When most people hear the words “self-sufficient,” they picture a homesteader on hundreds of acres of land, producing everything needed for the family on his own. This homesteader would likely raise beef for meat and milk, chickens for eggs and grow a huge garden for vegetables. He might have a windmill for electricity and a well for his water supply. The entire family may work together canning fruits and vegetables and caring for animals to provide for their needs. This family might even make bio-diesel from used vegetable oil for their transportation needs.People often think of self-sufficiency as an all or nothing affair. Many folks have the idea that, since they live in the city or on a quarter acre lot in a subdivision, they are incapable of becoming self-sufficient. However, this assumption is incorrect. Although most families in the United States are unable to provide for all of their needs themselves, even in apartments and subdivisions people can still learn to be a little more self-sufficient. It is time that North Americans begin to change their mindsets regarding self-sufficiency. Becoming more self-sufficient can be a realistic goal for almost every person in the United States.
Why is Self-Sufficiency Important?
You may wonder what the big deal is about being independent and self-sufficient. If you have always been blessed to have a well-paying, dependable job, you may not understand why you should try to become more self-sufficient. However, many Americans are not in that category. Since the economy has gone sour in the past five to ten years, lay-offs and business closures are bringing financial insecurity to many people. Many families are dealing with these uncertain times by socking away money for emergencies and acquiring skills they might need to take care of themselves if the money starts to dwindle. Even previously secure areas of the economy are experiencing stress, so increased self-sufficiency can help anyone prepare for the future
You have probably also noticed that prices for almost everything are rising faster than most salaries are. Basic needs, such as food, fuel and electricity, are taking a bigger bite out of almost everyone’s budget each month. By learning a few new skills like gardening, car and home repair or sewing, you can save a few dollars on items that you would otherwise need to buy or pay someone to handle for you.
If you are interested in becoming more independent, here are five ways that you can increase your self-sufficiency.
1. Get Out of Debt
Have you ever studied an amortization table that came along with one of your loans? If you look at it too long, you may feel sick once you realize how much money will go to interest if you only make the minimum payments for the length of the loan. By paying as much extra as possible on the principal of the loan each month, you will not only get out of debt more quickly, but you will also save huge amounts of interest along the way.
By being free of debt, you will be able to set aside big chunks of money with which you can do other things. You may want to set up an emergency fund or save up some cash for a project you’d like to tackle. Best of all, when you are out of debt, an emergency, like a job loss, illness or injury, will not hurt you quite so bad. In an emergency, most families can scrape up enough money to buy some groceries and pay the rent if they are not facing several car payments and two or three credit card bills.
2. Grow Fruits and Vegetables
Everyone knows that the basis of a healthy diet is plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, buying these items at the grocery store is expensive. By growing your own fruits and vegetables, you can not only stock up on fabulous, inexpensive, healthy foods, but you will be able to grow them using few chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Even if you have a smaller yard, you can still put in a small vegetable patch and grow a few pots of herbs on your porch. Raised beds will allow you to grow plenty of food with the least amount of work. These beds, filled with compost and rich soil, can help you raise vegetables without a tiller or tractor. Weeding is also simplified when you use sterile soil containing no weed seeds or roots.
You don’t have to have tons of land to plant a few fruit trees. By choosing dwarf specimens, you can still produce plenty of fruit for your family to enjoy. It will take two or three years for the trees to get established, but your family will enjoy the fruit for years.
If you live in an apartment, you will have to get a little more creative to grow your food. You can put a few pots of herbs on a sunny windowsill, or grow pots of tomatoes and peppers on a balcony. Some city-dwellers have created vertical gardens in the windows of their apartments. These “window farms” [http://www.windowfarms.org/] can be bought ready-made or created yourself using soda bottles.
3. Buy a Few Animals
If you live on one acre or more and your neighborhood has no restrictions about animals, you can become more self-sufficient by getting some animals to provide food items for your family. Two or three good laying hens can easily supply a family of four with eggs for most of the year. A small dairy breed of cow can provide plenty of milk for a family, as well as one calf per year that can be raised for beef. If the thought of a cow is intimidating, raising dairy goats might be a little more manageable to the average person. A pig can be raised in a pen as small as 150 square feet, and the animal will be big enough for slaughter in only 90 to 120 days.
Not only does providing your own meat, milk and eggs make economic sense, but the quality of food products that you can provide is much better than commercially-raised items. You can raise your animals organically without paying the high price in the store for organic products.
4. Cook from Scratch
Most people know that cooking at home is cheaper than dining out at restaurants, but due to time constraints, many home cooks rely on mixes, frozen dinners and pre-packaged items. To truly be independent, the home cook should learn how to make basic meals from staple food items. At first, the process of cooking from scratch will seem to take forever. With practice though, a skilled cook can whip up a meal from scratch in the same time it would take to assemble it from prepared food items.
Think about the items that you typically buy in a week’s time for meal preparation, and consider which things you might be able to create on your own. Taco seasonings, pancake, muffin and cookie mixes and canned soups are not needed once you learn to create them yourself at home. It may take some practice to find the perfect recipes, but after several weeks, you will like homemade food items much more than pre-packaged food items.
5. Learn to Do Things Yourself
In past generations, people often knew much more about taking care of common repairs. However, nowadays most people call someone when their car needs to be fixed or their roof is leaking. The self-sufficient person does not think like this. This person tries to figure out what the problem is and whether or not he can address it himself before he calls in a professional.
Since the advent of the Internet, you can find information on how to repair almost anything. Some repairs are best handled by a professional, but many simple fixes can be tackled by anyone. By learning to maintain your home and vehicle, you will be prepared for whatever may come your way in the future.
This list of ideas is far from exhaustive. Don’t stop with these things. Use these thoughts to brainstorm other ways that your family can learn to be more independent. Remember to take self-sufficiency one step at a time. You don’t have to change your entire lifestyle overnight. Each year, determine to become a little more self-sufficient in one area. For more information on independent living, you may want check out the book The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan.
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