soul to someone else for 40 hours a week.  If we can manage that, by our own accounting, we’ve won.

 

Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re not actually crazy, either…

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I read a quote, once (and I cannot remember who to attribute it to, unfortunately):

“Those who believe they can, and those who believe they can’t, are both right.”

 

I went for lunch today with a lady from work.  We were talking about stubbornness, and I commented that being stubborn was my worst flaw and my best asset.  She replied that she wished she was as stubborn, and could only dream of doing the things I have done, like traveling and buying a farm.

Huh?  Really?

 

She makes as much money as I do.  She is very intelligent.  She is quite organized.   I don’t see any reason why she couldn’t do whatever the heck she wanted.

When I pointed that out, she said

“Oh, but I can’t

“I’m too old”

“I can’t afford it”

“I’m not adventurous enough”

 

Well of course you can’t, honey.  Look at what you’re telling yourself.  All those lovely excuses you’ve made…

 

I got this a lot when I took a year off work and backpacked through Europe and North Africa.  Colleagues, all of whom make comparable wages, went on and on about how jealous they were.  I told them to stop being envious and start planning to do it for themselves.  That did not make me very popular, but they could do it just as easily as I did.

 

This is not to say that it was easy.  I paid off all my debt, scrimped and saved for years, lived in older rental places, worked overtime, lived below my means, drove an old, crappy car, and, in general, worked really really hard to be able to do that.  But I wanted it badly enough, and I accomplished my goal.   I’m not all that special.  There was no magic trick.  Just planning and time and a few sacrifices and some hard work.  I was 29 years old.

 

Now, people are commenting on how we could afford our farm (and acreage).  In fact, my father commented to my sister “I don’t know how your sister plans to pay for all this stuff”.  Of course, Dad lives in a brand-new house in a nice subdivision, got a new car last year, and just spent thousands of dollars remodeling his kitchen with oak cupboards and marble countertops.  I’m not sure he has grasped that we bought an old, run down place that is going to need a lot of work.  I also don’t think he has any understanding of how cheap land is in Saskatchewan, if you get far enough out of town.  The farm costs us about as much as an average car payment.   The acreage, being run down and needing work, will cost us less than renting in that city would.

 

So, how can we afford all this stuff?  Easy.  We drive old cars.  Like 20 year old cars, that we buy for cash.  We don’t have cable or rent movies (no TV).  We play board games instead of going shopping.  We don’t eat out a restaurants very often.  We cook our food from scratch.  We don’t buy brand-name clothes.  Our dogs and cats are mutts that we rescued, not $2,500 purebreds. We ‘redecorate’ by buying some new fabric and making different pillow cases for the throw pillows.  We mostly buy our books second hand.   Every year, when I get a raise, I put it into savings, so that we continue to live below our means, and have a safety cushion if we need one.

 

Does this make us somehow less cool?  I mean, a lot of my colleagues drive Hummers, or at least new Jettas.   They wear True Religion jeans ($250-300), and lululemon hoodies ($100).

 

Well, it depends on your definition of cool.  My vintage Corolla gets me to work just as reliably as my buddy’s Hummer, and costs me about 1/10th as much in gas, let alone insurance.  My $30 jeans still keep my butt from hanging out.  My $20 Costco hoodie keeps me warm, and I like the color.  I think our trip to Cuba this winter was pretty cool, and we paid for it out of cash we saved by not buying that other crap – stuff we don’t really need or actually even want.  You can be a trendsetter, or you can be unique just like everyone else.

 

Or, you can quit fussing about what everyone else thinks, and just go do whatever makes you happy.   Do you believe you can?  Or will you tell yourself you’re too young, too old, too dumb, too broke, or not adventurous enough?  Either way, you’re sure to prove yourself right…

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