You may read that the first thing you should do when prepping to prep is to get out of debt, but there is not much depth beyond that in the description of why you should get out of debt. My family has made a journey from debt to sustainability over the last seven years and absolutely the main thing that enabled that to happen was getting rid of our consumer debt. This is a quick description of one family’s fortune, what God allowed us to do and the opportunities that were made available to us when we took the challenge to pay off our debts. None of this could have happened with continuing consumer
Getting Out of Consumer Debt
It took three years to pay off cars, credit cards and get to a place where my only expenses were food, utilities, insurance, car maintenance, gas and my house mortgage. That was a liberating feeling that I can still take comfort in years later. We started saving to get that minimum $1,000 in savings, then added to it. Just being out of debt opened many opportunities and the possibility of buying a second piece of real estate became a feasible prospect that never could have happened unless we were out of debt.
I took baby steps to preparedness, not having a property to bug out to, I spent time driving the mountains looking for places to bug out to, marking them on the map so I knew how to get to them. I bought an old Ford Bronco and rebuilt it for a bug out vehicle. I did (and learned as I went) most of the work myself. Took survival classes to learn the plants of the area that are useful for food and medicine. I was building a foundation that was within my means. I did not have thousands of dollars to buy storage food, property, bunker, self defense tools etc… So I did what I can. You will be amazed at what you can do to build a strong foundation with little money.
Looking at my 401k (which was not big), I decided to borrow against it knowing that if my job was lost, that loan would be considered an early withdraw with all the penalties. So be it, a risk to be taken that has proved a good decision. I determined the amount we could take, and what we left in the401k would cover the penalties and leave us with enough to pay the taxes with some left over at the end of it.
We came to the realization that property was needed. (Owned outright. that is.)
Living in suburbia, our neighbor’s house less than 15 yards from mine, on less than ½ acre, having neighbors that take care of their curb appeal and buy new cars every four years, I was living in a made-up reality. Coming close to losing my job in 2009 scared me. I put myself mentally, into the situation of what if I had lost my job? The run of the situation did not look good. I was making a decent IT salary, but our mortgage payment was more than 1/3 of my net pay. Not good. I would have lost the house and my family would have been on the street. No savings and debt spelled disaster. Even though we didn’t buy the latest gadgets and attempted to keep up with the Jones’s, we were getting to the end of the cul-de-sac. It wasn’t just that sustainable property was needed. Rather, a change of our perception of what is “normal” was needed. Dave Ramsey spelled out the “debt snowball” method of paying off debt. By the time I heard this I had already created a spreadsheet on what debts to pay off first and my plan was in line with his advice. It is common sense but God showed me then I was onto something.
I was looking for one acre or more of farmable land, with a creek or spring.An existing house would be nice but not a deal breaker, a well, septic tank,trees. It was important that the property was on high ground or at least level ground rather than a depression.
Searching for the Property
I contacted a realtor that I knew and we started searching for foreclosure property towards the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, in the range of40 to 50 miles from our current “matrix” life in the suburbs. We were looking roughly 70 to 90 miles from Atlanta. Not the ideal distance but you have to be practical within your own reality. If it were 200 miles away there would be little opportunity to put in the time needed to prepare the property for self-sufficiency. And we couldn’t just move there with kids in school and job requirements demanded it.
After several months of searches and visits to properties, we put a bid on14 acres 90 miles from Atlanta. But, no easement, shared well with the electricity provided from the neighbor, it was a good property/ But God will tell you if you are forcing something you shouldn’t be, and we were. We finally came across 6.5 acres with a house that had “little value”. That is what the bank ad stated. This took about a year to find something that met our minimum needs but wasn’t the “Ideal” property, as I really don’t believe the ideal property exists. We found something that could be worked with.
Finding the Property
The property was listed as having “city water and sewer” but I could tell from Google Maps that there might be a creek on the property. I drove to the property after work and the place was in a slight shamble condition. It was a neglected house, 1,500 square foot modular home, but built well. Neighbor 30 yards away and their property had a garden (Ding. These people were country folk). The creek bordered the property, it was on a well and septic as the bank write up was incorrect. Took my wife the next day and before we were done walking the property, she said this is a done deal. We put a bid on the property in 2011.They asked $45,000, we offered $30,000, and they took it. With a 401k wire transfer, in one month we owned it.
Met the neighbor when I had a building inspector at the property. A countryman, he asked me if I hunted. I answered, “No, but I want to.” To which he replied, “I can show you.” This is where God came in again. This man had been raised in Tennessee and had hunted, gardened, chopped wood, and was raised in a house that had only an outhouse. (He used a flush toilet for the first time at school in the first grade.) He also knows construction and electrical work. His lifestyle is what I wanted. And he was willing to teach. We became best friends. He is always playing around with ideas. One day he put a square box2’ x 2’ x 2’ cube with wire cloth on 5 of the six sides. The bottom being open. Dug a trench into the box, put nuts in the trench and inside. Birds go in but are not smart enough to get out. He catches doves and other birds on a daily basis. Although he lets them go, if we put ten of those out, we could eat meat every day with no hunting, shooting, tracking etc… Kind of like a bird garden. He started flintnapping his own arrowheads and within a year was making arrows you would believe were made by Indians. Spears, blowguns, dead falls,snares, hunting, fishing, archery, skinning and cleaning, rocket stoves… the list goes on what this man has done, taught himself just by doing it. To top it off, his wife is a nurse. Tell me that wasn’t God putting us there.
Buying the Property
After closing the first thing we did was to fix the issues with the house.The well was not functioning, the bathroom had been gutted except for a commode. The master bath was in shambles, holes in the wall, some subflooring was soft from leaks. Dysfunctional kitchen, no water heater. (It had been ripped out.) Decks were old, falling apart and not safe,. A soffit was missing on one part of the house and birds had nested. You should get the picture. We learned as we went and did it one step at a time, seeking advice from whatever source we could get it.
Within six months most of the issue with the house were fixed, wood flooring, paint, holes patched both bathrooms rebuilt, well fixed. No more outside latrine. Most of this work my wife and children had never done but with the knowledge of the neighbor, the Internet, books and the drive, we did this with no contractors. We learned a lot. We were not living there but were there every weekend. Then the storm hit and it made us committed to getting a storm shelter.
After weeks of research, getting bids on different types of storm shelters,I concluded the most economical type that would provide shelter and a root cellar was a semi buried galvanized culvert pipe. 8’ x 30’ buried 5’ deep and covered. The way the land is I could not have buried it as drainage would have been a problem. Hired a contractor friend that put this in, brick walls on either end, solid steel door and concreted and brick box as an entrance and a 4’ x 20’ pipe as an alternative exit in case the main entrance became blocked. This stays 20 cooler in the summer and although humidity is a slight problem, we can store food and supplies knowing that it would be safe from any storm or tornado.
No garage. Spent $3,000 on a 40’ CONEX sea container. Bought a tractor (a1951 Ford 8N, with a bush hog mower). Later bought a Disc Harrow and scrape blade, then a single turning plow, and boom. This tractor is an almost indestructible piece of equipment that has served many purposes. The culvert pipes, tractor, sea container all were bought with cash–cash that we had saved because we were out of debt. This could not have happened had we not yet paid off our debt.
First year garden was small but we were learning. Taught ourselves to can the products.
Our next garden was an experiment using Silt Fence material to keep the weeds down, automatic watering system (we still don’t live there) using 275gallon totes, sprinkler timer and vales, drip line and soaker hose. We managed to can about 70 jars of food. Not much, but getting better.
I read about NoTill Gardening. Purchased 60 cubic yards of compost to make 40’ long,unframed grow beds. We are planting Winter wheat and crimson clover as a cover crop this winter. Researching companion garden plants for next summers garden.All research was via the internet and county extension office. Once again, paid cash that would not have been available if we had debt.
Built a green house as a starter house / fragile plant house. This is all a learning experience that you can only get by doing.
Learning and learning more. The moral of this story is that in six years we went from debt and no fall-back position to a position that if we have to leave for any reason to this property, it will not affect us to a devastating level. It will be a transition and there will be many things we will be surprised by but because we have been experimenting with irrigation, water collection,gardening, hunting, trapping, survival plant knowledge and have pre-positioned the resources and knowledge necessary to survive (two man hand saws, wood gasifier, wood, archery, canning supplies, seeds, sustainable gardening practices, compost bins, worms, welding, fire making, hunting, skinning and cleaning, medicinal herbs knowledge, local plant knowledge… the list goe son), if our lives fall apart we can rebuild and have a decent chance of making it. None of this, nor the experience and knowledge gained by doing, was possible in the situation we put ourselves in by borrowing money.
If we didn’t take that first step of getting out of debt, the anxiety of the unknown would have been a big part of our lives and the best we could do is have a bug out or refugee plan. There would have been no way for us to do any of this.
Now for the best part: I am not the smartest man in the world, I have no financial resources other than what my wife and I make at our jobs. I never worked construction, worked with electrical, farmed, hunted, welded or operated a tractor before getting out of debt. I had been camping, hiking and fishing before but never had the wilderness skills to survive by eating pine tree bark,Solomon seal, greenbrier and use other trees as antiseptics or fever reducers.
There is no reason in the world you cannot do the same thing we did. Don’t think it is too late, or that I did it at the right time and that opportune time frame has now passed. It hasn’t. Start now and with each success you will gain confidence and your momentum will build. Each skill you learn is one more that you didn’t have before. It is better to be 10 steps on a 1,000 mile journey than wondering how to walk. God speed, – R.T. in Georgia