Frugal Crofting: 10 Ideas

We started on our crofting life with a lot less money than one would normally use to start a small farm. Then expenses shot higher than expected, with oil prices climbing and the cost of everything rising. We had more truck repairs than planned, and I was ill, with no choice but to self-pay for medical care.

We are used to making do or doing without.

We did order seeds, but I found that the readymade seed starting stuff was expensive. So I improvised, as above.

1. Recycle everything. Soup cans, yogurt containers. even take-out coffee cups. Ordinary potting soil worked better than the commercial seedstarting mix. This works if you have places to store items you will use later. We have a basement. As soon as the garden is planted, I will assess what to keep another year and what can go to the big green bin. I don’t want to cross the line into hoarding. So what can be re-used and stored cleanly will stay; the rest will begin its new life.

2. Use the internet, phone and catalogs. It is far cheaper for me to call the store to see if they have in stock what I need rather than making a trip by vehicle to find that it has to be ordered anyway. Postage and shipping costs are less than driving to the city where a product I need is sold. I use eBay and kijiji, the local equivalent of Craigslist. I never drive to town to just browse in the stores. Casual shopping is a waste of resources, and leads to impulse purchases we can’t afford. On the internet I can make comparisons quickly in price and, using product reviews, quality.

3. Buy quality. I refuse to buy cheap tools! They will be frustrating to use, will break or otherwise fail, and have to be replaced. So the $10 tool ends up costing $50 since I will need to replace it with the $40 model I should have bought the first time. My garden tools all have strong, fibreglass or coated handles and tempered steel heads. They cost more initially, but they save money in the course of a year or two. We were once helping someone renovate a small barn, and when Nicholas fitted a bit into the electric drill to start assembling a gate, the owner cautioned him, “Don’t bear down on that too hard!” And why not? “It isn’t tempered.” Excuse me, did you actually buy drill bits that are not tempered steel? And why? They looked good and they were cheap. They were also useless except for drilling holes in cardboard.

4. Don’t pay interest. Your mortgage should be the only loan you carry, once student loans get paid. We rent here, which is practical for us. Credit cards are a chump’s game. So are brokered loans for purchases like lawn mowers and furniture. Save, then buy. Borrow a lawn mower, or share the cost with a neighbour or family member. Don’t fall for those “no payments for a year” deals; they often run up interest four times what the item is worth.

5. Learn to cook. And buy good kitchenware – sharp knives, a heavy butcher’s block, good steel pans. Cook from basic ingredients, and learn to bake. With bread here costing $3 a loaf and more, and 5 kg of flour on sale for the same amount – well, do the math. If you are confident that you can turn out a good meal on your own, you will be less tempted to get take-out or eat restaurant meals. It makes raising your own food a lot more productive when you can venture past salad ingredients in the garden. Avoid stocking up canned soups, cake mixes and so on, although it does help to have a few convenience things available in case you are sick or you have spent three hours rounding up wayward sheep.

6. Buy less expensive crossbreed animals. It is beguiling to get into purebreds, with dreams of showing and winning prizes, leading to selling high-priced breeding stock. This rarely plays out, though. Showing itself is an expense, with trailering stock, overnight stays, and lots of miles on the farm truck. If what you need is milk, eggs, meat and wool to use at home or sell locally, an animal with no pedigree may do as well at less investment. Of the breeders I have known over the years, none but a very few ever did well with show quality animals. The rest found they were supporting their hobby animals with another job.

7. Buy off-season. Don’t buy a planter in the spring; don’t buy a snowblower in December. Wait for off-season sale prices. Buy the previous season ‘s leftover model.

8. Buy what you need. Stockpiling is a waste of money, space and sometimes a complete waste of the purchase if it spoils, decays or rusts before you can use it. The rule of thumb is buy no more than what you will use within six months; for the croft, my rule is a year if it is something that will keep. It’s no good buying 20 pounds of tomatoes at the farm stand if you can’t get them eaten or canned before they rot. Some petroleum products, such as gasoline, do not have a long shelf life. Batteries may not be any good after a year or more. I’ve seen people stockpile soft goods like toilet paper only to have mice get into it and chew it to shreds.

9.Buy only battery powered items that will take rechargeable batteries. We have two items – a cell phone and a digital camera. Batteries for a barn lantern get to be a big expense, for example.

10. Do it yourself. A few projects may require a licensed professional, but if you do not earn more per hour than that contractor does, you are working more of your hours to pay for his. We all like to think about the large scale, self-sufficiency projects such as a wind turbine or a new barn with lights and running water, but these things are usually too much for any of us to take on alone. Scale back the plans to the point where the work is within your competency.

There are many more ways to save money on a small farm. Share your favourite ideas.


12 thoughts on “Frugal Crofting: 10 Ideas

  1. You’ve said it all and very well! 🙂 I did know someone who put their batteries in the fridge for them to last longer. He was an excellent mechanic and people would marvel on how he could get things to work again, when everyone else would have thrown it out. I did have rechargeable batteries that had to be recharged in a shorter period period of time than if I bought regular batteries. Also the got very hot while recharging and I did have them in correctly. They would last 3x’s as long in my digital camera (only thing I use it for). I love to cook and bake from scratch for the same reason you do: frugality and wholesomeness. And yes, I look at all the plastic containers that things come in and I see uses for them: planting seeds, send hubby’s lunch to work in, storage for sewing patterns, scraps of cloth from another project to use to make another smaller item.

    • We have just one oil lamp for the same reason. I used to have several, but depending on them got to be expensive. As it can be using candles, as well. I laid in a good supply of beeswax candles when I could get them at low cost.

  2. It’s some time since our short time on the smallholding but I remember how tight the finances where. Our friends eventually had a wind turbine which made them virtually energy self-sufficient. The site there was around 16 acres which is pretty small but not tiny for Wales. One advantage on that site was a fair amount of wild food – whinberries, damsons, blackberries, fungi, etc. My friends were vegetarians so we didn’t take fish or rabbits.

    I enjoy your crofting reflections. There’s a profound spirituality tied up in everyday, practical things.

    • We’ve got a start with investing in seed and getting goats. Our next step is cheaper transportation! Buying the Bakers Choice woodstove was more expensive than I had budgetted, as well, but was a wise investment. Our challenge would be an alternative source of water; we are dependent on the electric pump.

  3. Magdalena,

    Not that I myself know much about such things, but I’ve family who have lived on the land for years; would investment in a gravity-fed water pump work in your situation?

    I find your list concise and incredibly practical – so many women on the Christian modesty/headcovering forums I am a part of (even if there are only four in a household) think they are saving by purchasing a palet of pasta sauce jars, toilet paper, noodles etc or cooking huge quantities to fill their tuckerbox freezer (when most of it will probably become freezer-burnt or past its best within three months)… I’ve observed the concerning tendancy to hoard and prepare in such quantities (not for sale etc either) that the overall waste must be dreadful…simply because they perceive this as frugal living, when in actual fact, its not. This article is the most sensible thing I’ve read on the subject in a long, long time. I’ve also noticed that many have significant health issues – such as dangerous weight gain/retention (not that I can talk, being admittedly stout myself) type II diabetes, many living with chronic dreadful painintense health problems(either diagnosed or undiagnosed) are they working themselves into the ground or somehow inflaming/contributing to underlying metabolic disorders? I find myself deeply concerned for them – many of them harbour traces of ‘survivalism’… What are your thoughts on these trends among by and large US ‘homesteaders’? My family members who have lived on the land would find these trends alien to say the least.

    • Gravity fed would work here, but we would have to dig out the spring which is slightly above us, and it isn’t much use in the winter. My father could design a system for us. Rain barrels would be our first backup. Solar cells would be the choice installation. I too have noticed almost a hysteria among some Americans (and Canadians) about stockpiling (i.e. hoarding). I used to work at the Native American arts college; one of my Cherokee co-workers who was helping me clean out a storage closet noted that the previous person in my position had accumulated a vast store of office supplies and art materials that should have been given to the students. And she added, “Hoarding means you don’t trust God.”

      Far better to grow your own beans, vegetables and grain and learn to can or dehydrate properly than to fill a freezer or basement with things purchased, often food substances that are processed and nutritionally deficient. It is less outlay upfront and you can save your seed for next year. That’s how it has been done for 20,000 years, and it obviously works, because humanity is still here. Gardening and animal care will get you back into shape in fairly quick order! I’ve lost weight and trimmed down just in the last month.

  4. Magdalena,

    Water-tanks are the water- system of choice for many here in Aus; not merely the classic corregated water-tank on the tankstand beside the house but serious concrete storage tanks either above or underground (with mesh etc to stop unwanted biomatter fouling the supply). This is how its done here for folk out of town, and those in parts of town without mains water. how do you prevent your supply from freezing during winter up in the North?

    we’ve got a bit in the ground this winter here; carrots, parsnips, silverbeet and beetroot. I’ll be putting in garlic this week end; I’m now just able to get back into the garden for a bit without interfearing with my back too much. In some parts of Sydney, citrus wasp is such a problem that these fruit-trees don’t grow (I’ve lost six successive lemon and two mandarin trees in the past six years even doing everything by the book (standard and organic – plus the suitable ground doesn’t get any winter light). We’re a bit too warm for apples, but as we’re thinking of getting out of here in a couple of years, we’re just doing our little plot of veg and herbs. (thyme, a giant rosemary that i swear desires world domination) a struggling little parsley, along with sage and oregano, plus our bay tree, (need to move this into the winter sun – its in a very large ceramic Greek vase’ style pot)… and our min’t’s crashed, but it’ll come back up once that part of the garden gets some sun again.

    My hubby’s best mate has olive, coffee, citrus, veg, herbs plus Transilvanian Naked-Neck chickens (though we’ll be waiting five years or so for the first crop of olive and coffee).

    I’d love to try my hand at preserving vegetables, (when we’ve more room and can grow a larger crop – though I’m hoping to pickle some of the beetroot when its ready).

    Completely agree with you re hoarding and hysteria….



    Wish some of the Northern Hemisphere homesteaders etc could spend a week or two with my family who’ve on-the -land experience; they’d get a completely different perspective. v

    • Cisterns here have to be in the house – either in the cellar or in the attic. Attic cistern is easier obviously re: gravity but a horrible nuisance to install and maintain. Most houses had a cellar cistern, or a dug well in the yard with a priming handpump. As for going back to the land – I just think of how my great-grandparents did things. Most everything they needed was grown or made on the farm except kitchenware, fabrics and shoes. That would have been the last generation to have spun yarn at home. I don’t think my great-grandmother had a loom for blankets and rugs,although many still did that in that time.

  5. I would only add composting and rain collection. We are on a well and every time the water goes on so does the pump. I therefore put rain barrels on the downspouts to collect the rain and I use it to water the garden. I also compost all the kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves etc. That gives me nice healthy dirt for the next week.

    • I am thinking to do another “10 Ideas” soon, and certainly will cover rain barrels and composting. (Kind of a pun there.)

  6. I use milk cartons and other packaging to plant too. I plant things from seeds rather than buying plants but this year I have bought some to see if they thrive on my balcony rather than buying expensive seeds and find out that they do not work here. I am also using this time growing on my balcony to learn how to plant things in a small space and how to do this best. When/If I ever have my house I will know some about effective gardening in small spaces as I do not want to live on a farm but I want to use a regular garden to grow much of my supply of vegetables. I am not too interested in having animals other than hens or ducks so not being on a farm is not a problem to me. I like having neighbours and being in a community so a village or a more rural suburb would do fine for me. A village is a more viable option as most homes in the suburbs cost too much for my current salary and definitely too much if I am to work part time as I hope to do in a couple of years, god willing. R doesn’t have a job yet and is still studying so at the moment I am the bread winner on a teacher’s salary so we cannot ‘overbuy’ if we are to get a house.

  7. Amen to the ‘buying good quality’ standard. My father, God rest his soul, instilled that in me. No matter what major purchase I’m considering: Buy it right, buy it once. Don’t hafta go buy another one for a long time. Heck, I’ve got a coupla LL Bean shirts that were his that I still wear, 15 years after his death.

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