Making the move from suburban Florida to rural New Mexico was meant to satisfy several wants and needs. One of the main objectives for starting a homestead from scratch was to live without the financial burden of paying a mortgage or facing the temptation to keep up with the Jones’ and live a life of pure convenience.
We lived pretty frugally while in Cocoa by not running the A/C (seriously), sharing one used car with decent gas mileage, and enjoying hand-me-town TVs, but there are definitely some bad habits that still need to be broken (eating out when we go to town, all-important trips to the liquor store, and the seemingly continuous streaming data). People often think that moving off-grid is ‘cheap,’ but we found out that is simply not true. It costs a great deal of money to set yourself up to survive out in the middle of nowhere, even when you are resourceful. Because people wonder but are usually too timid to ask, we’ll share a little bit more about our true costs to move off-grid below.
Let’s cover just the basics: shelter, transportation, and food.
The mortgage for our lovely mid-century modern 1,800 SF house centrally-located in a great neighborhood a block off the Indian River was just under $900/mo. Not too bad, really. The taxes ($1,050/yr) and insurance ($2,200/yr) were included in that payment. Our water and waste bill was about $20/mo. and our electric ran about $30/mo.
Our 15 acres bordering the premier Santa Fe National Forest cost us $15K with annual taxes running $290. The palace – our 20-foot Super Ger – set us back $9,000, even though we saved $2K by building the platform ourselves.
No utilities included out here, so we’re hauling water for $26.65/mo (up to 1,000 gallons) and trash at 50 cents bag- At most, we’re bringing one bag per month. Recycling is free. Our 400W solar electric plant cost us about $1600 to bring on-line (with room for expansion). The backup generator was a gracious gift, but a comparable new purchase would easily run about $1000, plus fuel as needed. Add in a full-feature outhouse for a few hundred bucks, and we’re living like kings!
>Off-grid $26,500 startup + $60/mo.
Camping Gear & Food
There’s no better way to explore the great outdoors than by packing up a backpack and hitting your local hiking trail.
Carry enough food and water to see yourself through the entire trip.
I’ll go ahead and include communications here. We used to spend $80/mo. for high-speed cable internet, $50/mo. for dedicated land line telephone, and $180/mo. for our two smart phones. No cable service.
Now, we are paying $185/mo. with our new Verizon Unlimited Data Plan, plus a few subscriptions like Spotify and Audible. (THANK GOODNESS for the new data plan as we were looking to close up shop – reaching over 80 Gb/mo. for two full-time telecommuters and after-hours entertainment – since our bill prior to the new unlimited option was $225/mo. for two smart phones, $300/mo. for Wi-Fi, and $40 for our dedicated business phone line for a total of $565. Yowzas!)
Luckily, we had no car payments in Florida, so we were only on the hook for $90/mo. to cover insurance on our two beaters, plus $120/mo. for fuel and the intermittent oil change.
We were hoping our Saturn and old Ford pick-up would get us by, but we happily ended up shelling out $5,000 for Buffy to help us move in. Our insurance for all three vehicles now costs us $80/mo. and our fuel costs roughly $80/mo. Add in a $7 monthly car wash to clean out all the mud from the undercarriage to go along with the oil changes. (Not applicable in the tropics, we had a one-time $350 expense for tire chains to outfit both trucks, and $1,450 for 8 new extreme weather truck tires. Also unexpected was an $800 fuel pump for the Saturn upon our arrival.)
>Off-grid $7,600 startup + $170/mo.
We ate out A LOT while living in suburbia as DINKs. Socials and happy hours were just part of the job description. We might spend $200/mo. at the grocery store (to include toilet paper, beer, pharmacy, etc.), but we’d drop as a couple $100 per night several times a week while going out with friends, in addition to $30+ on meals with tip more days than not- Yes, counting delivery from the ever-delicious Cesta.
Living off-grid, the social and convenience factor drops dramatically- Nobody to meet and no place to go! Food does not just arrive at the door with the click of a button. We have no refrigerator, only a kick-ass Rtic, and our oven is powered by the sun ($200 and $330 respectively). The wood stove ($300) and a little single propane burner round out the cooking appliances. (Check out our non-electric blender, coffee maker, and tea balls.) In making our own tortillas and refried beans, english muffins, biscuits, tomato sauce, espresso doble, and soon to be beer, our expenses are cut down tremendously by only buying staple products, mostly in bulk. We can usually escape the grocery store on our monthly outing with $300 out of pocket. But, bad habits are hard to break, and so we do splurge on trips to the brew pub and stock up on libations when we go to town. The garden will be an expense, but offset by fewer produce purchases at the store.
>Off-grid $1,000 startup + 750/mo.
Total Expense Comparison:
On-Grid =$2,970/mo. v. Off-Grid = $34,600 startup + $1,185/mo.
YES!! While the reduced expenses have given us a giant relief (and we do expect them to decrease over time), the cost of basic needs to live off-grid still exists. Not only that, but moving and start-up weren’t cheap, not to mention the $25K in student loans and credit card debt we brought along with us. We are fortunate to have a half-inch of cushion in our separate 401Ks, IRAs, and personal savings accounts, and we’ve been following some really great financial resources on Twitter, but we are in no way self-sufficient just yet.
Covering our overhead and paying down the existing debt require us to generate regular income, and we were extremely grateful to our awesome employer for allowing us to bring our jobs with us from Florida to New Mexico. The model set by Carol Craig and her inspiring tale of entrepreneurship compelled us to transition from payroll to start our own venture earlier this year. It’s a huge leap to leave stability for self-employment, but the support we’ve received has been incredibly generous and encouraging. Check out 550 Recruiting to learn more about what Ben’s been up to, and connect with Carey on LinkedIn to chat about opportunities in STEM and public relations.
Finally, you’re sure to know of our involvement with Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, and we thank you for your clicks and purchases. We have been busy at work building partnerships with other sources of quality goods and unique items that we’re pleased to share with you as followers of Sahalee Off Grid. There is plenty more great news coming, so stay tuned…
Tips on how to pay down debt, or questions about off grid finance? Give a comment below!