I've lived off the grid a few times, successfully and unsuccessfully. I'd like to share with you those experiences and my plan for living off of it full-time for the remainder of my days. Now I'm not a rich person. I won't have a pension and I've always made around $1,200 a month, give or take. I have been homeless, by choice and completely unrelated to living off-the-grid, to learn from the experience, and I did just that. Essentially, I took it too far and changed my mindset so much, I didn't know how to reintegrate into regular society again without first coming back home to my family and relearning it. But I did learn the valuable lesson of the importance and preciousness of having a home and possessions.
The Successful Experience: My boyfriend and I had a converted school bus in the high mountains of the southwest desert. It was successful because we never suffered once and it could've gone on forever.
Why it was successful:
1. The bus was nicely converted with insulation, tongue-and-groove and fully furnished, so it was comfortable and lovely. Someone had lived in it before, so it was time-tested, a very big bonus.
2. He had old family friends with land and they had permanently moved to another state, so they didn't mind us being parked on their property indefinitely. Hence, no land payments.
3. We had solar, but not much, and 12-volt batteries. Since there weren't enough panels, we could hook up the stereo and TV to our car batteries and still get our entertainment. Our cars always started right up the next morning. We had a generator, but those things are loud and expensive and we never used it.
4. We had propane for our cookstove. We had a propane heater and a carbon monoxide detector, so we stayed super warm and cozy on those cold desert winter nights.
5. We had a solar shower and plenty of family and friends nearby to take a real bath. There was a beautiful treated wood shower stall on the bus where we could hang the solar shower. We had an outhouse and a portable toilet for those cold snowy nights when you don't feel like trekking to the outhouse, especially when you're half-asleep.
6. We had his mother's well at the base of the mountain to fill up our 5-gallon water jugs for the bus and the water tank truck for the garden. We'd run a hose into the water tank on the truck and suck-suck-suck on the other end and we'd be watering the garden in no time. High desert gardens definitely require a good amount of water.
7. I worked at an upscale B&B only two nights a week, Friday and Saturday, and pulled in $100 a night. I enjoyed my job and liked being there. He worked in his family's business and made good money.
8. All of the above adds up to no bills. We had no debt. I always had money to buy whatever I wanted and never once did I need for anything.
The Unsuccessful Experience: I alone had a school bus in the Ozarks of Missouri. It was unsuccessful because I suffered too much and it did not go on forever.
Why it was unsuccessful:
1. The bus was not converted yet. I bought it in Springfield with seats and drove it to my mountain. It had a nice strong engine and really would've been ideal as a bus converted for traveling and living and it was a good buy, only $1,500. Friends and myself pulled the seats out right away and made some good money because there's lots of scrap yards in the Ozarks. An empty shell is much easier to live in than a bus with seats. But it didn't have any insulation nor a propane heater and when winter hit, it was too cold.
Lesson - Don't live in a project as it is being converted or being built. Live somewhere else and work on your conversion or build. Once it is complete, then move. Be prepared for the winter by having heat. Preferably, be prepared many months in advance, then there's no worries.
2. I had a land payment. It was low at only $145 a month and I always told myself, "You can always find a way to come up with $145 a month," but after several years, just a few years back, I found I couldn't come up with a way to make $145, and after several months I lost the property. Several thousand dollars gone and I was a very heart-broken girl as I loved that land and that bus so much. I gave the bus and my boat to a friend who has a general store and some property he lets others stay on.
Lesson - Don't live on the property you're paying for. Either save up the money and pay for it outright or make payments on it while living somewhere else, and then move onto it when it's fully paid for.
3. I had no solar or generator and no 12-volt, hence no entertainment. In our society, we are so used to commotion of some sort around us. Don't go crazy without having all of that around. Sometimes I think the term cabin fever or stir crazy may relate to this as well as the idea of being closed in. Now this is actually a pro too. I liked having just nature.
Lesson - It's not necessary to drag society in the form of mass entertainment out to the wilderness, unless you need it to avoid going crazy. Nature is very nice, but there is an adjustment period, so be prepared.
4. I had a propane cookstove, a very cool over-sized turkey fryer that I just loved. But I did run out of money and couldn't afford food.
Lesson - Don't run out of money, freezing and starving are no joke. In these situations, have a car that will start in the severe cold or the ability to walk out.
5. I had a camp shower, although it was too new-fangled. Just the basic black solar shower bag that heats up in the sun is the way to go. I didn't have an outhouse dug yet and my RV toilet mysteriously disappeared on its trip to the Ozarks, so the time-tested, dig a hole and bury it, method worked.
Lesson - Build your outhouse as one of your first projects. Make sure you have your portable toilet and your hole dug. Otherwise, install a septic and get everything hooked up before occupying the property. I am familiar with composting toilets, although I've never personally owned one, so they are an option.
6. I had a friend with a well, so it was easy to get water. And eventually, I would've had a well dug on the property.
Lesson - Ideally, have a property with a well or have it dug before moving onto the property. I don't mind hauling water, so it's no problem. But to be truly self-reliant, it would be better to have your own well, and remember, they are expensive, so have $4,000 to $6,000 or more to pay for one.
7. I had two different jobs and for a time, they overlapped. Unfortunately, I didn't love either one of them and found too much fault with the jobs, so I didn't stay with them. And, honestly, it made no sense as both places were amazing places to work.
Lesson - Always have a reliable source of income or a nicely-funded savings account. Love your job or have money to back yourself up in case you don't.
8. All of the above adds up to a land payment, no source of warmth, not enough comfort, a work in progress and no money coming in. A formula for failure.
Lesson - Have no bills. Have everything paid for and set up. Have a good steady source of income or a well-funded savings account.
Combining the Successful and Unsuccessful Experiences: Taking the successes learned and the mistakes made from both experiences, I've created my plan, which is where I'm at right now. I'm in Kansas at my family's place, which works out beneficially for both parties. I have no bills, so all of my income goes to savings. Luckily, I'm a natural saver, so once it hits the savings account, it goes nowhere. My mother is older now and no longer drives. She needs someone to get the groceries and other sundry items she needs. I like to cook and clean up and after years of doing it herself, she enjoys being waited on. It's a win-win situation. And once I'm gone, although she misses me dearly, there's another sibling that takes over.
I have a four-fold plan.
1. Save up and buy a nice car. Pay for it in full. I did this in September of 2010. I had my old pick-up truck from my place down in the Ozarks, but it wasn't something that could last for 10 to 20 more years.
2. Save up and buy a place on the grid in the Ozarks. Pay for it in full. I'm 1/4 to 1/3 of the way there and it's only been a few months since I started saving again after buying the car. I've learned saving is the way to go and I should have a place by the end of the year or next year. I can get a place for as little as $12,000 to up to $20,000 and it includes up to a few acres. I've even seen one with nearly 10 acres, but that's unusual. It will be a cabin, a small house or a mobile home. It will be completely on the grid. This serves two functions. One is my mother tends to freak out when I'm living off the grid, so out of respect for her, I will stay on the grid. Two, it gives me time to work out every detail of living off the grid, so I'll do it right for the long haul. I know I have a lot to learn, especially about newer and better ways of doing things.
3. While living on the grid, save up and buy land, have a well dug, outhouse dug and built, septic put in and purchase other essentials, such as solar panels, batteries and a propane heater. If I'm going to have a tiny cabin, have it built and help where I can. It must be completely finished before occupying it. If I'm going to convert another school bus, completely convert it before moving into it.
4. Live in my fully set-up place out in the wilderness. Sell my on-the-grid Ozarks property and have a little nest egg. Since I will have no bills and the only expenses will be food, gas and propane (notice they're all fuel; I can't figure out a way around them), my Social Security check, which will be coming up in a few years after moving off-grid, will cover me just fine. If Social Security doesn't exist then (I think it will for my generation, but I'm wondering about the generations after me), then I will have my savings. I'd rather retire like most folks in my 60s and 70s and just putter around, but if I must work, I will.
That's it. In a nutshell, have everything set-up and everything paid for in full. If anyone has any suggestions for things I haven't thought of yet or things I don't know about or notices any obvious holes, I'd love to hear from you. I didn't mention lights in either of the real-life scenarios. That's because I'm not that picky about them. We had a 12-volt light and lanterns in the first place and I had flashlights and lanterns in the second place.
I can't speak to building restrictions because I've lived in places without them and I always will. Other than that, I can't see where I missed anything, but that's why it'll be nice to hear from other folks. I love to talk school buses, as I consider them the ideal tiny house, so if there are any school bus fanatics out there, please send me an email. I could listen and talk all day with you.
I keep a blog, Ozarks Crescent Mural, on Blogger. Right now, it's mostly about real estate, since that's the topic of the moment for me. Later on, it will be about my life, with lots of scenic pictures, and then my build or conversion. Feel free to stop by anytime. It's irregular, but it's kept up and it always will be.
|This was my very first dream. And I may still do it, although as most first dreams, very pricey, around $40,000+.|
|A Shelter-Kit I really love. Sells for just above $9,000 as a kit.|
|This is a 1985 GMC 6000, very similar to what I had the second time. It's very large and roomy; you will not want for space. The first bus was much smaller.|