the barefoot budget

unconventional grit for a mindful life


The Natural Progression, or Getting My Life Back

To me, the heart of homesteading is regaining control over my life – control over what I consume, control over my impact on this planet, and control over how I spend my time. I’m 27 and I’m transitioning from a Standard American Lifestyle to a self-reliant lifestyle. I’ve been stuck in the middle for two years now, only an infant in this journey to retire early, live off the land, and teach others how to live simply, sustainably, and in sync with the environment. Days are long, full, and stressful, attempting to balance the lifestyle I want with the demands of my paid employment, relationship, and personal health. I’m still learning and having growing pains, and I hope to one day be able to stabilize the balance. Because the problem is, once you take up this lifestyle, there’s no going back. At least for me there’s not.

There’s a natural progression to this lifestyle, a progression that has no end goal or pinnacle. I want to talk about bread because I LOVE bread. I used to buy a loaf of store-bought bread every week and I didn’t dare read the ingredient label because ignorance is bliss. One Christmas, my mom gave me a bread machine. I started cranking out loaves of white bread on a regular basis. I loved my bread machine for a couple years – it was easy, no fuss, and I got to see the ingredients for myself. But the loaves always came out kinda misshapen and bland. I decided to venture into homemade bread, kneaded by hand and baked in the oven. I used the cheapest flour I could find, which usually came in $5/ 50 pound bags from Costco. As much as I wanted homemade bread for taste, I also wanted to save a buck.

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Midwestern Vacation

This past week, we trouped to northern Michigan for the annual Eriksen family reunion! Although it was A LOT (14 hours each way) of driving, we handled it like champs and made the trip up and back in four days.

In between the driving we found all sorts of fun to get into. On the way up, we stopped at Mammoth Cave National Park and took a cave tour + a wonderful hike along the Green River. We stayed at the campground and enjoyed our favorite camp dinner of roasted veggies and Field Roast sausages. The next day, we visited two breweries – Dark Horse Brewing Company in Marshall, MI on the way up, and then met my family at Perrin Brewing in Grand Rapids, MI. Saturday brought family hikes on greenways along rivers and another brewery – Rockford Brewing Company in Rockford, MI. After lunch + beers, Andrew and I laid in the grass at the riverfront park, him napping while I laid my head on his chest and watched the crowds. Saturday night of the reunion is always good food, good drinks (homemade wine and WHISKEY from my uncle!) and lots and lots of euchre. Southerners – love ’em, but they do not know how to play cards. Sunday we began the sojourn home, stopping at the Indiana Sand Dunes National Seashore where we saw the skyline of Chicago from across Lake Michigan. Afterwards, we picked up one of my best friends from college across the border and headed to Three Floyds Brewing Company for hoppy beer and lots of laughs. Then we drove the grueling 11 hours home.

Four breweries, two hikes, one cave, and lots of time with the people I love. I call that a win. Times like these make me miss my people so badly. I’ve never been able to connect with folks and make close friends in Athens (besides Andrew of course). Most of my family is hundreds of miles away, with my closest friends either hundreds or thousands of miles away. I’m trying to cherish the time we have together, but it often makes me sad, even depressed. I feel heavy this week. But I keep thinking of the past weekend and giggling at the good memories. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.


On Expensive Material Possessions

One of the misconceptions I get from a lot of folks when I share our lifestyle and savings rate is – ‘wow, y’all must live like paupers! I could never live like you! I could never give up x, y, z.’ HA. Please, never get the impression that we live on the cheap. We just bought a THREE HUNDRED dollar water filter last week. There it is in the picture, all shiny and new! Did I mention we’re also going on a caving adventure this weekend to the tune of almost $200? And that Andrew just bought over $150 worth of books about mushrooms?

There’s a huge difference between being frugal and being cheap, and I think when most folks encounter frugal heroes their mind immediately assumes, “these people are cheap.” This assumption is driven by the inherent consumerism and materialism in our culture. We are taught from a young age to measure everything from self-worth to success to even happiness in terms of dollars and possessions. We’ve made a sport out of ‘shopping’ – so many Americans feel the best way to spend time with loved ones and amuse themselves is by going out and buying shit. Our lives are a never-ending race to fill our oversized homes with as many possessions and knick knacks as possible. When one knick knack falls out of fashion or becomes obsolete, we toss it and run to the store to buy another one to replace it.

Frugal heroes choose not to play this game, and thus are seen as subversive by mainstream America. This leads to a perception that we are somehow ‘lacking’ the experience of buying shit,  giving us the label of ‘cheap.’ However, cheapness and frugality are two entirely different things.

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Blueberry Cornmeal Skillet Cake

We’ve been getting tons of blueberries from the farm through our CSA. I’ve made muffins, biscuits, and smoothies with them, and was starting to run out of ideas. I was perusing Colleen’s badass blog Grow Forage Cook Ferment and came across this recipe for Blueberry Cornmeal Skillet Cake from Quinn Veon of Reformation Acres‘s book Cake Stand. Seeing as Andrew handed down a household dictum a few nights prior to start baking more in the cast iron, I knew I had to try it.

Now, I don’t like to bake. I do bread, but that’s about it. I don’t like eating sweet foods, especially anything with refined sugars and flours. Baking makes a mess. And I generally don’t have the patience required to measure everything out and do all the steps in perfect order.

This must have been the perfect recipe for me because damn, that is by far the prettiest thing I have ever baked in my entire life. I often forget that half the fight is finding nutritious ways to put up the harvest. To make this baking project healthier, I used whole wheat flour and left out the white sugar, adding some extra raw honey to compensate. I also used 0% Fage greek yogurt for a big protein boost. I whipped this thing up in 15 minutes and cleaned up in 5. I’m so proud, I had to share it on my blog!

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I think I finally have dancer, or natarajasana down.

My yoga practice is not something I talk about. Not on the internet, not with friends or family, not even with Andrew. In fact, I go into my room and shut the door to practice alone. I practice in my office with the door closed on my lunch breaks. It all kinda feels like a big secret. I guess I don’t want people to think I’m some pretentious yoga nut. But my practice couldn’t be more integral to my life. It is the one thing I make sure I find time for every single day. The garden might not get watered, I might miss a little sleep, but I never forgo my yoga practice. I bring my mat on vacation and at least find the time for a forward fold and some moments of meditation.

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Mid-Year Spending and Savings

Sox enjoying a Sunday morning Bloody Mary

A quick rundown of my spending and saving during the first half of 2016. This is mostly for my purposes, but I thought some folks might be interested in the hard numbers. Link to 2015 end of the year roundup.

Christine’s Finances

Total Earned (after-tax): $21,152

Total Spent: $8,451 ($8,050 halfway 2015)

Total Saved: $12,701

Percent Saved: 59.62%

Christine’s Wealth Distributions

Vanguard: $29,694 (index funds)

Checking: $3,350

457(b): $3,366

Total wealth: $36,410

We hold separate bank accounts, and our combined household wealth is now well over $50,000. We are halfway to our first $100K!

Click through for categorical breakdowns.

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Why Retire Early?

I’ve been feeling all out of whack lately. Tonight, I forced myself out of the house after the rain stopped for a short walk. I thought about my life and why I’ve been so sad lately. I thought about where I’m going, and what it’s all worth. As I thought about my goals, I thought it would be nice to do a little realignment on this blog. To write something about the ‘why’ of my current lifestyle…

I don’t talk about money and early retirement much anymore on this blog, as the little homestead has taken over my life … but the concept of retiring early from traditional paid employment is still a central tenant of my life and guides (almost) all of my decision making.

I am constantly asked ‘why.’ Sometimes it’s as direct as, “why do you want to retire early?” Other times, it’s masked in comments like, “if you had the right job you wouldn’t feel this way” or “you’ll get sick of not working eventually.” There are a lot of misguided ideas about what it means to retire early and the plausibility of the whole thing. Many folks, upon hearing my plans, either laugh in disbelief or comment that “they could never do it.” Other folks are confused, and don’t seem to understand why one would want to retire early and what one would possibly do without a full time job. Today I attempt to answer these questions.

The truth is I have a great job. It’s in a field I enjoy, I get to be outside, and sometimes I feel like I meaningfully impact our citizens’ lives. But the 40-hours a week job continuum bums me out big time. First, it leaves me too exhausted to devote time and energy to the things I actually like to do (exercise, spend time with loved ones, adventure), as well as the things I want to do to work towards the life I want to live (homesteading, self-provisioning, self-educating). Second, I bring the stressful aspects of my job home with me and it negatively affects my health (physical – poor eating choices, not enough sleep; mental – headaches, depression, anxiety). Third, my job tethers me to a place I do not desire to live any longer. And fourth, my job provides me no intellectual or spiritual fulfillment, so I have to seek fulfillment in other things … except I’m too exhausted from my job to do those things … and we start back at grievance number one.

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