Making a Living in the Hinterboonies

One of the great quandaries faced by many American preppers is that their desire to move to a lightly-populated rural region is usually not consistent with the ability to earn a good living. Let’s face it: The job opportunities in the Hinterboonies are scarce. Unless you are retired, self-employed, or you are in a high-demand profession (such as medicine or dentistry), then it might be difficult to have the same standard of living that you’ve enjoyed in an urban or suburban community.

Part of the following repeats what I wrote in SurvivalBlog back in 2009 about the sorts of jobs that will likely survive an economic recession or depression, but it is still sound advice.

Even if you are currently employed somewhere in a “safe and secure” job, keep in mind that there are no absolutely secure jobs. You could have a small town civil service job, for example at a water treatment plant. But what if the city or county that you work for goes bankrupt? You could be laid off in a heartbeat. The phrase “under new management” often means firing you and hiring the nephew or an old pal of the new boss. The fictional character Sarah Conner said it best: “No one is ever safe.” So hedge your bets.

I recommend that you develop a second stream of income through self-employment. Typically, this can be found in a moonlighting service job, or a home-based Internet mail order business. To have the opportunity to pursue an online business venture or to telecommute, find a rural community that is served by high speed Internet. You probably don’t need gigabit speed (like Chattanooga), but try to find a place with at least moderate speed DSL Internet service available. Better connectivity means more options. Poor connectivity (at “dial-up” speed) means fewer options.

I’ve often encouraged my consulting clients to develop a second income stream. Why is this important? “Living off the land”-style self sufficiently is an admirable and commendable goal. But even if you are living truly “debt free”, you will still have property taxes to pay. That means that you will need at least a part-time depression-proof revenue stream in the event that you lose your primary job.

Successful home-based businesses usually center around filling otherwise unfilled needs. Find something that your neighbors buy or rent or a service that they “hire” on a regular basis that currently requires a 40+ mile drive “to town”. Those are your potential niches.

A successful recession-proof home-based business is likely to be one where the demand for your goods and services is consistent, even in a weak economy. These include septic tank pumping, home security/locksmithing, care for the very young and the very old, installing home security webcams, and escapist diversions such as Blu-Ray movie sales or rentals. (It is noteworthy that the movie industry was one of the few sectors of the U.S. economy that prospered in the 1930s.)

Another market segment that prospered all through the Great Depression of the 1930s was repair businesses. Obviously, in hard economic times, people try to make do with what they have rather that throwing things way and replacing them. So repair businesses are a natural. If it is some small appliance that you could repair that could be mailed from and back to the customer, so much the better. (That way you could have a nationwide business rather than just a local one.) This might include: DVD player repair or laptop computer repair.

It’s a Dirty Job, But Someone Has to Do It

If you want to work for someone else, yet still be employed in a recession-proof field, then consider the dirty jobs. These are some of the least likely to suffer a layoff. In Japan, these are called the “Three-K” jobs: kitsui (“hard”), kitanai (“dirty”), and kiken (“dangerous”). If you are willing to take on any of the Three K jobs, do cheerful and hard work, and have exemplary attendance, then you will likely have a job that will carry you all the way through a deep recession or even an economic depression. If times get truly Schumeresque and you get laid off, then please be willing to “think outside the box” and consider taking a Three K job. Some of these are low level city and county payroll jobs. By low level, I mean things like sanitation worker, animal control officer, sewer technician, solid waste transfer station worker, highway maintenance worker, and so forth.

Mike Rowe (of “Dirty Jobs” fame) recently made a video for new graduates, titled: Don’t Follow Your Passion. Take a few minutes to watch it. I concur with his view.

Think about it: A steady job beats no job. Don’t let your family starve or end up homeless. There is no shame in accepting good old-fashioned hard work. If you take a job that brings in only one-half of your existing income, consider that you’ll actually come out ahead of any of your contemporaries who are laid off more than half of each year. Further, you will have uninterrupted benefits, such as health insurance, that they will also lack. A menial, low-paying job is better than no job.

One other important point is that you need to be willing to work several part-time jobs. This redundancy could prove crucial, if one of your ventures fails. (And odds are, at least one of them will fail.)

Some suggested stable employment possibilities:

  1. Mining and manufacturing processes that, because of shipping expenses, cannot practicably be moved offshore.
  2. Service industry jobs that are essential and non-discretionary. Let me differentiate so that you’ll know what to avoid. “Discretionary” would be jobs like pilates instructor, hairdresser, massage therapist, and manicurist. Non-discretionary jobs would include mortician, sanitation worker, and emergency room doctor.
  3. Retail sales (face-to-face or mail order) of crucial items, such as soap, vegetable garden seeds, vitamins, spices, batteries, et cetera. The value of concentrating on items like these is that there will still be orders, even in a deep economic depression.
  4. Retail sales (face-to-face or mail order) of “comfort” items. In the midst of an economic depression, people will crave escape. Blu-Ray movies, video games, escapist books, and MP3 players are good examples. (To explain the last item: In really remote areas where there is no cell phone service available, few people own smartphones. There, dedicated MP3 players are still popular.)
  5. Repair work. (Repairing small appliances, laptop PCs, chainsaws, boat engines, guns, vacuum cleaners, and so forth.)
  6. Sales of a patentable small product that you can you manufacture at home (or a ta shop in a small town) and sell nationwide through the Internet. (A patent is important, to give you several years of production without competition from China or other foreign countries.)

Be Proactive

I have observed that the folks who find good-paying employment in a rural area are generally those who are proactive. If you sit around and read the “Help Wanted” ads, then you will probably be disappointed. Your best bets are to either bring an income with you (via telecommuting) or to launch your own businesses. If possible, get those businesses established and profitable before you make your move.

In closing, I encourage you to make the move to the hinterboonies. It can be a great place to raise a family. But beforehand, be sure that you can support your family. – JWR