It’s been almost 3 weeks since we’ve been here in Hillsboro, and life has zoomed on by, as we not only set up our new home, but learn all sorts of country lessons that most certainly did not apply to our Harlem life. It’s an adjustment, but I can say with certainty that I have never been happier than I am when I am home, with my wonderful husband, looney dog, and a roaring fire. Or out tending our “compost” (a small heap covered with cardboard and leaves) or just watching the sun fade through the trees.
Our new backyard
However, we’ve also had to come face to face with the reality of our new life fairly quickly, as many unexpected expenses have come up that simply didn’t apply when renting an apartment, ordering Seamless, and enjoying hot water that was our landlord’s responsibility. So, here are some lessons we’ve learned fairly quickly in the past three weeks.
Pretty much everything ranges from fairly to extremely expensive. This may just be as a first time homeowner, but damn, owning a house is mind-bogglingly expensive. Add that to the responsibility of owning and tending 13-acres, and “hemorrhaging” would be a good word to attach to our bank account. I know these expenses will slow down as we get more skills (and we’re trying to learn from everyone we hire how to do basic skills like maintain our heat and trim back our trees) and as time goes on, but for now, ouch.
It’s really hard to decide what’s worth the cost. So many purchases are of things and services we’ve never had to consider before, and it means making a lot of choices about what is necessity, versus what is investment, versus what is waste. Tools are a great example – we know we want to build a lot of our own infrastructure, such as garden beds and chicken coops, and it’s a balance to decide if investing in truly fabulous tools is worth the additional cost over entry-level. Same thing applies to what wood to use for garden beds, soil amendments, seeds, season extenders – every expense adds up, and it’s so hard to know what’s a need versus what’s a “would be nice.” One take away from this, however, is I will never have the audacity to call a vegetable at the farmers market expensive ever again. Gardening organically is very costly.
Recommendations are solid gold. It is so challenging to find and be sure of companies and services. We’ve been using Angie’s List, which has been so helpful to find people, but by far the best recommendations are from locals and neighbors. Our next-door neighbor recommended a service for mower repairs which seems totally great, and family friends from the areas referred us to an architect and contractor for eventual renovations we want to do, and they have been fantastic.
Anthony on our new (well, new to us – it came with the property) ride on mower.
What’s also great is the reputation of good services seem to get around. For example, we would like to replace our terrible fireplace with a wood insert so it actually warms the room as an alternative heat source. So, we found Eric, from All Fuel Installation and Service, just from calling around to different companies, and he’s been wonderful throughout the whole process. What was funny is that when we told other various contractors who we were working with, they all knew of the company and had nothing but good things to say about it. So great!
Creativity is a necessity to saving. When trying to figure out how to save money, being creative has been essential. For instance, for us, canning is really important and saved us tons of money, even in New York buying produce direct from farmers markets. However, our 1981 electric coil stove is far too rickety and unpredictable for pressure canning, which is how we save our beans, stock, and squash. Our first instinct was to replace the stove (which is something we’d want to do anyway, as the stove is old enough that there is no indication that it is at all hot, so feels rather dangerous), but we know long-run we’d prefer a gas stove, and don’t want to spend the money to do the plumbing and purchasing yet. So, instead, we brainstormed alternatives, and bought a $50 outdoor patio stove that connects to propane, and will do our pressure canning in the (open) garage.
We did the same thing for starting our seedlings – initially, we were planning on a set up that included grow lights ($$$$, even just using normal fluorescent lights) shelving, and heat mats. This turned out to be an upfront cost of at least $600, which just seemed like madness. So, instead, we decided that we’ll do a simple outdoor hoop-house, that should cost about $300 to assemble, uses no electricity, and will extend the season in both directions. W’ll keep you posted on how that goes. (We may also do a small setup just for heat loving plants like tomatoes and eggplants, after reading Erica’s post on the matter.)
Bulk is Boss. This is most likely not new news to anyone. However, one of the great things about living out in the country is that all of a sudden, large bulk purchases make heaps more sense then they did in our little apartment. For buying soil (a necessity this year, and something we hope we’ll never have to do again, as we’ll be making our own compost and nitrogen rich soil amendments via chicken poop to help enrich our soil in the years to come), it’s way more cost effective to buy a truckload (around $800 for 18 cubic yards, which is about as much as we anticipate we’ll need) rather than by the bag (around $24,210 for the same amount, and that is not a typo.)
Another example of this is meat. Pastured, GMO-free, organic, humanely raised meat is very important to us, but it’s also very expensive. The best way around this is to buy a quarter or a half of an animal, which lowers the cost to be about the same as it would be in the supermarket for dramatically better meat. We just bought half a Gloucester Old Spot pig from Melisa at Misty Morning Farms, a sustainably-operated farm in nearby Deer Island, and not only is it cost effective, but we get to decide exactly which cuts we’d like.
Humor and Gratitude is Everything. Sometimes, I genuinely want to cry when I see our hard-earned savings account dwindling so quickly. It’s moments like that when I choose to focus on being so grateful for everything that we have, that we can afford to take care of ourselves and our land, our incredibly supportive friends and family, and for all our blessings. It’s also times like this when Anthony reminds me not to take life so seriously, by basically being a giant goofball.