Reader Case Study: Making Full-Time Farming a Reality in Arkansas
Sara Beth and Colt operate an 80-acre livestock farm in the Arkansas delta with their three dogs. They raise cows and goats, have chickens and ride horses. Running the farm is their dream. The only problem is that it isn’t profitable (yet) and so they’re both working full-time jobs in addition. They’ve asked for our help in figuring out how to make it work financially for Colt to quit his day job and manage the farm full-time.
What’s a Reader Case Study?
Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send to me requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.
NEW INFO: Based on popular demand from you all, and a TON of submissions, I’m going to start featuring TWO Reader Case Studies per month!
I probably don’t need to say the following because you folks are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not condemn.
And a disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.
With that I’ll let Sara Beth, this month’s Case Study subject, take it from here!
Sara Beth’s Story
Hey Frugalwoods Friends! My name is Sara Beth, my husband is Colt, and we’re both 32 years old. We live in the delta of Arkansas with our three dogs: a 13-year-old border collie, a 7-year-old Australian shepherd, and a 5-year-old blue heeler/corgi. We own and operate a livestock farm on 80 acres and raise beef cattle and meat goats, alongside a few chickens, horses, and barn cats.
Sara Beth & Colt’s Careers
While we’re growing our farm slowly, by paying for things as we go, we’re also both working full-time jobs. I love my job as a 4-H Agent and I run the 4-H youth development program in our county. Side note: any readers with kids ages 5-19 years old – check out your local 4-H program! Every state has 4-H, and most of the time the programs are free or super cheap! The focus of 4-H is hands-on learning to develop life skills. I’ve been at my job for over 10 years and have amazing benefits, including a 10% retirement match (!). Colt works as a farm hand for a local row crop farmer.
The farm is basically our hobby at this point. Most, if not all, of our animals have names and they’re all living their best lives. Colt and I are both homebodies, so almost all of our free time is spent on the farm. I recently bought a new horse so I can get back into rodeo, which is what I grew up doing.
I took some time off from competing after my good horse got old enough to retire and I was focusing on my job and building our farm. Dottie, my new horse (named after “A League of Their Own”), has been great for my mental health. I didn’t realize how much I needed time in the saddle. Aside from the farm, I enjoy reading a lot. Like, a lot a lot. My brain doesn’t do idle well, so if I’m sitting down, I’m usually reading.
We both enjoy hunting, and two years ago I finally got Colt to join a deer camp. It’s awesome for him to have a place to go on weekends during deer season.
I also took up blogging about farm life recently on our farm website–Flying Pig Cattle Co. I’m passionate about agriculture literacy and really, truly believe that everyone should know where their food comes from. Just like with any industry, there is so much information out there about food and farming that it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s just a marketing gimmick. Sharing this information–through my job and our farm–is a passion of mine.
Sara Beth & Colt’s Finances
I feel like financially, we do a good job living below our means. We don’t pay for TV, we have an antenna that gets several local channels (mainly NBC for America Ninja Warrior, Laff for Home Improvement, and GRIT for 24/7 Westerns – insert eye roll here). We don’t have internet at home, although this may change soon. It’s tough since we don’t have cell service at home either, and when I was working from home for three months during the pandemic, I had to go next door to my parent’s to use their internet.
I cut both my and Colt’s hair. Our entertainment budget is basically zero. I think we went to one concert in 2019, and the tickets were like $20. We aren’t big on gifts – birthday, Christmas, or otherwise. We have 4 nieces, so we usually build or make them something for Christmas.
My vice is Sonic Coke. I get one every morning on my way to work and my sonic girl, Lacy, knows my name, my truck, and usually has my drink waiting for me. Here’s my thinking after years of this addiction: It’s $1.09 a day, 5-6 days a week. For my mental health, and the safety of everyone that has to work with me, that $300 a year is worth it.
The Long-Term Farm Goal
While our farm does produce income, we are still funding it through our personal finances. We’re growing the farm so that eventually, it’ll hopefully be profitable and sustainable. We started from scratch when we married in 2015 with 80 acres of bare land. Over the last five years, we’ve made a ton of improvements. We built a house (shome – half shop, half home) almost completely by ourselves, and paid for it as we went. This involved living in a camper for our first year of marriage…with three dogs… while building the house. We’ve also built miles and miles of fence, a barn, an equipment shed, and made lots of other improvements around the farm. The only money we’ve borrowed for the farm was for the land and a tractor that was desperately needed.
Colt loves farm work but is not a fan of working for someone else–he’d rather be working on our farm. If he quit his full-time job, we know he could do “freelance” farm work and earn some money. He could drive a tractor during planting and harvest, and haul grain for farmers during harvest as well.
He has his CDL so could pick up some driving jobs here and there. With him home, he could better manage our farm, and in theory help the farm become more sustainable and profitable. We’ve discussed that if we were to have kids (still deciding) he would stay home with them until they go to school.
I’ve told him multiple times I’m supportive of him, no matter what he decides to do, but I know if I could show him some numbers, he’d be more likely to take the leap. Happiness is more important than a job and I hate knowing that Colt is not happy at his current job and is not getting to spend as much time on our farm as he’d prefer.
Where Sara Beth & Colt Want To Be in 10 Years:
- In 10 years, I’d like to be making significant progress toward our savings goals, and I’d like Colt to be working on our farm full-time.
- In 10 years, I’d like to have over $500,000 in our retirement accounts, and at least a year or two’s worth of spending in a savings account.
- Our land payment will be paid off in 15 years, and I can technically retire from my job in 15 years as well, at 46 years old. In my dream world, we would be financially independent, or at least Lean FI, so that I could retire from my job at 50 years old and we could both focus on the farm full time.
- Similar to now. We want to still be on the farm, hopefully growing the farm and increasing profitability. We would love to own more land. We don’t have wanderlust, but we do have a few places we want to travel to – the redwoods in CA, Ireland, and Alaska topping that list.
- I hope in 10 years we would have either made those trips, or have plans in place to go.
- Like I said, I love my job. It is very rewarding, and I hope to still be in the same position in 10 years.
- As for Colt, I hope that 10 years from now he’s working full time on our farm.
Sara Beth and Colt’s Finances
|Sara Beth’s Income||$2,962||Sara Beth’s take home each month (retirement, health/dental/vision insurance are pulled out pre-tax)|
|Colt’s Income||$2,300||Colt’s monthly income (-ish he’s paid weekly, so that’s 4 week’s pay)|
|Sara’s Travel Reimbursement||$200||Sara Beth’s job reimburses her mileage for work. This is the 2019 average since obviously 2020 is weird.|
|Item||Outstanding loan balance||Interest Rate||Loan Period and Terms||Equity (amount you’ve paid off)||Purchase price and year|
|Land Payment – We financed the land and paid cash for the shome (shop/home) as we built it||$147,338||5.6% (This interest is higher because it was a land loan since there was no house when we got it. We’re in the process of refinancing this to 2.65% for 15 years.)||20 year fixed rate||$33,662||$181,000 in 2015|
|Item||Outstanding loan balance||Interest Rate||Loan Period and Payoff Terms|
|Tractor loan (for the farm, but paid for from our accounts)||$12,792||5.75%||5 yr loan (end date of 4/2024) – monthly payment is $410.76 but we’ve paid $600/month. If we continue at that rate, we should have it paid off by 8/2022|
|Vehicle make, model, year||Valued at||Mileage||Paid off?|
|2008 Dodge Ram 1500 – “Bandit”||$1,000? (not much)||256,000||Yes! This truck is my baby. I’ve had it since it had 9 miles on it. And before anyone asks – yes I needed a truck. #farmlife|
|2007 Dodge Ram 3500||$15,000?||150,000||Yes. Like I said above, farm life. This is our “nice truck.” We use it to haul horses and cattle. We do try to keep everyday miles off of it so it will last us a long, long time.|
|2012 (I think) Dodge Caliber “Hashbrown Feedwagon”||Not much at all… lol||180,000||Yes – this car was given to us by my in-laws. It’s ragged out, and they figured we’d just sell it, but its held together and we’ve driven it a lot to keep miles off other vehicles.|
|90’s-ish model F-250||We’ll find out at the auction coming up||A lot||We had this truck because Colt needed 4 wheel drive at his previous job. We’ve finally decided to get rid of it and get it off insurance.|
|Item||Amount||Notes||Interest/type of securities held||Name of bank/brokerage|
|Sara’s retirement||$144,608||401k – my work matches up to 10% ($900/month total contribution)||88% VIRSX, 12% VIIIX All new contributions are going to VIIIX||TIAA|
|Colt’s retirement||$7,209||Traditional IRA||FZROX||Fidelity|
|Colt’s savings||$6,785||Main Savings||.05% interest|
|Sara’s savings||$5,084||Main Savings||.80% Interest (Was 2% when I opened it!)||Ally|
|Sara’s Taxable Investment account||$1,953||Taxable Investment||FZROX||Fidelity|
|Sara’s checking||$1,598||Basic checking account|
|Sara’s Roth IRA||$1,465||Roth IRA||FZROX||Fidelity|
|Colt’s checking||$873||Basic checking account|
|Sara’s savings||$501||Basic savings||Very very low interest|
|Land Payment||$1,255||Once our refinance rate of 2.65% kicks in, this payment will drop to $1,015 per month.|
|Tractor Payment||$600||With the extra payments, we should pay off the loan by 8/2022|
|Groceries||$500||This includes food, household supplies, and usually dog food.|
|Gas||$300||Right now, Colt is driving a work truck, so that helps keep this lower|
|Fast food/restaurants||$200||Quarantine has helped on this – we both do good about taking our lunch, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. I also have an addiction to Sonic Cokes – but that $1/day is worth the lives it saves from my wrath|
|Farm Expenses||$200||While the farm does have its own bank account, and earns its own money, we are growing a new business. We are funding it ourselves, so some expenses come out of our accounts.|
|Miscellaneous||$150||Yes – I know – I should know specifically where this is going. I didn’t categorize specifically enough in Mint|
|Electric Bill||$140||I looked into solar – I love the idea of being self sufficient, but with our bill so low, it would take a long time to get a return on our investment|
|Colt’s Life Insurance||$132||Whole life – If I’d known then what I know now, we wouldn’t have opened this policy|
|Home Insurance||$98||Paid annually|
|Car Insurance||$73||Honestly, for 4 cars/trucks, and my horse trailer, this isn’t that bad. We get several discounts for using the same company our farm insurance is through|
|Colt’s Cell Phone||$70||AT&T – we tried Mint but no service. Where we are (super rural) service is super sketchy. We already have to leave phones by the door or go outside to make calls.|
|Car maintenance/registration||$50||Kinda high estimate, but cheaper than a car payment|
|Colt’s Life Insurance||$44||Term life|
|Property tax – real estate||$42|
|Deer Camp||$35||Worth it. I told Colt he needed to join a few years back because it gave him a hobby and a chance to get away from home.|
|Property tax – vehicles||$25|
|Clothing||$25||Farm life is rough on clothes. I’ve cut back a lot on my purchases, but Colt goes through jeans like crazy. Patch jobs don’t even last long around here.|
|Travel Expenses||$25||We don’t do a lot of travel, but do like to get away occassionally|
|Gifts||$15||We aren’t big on gifts in our families, but we do have 4 nieces and we like to make our build them something at Christmas.|
|Sara’s Life Insurance||$11||Minnesota Life – 20 year term tied to our land payment|
|Amazon Prime||$11||I don’t plan on renewing after our subscription runs out next May|
|Kindle Unlimited||$11||Worth every penny, and is the best for my mental health. I read almost every day on my phone and I’m embarrassed to admit how many books I read in a year. Trust me on this – it’s worth it.|
|Propane||$10||We have gas stove, oven, and a heater in the winter. This is probably an over-estimate|
|Card Name||Rewards Type?||Bank/card company|
|Bank of America Travel Rewards||Travel||Bank of America|
Sara Beth’s Questions For You:
1) How much money do we need saved before Colt quits his job in order to work full-time on our farm? I want to identify a goal number so I can encourage him to quit because his happiness is more important than money.
- Should he work one more year and save as much as possible before quitting?
- Once he quits, how much would he need to earn from freelance farm work?
2) Our land will be paid off when we turn 45 and I can technically retire from my job at 46. Would retiring to run the farm by age 50 be a realistic option?
3) I would love ideas on how to make our farm more profitable.
- Currently, our farm income comes from selling the calves at weaning age, goat kids, and occasionally selling hay.
- All current farm profits go back into the farm. A lot of farmers take out loans when they start to farm, and then use the profits to pay the loan back. We’ve chosen to instead grow slowly by investing our profits back into the farm.
- Here are some other ideas I’ve had to add profits to the farm in the future:
- I think one day I’d like to offer farm day camps for youth. This is just a basic idea and I haven’t thought through any details of that yet.
- Goat yoga. I laughed so hard the first time I saw this concept, but it’s really kind of genius. I actually teach yoga for Kids as a 4-H program, and have a good friend who is a certified yoga instructor, so this one may work if the interest is there.
Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations
What I love so much about Sara Beth and Colt is their determination that they’ve identified and created the life they want to live. Many of us spend decades flailing around, uncertain of how we want to spend our precious resources of time and money. But not these two–they figured it out and now they’re making it happen. While their questions today are financial, I think they’re coming at them from exactly the right angle: first, figure out what you want to do; second, figure out how to make your money facilitate it. Working toward a purely financial goal–without a clear destination other than a dollar amount–is usually far less motivating. Money is only good if you’re using it as a tool to create the life you want.
Sara Beth’s Question #1: How much money do we need saved before Colt quits his job in order to work full-time on our farm?
In addition to totally nailing the whole figuring-out-what-to-do-with-their-lives thing, Sara Beth and Colt are doing a fabulous job financially. Thanks to their frugality and savings, they’re in a good position for Colt to look at quitting his job in the near term.
A couple factors making it hospitable for Colt to quit his job:
- Sara Beth’s job is the one providing their health and dental insurance and the retirement match.
- A question for Sara Beth is how stable she perceives her position to be.
- I know she’s been there a long time and wants to remain, but the question to consider is if there’s any instability within the organization on the horizon. This could change the calculation on Colt’s job.
- Colt has a lot of markable skills and could easily pick up work if they needed the money.
- His CDL license and farming skills provide a lot of security in knowing he could work if needed.
- Given these two factors, the real question here is if they can reduce their expenses so that Sara Beth’s salary alone can cover them every month.
Let’s do the numbers!
Current monthly expenses: $4,072 – $2,962 (Sara Beth’s after-tax income) = $1,110 difference (as in, they’ll need to spend that much less in order to break even on Sara Beth’s salary alone)
Here’s what I’m thinking:
- Complete the mortgage refinance, which’ll drop their interest rate to 2.65% and their monthly payment to $1,015, which’ll save them $240 per month.
- Use the money they save with this lower land payment to pay off the tractor loan ASAP.
Once the tractor is paid off, their monthly expenses will be slashed by $600. Combined with their lowered mortgage payment, they’ll spend $840 less per month, which gets us really close to having Sara Beth’s salary cover their expenses ($1,110 – $840 = $270). Let’s see where else we can pick up some savings to whittle down that remaining $270.
Expenses: Focu$ On The Big Fi$h
When you need to save more money, I’m a fan of focusing on the biggest expenses. Sara Beth’s daily Sonic Coke is not something I’m worried about and wouldn’t move the needle much for them, so no worries, Sara Beth, we will not make you give up your soda :)! What I want to hone in on are the biggest dogs in their monthly spending, which is why I started with the top two line items: mortgage and tractor loan.
Here are their next largest expenses:
- Groceries/household supplies/dog food: $500. This is very reasonable and there’s probably not a whole lot of room for savings, but if they feel like they could save more, go for it!
- Gas: $300. Here’s one I want to talk about. As a fellow rural-living truck owner, I 100% understand and support the need to have a truck for farm work. What I’m wondering is if there might be an opportunity for Sara Beth and Colt to consider buying a cheap, small, used car that’d get great miles-per-gallon and save them a ton on gas.
- When they don’t need the haul or cargo space of the truck, it might behoove them to drive a small car.
- I have a Toyota Prius (a hybrid with amazing gas mileage) to use for long drives and a pick-up truck for hauling/carrying. If this approach might appeal, it could be a way to permanently reduce this line item.
- It would also serve the benefit of keeping more miles off the trucks so they’re “saved up” for when they’re truly needed for farm work.
Fast Food/Restaurants: $200. Since this is discretionary, this’d be the quickest and easiest way for them to save enough to get their expenses to fit under Sara Beth’s salary. If it feels tenable to give this up (minus the Sonic Cokes, which we’re keeping!), they’d then be just $70 shy of breaking even on Sara Beth’s monthly income).
- Colt’s Life Insurance: $176 (combination of $132 for Whole Life and $44 for Term Life). Since this is draining so much money every month, it’s probably worth exploring if it would be advisable to replace the Whole Life insurance with expanded Term Life.
- Cell phone: $70. Let’s spend a minute here. I do not have cell reception on my property either and so I primarily use web-based services as well as a landline. I encourage them to investigate the following:
- How much would internet be every month?
- Could they switch to using all web-based services? (see this post for the specifics)
- Could they get a landline for cheap (likely with a VOIP)?
- In addition to all of the above, they should search for an AT&T MVNO as I know they’re out there and will save them a ton every month. Read more about MVNOs here.
While Sara Beth and Colt might be able to trim around the edges on their smaller expenses, most of those aren’t going to get them to the number they need. If it were me, I’d focus my energy on refinancing the mortgage, paying off the tractor, and figuring out which of the above most-expensive expenses to reduce.
In the end, this is much less a question of how much they need to save and much more a question of how to sculpt their spending to fit into Sara Beth’s salary. In terms of Colt freelancing, that’ll be a question of how much they’re spending. If Sara Beth’s income can’t cover them, or if they want to be able to save money every month, then yes, he’ll need to freelance for the difference.
I’ve generated a break-even budget here, which wouldn’t allow for any savings other than Sara Beth’s retirement savings. That’s a risky long-term proposition but, if Colt can make the farm revenue-generating, they’ll be able to build back up their savings rate. Of course, the alternatives are for Colt to freelance more, for Sara Beth to increase her income, or for them to spend less.
Sara Beth’s Question #2: Our land will be paid off when we turn 45 and I can technically retire from my job at 46. Would retiring to run the farm by age 50 be a realistic option?
This is one of those questions where I have to choose option E: not enough information to adequately answer the question.
18 years is a long way off and the answer to this will depend on countless factors, including:
- The profitability of the farm. If Colt quits his job and ramps the farm up to profitability, that’ll tip the balance in favor of Sara Beth quitting.
- How their expenses wax and wane over the years. If they continue their frugal ways and pay off their tractor and land and if Sara Beth receives raises over the years, they’ll be in a really solid financial position.
- What the health insurance landscape looks like. If we still have the Affordable Care Act, Sara Beth and Colt will be able to purchase insurance on their own. If we don’t have the ACA, they may not have any affordable options and Sara Beth may have to continue working–just for the health insurance–until they qualify for Medicare.
- Whether or not they choose to have kids.
#4 is a major wild card for several reasons:
- It’s impossible to predict how much it’ll cost to conceive, carry, birth/adopt, and raise a kid/kids. The one certainty is that it’ll cost more than not having one. Of course, since I have two kids, I clearly think it’s a good use of money ;), but it’s also not for everyone and it is expensive.
- Sara Beth noted that Colt would be the stay-at-home parent while the kids are little. My question here is what their expectation would be of Colt to also run the farm? In my limited experience, it’s a lot harder to get “farm” work done with little ones than I anticipated. A lot of stuff is off the table for reasons of logistics and safety (for us: chainsawing, wood splitting, anything involving the tractor) as well as stuff that’s physically impossible to do with a baby strapped to your back.
- We do get stuff done outside with our kids–especially as they get older (age 4 is pretty magic)–but it’s tough with young children (under age two in particular). In my (again, limited) experience, all of my friends with working farms have some form of childcare for their young children (either traditional daycare/preschool, a nanny, grandparents, etc).
- This is just something for them to keep in mind, though certainly not an insurmountable challenge. It might be that Colt gets a lot less done with little kids than he anticipated, or, they decide to allocate some funds to paying for childcare, at least part-time.
All that to say, it’s impossible for me to give Sara Beth a concrete answer 18 years out, but I have to imagine they’ll be able to make this work, particularly if they’re able to permanently reduce their expenses (which’ll happen naturally when their mortgage is paid off) and if they’re able to generate some net revenue from the farm.
Sara Beth’s Question #3: I would love ideas on how to make our farm more profitable.
Since Colt is a professional farmer and Sara Beth works for 4-H, I highly doubt I can offer any actionable advice here! What I will say is that I love Sara Beth’s inclination to diversify into avenues like day camps and goat yoga. I think there’s likely profitability, with low(er) overhead on both of those, with the possible exception of insurance.
As I understand it, there are basically three ways to make money from farming: go niche, go huge, or get diversified. I don’t get the sense they want to run an enormous operation, so I think niche and diversification are probably their best bets. A few questions for them to consider:
- Could they expand what they sell online? Any farm products they could produce that could be shipped and shelf-stable? Or, as they currently offer, more farm tool kits?
- Is there a nearby high-end market for their meat? Fancy restaurants or hotels?
- Do they have any interest in running an AirBnb and offering agro-tourism? Is there demand for that in their area?
I think Sara Beth’s already done an outstanding job getting their farm online through her blog and could envision her expanding this side of the business to supplement the on-the-ground work of raising the animals. I think she’s very much on the right track with both the kids’ camp and the goat yoga–provided there’s a market.
Let’s take a moment to peruse the rest of their finances.
Emergency fund and cash: My main question here is why they have so many different checking and savings accounts?
If there’s a specific reason, or if they’re maintaining separate finances, then they should keep the accounts. But if not, I’d combine everything into one or two accounts for the sake of simplicity.
Between all of their checking and savings accounts, Sara Beth and Colt have $14,841 in cash. The standard rule of thumb is to have three to six months’ worth of your expenses in an emergency account. They spend $4,072 per month, which means these savings would cover three months, which makes their emergency fund on the low end.
However, since they’ll be looking at lower expenses in the coming months–with the lower mortgage payment, the tractor being paid off, and reducing other expenses–they can recalibrate how much they need saved.
Additionally, once interest rates rebound, they should look into consolidating all of these accounts into one high-yield account.
Retirement: Sara Beth is doing a great job contributing to her employer-matching 401k. In total, they have $153,282 in retirement investments. Using Fidelity’s retirement planning rule of thumb, which stipulates: “Aim to save at least 1x your salary by 30, 3x by 40, 6x by 50, 8x by 60, and 10x by 67,” since Sara Beth and Colt are in their early 30’s, they should have 1 x their salary saved by this point, which is $65,544. Given that they already have $153,282 invested, they’re doing great! Something to keep in mind for the future:
- Colt should save into a tax-advantaged retirement account when he quits his job and the farm becomes profitable. Even if the farm is earning very little, it still might be advantageous (from a tax perspective) for Colt to put money into something like a solo 401k. They’ll need to do their research at that point, but, it’s something to keep in mind.
Vehicles: well done on having all of the vehicles paid off!! The one note here is that, since most of the vehicles are old, they’re one bad day away form needing to replace one of them. Given that, they’re going to want to start saving up enough cash to replace whichever vehicle dies first.
The other consideration here is my above note on considering the purchase of a used, small, fuel-efficient car to drive when the truck isn’t needed, which would help reduce their $300 monthly gas bill and would reduce wear and tear on the work trucks.
Credit Cards: I note they’re using a travel rewards credit card but aren’t traveling all that much right now. I know that travel is one of their longer-term goals, so my question would be if they’re planning to save up these rewards for the future or if the rewards aren’t getting used?
If they don’t have a specific plan of action for these rewards, they might consider getting a cash back credit card, because cash is a reward you will always use. Something like the Chase Freedom Unlimited that offers a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases (and 5% back on groceries) would give them a decent return (affiliate link). Just something to think about. And, for the record, I’d say keep the BoA card open because long-term lines of credit improve your credit score, but perhaps move their spending to cash back. More on smart credit card usage here.
Complete the mortgage refinance to lock in the super low 2.65% rate.
- Prioritize paying off the tractor and reducing their other expenses by a total of $1,110 so that they’re able to break even on Sara Beth’s salary.
- Once they have their lowered mortgage payment, the tractor is paid off, and they’re able to hack it on Sara Beth’s salary alone, I think they can get serious about Colt quitting his full-time job, with the knowledge that he might need/want to take on freelance gigs as their household expenses and income dictate.
- Consider their vehicle situation and whether or not it’d make sense to get a small, fuel-efficient car to drive when a truck isn’t mandatory. Regardless of what kind of car they buy, it’s likely one of their trucks will need replacement in the near(ish) term. Beginning a savings account now so that they can purchase a used vehicle for cash would be a wise decision.
- Ensure that in the future Colt contributes to some form of tax-advantaged retirement account for self-employed people. Here’s a rundown on accounts from the IRS.
- Consider moving their spending to a cash-back credit card in order to reap rewards they’ll use
Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Sara Beth? We’ll both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!
Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your brief story and we’ll talk.
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Awesome Case Study!
1. Please, please do not forget disability insurance if you are making a living through the farm.
2. I read as much as you I am sure (about a book every two days) and the library + Hoopla is honestly likely to give you to as much as Kindle Unlimited and better quality. There is zero downside in cxling KU for one month (or even week) and giving it a shot. You can literally just sign back up the next week!
3. Can you offer a limited CSA to try out another revenue stream?
Good point about the CSA – I have no idea what the back end financials look like, but in my area people will pay good money for local eggs, dairy products, and meat from smaller farms.
Thanks, Sarah! I’ll definitely look into disability insurance for Colt. I’m about 90% positive I have it already through work.
I’ll have to give Hoopla a shot! I’ve never heard of it. I also have a library card, and read books through their app as well. I also get an email from BookBub every day with a few free books, I’ve probably got enough stored up I could go a couple of months without KU and not run out of things to read.
I love the idea of a CSA. Right now, we don’t have the end products to sell. Meat processors are backed up, and There are only a few in Arkansas that provide USDA certification, which is required to sell meat off the farm. I’ve toyed with the idea of a smallish greenhouse for Colt to grow a few different vegetables to offer, or a chicken tractor to pasture raise poultry to sell as well!
My library uses Overdrive for Kindle as well. I reserve my books via that app and can place holds for popular books!
You mention library books “through their app as well”. Depending on your library, you may also be able to get Kindle books, which you sync via wifi or download and transfer. I almost never buy a Kindle book, and our library’s network is pretty extensive in what they offer. And I really like my Paperwhite.
Hoopla access will also depend on whether your library offers it. But don’t neglect other digital offerings from your library. It isn’t always as obvious as it could be.
I think (but check if you think you want to do this) you can cancel Prime and get a refund.
As for Sonic Coke – is that different from ordinary Coke? You could be taking Coke from home.
Vehicles – we aren’t on a farm, but hubby thinks a vehicle should last 10 years or 100,000 milles whichever comes second, and we generally do much better than that anyway. One of ours had enough miles to have been driven to the moon when it finally developed a very expensive problem and we let it go. We’re currently running a 2010 and a 2003. Depending on what you’re paying in gas and insurance, you should re-think the overall cost of ownership as vehicles become troublesome. If you’re already getting rid of one, this may not matter for some time.
Also, Fidelity’s credit card pays back 2% across the board. And if you qualify, Amex Blue Cash Preferred pays back 6% at grocery stores – but they do mean grocery stores. Meijer or Target won’t qualify.
I love our library and their resources! I’ve thought about trying to cancel prime and get a refund for the rest of the year, I’ll have to look more into this.
As for the Sonic Coke, some people think I’m crazy, but a fountain drink, like Sonic, tastes different than a can Coke. I don’t know if it’s more carbonation or what, but a Can Coke averages about $0.30, and I would say I get about two cans worth in my Sonic Coke for $1.09. So yes, it would be a savings, but I like the Sonic Coke better.
Right now, our vehicles are not being troublesome, with the exception of the one we are going to sell. We know we will have to replace what we have at some point since they all have age and miles on them, but hopefully not soon.
When I read about your Sonic Coke I read that part aloud to my partner — THIS IS ME! Except we don’t have a Sonic (I’m jealous of you, love their ice!) — I get a Coke everyday from McDonald’s. I spend $1.07 everyday and consider it SO WORTH IT. And yes, McDonald’s Coke is definitely different than Coke from home. 🙂
I’m not a big soda drinker, but I definitely notice the difference between fountain sodas and canned/bottled ones. McDonald’s actually has their fountain Coke flavors down to a science (straw diameter, how it’s stored, temperature, etc. – this is a legitimate “thing”). So I can understand wanting your daily indulgence. One alternative is seeing if you want to do it every other day, but I don’t think 5 bucks a week is really a bad thing.
Like others have said, you could absolutely do well between your free BookBubs and free library e-books. If you’re not exclusively reliant upon e-books, you could also use physical library books and even scour thrift stores for them too. They’re usually 25 cents each! Then donate them back to the thrift store or library. One other option is to reach out to some authors you like to be a beta reader. You’ll get to read books before publication in exchange for offering feedback. This is especially helpful to authors who self-publish. It could be worth a shot.
Overall, I think you’re doing an awesome job. Before I even read it, I thought you should offer things on your farm like you suggested with the goat yoga, glamping, or possibly selling honey if you add beekeeping. It sounds like you could use your parents’ land too to increase your hives and output. People LOVE local honey.
Lastly, I hope you see Alaska, Ireland, and CA. I finally visited Ireland last year, including my friend’s dairy farm, and loved it! It is absolutely worth the visit and you can do it a budget if you plan it yourselves with AirBnBs and university dorms (if traveling during the summer). CA is gorgeous too.
Good luck with your dream! It sounds like you’re on your way with the refinance (your rate is even lower than my 2.875% rate). I look forward to reading your update.
See I was thinking it was more about the ice. Sonic pellet ice is so delicious. when I was giving birth at the hospital I kept begging my husband to get me more pellet ice from the ice machine
We love the chicken tractor set up. Check out quail manufacturing egg and cart set up. I love it – had it a year. We have a solar panel to let chickens out and 5 gallon food and water buckets (lumnah acres tutorial). We both work full time. I love my ladies and farm fresh eggs.
Yes, all of this, plus the suggestion of honey noted in the next comment. I grew up on the Tennessee side of the Mississippi River on a farm, the photographs make me homesick just a little. I think the CSA is a great idea and should only take a very few of their 80 acres. There also may be the opportunity to sell the vegetables to restaurants in Memphis or Oxford, MS. They could be delivered weekly, plus the bonus of homegrown organic vegetables (should they choose to go that route – it may be hard if other farmers in their area are using herbicides or pesticides).
The library is definitely your friend, however you access it.
Whole life insurance is ridiculously expensive, but you should have some equity built up in it with possibly a cash payout (if it is that kind of policy). I would convert to term life as well.
I’m not too worried about the old vehicles, other than the cost to insure them. I know from personal experience that, in the country, there is always a shade tree mechanic around who can keep virtually anything running. Used cars are getting more reliable all the time, just make sure you have enough in reserve to find a good one when the time comes.
All in all, you’re doing great. Best of luck.
My husband is the shade tree mechanic 😉 that definitely helps with the older vehicles. He doesn’t like mechanicing enough to do it as a career anymore, but it comes in handy with our farm life. And our insurance is super cheap for what we have!
One income stream you might consider for the farm is selling honey from your own honeybees. You have plenty of room to set up hives, the bees aren’t very labor intensive the majority of the time (busiest time would be when you’re harvesting the honey), honeybees are fascinating creatures, and they are good for the environment (pollination). Here where I live (Alaska) home produced honey sells for an average of $20 a pint (a good harvest from one hive is gallons).
I don’t know much about bees, but I have a few 4-Hers that raise bees and sell their honey. I might have to ask them about their operation!
Definitely think about bees. They are going to be a niche farming focus of the future as wild populations are on the brink, and honey never goes off, and is in high demand for medicinal and health benefits as well as yum factor. The pollination will help your whole farm, and if you don’t want to become an apiarist – though those who do become obsesses, you can always let a local apiarist put hives on your land. Honey is HUGE business here in NZ.
This is such a fun case study to read! I think all of your suggestions make sense and they’re in a great place to live the life they want to live, in part because they are so conscientious about their spending.
One thing I know from having friends and families with small farms is that farm income is super variable year to year. There’s so much that can impact the income from a fern, but the expenses are consistent. So I would recommend that, as they move toward relying more on farm income, they also plan on keeping a larger cash cushion. That way if they have a lean year or two, they aren’t in the position if having to borrow money to make expenses on the farm.
Also if Sara Beth wants to play around with retirement down the road, she might look into modified work arrangements to see if there’s a way to keep working part time while maintaining health insurance. If she works through extension at a university, that can sometimes be possible on a temporary or permanent basis, and that would allow her to ease into spending more time on the farm while maintaining a safety net of income and insurance.
Amanda, you are so right about the variable farm income! That’s one of the main things that makes me nervous. I would definitely want a larger cash cushion before I’m completely comfortable taking away our off farm income.
And I love the idea of modified work arrangements. I’ve thought about this a lot recently, so I will for sure be considering this as it comes closer to time for me to think about retirement, or semi-retirement.
Again if you work at a university, check the policies around modified work arrangements. Staff at the university where I used to work could go down to 75% (30 hrs/week) and maintain the employer contribution to health insurance, I believe – but every institution is different. That extra 10 hrs/week could be a great way to buy yourself more time to invest on the farm, without going straight into retirement. I hope you’re able to find an arrangement that works!
Yes! I work at a state university, and for staff anything over 32 hours a week is considered full time and makes you eligible for benefits.
Hey! Love to see another horse person here. Wondering about those expenses – we spend a lot of money each month on hay, which I’m guessing you don’t buy with all your land, but what about things like hoof trims, tooth floating, etc? If you are really keeping costs down to $25/month for vet bills I’m jealous … our horses seem to be accident prone.
Kate, you make a great point! Since I’ve only had Dottie for a few months, those expenses haven’t started adding back up yet. We don’t buy hay, as we bale our own, but feed, coggins tests, and farrier work will be a part of the farm budget. I didn’t include the farm financials, except for the little we put in from our personal accounts each month. Oh the joy of horses, the bring in the expenses, but not near the income – haha! And yes, I totally understand the accident prone horses. I threaten to wrap ours in bubble wrap often.
Definitely worth tracking – I was surprised at how much we spend on all those things. We try to be frugal but especially as they get older it really adds up! Of course they are worth it though.
Have you thought about offering riding lessons? Or having proficient riders pay to ride your horses on your property? Horseback riding is very expensive in the Northeast at least, so could help with the horse expenses.
I wondered about the horse expenses too because even at home, they aren’t expense free. But maybe horse expenses go through the farm accounts and not personal accounts? Even the dog expenses are super low, $25 a month for vet bills for 3 dogs is really cheap as well but again, maybe more of their things go through the farm?
The horse expenses do go through the farm account. Dogs are accounted for in the vet expense reported, but we are blessed with an amazing vet with good prices. Even though we’ve had a few years where I swear we paid his light bill!
I always love reading these case studies and am always impressed by how much smarter these young people are than I was!
I think this couple seems to be doing great! The one thing that stuck out to me: There was little emphasis on what they actually planned to do with the farm. It would seem that if the husband wanted to farm full time, there would be more plans, i.e. like increasing size of herd X percent or increasing hay production X percent, etc., or selling goats’ milk. Also, if her parents live next door, presumably they farm, too? So I would have thought there is more thinking about how to run the farm.
One suggestion: if she was into roping, etc., would classes in that be more profitable than goat yoga?
Whichever way they go, I’m sure they will be good at it!
Leslie, thank you so much for your comment! We do set farm goals each year, and have plans, but I didn’t include those details with Mrs. Frugalwoods. We want to increase our herd each year until we reach 30-40 head. The final number will be decided as we improve our soil and grasses, and we determine what our optimal stocking rate is. We actually want to lower our hay production as we increase our ability to rotational graze our land, lowering our need for hay.
And you are absolutely correct, roping is my specialty and I probably could make it more profitable, but I have a few of my 4-H kids that are interested in roping, and I love helping them, and I do it free of charge. As I get ones that decide they are serious about it and need more one on one help, I might start charging then.
Re: roping, I wonder if you could offer a set number of free classes each year (e.g., one per month) where you take small groups and go over basic skills, and then offer additional classes at a reasonable rate for those who are interested? The free classes could actually be a great way to drum up interest for paid classes if that’s something you decide you want to do.
This is a great idea, Amanda! Thank you!
Are you in a location where climate change is likely to affect you much? If I were farmimg that would be on my mind.
Can you get any money out of the whole life policy if you cancel? It could go toward the tractor.
As you think about your budget after Colt quits, are farm expenses going to go up or down? I can imagine either case but it’s something to think about.
As for kids, I would look into Sara Beth’s benefits now to get a lay of the land. What is covered for pregnancy/birth, how much time you can take off, etc. Colt doing full-time infant care and Sara Beth working full-time with high health insurance expenses at 1 month out would be something to prepare for, for instance.
Cute dogs! Good luck!
Hi Whit! Climate change is an issue, but doesn’t have much affect on our farming operation. I’m going to look into the details of the whole life policy.
We haven’t decided on kids yet, but I’m lucky to have pretty decent insurance. If we decide to have kids, we will definitely prepare for those extra expenses as well as we can.
Former farm girl here, so this case study made my day.
Sara Beth and Colt really know how to focus and really know what they want. They’ve done very well! How many people their age are building out of their pockets while starting a farm?
I agree with Mrs. FW on maybe scaling back on the vehicles a little more, and getting something with better mileage, if feasible. I also agree with the child care issue — for a while, someone will have to watch a baby or a toddler all the time. It’s hard to mend fences when it’s feeding time at the house. It’s not insurmountable, but I think it’s best to plan for some kind of payment to a sitter, at least for a while, should kids be on the horizon. As they get older, of course, kids become great help on a farm; as a teen, I was out there helping to mend those fences.
For other income, I don’t know the area you are in very well – I’m more familiar with west Tennessee and west Kentucky – but in north Florida, where I live now, some farms have started farm attractions — a corn maze, petting/feeding animals, riding a wagon, watch a sugar cane grinding and boil, etc. One near me has enlarged their attraction area enough that schools now send kids there on field trips. This would require some liability insurance and possibly some helpers on attraction days. Other farmers have joined forces to start an online farmer’s market, with pick-up days in a central location. The market sells produce, meat, goat milk soaps, and home ground grits, things like that. They can also sell certain home-made foods, per our state law. Your idea of a camp sounds promising, and horse-back trails or stables might be another option.
Your financial situation and preparation sounds good. I wish you success with your farm and your dreams!
Hi JD! Good to have another farm girl around! Thank you so much for your kind words. You have some great ideas, I’ll have to add them to my research list!
Question: In figuring how much you need to save for retirement, is the salary you multiply times your take home pay or you gross pay?
As a fellow Arkansan, I love that they’re from Arkansas! Also, with the great library services we get through overdrive and hoopla, she might save some money there. But check what’s available at the library in the Delta first. Some but not all are connected to the state network through overdrive/libby.
Yay for a fellow Arkansan!!
I figure my estimated retirement needs based on my take home pay.
One side gig I would recommend looking into for Colt is driving a bus for their local school district. With his CDL license, he should be qualified and I know in my area there is a huge. It usually is 1-2 hours in the morning and 1-2 hours in the afternoon, so he could work the farm around that. It pays pretty decent and he would qualify for the state pension as well.
That is such a cool idea. Just wanted to give Beth a high five.
I think driving a school bus is a good idea. Bus drivers in my district can pick up extra money by driving for school field trips.
I was thinking the same thing! I live in a very rural area myself, with a full time job, and I have started working as-needed as a substitute bus driver for my local school district as a side-hustle. My job allows me to flex my hours to accommodate this, within reason. I am putting as much of my bus paycheck into a 457 plan as I can, to increase my tax-advantaged savings above what I set aside with my regular job’s 401k. Like someone else mentioned, there is often the option to drive extra-curriculars like sports, field trips, etc. On overnight trips we clock 24-hour days, even if you aren’t driving all that time. There are some districts nearby that contract out their bussing, but so far mine has found that to be financially unfeasible. Even as a sub, the school paid for much of my licensing costs – I had to get a CDL for the bus, specifically, as well as a chauffeur’s license, and annual refresher training as well.
I decided to go this route so in the future I might have an in with the school to drive for them “full time”, which would provide me with health insurance and a continued retirement contribution once I’ve saved enough to be able to pull the plug on my current 40-hour-a-week job!
I also dream of having more time to be a farmer – at a subsistence level – so this case study really appeals to me! Thanks so much for sharing. It sounds like Sara Beth and Colt are well on their way to achieving their financial goals
Can you set up a rural and green cemetery? If your states rules allow for it.It is a good way to build passive income. I would also look at the cost of running a working holiday farm thing, with second hands army tent and participating with the farm work. See if you can organize weeding on your land, set up star gazing night for a fee. Have corn mazes, sell directly to customer when ever possible, look at farm to table programs. Pay off the tractor, and try out living for one year on your income only. It will be a try out and give you cash in the bank.
As a country girl in a big city, I absolutely love this case study. Both of you have done a great job of try to be as debt free as possible – Kuddos!! One aspect you might try is with your website. Blogging has become big right now with everyone home more with Covid. Try to tap into that, do some research on how to make it profitable (I don’t know if it is something the hubby would be interested in helping with). People love a good story and animals. 🙂
I would love to further develop my website and blog to monetize it. I’ve also created a few farm record keeping printables that I sell on Etsy. I hope to develop more of those too!
Farm cafes / on site shops are really popular in the UK selling local produce and lovely coffee and cakes.
I love this idea, I’m just afraid I’m not in a good area. While I’m fairly close to some bigger towns and cities, where our farm in is not heavily populated, or a high travel area.
Just want to say, never apologize for reading! Most years I read somewhere between 250-400 books. Depending on what you like Project Gutenberg had a lot of out of copyright books listed (I know copyright varies a lot in different countries, I’m in the UK). I have an email that alerts me to the Kindle daily deal every day. Do you get to keep the books if you cancel the subscription? No idea about the farming but good luck.
I’m glad to see someone else with a reading obsession like mine! I got through phrases, but I’ll admit I like a good cheesy romantic comedy, which Kindle Unlimited is great for. You can “read” 10 KU books at a time, but when you cancel, they are not longer in your device. So if I read one I think I would want to read repeatedly, I look for it on ThriftBooks or other used book sites. But I’m usually a one and done reader, so borrowing on KU or through the library works okay for me.
Excellent! I’m a re-reader so have about 1800 books at home, plus borrow from friends and the library. I mainly use my kindle when away or when books are too heavy for me to hold (crap muscles due to ME) – not a problem you should have! Enjoy reading and your wonderful outdoor life.
I have aVerizon has a plan that is $30 a month if you prepay and use automatic payments . Just took a look and seems that there is now a plan for $25 for 5GB data, unlimited data and text…
Forming an LLC for your farm could be a great idea from a tax a liability perspective as you ramp it up.
Liz, something I just realized after reading a million case studies (that’s how many you’ve done, right?) is that you don’t have people account for their taxes in their expenses. For people who are really living on the margins that is a crucial chunk of money! It seems like there should be a line item based on their taxes last year…. Unless this is assuming most people actually get refunds (which I never do). But for people who are self employed or not W2 wage earners with an employer withholding for them taxes will be a major bill.
What a great case study, I love the variety that we see month to month! I came to say that in our family we have over 40 acres of land. Another revenue stream has been to have tiny house renters park their rig and pay a small monthly rent, if you are able to provide basic utilities (we do electricity and wifi internet through a satellite antenna on the farm). That is another additional revenue stream – a satellite antenna for the neighboring area, and the company actually pays for placing it on the land and providing internet.
I’m not knowledgeable about farms, but as a mother of seven and an educator ( I have taught in public and private schools- and more recently taught classes for homeschooled students), I wanted to add that depending on the area which she lives, she could tap that market and consider eventually offering homeschool field trips/classes at the farm. I love offerings like that and they are few and far between during weekday hours. One option would be lunch and play- offer use of the grounds for 1-2 hours, for a small fee, where the kids/parents could eat lunch outside and then visit the animals. Short, 1-2 hour classes on goats, horses, etc.- in small groups would be wildly popular here as well. Let the kids learn right there on the farm.
Dawnelle, I’m definitely going to look into this. I have a few 4-H parents that homeschool, so maybe they can put me in touch with the group to see if that would be of into! Thanks for the idea!
I was also going to suggest birthday parties. We have a farm here that allows petting zoo and pony rides (or maybe a hayride with the tractor?) and it is about $400 for two hours.
Great idea! I hope it works!
I am loving all these photos. I was in FFA in high school and one of my friend’s kids is very active in 4H and I have recently joined as an adult advisor – this is an amazing program. I think stability wise, Sara’s job is pretty safe.
One idea for you: One of the local hobby farms near me partners with a local photographer for people to come and have professional photos (family, engagement, etc.) at the farm and could be passive revenue stream for you.
My mom used to love photography, and I’ve thought about this before. I could set up seasonal areas for photographers! Love this idea!
One consideration to make up that $270- a steady, one day a week (or month) outside gig for Colt- maybe it’s trucking or farm work or ? With such a small amount to “make-up” it could probably be done in a day or two a month- plus it will keep Colt with an “in” should he need to amp that up and sometimes it’s nice to work in community and outside of our main lives (for me- at least).
Revenue ideas for the farm:
– Rent out the property for special events like weddings. Would wealthy people from Little Rock or Memphis or nearby suburbs be willing to pay to hold their event in a beautiful, rural setting? Look at Pinterest– that kind of thing is huge. Here in Chicago venue rentals go for $5,000+ so I imagine it would be a big money maker without much work on your part.
– Have a pumpkin patch and petting zoo, and maybe other seasonal opportunities. Again, people from the city and suburbs love to take road trips to this kind of thing and pay lots for hay rides, cider, donuts, etc.
I second the idea of seasonal activity offerings. Think about having a variety of things and marketing it to people in nearby cities and towns. A lot of places may have a pumpkin patch and hay ride in the fall, but if you also have food options, baked goods, animal petting/feeding or short poney rides, a small playground for kids to run around, etc. you can make your farm THE place to be for an all-day weekend outing. I have even seen farms collaborate with a food truck or company that rents a bouncy house, with the vendor bringing it in for free and then charging for food/use.
Not a farmer here. But the farm friends and acquaintances I have who have small operations within an hour’s drive of a major metro area really work hard to diversify their income streams. They get the biggest bang for their buck in establishing relationships with restaurants and selling directly to them. They also go to the farmers market but the direct sakes to restaurants are a bigger deal. I know there are services and consultants that can walk you through a farm operation to turn it into a serious business and I think you should really explore that before you quit a job to focus on it. There might be creative and interesting ideas for you that are specific to your area that you can explore. Here, meat has a higher profit margin than vegetables … And everybody sells free-range eggs so I don’t think they are a big moneymaker anymore. The same is true of honey: our market is glutted. But every community is different. I think if you are near — and by near I mean within an hour of a larger town or city — that’s where to focus your business planning efforts. I would sit down with an expert in small farm businesses.
What about putting the goats to work? In Maryland I’ve seen numerous articles about goat owners/farmers who get contracts for ‘goat landscaping services’ (I have no idea what it’s actually called. Example: Towson University in Towson, MD had goats brought in to landscape (eat!) a part of the campus terrain that couldn’t be maintained by the usual lawn mowers and tractors – too hilly, too many trees, etc. The goats ate everything (including the poison ivy!) down. Eco-landscaping for TU, income for the farmer, food for the goats. win-win-win. I’ve also seen reports of state & local governments hiring goats to landscape roadsides and median areas.
I’ve looked into this!! I absolutely love this idea, but it is a time consuming project from what I’ve read/listened to. But, I’ll admit, it has been a few years, so I need to do some more research and see if someone has discovered a more time efficient way to go about this! Thanks!
I know you’re looking to decrease expenses and increase profitability. But if Sara is going to be the main breadwinner and access to medical care for the time being I would make sure that she has enough life/disability insurance.
As a fellow Arkansan (Crawford Co.) and fellow livestock farmer, I just had to say hello! I also work for a non-profit that provides free technical assistance to farmers. This includes the business side of farming. Our website is attra.ncat.org. Please feel free to reach out, (e-mailing email@example.com is an easy way to reach us) and we can get you connected to a livestock specialist (we have a couple based out of Arkansas) and we can dig into the details about how to farm profitably and sustainably. I know you have tons of experience if you’re in the extension service, but sometimes it just helps to bounce ideas off other people. Anyway, I hope this helps! Good luck!
Nina, I LOVE ncat’s resources! I would love to chat sometime – shoot me an email if you’d like to talk!
I love these sneak peeks into other people’s finances!…Two ideas that jump out to me. One, neither one of you needs life insurance. Either of you could survive on one income if the other passed. Life insurance is useful when there are children around and/or when one spouse is more dependent on the other’s income. Two, your vehicles probably don’t make financial sense. Having vehicles around just to avoid putting miles on other vehicles gets to be expensive. All of those vehicles are dropping in value rapidly…as all vehicles do. Thank you for sharing your story!
I disagree on life insurance, right now they can’t live on one income and that is half of what Liz advised them about – how to get there. I do agree that it is something to revisit whenever there are life changes – if Colt does quit, if they have kids, etc.
You’ve got the blog and potential to monetise that, but there’s a lot of suggestions of things like calf roping. While you don’t want to charge your 4H kids right now, setting up a YouTube channel for calf roping, goat yoga, tractor tours of the farm, you might get ad money from that. I know absolutely zero about doing it or what you might bring in, but might be worth a look.
As part of that and some of the other suggestions, if you don’t already you could do branding for the farm across all platforms and revenue streams. Get a Pioneer Woman thing going 😀
I love the YouTube idea, but I learned through COVID that I hate being on video – haha. I made several videos on hands on science experiments for my 4-Hers, but I wasn’t a fan. But I would love to find more ways to monetize my blog. I’ve been working on my social media for the farm, it’s a slow process but hopefully we will get there!
In the late 80’s, I used to live in the Mississippi Delta (which is across the Mississippi River, as the crow flies, from the Arkansas Delta) and love that area of the country. I am 60, the mother of four kids, and just want to say that if you decide to have kids, you never know how much they are going to cost. I have a child with special needs and the expenses went up dramatically, even as that child reached adulthood. Farm managers used to be common in the Mississippi Delta in the 1980’s so I am assuming that is, in essence, what her husband is doing. Is there a different farm he could work at, that might be a little bit further distance away, that would make her husband happy or happier? I am concerned about dropping income but since he has CDL’s he could definitely pick up truck driving jobs, but the farm does not wait, and those responsibilities would fall on her, when he is away. I grew up in a farming family and I think your way of life is fabulous! I also echo that 4-H is fantastic! I admire them for controlling their expenses and building their farm up slowly.
Hi Cindy! Kids can definitely be expensive, and unpredictable too. We are thinking very carefully on our decision to have kids.
He loves farming, and it’s not necessarily the job that makes him unhappy, but like you said, our farm doesn’t wait, so while he’s spending long hours during planting and harvest on someone else’s farm, I’m spending long hours, after work, on our farm. He wants to be able to put that time and effort into building our dream life, and the bulk of that responsibility to not fall on me.
I’m kind of shocked that everyone is bypassing the grocery and food bills as just fine. $500/month on groceries AND $200/month on takeout? Even with three dogs that seems incredibly high. For reference, I live in Seattle and during the pandemic have been spending about $700 every 3 months at Costco, with every other week trips to the farmer’s market for fresh stuff, and maybe one grocery store trip a month (generally in the $30 range). In total I’ve maybe been spending $500/month for a family of four, plus dog and cat. And that’s with me stocking up on local fruits to store for winter! I get that you might not have Costco in your area but surely there are ways to bring that bill down? We’re having to buy all of our own meat, which is a huge expense these days, but between your own animals and the hunting maybe you don’t have to buy a much?
We also do all the frugal meal things, like eating lots of beans and lots of rice. We get them in big bags from a restaurant supply store for dirt cheap.
Do you have any space for a garden? Here in the city I’ve got over a 500 square foot garden and I cannot praise it enough. I practice season extension and year-round gardening, so I know we’ll have at least some homegrown veggies all year. Even if you just grow veg for yourself it would probably be worth your time, since you already have the land.
SisterX, you are definitely right and this could be a lot lower. We eat really well, and food is not an area we typically go frugal on. I do grow vegetables for myself, Colt doesn’t eat a lot, and we eat beef, deer, and goat from our farm. While we harvest and process the deer ourselves, there’s a cost to having the beef and goat processed. We get a few things from Sams Club (arkansas-we don’t have Costco) when my dad goes, but with only two of us, I don’t think it’s worth the membership fee, and we don’t go to Little Rock enough for it to pay off.
We do eat most breakfast and suppers at home, and the eating out has come down from what it used to be, but we are both in jobs where sometimes it’s worth the convenience factor to buy lunch out rather than take it from home.
I think this has been mentioned on this blog, but groceries vary a lot in cost across the US and often cost much more in rural areas. I was shocked when I moved from a large HCOL city to a more rural area and our grocery budget skyrocketed. I think folks in urban areas often don’t realize that some things are actually much cheaper in the city, especially on the west coast. $500/mo sounds very reasonable for two adults and several dogs to me, especially if they aren’t eating a bunch of processed junk.
Amanda nailed it–I was shocked at how much more expensive our groceries are now that we’re rural versus when we lived in the city
So excited to see this! I listened to Sara Beth on the Rural Woman Podcast earlier this summer! I knew the name of her farm sounded familiar! Love it when worlds on the inter webs collide!!
Clancy, this excites me too! Love when it’s a small internet world!!
Hi, I think the ideas about selling produce etc as an additional income stream is a good idea if market isn’t saturated there. A pumpkin patch even. Make sure you are claiming everything on farm expenses.
Elizabeth- we are lucky to have a great tax preparer that has lots of farm tax experience!
A couple of suggestions. We live in a rural area also. Have you considered a cell booster? The booster allows you to make and receive calls inside your house, instead of having to go outside.
Also, for the greenhouse. Check out this USDA program. It pays about $3.50 sq foot for a high tunnel greenhouse. It’s something that we applying for this year, so that we can start a (very) small ag business. Applications made this year, are funded the first of next year. So now is a good time to decide if it will work for you. Best of luck with your farm.
We have looked into a cell booster, and we are also looking into a new internet provider in the area. We don’t think it will be necessary to pay for both, so we are discussing which would be our best option! Living in a metal building, in an already crappy service area, boosters can only do so much.
For AT&T Cell Service, try Cricket. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T. We have Service for 4 Cell phones for $100 including my Dad who dropped his regular AT&T to be part of our group to get the discount.
I love all the advice from all the readers- and the food item stuck out to me too. What’s the point of having your own farm if you don’t save on groceries, right?!? 🙂 Another option that no one seems to have mentioned is Colt exploring the option of doing his same job, but as part time, and perhaps it’s not even possible. But if he’s a hard worker, I know on farms around here, they’d rather have him 2-3 times a week that not at all, so maybe that would be a way to have your cake and eat it too… still get part of his salary from the same farms he works on now, but have more time to work on the farm? I also definitely would look into monetizing some of your 4H types of activities onto the farm- you’re obviously already good at setting up events for kids, so maybe a trial “farm day” before you go into a full-blown day camp with events people could participate in? I know the daycamp I went to was very basic- riding a horse, doing some arts and crafts, shooting some BB guns and bows and arrows at straw bale targets, a little boating and swimming, and most of those activities have very little initial outlay (other than likely insurance with target shooting!) . But my local farmer also offers classes on things like “how to process a deer” (something it sounds like Colt could teach) or “how to process a turkey”. You might also see about partnering with a more vegetable-y farm with a CSA. Our meat processors are all backed up here too, but we have a local CSA from about 4-5 different farms, and it’s always fun to see what’s included each week, because it’s so varied- everything from cheese to soap to meat to veggies to honey….
You hit the nail on the head, and that’s one option we are looking into. Colt is considering talking with his boss about working hourly next year instead of salary like he currently is. That way he can work during the busy season of planting and harvesting, but be able to spend more time on our farm during those in between months.
Yes, ultimately I would love to do farm days, like I do with 4-H on the farm!!
I’ve commented in the past warning about planning to replace an older car, but this time I’m going to elaborate why- it was not just needing to have a fund put by to buy used, it was the time and expense required for the shopping and admin. It’s easy to forget those things when you don’t do them often. Our 14 year old Prius ran just fine until it didn’t. It took about a month to replace it. This involved using public transport and car rentals to conduct our daily lives and to go see cars for sale in a few locations, as we were committed to buying used. There weren’t many to choose from in our age/price range (my theory- because fewer new cars were bought during the recession), so finding one we were happy with took some time. Admin like the purchase and trade-in (including the cost of transporting a dead vehicle), taxes, insurance and transferring poll tags all took time during traditional business hours- not great if yo’re paid by the hour.. An ancient car may have an opportunity cost too- where we live, cars older than 14 years can only continue to be insured through your current insurer, so you can’t shop around for a better quote. Do some homework and be prepared, folks. 🙂
I would drop the whole life insurance and yes consider if you are dependent on each other’s income and if not drop term.
I bet you could trim groceries with minimal effort. Ours is less than $100/person ($500 / month/ 6 people) and nothing on dining out.
So fun! I love to see people going for their dreams so solidly!
I’m definitely no life insurance expert, but when I had a whole life insurance policy, I was able to sell it a few years later. (Of course, mine was one of the ones that was a whole life one combined with a sort of savings account, which I don’t know if Colt’s is.) I love being able to permanently lose or reduce monthly line items whenever possible, so that would be top priority on my list! I also would try selling one of the vehicles as they planned and then putting the profits on that towards a car fund.
Some friends of ours are in the agricultural business (a couple of them, actually), and one of the couples found that adding in a small-scale flower operation to their existing apple orchard ended up being hugely profitable—a much higher profit per square foot, for sure. It obviously would require a totally different set of skills than a livestock ranch or a produce farm, but it might be worth looking into! Our other friends have also been able to do the agritourism thing with their ranch, which I could see you maybe doing down the road, esp. if you have horses you could let people ride. Some people even are able to rent out a portion of their land (much like an AirBnB) for people wanting to camp there, so that could be an option as well.
I will look into the whole life insurance more!
And I LOVE the idea of growing cut flowers. We have a man down the road that develops new tulip varieties and I love seeing his place during bloom. I have kind of a black thumb (I do better with livestock than plants lol) but I want to learn more about the flower market just because it doesn’t seem to be as saturated of a market as produce and livestock
I belonged to the BEST csa in the world which had amazing pick your own fields in addition to the weekly csa share. The PYO gardens included flowers (they also had bees), herbs, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, beans, etc. as well as bumper crops for canning. It was amazing to go to the farm and be able to get our weekly share as well as pick delicious and fresh produce. Just an idea! Good luck!
One expense line they might want to look at still is the groceries. $500/month is not excessive by any means, but there may still be some opportunity for savings. As a point of comparison, my wife and I also live in Arkansas, are also in our early 30s, and we spend about $400/month (not including dog food). All of our shopping is at Walmart or Sam’s Club, unless we find a better price elsewhere. Since Sara Beth and Colt live on a farm, I’d imagine they could grow their own vegetables and salad greens to cut down on grocery costs more than us.
Ben – yes all of our grocery shopping is at Walmart too! Ahh the joys of Arkansas 🙂 We aren’t far off, because out of that $500/month, at least $40-50 is dog food, and the rest of that includes household supplies like paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, etc. We do grow a few vegetables, but Colt doesn’t eat many vegetables, so that does help me, but not so much as far as “meals” go. And I’ll be there first to admit, we eat really good. This isn’t an area I go super frugal on!
One question, if Cole farms how will he be able to contribute to his retirement account. I think it’s concerning that Sara Beth has 20X more saved in retirement than Cole does. I wouldn’t want to quit my job if I only had $7K saved in retirement.
Well, we consider it all “our” retirement funds. But also, in the farming world, the farm is considered a retirement vehicle as well. I know a lot of older farmers that consider their cattle investments (which, technically, they are) and retire on their farm. I know you can’t farm forever, although I’ve seen some do it, so we definitely want other retirement vehicles!
Tonya–since their farm is a business, Cole will be able to contribute to a self-employed retirement plan, which I linked to above. The IRS has a great outline of all the different tax-advantaged accounts available.
Hi Sarah! I lived on the Mississippi side of the delta for several years in my early twenties. I loved reading about your farm and love that there are some small farmers in the Delta. I was wondering if you had considered making your farm a destination for school groups? I think students could really benefit from learning about where their food comes from, especially because so many parts of the Delta are food deserts surrounded by farmland. With your experience with 4-H this could be a really niche role to fill. I wonder if you could start small with a pumpkin patch and one school group in the fall and then potentially expand beyond that. The school district where I worked used to drive over an hour to take elementary students to a farm each year. Your farm could be an educational destination. Keep up the awesome work!
I’m actually close friends with a local farm that does a pumpkin patch/corn maze every year, and the schools do field trips there! I love this idea, I think I just need to come up with a different niche aside from pumpkins. Someone else recommended homeschool group field trips as well, and I think that’s another opportunity!
A local ranch family in our area offer some great resources of how to make money ranching/farming. They have 5 Mary’s Farms in California and she has some kind of small business platform they run. May be something to check out.
5 Mary’s Farm is my hero!! I love following their journey on Instagram. I would LOVE to take their small business from scratch course, it’s just not in the budget right now – but you’re right, they have a ton of great resources!
Wow, are these two on the ball with their planning and finances! I’m impressed. I have no experience with farms and so no real advice, but do have three kids who have really enjoyed attending a goat farm summer camp here in NC–complete with goat yoga! The farm where they attend camp also has goat yoga retreats for adults, open days when folks can come see/pet baby goats or other animals, and other community events to bring in money in addition to selling farm products (eggs and goat milk soap in their case). The farm owners are able to run their camps, etc, while caring for their young children, too, in case that becomes a need in the future. Good luck!
Laronda – so glad to hear your kids enjoyed a goat farm summer camp! If they had a favorite part of farm camp, I’d love to know what it was!
My daughter (6) definitely loved the goats–and the rabbits. The kids got to brush the animals, pet them, help feed them, etc. and she was all over that. My older two (10 and 13 yo boys) liked helping care for the animals, but honestly, they mostly enjoyed the fishing they got to do as this particular farm is on a lake. That, and the little bit of outdoor survival skills they did–how to build a fire, create a shelter, that sort of thing. Honestly, if they ever host a summer camp for adults, I’d be all for it!
Just a couple of thoughts, and apologies if anyone else mentioned this as i didn’t read the whole thread of comments.
– Definitely be sure you both have short and long term disability insurance. While they won’t pay all of your salary if you are sick/injured/disabled, they usually cover between 50-60% of your salary.
– I love the idea of a 4-H style camp on your property (i too love 4-H, my kids were in a 4 Club for many years) and i bet other parents would, too. You could have older teens be counselors and give them community service hours. You could consider taking some vacation time and doing this over schools’ winter break or spring break, just to see what kind of interest you get.
– i also love the idea of an agro-tourism farm. You could invite families to tent camp, or possibly build platforms they could camp on either with a tent or build some basic cabins. I’d pay to bring my family to do this for a long weekend or a week for sure.
– Perhaps you could get certified in yoga? You could teach goat yoga on the weekends, or even have goat yoga retreats where your participants do goat yoga, spend some time gardening in the dirt or working with animals. Or just spending time in nature.
– CSA – maybe you could get more chickens and sell eggs or grow veggies and sell them? You might be able to grow in a rudimentary greenhouse and sell them all year, which might be unusual in your area.
Good luck! i am super impressed by all that you’ve accomplished and think that your plans are wonderful!!
I agree with everyone: what a great couple and great case study! Love the pictures too. I didn’t read through all the comments but did see at least one which mentioned disability insurance. I can’t emphasize how important it is to become an expert on this subject. Is your husband’s income really covered through your work insurance policy? If so, by what percentage? Is it 65%, 70% or much less? Can you live on this reduced income and continue to support your lifestyle and farm if his income was diminished as a result of an unfortunate accident or illness? What if you changed jobs and he was no longer covered? It would be far easier for you to both obtain independent disability polices while young and healthy. When I got married at 28, disability insurance was something I kind of blew off. We were young and active so what could possibly happen? Fast forward 20 years, and my husband is unable to work due to some unexpected and awful medical issues. Fortunately, his income is covered 70% through his employer’s disability policy. I feel very lucky that we didn’t lose our house and can cover our expenses with his disability payments and my stable income. If you achieve your goal as essentially becoming “self employed” running your farm, this is a critical thing to consider. Insurance is a tedious and boring topic, but please take the time to figure out what works for your situation and make sure you take the time to read the fine print and exclusions. (No disrespect intended to the insurance people reading this who all love their jobs.) Wishing you all the best with your fabulous farm and your future.🐴 (a horse emoji seemed fittting).
Mary, thank you so much for this advice! I’ll admit I have little to no knowledge of disability insurance, so I will be sure to look into it more!
Just wondering Sara if you can graze, stable, care for horses? And if you could also offer riding? There is also “glamping” – permanent safari type tents with outdoors baths etc . Quite a few farms here offer that kind of thing, to keep income coming in when markets are down. It might work well with your blog?
However, I think that you have enough income, and should just trust that Colt will sort out working for cash as and when needed ( and in farming communities a capable worker is always going to be in demand) and that you will slowly grow your blog into another income stream, and that the next 20 years will pass in a delightful series of busy days.
My final observation is that you should try churning out a few of those romantic comedies you enjoy and selling them on kindle. Set them on a farm and maybe in 18 years you will be living solely off your income as the next Nora Roberts. Your blog will provide you with a great test audience for chapters and characters.
Ms. Blaise – One of my future goals is to write and self publish a rom-com on Kindle!! I love that you suggested this 🙂
How many head of cattle are you running on 80 acres? That is a pretty small amount of land to make a profitable cow / calf operation even if you are intensive grazing. Have you run the numbers to know how many calves you need to produce in an average year at average auction price to generate the income you need.
Sandy, you make a great point. We are a small cow/calf operation, and we will have to pick up more land in order to be profitable solely on the cattle operation. This is one of the main reasons we are looking at ideas to diversify our farm income streams. We have been working hard on setting up rotational grazing systems, and multi-species grazing, in order to get the best use of our land, but as I’m sure you know, that is a long term process. We have also been keeping records of average sale prices, feed costs, etc. in order to get a better and more accurate idea of the income/expenses of the cattle part of our operation.
We run a farm in MA and have benefited from USDA and State ag grants to build infrastructure. Have you considered getting into distribution of farm goods, combining products from area farms and delivering them to residences in bigger towns? During Covid, some of our neighboring farms pivoted to this and it was a huge success for them. They used grants to improve facilities and buy vehicles.. maybe you could build the distribution side and have a ready market for your product when the time comes. Wish you the best!
Congratulations Sara Beth and Colt! If you were nearby (I’m in CA) , I would buy your local honey, greens, eggs, participate in goat yoga, and probably pay for a glamping experience. With the pandemic, folks are seeking vast expanse and solitude. Think yurt, campsite, simple cabin.
You both obviously are driven and hard working! May your farm business and lifestyle continue to grow!
A few ideas to add to your farm business diversification:
– Sunflower growing and customers pick their own.
– Llamas are cute and popular, maybe day campers and B&B overnight guests would enjoy meeting llamas as well as goats?
– A local urban farm sells “salad subscriptions”. People pay a fee and receive salad greens for an entire season
– Christmas tree farm? I’m not sure if your weather agrees with Christmas trees or not but if you have a space that would work, perhaps?
Best wishes, you are doing great!
Rent-a-goat for weed control! Maybe Himalayan blackberries and other edible invasive weeds aren’t a problem in AR, but in the Pacific Northwest, people pay to have goats come eat their brush. Just some portable electric fencing and a trailer(left onsite to protect from coyotes) Renter typically provides water. Plus, you get pet goats for a week!
Check out Five Mary’s Farms. Their instagram account is great, she’s a farm marketing whiz and they offer a course on it.
Five Mary’s Farms are my heros! They are one of my favorite accounts to follow on Instagram! I would love to take her small business from scratch course one day!
Can you rent out space on your farm- either short or long term? For example, do you have an extra stable where someone can keep their horse? Or offer your barn for dog events (does anyone know the official name for this? I had a coworker who used to take her dog to a farm to practice herding and to find mice in containers hidden on the property). A large property bear where I live has teamed up with our local runner/race association to do an obstacle course there. We also have an apple orchard that allows outdoor weddings. I’m sure they have an umbrella insurance policy just in case, but as for out-of-pocket expenses, these might be minimal.
So nice to see people who really have their act together! Sara Beth and Colt, thank you for using common sense as well as optimism — as a farmer’s daughter (he also was the manager at the local tractor repair/sales business), I’ve heard of people sinking beaucoup money into farm equipment, buying farmland at high prices…then wondering why they go bust. Good for you.
Here’s what I got out of your story:
*Sara Beth, you should keep your job — you obviously love it, and you’re going to come out of it (I assume) with a pension — which will really help in the future. Not many people have this opportunity nowadays. Even if you’re let go in the future (I doubt programs like this are going away, unlike Mrs. Frugalwoods), they should well give you severance. And that matching amount is wonderful — I’m glad you’re taking advantage of it.
*When it’s not busy season, Sara Beth, could you work a longer schedule four days a week, then use that fifth day to expand or runpossible business on the farm? (There’s got to be some way to improve your internet access…maybe upgrade your cellphone, and use its hotspot?)
*Colt is another story. He doesn’t sound happy. (Or at least, Sara Beth, you don’t think he is.) Why not switch him to part-time doing something else that pays better…maybe delivery work? Then he could put his energy into the farm.
*Cut your Sonic Cokes down to one a day…or every other day? Really. If it means that you can live on just your income, wouldn’t it be worth it?
*Could you grow more food on the farm, and cut back on the food dollars spent? In keeping with that…
*Grow a much larger garden, put in some fruit beds that bear year after year (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, etc.) — then you could easily offer a pick-your-own plan to visitors. (You could also offer a weekly package deal — but that’s going to mean you have to pick the stuff and deliver it.) Use the extra to offset your own food budget.
*Ranchers in our area (south of Denver, CO) will sell their animals — and there’s a lot of interest in that. People will even buy 1/4 of an animal, splitting it with others.
*Offer the farm as a wedding/special event venue? ‘Getting married in the barn’ is trendy right now. Couples could hire out their own catering; you just provide the location.
*Not just kids programs — but farm retreats? (If you want to make it crafts, I’ll teach quilting for you!) Even all-day retreats have appeal. (So you don’t have to provide overnight accomodations.)
The appeal of fresh, clean local produce and meat is a strong draw —
You should be proud of yourselves. Keep up the good work.
As relates to the ACA and affordable insurance, this is one issue I have with the FIRE community. The insurance is affordable because it is subsidized by taxpayers who are working. You aren’t really financially independent if you are relying on other taxpayers to help pay for your medical care because you have chosen to stop working at a young age.
Julie, I agree! If I work at my job until 46, I can maintain our insurance thru my employer, just pay the entire premium.
To augment honey production, planting a couple of acres of flowers to cut and sell at farmers markets, or deliver to restaurants/hotels, would provide for both you and the bees. In my area a mixed bouquet of farm flowers sells for $15 to $20 depending on size, and the stall regularly sells out.
Wow fantastic achievements to these posters! I am really impressed! I really like how you are strong on your goals. I’ll echo previous posters; do you have a big barn, could you offer weddings/parties? Could you set up basic camping facilities? A basic camp site can be quite the price here in Australia. You are doing great!
Since Sara Beth likes to read, I’d highly recommend the book “You Can Farm” by Joel Salatin. It is the definitive work on how to quit and farm full time on a small acreage. Rather than focusing entirely on cutting expenses, I’d say try to pick up extra work or switch employers to save up a years worth of expenses then give farming full time for a year a shot. The issue is always marketing rather than producing. Once you get regular customers things will get a little easier. I’m chasing the same dream, but I’m in the military with 5 years left until I’m retirement eligible. I’m working on building a customer base at this point so I can transition somewhat smoothly to full time at retirement.
There’s been a lot of discussion of setting up a CSA, and diversifying into vegetables etc in order to do that. I want to encourage you to look at how you can leverage what is already out there so that you can sell through a CSA without so much work in areas outside of your expertise.
In many cities there are CSAs that deliver vegetables/fruits but ALSO give options to add on eggs, meat, cheese, honey, etc that comes from other local farms. Great for customers because then they can get all types of farm-fresh food at once, great for you because you can get customers without having to do as much logistics and marketing (and get customers who wouldn’t want to do a meat-only CSA), great for the farm Organising it because they can charge a small fee/percentage for logistics and marketing. If you talk to some of the existing CSAs in your area they may be interested!
I do not know anything at all about farm life, but I have been interested in learning and to that end stumbled on a couple sites like workaway.info where you let folks stay with you/house sit/whatever in exchange for watching over your property and helping out. Could be an interesting way to get some more help during those times when Colt needs to work but there are still tasks to do! (similar if/when you have kids!). I also agree with Mrs. FW suggestions of looking into internet and using an MNVO – especially as you think about monitoring the blog or offering camps, day events, etc – I would think having easy access to internet and phone service would be really helpful.
We financed our farm with taking in boarding horses. It’s a tough job (not because of the horses, but managing the wishes and expectations of the horse owners!) but we found it to very profitable. Just make sure to keep the people out of your personal space (close to the house), that’s where we went wrong and that made it not worth it to us anymore after 13 years.
In regards to making more money on your farm, I highly suggest looking into regenerative agriculture to increase farm productivity. By not tilling the land, planting diverse cover crops, and eliminating inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides) you can increase farm productivity and stack multiple enterprises to increase cash flow. Check Out Gabe Brown’s book “Dirt to Soil” and Charles Massy’s “Call of the Reed Warbler” to hear a farmer’s perspective. Also, the Soil Health Institute, the Land Institute and the Rodale Institute are all good places to read about the latest research on the subject.
Wonderful book recommendations Melissa!
You can reduce your Kindle costs by 1/2 by gifting yourself a 2 year subscription! First cancel your Kindle subscription (they’ll offer you a month free, which you graciously accept). When your gifted month is almost over go to the gift subscription landing page (https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/ku/retail-promotions-page?mode=digitalgift) and select the 24 month option. This currently equates to $5.99 a month! I did this and it works famously…don’t know why it isn’t automatically available to everyone.
Get some Honey bees and make honey products to sell? Could even be a beekeeper on the side for extra dough. I like the idea of school field trips. Come up with an agenda, advertise with the schools—I think somebody (schools or the USDA.?) would pay you for your time hosting. And sell popular breeds of cats or dogs. (Devon Rex cats or golden retrievers)—people pay way too much for those! I think your website would be a great venue for these sellables. Love the name!
RE: profitable farming… You NEED to check out Richard Perkins at Ridgedale Permaculture. I bought his book and it’s a phenomenal read, totally focused on making the numbers and hours work in a sustainable way. Well worth the money without any piddling around the edges. It is my #1 recommendation for wannabe farmers.
The fact that you live close to your parents leapt out at me. Would it be possible for you to move in with your parents for one year (I know, I know), have Colt work one more year AND rent out your house? Take that money and pay off your farm, putting $600 back in your pockets and no debt. And, probably give you more money based on the other suggestions above. (To be completely honest, my husband would NEVER have done this but I totally would have if it were his parents.)
You say you “eat well” with meat from your farm. Another option might be to do farm-to-table meals on your farm. Food you grow/manage, flower décor that you grow, maybe some light music by local musicians or high school/college students. You could do anything from ladies’ lunches to high-class dinners, depending on your cooking skills or by bringing in a chef. If you have a local winery, you could pair up with them to provide wine for the meal. You could also offer cooking classes for wild game, dishes using the meat/vegetables/fruit/honey you grow, and then people could purchase all the necessary ingredients from you to take home and prepare the dish for themselves/their families. Finally, goat milk soap, lotion and even cheese is huge around here. Those would also be something extra you could offer if you decide to either create or participate in a local CSA.
This is such a lovely idea! I have some acquaintances who do this exact thing here in VT and, as I understand it, in order to break even (let alone make money), you have to charge A LOT per person. That model totally works if you’re accessible from a wealthy (likely urban) area as we are in VT (think NYC and Boston). But it’s probably not going to be something that local people will attend. I once looked into making a reservation for Mr. FW and I for one of these fancy farm dinners for a special occasion and it was something like $200 a person… needless to say, I did not make the reservation! All that to say, yes, I think this is a great idea, but it’s going to have very high overhead and you’ll need to ensure the market can bear the high price tag.
This was a fun read, very different from the typical reader case study! I love peering into farm life since its so different from our city life.
Of course, as always, great tips, method, and plan from Mrs. Frugalwoods. You guys can get to your goals!
One thing I’d like to add to contemplate with your farm, aside from the current income avenues you’re looking at like Goat Yoga, is sheltering.
This month, we’re donating to animal welfare-related organizations and one we ran across is called Rikki’s Refuge. It’s a similar sort of farm setup but they also use space as a animal refuge for those in need and without sanctuary. It’s a neat idea. I’d assume you all could earn support through community fundraising to make it work and it’d do some good. Colt would continue to get to learn all sorts of new DIY projects, too!
I read your story and here’re my thoughts (from Germany, so please be kind if my English isn’t good)
– What about “work and travel” at your farm? Young people work several days oder weeks at your farm and then travel to the next stop. You will get some help for example for raising another fence.
– If you like fruit, why not planting some trees? Several apple trees, plum, pear, cherry, walnut grow quit slowly, but will produce fruit the next year.
I bought a small garden last year including two old apple trees. A few weeks ago I got apple juice – “home made” by my apple. Delicious and absolute organic. I got so many bottles, that I don’t need to buy apple juice the next year.
– If you like gardening plant as much as you able to. Vegetable is nearly growing the whole year. Maybee you could get a greenhouse.
– Christmas and birthday gifts for you: your kindle account or a tree or helping time.
– The ideas of teaching 4-H children on your farm I apreciate, also having a place for “farm holiday”. People love such places.
-If you like alpacas – they are easy to treat and the next spinning company loves their fibers. Alpaca wool is one of the best to be spun and to be knitted.
Best whishes from Germany.
I loved reading all of these comments and only had a small idea to add. My husband drives from PA to SC once a year and always stays in an Airbnb which is a glorified she-shed. It sits right on the edge of a farm and is so peaceful and quiet. The animals will come up to the fence to check him out. He looks forward to it and will only stay there when he does that drive! I don’t know if you are interested in hosting, but you could spin it as an “Airbnb farm retreat”.
Have you thought about getting your Cokes from a SodaStream? The Frugalwoods have detailed instructions on how to hack the canisters using welding supply CO2. Squirt in some cola syrup (which you can buy from other outlets besides SodaStream) and you are good to go! But as another poster stated, it’s about the ice- Sonic’s pellet ice is a cult favorite, I buy cane sugar, caffeine free cola syrup from Monin or Amoretti.
would it be very difficult to offer some space(s) on your land for holidayers, camping, overnight tenting, or even rent long term to someone with a trailer?
yes it may mean offering water, elec, outhouse or sewer, these are the problems I wonder about. I don’t know your area (or even your country very well)
so just something to think on. ann
Congratulations on your achievements! It sounds like you have built a wonderful career and fulfilling life. Your property looks beautiful. This community is so wonderfully supportive and I hesitate to bring the bucket of cold water. You have characterised your farm as a hobby at which you are not yet breaking even. How will another ~40hrs labour/week change that? There are so many wonderful business ideas in the comments. I would encourage you to get some proof of concept (read: profit, if only a little) before quitting the day job. In the meantime, I wonder if contract harvesting could provide some start-up capital and more flexibility for Colt? Our contractors’ bills are eye watering!