Last week, while busily bullet-pointing how to prepare for a power outage, I noted that my wife and I were considering going “off the grid” one day a week as a way to save a bit of money and to spend more quality time together.
Although my wife thought it was a great idea at the time, she grew skeptical a week later when it was time to throw the breakers. After some prodding, however, she agreed to participate. This article is a story about what we learned from our initial experience, and where it’s leading us…
Going off the grid
Going off the grid one day a week was easier than you might expect. Don’t get me wrong, it’s completely different and does take effort, but once you adopt the mindset, it’s not a big deal. We ended up leaving the breakers on, and just made a conscious effort to avoid using electricity. We watched zero television and kept the lights and furnace off, but did continue regular use of our water, gas stove, and sewer. As such, this first run was far from true off the grid living!
After the experience was over, we decided to continue this exercise each Saturday for the foreseeable future. We expect to save a bit of money (perhaps as much as $20/month) with our little experiment, and have already noticed growth in our relationship. We’ve also found that flirting with these concepts has motivated us to become more self-sufficient, and less reliant on grid living.
Before we go any further, I feel as though I should define what “off the grid” means to me. When I say “off the grid,” I’m referring to a simpler, more self-reliant lifestyle for my family. In no way do I mean to imply that our goal is to become recluses that completely shun modern conveniences and fail to contribute to society at large. What I really want to do is to practice preparedness and frugality by becoming less reliant on our existing infrastructure.
Five lifestyle goals
Here are five important lifestyle changes we are hoping to adopt and embrace as we become more comfortable moving “off the grid”:
- Self reliance. We’d like to reduce our dependence on societal systems such as sewer, water, power grids, gas, etc. If those utilities were ever to cease to function, we’d have alternative options at the ready.
- Cost control. If utilities prices were to skyrocket — as we’ve already witnessed over the past couple of years — we’d be less dependent on them and could reduce our costs.
- Simplified living. Less dependence on modern systems means we could return to a less stressful, more basic way of life. This is very attractive to us.
- Learning old-world skills. We’ll exercise our creativity, handiness, and ingenuity as we build our knowledge and competency in things like gardening, canning, building, etc.
- Focus on relationships. We’ll build and strengthen family relationships by tuning out or turning off outside technological influences and focusing on people instead.
A little history, a loose plan, and a looming problem
In reading so far, you might have envisioned my wife and I living on acres of country land with chickens running around, cattle in a pasture, etc. In truth, none of these are part of our current lifestyle, though I’d very much like to make vision reality! Let me paint you a more accurate picture of me, my background, and my relevant situation.
While I didn’t grow up in the holler, my daddy wasn’t a coal miner, and I don’t fly a rebel flag or drive a monster truck, I’m a country boy at heart. As such, I have a strong desire to lead as independent and self-reliant a life as possible. As a child and young man, I:
- Grew up on 20 acres
- Was basically a lumberjack – we heated our home with a wood stove
- Raised chickens, cows, and horses
- Was first employed by the farmer down the street as a hay bailing grunt
As a young adult, I moved away from my country boy roots and sold my soul to the real estate devils when I moved into the suburbs where I now:
- Live on 0.17 acres
- Have an 80% efficiency furnace to heat my home
- Raise nothing but blood pressure, and maybe a few herbs
- Work as an IT Manager
Though my wife and I are currently suburban DINKs, we’re planing on getting back to basics and are counting the days until we find our “dream home” in which we’ll start a family. As of now, we envision a self-constructed dome home complete with a wood burning stove to provide heat during the cold Michigan winters. This dream of ours is not going to happen overnight, and it’s going to require a lot of patience and sacrifice. To make it happen, we’ll need to cut spending, reduce our debt, and save a lot of money.
The biggest problem we’re currently facing is that, like so many other Americans, we’re upside down on our house. We bought our house with no money down, and are now faced with the realization that we owe much more than it’s currently worth. Fortunately, when we purchased our current home two years ago, we limited our monthly payments (including taxes and insurance) to 23% of our net income. Thus, we’re not saddled with onerous mortgage payments.
To get started we’ve decided to wean ourselves off things slowly, and have likewise begun planning for the implementation of alternative ways of life while still living in our DINK laden suburbanite neighborhood.
Some interesting additions
Since I first mentioned the idea of going off the grid, we’ve committed to starting a garden and purchasing canning supplies. We’re planning on starting to grow a lot of the produce that we would otherwise purchase throughout the year, and we’ll be purchasing both a pressure canner and a hot-water-bath canner that will help us store our bounty. As an aside, here’s here’s a link to a great guide on when to use a water-bath vs. pressure canner.
After everything was said and done, my wife and I were both quite happy with our little “off the grid” experiment. We’ve also been a bit surprised by the shockwaves that it’s created in our life. Not only will we be saving a bit of money and spending some nice time together, but we’ll also be learning a ton of great new skills, and growing more and more self-reliant as time goes by. We’re most excited about our vision for the new home and lifestyle that we have set our sights on. Now it’s just a matter of pushing forward and maintaining discipline.
Have you ever considered going “off the grid”, or otherwise changing your lifestyle to reduce your dependence on modern conveniences? Do you have any other ideas for simplifying life, improving your self-reliance, and/or saving money by “downshifting.”