Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The cost of living in the country

A recent comment on an old post asks about the cost of living in the country compared to the city:

Anonymous said...
I am wondering about how expensive it will be to live in the country. What extra expenses would we have? We are semi-retired and want to slow down and have a bigger garden and some chickens and more dogs. It is a brick home with plumbing and water and a spring fed pond and six acres with lots of trees.

It's a really good question.  I've mentioned before about how homesteading doesn't have to be expensive.  But living in the country does have different expenses than city living, as well as other responsibilities.  Here are some things to consider:

Are you going from renting to owning?  If so, you'll be responsible for all of your own home repairs, property taxes, and insurance.  Trust me, you don't want to skip the insurance!  Anyone that wanders onto your property, even trespassing, and steps into a groundhog hole and twists an ankle (or worse) can file a substantial suit. That doesn't mean they'll win, but having insurance protects you financially, both in fighting the suit and potential losses.  Of course, home insurance in the city is a must, as well, but most country properties cost more and therefore require more coverage.

What are the property taxes like in the area you are thinking of moving to?  What about building codes?  Some areas require permits and inspections and increased taxes for putting up a simple storage shed, whereas others will let you build whatever you like, as long as you stay on  your own property.

It's also a good idea to check out the local laws and ordinances.  For example, where we live, no one cares if you mow the yard.  However, in the local village, just a few miles up the road, property in need of mowing could result in fines.

Another example:  livestock, dogs, etc.  Is there a limit to the  number of dogs you can own? Are chickens, goats, etc allowed?

A note on the dogs, since Anonymous mentioned having a few more:  Do NOT let them run loose!  You may think Fido needs room to roam, and I'm sure he does, but dogs don't usually recognize property lines, so unless you have a fence, stay with him outdoors or leash him.  It's fully within the law in many areas to shoot a dog that is harassing your livestock.  Now, Fido may never bother your chickens and therefore you think he won't bother the neighbor's chickens.  Think again.  Animals are smart enough to know which critters belong to them and which are free game.  I have a cat that will sleep with our rabbits and chickens and never bother them, but has no qualms about taking down wild bunnies.

Chickens are the same as dogs with the property lines, though most people don't get as riled up over a marauding chicken...unless it digs up their garden or poops on their porch.  If your chicken gets eaten by the neighbor's dog while on the neighbor's property, there's not much you can say about it.  We've been fortunate that most of our neighbors also keep chickens and guineas, and therefore don't mind the wandering fowl.  Of course, free range is free food for foxes, coyotes, and other varmints, so you may want to think about a chicken tractor or a pen.  Feed costs are minimal, in my opinion, when you consider the egg and meat quality.

Now, for actual bills, I can only say what affected us personally.  When you purchase property, the seller should have a list of heating/cooling/electric costs so that you have a rough idea of what you are getting into.  For us, the bigger house payment was offset by the lower living costs.

When we moved to the country, we dropped the $70+ municipal water/sewer bill.  That was awesome!   BUT....there's always a but, isn't there?....with the well comes the cost of replacing or repairing your well pump and pressure tank.  And a power outage means no water.  Of course you can always buy a generator to run the well pump, but that's another added expense that may or may not work when the time comes.   I know several people that purchased generators after a major power outage only to find them non-functional when the time came to use them.  So, should you go the generator route, make sure you know how to maintain it so that it's ready when you need it.

Our electric bill dropped drastically, mostly due to lower electrical costs with our new company.

In the city, we paid well over $450 some months for natural gas, and still froze.  We have no natural gas on our property here, and prefer to keep it that way.  We heat with wood now and stay toasty warm.  However, don't assume that a few acres of trees will heat your home indefinitely...unless you live in a very warm area.  While our woodlot renews itself, we are purchasing wood.  It's not a bad deal, overall, since I can heat all winter for what I'd spend in a couple of months for city heat.  But indoor wood burners can be messy - all that ash!!  If I had it to do over, I'd go with an outdoor burner, and an indoor stove for power outages.

Your gardening methods will determine your costs in that area: do you need a tiller, a tractor, etc?   Also, if you plan to grow the majority of your own food, you'll need a method of food preservation - canning, dehydrating, freezing, etc.  Canning jars were a pretty big investment for me, but unless you give a lot away or break a lot, you don't have to buy them again.  Once we really got moving with the gardening/canning/meat raising, our food costs dropped drastically, but our food quality went up immensely.

Do you plan to mow a lot and will you need to invest in a riding mower?  We live on over six acres and have never owned a riding mower or tractor.  I would rather grow produce or plants than grass, but that's just me.

Is your home in an area that gets enough snowfall to warrant a plow, or at least 4 wheel drive?  We use shovels for our nearly 1/4 mile driveway, but only when we really have to.  Mostly, we just learn to drive in the snow.

A truck is a great thing to have when you live in the country!  We got our first one last year and I wonder how we ever got by without it.

A chainsaw is a MUST HAVE for country life.  Big storms can bring trees down in your driveway, on the local roads, etc.  Invest in a nice one that is easy to start and learn to maintain it.

Trash service is another thing you may need.  You'll be surprised, though, if you go the homesteading route, how little waste you have compared to the city life.

As you can see, what you'll need really depends on what you aren't willing to do without.  There are as many ways to get by frugally as there are to live in luxury.  I hope this has helped, Anonymous!

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