Working full time and running a smallholding

A lot of the YouTube videos we watch, the books and blogs we read or the people we have spoken to think of smallholders and homesteaders as having an ‘off grid’ mentality.  That they want to disentangle themselves from the rat race, utility companies and live a completely self reliant life, on a hill in the middle of nowhere maybe.  While that’s all fine and dandy, Steven and I have to have a realistic approach that works for us.  Would we like to be off grid, totally self reliant and mortgage free.  Yes, we’d probably like to give it a shot before we leave this planet, but we have always been realistic in that we’re a little bit different!

When we bought the smallholding in January 2016, we did so using a mortgage.  If you follow our blog, you will know this and it won’t be a surprise.  Now mortgages these days can take you up to retirement age which you will also know we don’t want to have our mortgage around our necks for that long and that we are actively working on maximising our income and minimising our outgoings which will allow us to pay it off sooner.  In order to pay this mortgage, we need to work.

Why am I telling you this?  Because we are priding ourselves on showing people that you can have a mortgage which means you need to work full time and run a smallholding effectively.  We are not joining in the chants to become off grid and to escape the rat race.  We have nothing against that but we know we are accepting of having council tax to pay, a mortgage to clear, utility bills to take care of and so on, for as long as we live in some cases.

What we do do ( 🙂 ) is budget, see where we can reduce bills and save, look to where we can be as self reliant as we can with accepting of these decisions.  For example one of our most expensive outgoings is oil.  We could convert the Aga to solid fuel and live off our trees, but we aren’t here often enough to feed it.  We could collect rain water and convert the house non drinking water to use it and buy bottled to drink but realistically, we aren’t going to do that any time soon.  There has to be a balance.  So our budget each month takes our incomings, minus the absolute essential outgoings and leaves us with a balance.  How we spend that remaining balance is key.  A fair bit of it goes on insurances, for the cars, house and animals.  If we were off grid, we wouldn’t have a vehicle to insure nor insure the animals is my guess, so those expenses wouldn’t be there, but then nor would our incomes each month as that isn’t self reliant isn it?  

So where are we self reliant, even partially?  We grow as much of our own food as we can and each year we learn and build on the previous year.  We make decisions for things we don’t or can’t grow ourselves.  For example, we have bananas for breakfast on the meat from we eat beef which we don’t raise ourselves.  We are self reliant in chicken and lamb, pork later in the year but not beef or fish.  Again we could choose not to have both, but we don’t, we pay for it as we like it and we can right now.

We pretty much run our smallholding before and after work and weekends, so if you are thinking about doing it then don’t be put off if you work full time.  I can’t comment on other lifestyles being able to manage a smallholding or not as we haven’t lived anyhing else ourselves, but we know this one and we know it works.

Before work, we check the livestock and feed them all so they’re set for the day.  Depending on what you have this can be anywhere from 10 minutes upwards.  I like to spend a little time watching the animals come out of the pens or coops for the day, seeing them go about their business, have a stretch or for the ducks, get a bath!  On a night is the same, check everything is ok, feed and water them, collect eggs, clean out, whatever needs to be done and before bed lock everything away.  It can take as much or as little time as you like, but it has to be done every day.  There’s no days off in smallholding.

We plan as much as we can, plan for the best and the worst, be adaptable and also realistic.  Don’t try and take on too much but absolutely do take on as much as you can.  You may find that you can take on more than you think but it depends what character you’re like.  I would take on too much and Ste probably less than we could, so between us we balance perfectly most of the time!  

In the coming weeks I will do some posts on what organising looks like here and share our ideas and thoughts with a hope that people may find them helpful.

Budgetting – groceries

As usual, at the beginning of each year I will reassess our budget to include changes.  For example, my daughter is going to senior school and we promised we’d get her a mobile phone for when she does.  She is the only one in her year who doesn’t have one and throughout this year has been very mature about that, not giving in to peer pressure.  So there’s an extra monthly expense.  Not much, but it all adds up.  The insurances need to be reassessed as I have an additional insurance to take out for Annie, so that needs to come from somewhere.  Also oil has gone up since 12 months ago and I think our budget still covers it, but I will check to be safe.

A big one that can easily spiral out of control is groceries as per my previous post.  Last year, on average I went over our (£250 a month) budget by £15 a month.  Some people spend that on coffee each week so it won’t seem a lot to them, but taking into consideration what we are trying to achieve (self sufficiency and 1 dependent wage only) then again it all adds up.  However I am really pleased that we got anywhere near the budget and that I think, is the home raised meat, fruit and veg earning its keep.  So if we do even more this year, we should be able to meet the new budget.

2018’s grocery cash budget is £2650 which works out at ~£220 a month.  However I expect to spend more in February-April before we reap rewards of this growing season and then at the end of the year as things tail off.  In the height of summer, I hope to have this down to a minimal amount.  Throughout January we are eating from the freezer for the teas, which I will need to top up with fresh veg etc but for the main expensive part (meat?) will be from the freezer.

The grocery budget also includes household items which I think I said – so shampoo, laundry liquid, bleach, toothpaste etc.

Vouchers and freebies will not come out of the budget – let’s call that luck.

Now remember, I have 2 young kids who have packed lunches every day and who I won’t see go short for things they like (they aren’t demanding, this is my decision).  So sometimes, there’s things on the list that are not necessities, but if they fancy having their friends round and eating junk a few times then that’s fine with me.  To be fair, they very rarely ask to do this, but I’m just making my point.  I also have a huge husband who eats almost as much as my horse!  Ste and I are taking lunches to work, usually soup, salad or left overs.

I am updating my standard shopping list for each week with items that go into the packed lunches including fruit, wrap/bread/croissant and filling, yoghurts, a treat, pepperoni or equivalent, a drink, cheese (if they feel like it).  This may be the actual item, or the ingredients to make them (like the bread and treat). 

Once January is through and we’ve made a dent in the freezer, I will then look at batch cooking again and doubling up on what I am cooking to make one for the freezer.

I plan on giving weekly updates with grocery/eating out spends.

As is customary on long text posts, here’s a cute photo 🙂

What’s your plan b?

On Friday we were due a delivery of oil which would see us through the worst of the winter. I received a text and an email to say there was to be a delay in getting it. Now that was very unusual.  Typically I’d let the oil go lower than we normally would, so we were desperate for it come Friday. That was a mistake which I won’t repeat!
I rang up BoilerJuice which is where we place our orders through and they informed me there’s no oil for delivery in the north east of England at the moment. Not just where I am, but the north and north east! Apparently there’s a problem with the ships docking due to bad weather conditions. Now I don’t know where they dock, but we’ve not had any conditions that we haven’t seen before. The lady on the phone told me it was unprecedented. It all sounds a bit off to me, but it didn’t change the fact that we had no oil.
I went out and switched the main supply from the tank off and then the AGA. Boy that’s sad to do. Luckily I had a day off work on Friday so I set about getting the wood burner going ready for the kids coming in and checked the electric oven was working (we never use it except at Christmas!). It was. However I have never used the emersion heater for the water (normally ran off oil) so I had to guess as to how to switch it on. Not hard, you press the button, but when you don’t know if it’s the right button, it’s a bit tense! These are all costs I wouldn’t normally endure and I do think overall will be more expensive that the oil would cost me to provide the same service.
Anyway, we have log upon logs so I know we could stay warm, but the coal was low. This wasn’t like me, I am normally super organised and typically this series of events was going from bad to worse! Ste managed to source some coal on Saturday fairly quickly.
So we still have no oil, but are stocked up on coal. We’ve dug out the oil filled radiators and put them on in the kids bedrooms as the house is truly bitter, we’re at -5 here tonight. I kids you not that I am sleeping in a hat my nana knit me! The next problem is, the electricity is going off for 6 hours this week, it’s making me wonder what we’d do next if the cooker and emersion were to be out of action for a while. Would you be prepared for the worst? I know I didn’t feel it, but I’m going to make sure we’re ready for the next time.

We actually don’t have snow here today, I think we’re the only place in the country! These are a couple of days old now. The landscape is changing so much as we move deeper into winter.

The tale of the powercut

Last night, when I was hoping for a full night sleep due to being up with my son the previous night, my daughter came in at 1:30am to tell me she couldn’t get the bathroom light on so she didn’t dare go to the loo.  I said the bulb must have gone, so use mine.  She said that’s not working either.  In a part sleep, part awake state, I realised we were having a power cut.  No big deal right?  Wrong.  We have 15 duck eggs with 6 days left in the incubator that’s reliant on the power.  The piglets are under heat in the barn and the greenhouse bench is on to look after my tender seedlings. 
The saw me on the phone to the power company to find out what’s wrong.  It will be back on by 4:30 they say.  Feeling rather sad and acutely aware that we’re relying on someone to supply our energy, I sat and waited with Ste.  At 2:30 I had dozed off and he woke me to say it’s back on.  He checked the incubator and it had gone down to 25 for 37+. 
Please keep your fingers crossed that the ducklings make it.
The piglets were fine when I went out to feed, blearly eyed and with a stinking headache (unrelated to the night’s events) and I just hope the seeds/seedlings that are reliant on the heat were unaffected.  It wasn’t too cold last night, no where near freezing so may be a lucky escape.
It has started me thinking about producing our own energy though.
Incidentally, we would still be able to cool and heat the kitchen off the Aga, so that is a bonus.