A self sufficient lifestyle isn't for everyone; for those brave enough to shirk society's burdens and pursue the dream, I applaud you. Anyone trying to live a self-reliant lifestyle or live within their means must make a plan. It's true that you could win the lottery and be set up in a few months on a piece of property, however, the chances are slim. Planning and setting goals will be the quickest way to realize your dreams.
Your first goal in the quest to self sufficiency is eliminating debt. The bonds of debt keep most people from ever pursuing a self sufficient lifestyle. A common myth is that a green, or off grid lifestyle is more expensive than living in suburbia. This myth is not true. To compare the differences, start by, making a list of your families expenses. Include rent, utilities, food, and any other spending in the financial list. Now that you have the list compiled subtract the house payment, utilities, and 1/2 of the food bill.
You see, self sufficient living is done in a way that eliminates spending. Often families will build their own homes, and operate a business on the land. Gardens are grown to provide food and excess is canned, or sold at farmers markets. A home built off grid is normally built with a passive solar design. Passive solar homes are built because the home design contributes to heating and cooling. Off -grid homes use a well, or rain water catchment, and purification system's for the families water needs. Solar power typically provides the homes electricity needs. Initially these systems can be expensive, but they don't have to be.
A homeowner can build solar panels for the home from plans on the internet. Components of a solar power system can be bought online and then assembled using the printed instructions. The same homeowner can build a complete rain water catchment system for the families water needs. A do-it-yourself type person can assemble these systems for well under what they would cost if a professional installed them. The key to a self sufficient plan is being honest about your weaknesses. It is OK, if you don't know about solar power, the same can be said for wind power, and rain water, or well systems.
It is never to late to learn. Anyone pursuing the dream of self sufficiency has a lot of learning to do. Researching everything you can find on alternative building methods is a great start. Many families who build their own home use reclaimed materials and alternative techniques. You can tear down a barn, collect scraps from building contractors, and use straw-bale or on-site materials for building. It is a good idea to start small. Building a house is hard work, and with only one or two people the process can be slow. Build with the outcome in mind but, 'don't bite off more than you can chew.'
Choose your land carefully. You should choose your land with consideration for how you want to make money. If you will operate a ranch, your land should be suitable for this purpose. Farming, orchards and the rest will all work well if you choose land suitable to your families needs. The choice of land type varies widely by the owner. One man may choose a rocky piece of earth and build a stone home. A Forrest of trees can be harvested in a way that will lend materials to build a home without detracting from the property's beauty. If you will build a home from logs a pasture devoid of trees is not a good land choice. It is critical that a piece of property has a level spot for building. Excavation is expensive, even if you rent the equipment to do it yourself. Your main goal is to keep costs down, and excavation costs can blow a budget.
Living on your land while you build a home will cut down costs. Two people with knowledge of construction techniques can build a room and have it livable in two weeks. Starting small and working under terms you can reasonably handle will keep you from making mistakes. Plan each stage of your building so that every addition to the home can be keyed in as you work. Completing small stages will keep you from becoming overwhelmed. Living on your land is a great way to evaluate the property. You will know where the sun rises and sets, the direction of the wind and rain, and where the shade is located. All of these aspects should be taken into account to keep costs down. Use your lands strengths and work toward improving it's weakness.
Collect building materials before you ever begin building. Look at Craigslist, or Freecycle for doors, windows, studs and construction equipment that people are selling or giving away. Check out and read books from your local library on all aspects of construction. Consult with other owner builders who have gone before you. Self Sufficient forums are all over the internet. Backwoods Home Magazine hosts a forum filled with discussions on every aspect of living this way. You can ask questions, in the forums, and follow blogs of other families who have also begun a self sufficient journey.
You're not crazy for wanting to live this way. In-fact, living this lifestyle used to be the American Dream. There is a freedom and security that develops when you know you built what you have with your hands. Social pressures seem very unimportant when you know you're growing food, and producing your own electricity. A great man George Elliot, (19th century novelist) once said " It is never to late to be who you might have been." His advice still holds true today.