Most of us don’t have the luxury/ability/desire/whatever to be 100% self-sufficient, but there are things you can start doing today that will put you on the road to being 10% or 20% or 90% self-sufficient, and that is a great goal, too!
1. Get an emergency fund. While most of us can’t completely live off what we grow and make ourselves, being financially secure is a great step on the path to being completely self-sufficient. If you have a financial reserve, you can buy the necessities that you may not have on hand. Aim for 3-6 months of expenses in a high-yield savings account (easily accessible, don’t invest this money in inaccessible funds). Live on less than what you earn, and use the rest for building an emergency fund and investing for retirement. Whether it’s 30%, 60%, or 80% depends on your living expenses and income. After each paycheck, place a specific percentage into your emergency fund until you have 3-6 months saved. Replenish as necessary (but remember this is an emergency fund, not a vacation or “fun” fund). Part of becoming financially self-sufficient is reducing your debt to become debt-free.
2. Start a garden. Whether it’s a bag of potting soil with a few tomatoes growing out of it, or a perfect, huge organic garden, every little bit helps! This list of great gardening books with short summaries of their contents to get you started. There are all kinds of gardening methods from square-foot to pots, and there is sure to be one that fits your budget and space. On social media you can join groups about gardening in your area; these groups can be a ton of help in getting you started. Or ask an expert like your seed supplier, local master gardeners, or your neighbors who are pros).
3. Edible landscaping. Beyond an actual vegetable garden, you can landscape your yard with things you can eat! Better Homes and Gardens has a great article about this. Edible landscaping includes fruit trees and shrubs, vines, groundcover, flowers, herbs, and more! You get a beautiful yard, and you can eat it!
4. Compost. There is one thing a lawn is great for (besides playing on), and that is green material for a compost pile. OrganicGardening.com has a great basic instruction guide for building a compost pile. Essentially, you need “brown” (dead leaves, newspaper, dead flowers –carbon-rich) and “green” (plant-based kitchen waste, grass clippings – nitrogen-rich) materials, a shovel-full of garden soil, and some room, and you will have great compost for feeding your garden or edible landscape.
5. Preserve what you grow. Once you start harvesting things from your yard and garden, you need to know how to preserve your bounty to use during the off-season. It does take time, but it saves a lot of money on food. This can include canning, freezing, drying (read our post Preparedness Basics: How to Use a Dehydrator), pickling, smoking, and more.
6. Learn How to Cook from scratch. Once you have a bunch of great produce and other plants from your edible landscape and garden, you need to know how to cook with these great ingredients. Pick up some cookbooks and start experimenting. Turn that backyard bounty into healthy, nutritious, and delicious meals for your family. You can also learn to make your own dairy products like cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream. Check out our article, Cheese Making 101: A Basic Guide to get started. Making food from scratch could save you big money since the prices on these items always seem to be going up!
7. Bake your own bread. Bread, especially the whole grain kind, can be expensive—sometimes costing over $4.00 a loaf! You can make bread at home for around $.50 a loaf (plus you can control what you put in it). This will save you money and help you be more self-sufficient (and it’s delicious). You can also read our post 6 Reasons Why you should Grind Your Own Wheat to learn the benefits of adding home-ground wheat to your homemade bread.
8. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Being self-sufficient is also about frugality and learning new skills. You can make your own cleaning supplies for a fraction of the cost of store-bought bottled cleaners. Bring out your inner-chemist and mix up these cleaners from Living Well, Spending Less. You can also make your own personal care products like these from Keeper of the Home.
You can also fix-it yourself. Learn how to do simple plumbing and electrical work, paint your own deck, etc. (You can also learn to [reuse “trash”] for new purposes. It can be a lot of fun!) And, of course, you can always ask yourself “Do I really need that?” before buying something new.
9. Walk and bike. Not only does this give you a workout, it will save on car insurance, gas, and maintenance. This can take more “time,” but if you plan it right, it can be your workout and it can help you to spend less on your shopping trips because you can’t carry as much back and you won’t be at the store as often.
10. First-Aid equipped. There are a lot of natural remedies for the small things that ail us (things you can grow in your edible/usable landscape!). Become familiar with plants and herbs that can help you treat your own minor medical problems. Learn to use essential oils (if they interest you). And don’t forget a good, fully-stocked first-aid kit that’s easy to get to. It’s also good to have a smaller one that’s portable (in case you need to carry it with you somewhere).
There are lots of easy things you can do to start or progress on the road to self-sufficiency, even just taking small steps to become more self-sufficient today can help you in the long run.
What are your best tips and top ideas to start (or continue) on the road to self-sufficiency? What’s your next step?