Greetings frugal friends! Welcome to Part 3 of our Frugal Homestead Series, which explores the finer points of how we’re going to reach our version of financial independence and move to a homestead in the woods in 2017 at age 33. Mr. Frugalwoods and I plan to buy 20+ acres of wooded land, likely with an existing home and outbuildings, in rural southern Vermont.
Today in Part 3 of the series, I’m delving into the rationale behind our tentative selection of southern Vermont as our ideal homestead location.
You Can Live Anywhere You Want
One of the primary reasons for our goal of financial independence is the ability to live wherever we want. Up to this point, we’ve been tied to our location by our jobs. Financial independence blissfully obliterates the requirement of living somewhere in order to work there. And in the absence of that monetary tether, we’ve been free to explore different regions.
So how do you decide where to live when you’re financially independent and not tied to a city based on your job?
We started by identifying the type of lifestyle we want to live (homestead, outdoors, frugal weirdos with a greyhound) and then made a spreadsheet to compare potential locations. It seems most of our pivotal decisions are made via spreadsheet…
Locales as diverse as Kansas to California to Minnesota to Texas were all considered. We enumerated the pros and cons of each and were able to whittle down the list pretty quickly. New England in general–and southern Vermont in particular–rose to the top. It’s not that southern VT is without its flaws, but it most nearly meets our requirements.
Mr. Frugalwoods and I feel it’s important to be intentional about where we live and we want to situate ourselves in a place where we believe we’ll thrive.
We don’t fear change. Over the course of our 31 and 30 years, Mr. FW and I have–between the two of us–moved 14 times and lived in seven different states. Suffice it to say, neither of us has an aversion to the upheaval that moving inevitably entails.
We’re both comfortable with exploration and a certain amount of risk-taking–after all, why not. You only get to live once, might as well make it unexpected and unique. As opposed to dreading it, we’re looking forward to living in yet another state and experiencing a completely new way of life.
Why Southern Vermont?
It’s Geographically Well Positioned
From a practical standpoint, southern VT is well within the tourist halo of Boston & NYC, which is crucial for our planned AirBnB efforts (the “yurt factor” if you will). There is in fact a train that runs from Penn Station in NYC directly into downtown Brattleboro, VT (one of the towns we’ve been building our search around). Brattleboro is an attraction in its own right as it’s rife with art galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and nearby vineyards and cheese purveyors.
This is really a quadruple benefit as it means:
- Tourists for our AirBnB lodgings will be plentiful.
- We’ll have ready access to two cultural hubs of the world.
- It’s a 2.5 hour drive to Cambridge, which is key as we’ll be renting out our home there and serving as property managers.
- The greyhound adoption agency we got Frugal Hound from is a mere hour away in western Massachusetts. You know, just in case we need an additional hound at some point since greyhounds are such helpful farm dogs… hah.
It’s rural without being remote. We’ve concentrated our search within a 30-minute driving radius to the nearest medium-sized town, which means we’ll still have easy access to hospitals, schools, dentists, vets, yoga studios (you know where my priorities are), grocery stores, culture, and other services should we need them. We want quiet but not desolate.
Southern Vermont, for us, is an exclusively post-early retirement destination as there are very few traditional jobs there; but, thanks to frugality and the internet, that won’t be an issue for us.
The Weather = Ideal
Vermont’s climate is essentially ideal for us. And that’s saying something considering I’m writing this in early February with 36″ of snow on the ground and more predicted to fall. What can I say, we’re some winter-loving frugal weirdos. Fueling our passion for winter is our hatred of hot, swampy summers (I’m looking at you Washington, DC, where we lived and sweated for two years…). It’s just not our thing.
We enjoy the change of seasons and living in a place with four true seasons feels intrinsically right. While we love visiting my family in sunny San Diego every winter, their year-round balmy climate is frankly kinda boring to us. We prefer the radical experience of swinging from deepest, darkest winter to hopeful spring, to temperate summers, to cool autumns.
Mr. FW would probably say that winter’s his favorite season, but mine is without a doubt the fall. And New England does fall perhaps best in the world. Apple picking, pumpkin picking, gorgeous leaves, crisp weather, glorious hiking–New England is where our Americana ideals of autumn and the harvest were forged. It is, after all, the birthplace of Thanksgiving. And, Halloween is possibly my favorite holiday. That’s neither here nor there, but I just want to underline how much I adore fall. Plus, Frugal Hound is pumpkin-colored… coincidence? Unlikely.
An additional pro in the weather category is that there aren’t many natural disasters to contend with in Vermont. As long as you know how to stay warm, you’ll be fine since the primary “disasters” are frigid cold temps and loads of snow. The caveat is that if you live right next to a large river, you’re susceptible to flooding. For this very reason, we plan not to live adjacent to a large river. Problem solved.
Four Seasons of Outdoor Attractions
Skiing and snowshoeing in winter, hiking in the summer, leaf peeping and apple picking in the fall, and maple syrup tapping in the early spring are just a small sampling of the seasonal delights offered by Vermont. I kinda feel like Martha Stewart saying this, but, it’s a good thing.
This gives us a plethora of outdoor pursuits and also ensures a year-round influx of tourists for our random assortment of rentable AirBnB dwellings.
The climate and geography of Vermont (and much of New England) lends itself to a level of rural sustainability that’s tough to achieve in other places. In this region, you don’t have to worry about water (there’s plenty), you have a decent (though not long) growing season, the land is arable, and there’s ample timber for fuel (many homes in rural VT are heated by woodstove, which makes wood a vital aspect of life).
Southern Vermont is heavily wooded. We’re talking waaaaaaaay more trees than people. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, we love the woods! There are few things we relish more than walking hand in hand through a majestic wooded forest. Hence, we plan to buy one.
We’re interested in properties with an existing forest, which we will manage for timber resources and recreational use (like hiking!). Fortunately, most of the rural properties in VT have significant wooded acreage. Win!
From a fiscal perspective, there’s often timber value to realize on forested land. Creating a sustainable forestry plan is responsible as well as potentially lucrative. And if we have sugar maples on our land, we’ll tap them for syrup. We’ll discuss these factors in greater depth in an upcoming installment of the series that’ll be dedicated entirely to assessing land.
Another attractive feature of the properties we’re exploring is their intense history. There’s a real sense of place and a connection to the past that comes through geography and land use. Many properties have old stone walls and there’s perhaps no better connection to history than walls that were built stone by laborious stone by ancestors we’ll never know, but who forever altered the land. …And that concludes my poetic reflection for the day.
Culture and Vibe
In a statement that will shock no one, we like Vermont because we’re liberal hippies. I’m sure you suspected this predilection of ours, so let me disabuse you of the notion that we’re conservative, preppy folks ;). To us, it makes sense to live in a place with like-minded folks and where the political current is in sync with our own. We’ve discovered that our general philosophies about life will fit well in liberal, progressive Vermont.
Furthermore, many a successful homesteader is frugal, which means we’ll be more likely to have neighbors and friends who espouse the simple, non-materialistic life. That’s one aspect of city living that really gets us down–seems like just about everyone is engaged in an endless race to keep up with whoever their personal Joneses are.
As a state, Vermont values what we do: education, internet access (shockingly hard to find in rural areas, but VT is investing in it), arts, wine, culture, cheese, and the outdoors. The schools are pretty good–not great, but not bad–and they tend to be small, which has its own benefits. While Vermont is typically considered a high-tax state, the taxes are progressive, so if you’re not bringing in a high income, you’re not impacted. Since we’ll be living in VT during the lowest income years of our lives (assets don’t count as income), it shouldn’t be a problem for us.
Additionally, the artisan culture is alive and well in Vermont and there are purveyors of custom beers, cheeses, llamas… you name it, they artisan-ize it. We appreciate the creativity that goes into ventures like these and will likely create a cottage industry of sorts on our own land. Greyhound fur spun into yarn, anyone? Didn’t think so.
Affordable Land and Low Cost of Living
Land is relatively affordable in Vermont, as compared to many places. Over the course of our search we’ve found a number of properties that are well within our price range and meet nearly all of our criteria. Plus, goods and services are less expensive than what we currently encounter in Cambridge and, it’s possible to drive about 30 minutes into New Hampshire to shop tax-free.
Vermont is one of only four states in the nation with a law prohibiting all billboard advertisements. Enough said.
The Con In a Field of Pros
As I mentioned, Vermont isn’t a utopia and there are certainly a few downsides. The primary disadvantage is that it’s not close to either of our families. We hate this and sincerely wish there was a way to co-locate with one of our families, but alas, they live in regions that aren’t conducive to the type of homestead we dream of having. Our hope is that they’ll come visit us often and stay for long stretches since we’ll have commodious space for guests. Going to visit them will also give us a good excuse to travel.
Although we’ve concentrated our search in southern Vermont, we remain open-minded. Western Massachusetts and upstate New York are other possible contenders as they share many attributes with southern Vermont. It’s safe to say we think we’ll end up in Vermont, but nothing’s final ’til we buy a place.
It feels like a tremendous luxury to be able to choose where we’ll live with few limitations other than what will make us happy. We fully realize how fortunate we are to be in this position and we don’t take the privilege of it lightly. For us, this freedom to locate where we believe we’ll flourish is perhaps the greatest gift of financial independence. Without debt, without over-spending, without excessive material consumption, and without lifestyle inflation, we’ll be able to bring this dream to fruition. And we’re very grateful.
And with that, I conclude the third installment of the Frugal Homestead Series. Next up in the series: searching for land! Want to make sure you’re among the first to receive Part 4 delivered hot and fresh to your email machine? Sign-up in the Frugal Hound email box below and she’ll send you a message.