Goals

Self-Sufficiency and Resilience – Plans upon Returning to Australia

 

Back in January of this year I wrote a post about Self Sufficiency, Independence and Lifestyle Planning . In it, I explained how I wanted to become less reliant on the current industrial system and to take more control of my own life. I’ve achieved a lot since then, but knowing that we were moving back to Australia in less than a year meant that I put off some changes. Now that we are only about 10 weeks away from returning home, I thought it would be worthwhile revisiting that post; to envisage what I want our new lifestyle to look like and to outline some goals for the next few years.

1. Getting off the Economic Grid

In 2010 I finally paid off the last of my mortgages. Now that I’m no longer paying any interest, my cashflow is healthy and I’m saving a large percentage of my after-tax income. Knowing that we have to buy a car and appliances when we get back, my priority now is to save for those big-ticket items. The last thing I want to do is go into debt to buy depreciating assets.

Upon return to Australia, my income drops but Brendan will be back at work so it should even out. We don’t relish the thought of both being back to full-time work, but at least in the short-term we see that it is necessary. We both have secure jobs for the moment, so we plan to use this opportunity to save like crazy. Comparative to the rest of the world, the Australian economy looks reasonably healthy at present. But in this globally connected world I can see that a number of potential crises could impact Australia quite heavily within the decade. I still think the biggest risks come from the Australian Housing Bubble and the reliance of the Australian economy on China. I anticipate that any crisis in the European and American economies (looking more and more likely) will result in rapidly rising interest rates in Australia. Australian homeowners are already struggling with their mortgages while the cash rate is 4.5%. How will they cope if it increases to 9%? 

Holding cash in an economic environment like this just makes so much sense to me. We are using the current ‘recovery’ to prepare for the hard times we predict will come as the global debt bubble unravels.

2. Reducing Energy Dependence

Cheap energy will not last forever and my family and friends in Australia are already seeing rising prices, especially on the electricity bill. There are a few lifestyle decisions we’ve made which should help us to reduce our energy dependence once we are back in Australia.

Firstly, we are renting a detached townhouse just a 15 minute walk to the city centre. It has any excellent walk score which was really important to me. My daily commute to work will be about 4km each way, so I’ll easily be able to do that by bicycle and Brendan will be able to do the same to his work. By carefully choosing where we wanted to live we can reduce our dependence on a car. We will still buy one car, but I anticipate that it will remain in the garage for much of the time. Removing the requirement to buy a second car also saves us a lot of money.

In selecting what car to buy, we have been referring to the Green Vehicle Guide. It’s an excellent website which rates Australian vehicles based on greenhouse and air pollution emissions. It also provides statistics on how much fuel each vehicle consumes. We are very keen to find a fuel efficient, second-hand car.

We’ll also be using the Government’s energy rating guide when shopping for energy-efficient appliances. Our new home is centrally heated with natural gas and we are hoping that the smaller size will reduce our heating expenses. Otherwise, we plan to rug up in order to avoid using too much energy to heat our living space.

3. Improving Food and Water Security

My first priority once we’ve settled into our new home it to begin stockpiling some food and water for emergencies. Knowing that we can sit out a short distruption to services is very comforting. I would never want to put myself in the position where I had to rush off to the shops in a time of emergency to stock up on food and water. It also makes good economic sense to stock up on more than you need. Food is increasing in cost faster than just about any investment right now and certainly faster than the rate of inflation. When things are on sale, we’ll simply stock up and we’ll buy in bulk every six months or so.

I’ve already identified a food co-op not too far from my house where we can buy bulk-goods without all the packaging you get in the supermarket. It also looks like they stock fresh fruit and vegetables.

We don’t have a lot of room for it, but we intend growing some of our own food. The courtyard we have is not very big, but we’ve been surprised how much we’ve been able to grow in our small courtyard in California. Of course, the climate in California is much more condusive to growing food all year round than Canberra, but I’m sure we’ll learn as we go along.

4. Building Community

It’s important to me to get involved in the community when we get home. We feel like we’ve been in limbo for the last three years, but once we are back in Australia I hope we feel a bit more settled. We already have a lot of friends in Canberra, but I’m very keen to meet more like-minded people as well.

I’m especially excited about checking out SEE-change, the local Canberra community for creating a sustainable future.

I finally feel like things are falling into place. I’m now at the point where I can visualise our new life back in Australia and I’m even starting to get a little excited about the move.

Photo by : jef safi

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Creating a New Future Worth Living

Yesterday at lunch I was talking to a friend who reads this blog. We were talking about hope and how he thinks I have none because of the gloomy things I write about. I told him that wasn’t true in the slightest. In fact, apart from the occasional slip into doom-mode I am usually a very happy person. Yes, I can see the predicament we are in and I choose not to stick my head in the sand, but that doesn’t mean I’m pessimistic and hold no hope for my future.

I’ll admit that when I first started learning about the confluence of the triple threats of Economic collapse, Energy depletion and Environmental devastation I was a little panicked. OK…I was a lot panicked. Most people who discover these issues will probably have a similar experience and more than likely will continue to cycle back to these feelings on occasion. However, everyone who confronts these issues has to work out for themselves how to stay motivated, while not panicking or agonising over the future.

We’ve all had expectations about what the future would hold for us, and have made plans based on what we thought we knew about the world. When we discover that we will likely be living a very different future it can be disconcerting to say the least. 

I’ve found the best way to deal with this is to transform my relationship to the future; to use this time as an opportunity to reassess my values and determine how I really want to be living my life.  While I have very little control over what the world will become in the next decade, I have a lot of control over the role I will play in it.  For this reason it’s important for me to create a new future worth living.

Sure, many of the roles I play in my current life will disappear. I’ll probably not be an aerospace engineer or frequent world traveller in the decades to come. However there are new roles which I will step into. I think about these often and while I have no concrete idea of what my life will look like in ten years time I can imagine some of the things I’ll be spending my time on. Perhaps I’ll be a mother, most likely I’ll be supporting aging parents, I hope I’m helping my community to prepare for energy descent.  I imagine I am living a simple, frugal life filled with nature, relationships and rich experiences.

I encourage you to start thinking about what future you think will be worth living.  Yes, you’ll have to let go of the future you thought was ahead of you, but designing a new future for you and your family can be an exciting exercise. Designing your own future rather than just letting it happen to you can be very empowering. I urge everyone to make the most of this opportunity.

Photo by: alicepopkorn

The journey of 100 posts starts with a single line!

Today marks a milestone. 100 posts! I thought I should celebrate with a little look back at my journey since last July, when I started this blog.

This blog was conceived because I had a mind full of thoughts that needed writing down. I’ve found the process cathartic and illuminating at the same time. Usually, as I go about my day I’ll have a swirl of thoughts and emotions running through my head. If I grab onto one of those thoughts and start to write it down, the process of making it legible for others forces me to work through the issue myself. For that moment in time I am focussed on the issue and can give it my undivided attention. I have enjoyed the process and I love the journey this blog has taken me on over the last seven months. 

Along the way, people have come along and read what I have to say. I wasn’t really expecting that and didn’t set out to get an audience, but I’m richer for it. The little blog community I have become part of enriches me in a way I can’t fully articulate. Every day I learn something new, see things in a different way or get inspired to take on new challenges. I thank all of you for that.

The blog started out as a place to share my thoughts on voluntary simplicity, sustainable living and my gardening efforts.

It then morphed into an exploration of the triple crises confronting us: Economy, Energy & Environment. I started my World Changing Wednesday series to help myself better understand the predicaments confronting us in this most historic of times. I will continue writing these types of articles as the mood takes me. A get a lot of visitors to my site who are obviously looking for this type of information. I hope I can help people understand how all these issues are interconnected and how together they will make the next couple of decades very challenging times for us all.

Towards the end of last year I was away a lot with my job and I lost my blogging mojo for a while. I gave myself permission to have a break which was a good thing. The last thing I want is for this blog to become a chore.

Anyway I’m back into the new year and my focus has moved more towards personal preparedness for likely changes in the coming decades. I’m focussing on Self Sufficiency, Independence and Lifestyle Planning. Less talk, more action! I got myself out of debt and we have been considering our options for where best to adapt to a world of less complexity and expensive energy. I’m learning new skills.

Who knows where this blog will go in the future. I haven’t set any boundaries around it, so it’s free to become whatever I need it to be at the time. I’m also keen to provide information that people want to read about. If you can think of any topics I should cover, please feel free to leave me a comment.

Here’s to another 100 posts sometime down the track. I wonder what I’ll be talking about in another six months times?

I wish I was Boy Scout – I want to Earn these Merit Badges

Last week I mentioned that I want to learn more skills. A number of coincident events got me to thinking about the Scout’s and how great it is for teaching young people worthwhile skills. Since we are never too old to learn new things, I’ve decided to focus on gaining some new skills this year. Using the Boy Scouts of America Merit Badge system as a guide, I’ve decided on some badges I want to earn this year:

First Aid:

Administering First Aid is something everyone should know how to do. The reasons are obvious, so I won’t go into them other than to say that you never know when you might be first on the scene of a car crash or have someone have an accident while out hiking. As part of my job I used to have to do a refresher First Aid course every couple of years, but I don’t think I’ve done one in the last 5 years. It’s time to refresh those skills.

Because I’ve undertaken first aid course before I can probably just refresh my memory with a couple of books I have at home. One of the best investments I’ve made is the 493 page tome, When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency

My local Fire Department offers CPR courses every month for $25, which I might consider doing. 

Emergency Preparedness:

While I was looking up information on First Aid courses, I came across another fantastic initiative in my community: The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).  I think I’m going to sign up for their Spring training course which covers the following classes and skills.

Module 1 — Disaster Preparedness. Introduction to types of disasters and the role of CERTs in a disaster.

Module 2 — Disaster Fire Suppression. Basic fire suppression strategy, fire fighting resources and fire fighting techniques.

Module 3 — Disaster Medical Operations. Treatment techniques for life-threatening conditions, principles of Triage, establishing treatment areas, and more.

Module 4 — Disaster Light Search. Search and rescue priorities, size-up strategies, and rescuer safety.

Module 5 — Terrorism/Disaster Psychology/Team Organization. Potential threats and how to identify them, CERT activation and Preparedness. The post-disaster emotional environment, the CERT organization and decision making.

Personal Fitness:

Working on my personal fitness is one of my primary goals in 2010. I aim to be in better shape, have more energy and gain confidence in my bodies ability to do whatever it is I put my mind to.

Late last year I had a complete physical including blood tests. Everything was  within normal range so I was happy that my first two years in America had not given me high blood-pressure or anything that might lead to diabetes, despite the pounds I put on.

As part of earning my personal fitness badge I aim to do the following:

  • Get back within my healthy weight range
  • Increase strength and endurance, through a regular weight lifting routine.
  • Eat a nutritious, healthy diet which consists of foods that are as much as possible: minimally processed, local, organic and fair trade. 

Hiking

Hiking is the activity I love to do to keep my body and mind in shape. Walking packs power into my legs and makes my heart and lungs healthy and strong. Getting out into the outdoors challenges my senses and makes me happy.

To achieve this badge there are a few things I need to learn/work on.

  • Know first aid for injuries or illnesses that could occur while hiking, including hypothermia, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, frostbite, dehydration, sunburn, sprained ankle, insect stings, tick bites, snakebite, blisters, hyperventilation, and altitude sickness.
  • Adhere to the principles of Leave No Trace.
  • Develop a plan for conditioning myself for 10-mile hikes.
  • Plan and undertake five 10-mile hikes, including map routes, a clothing and equipment list, and a list of items for a trail lunch.
  • Take a hike of 20 continuous miles in one day.

Camping:

I used to go camping with my family as a kid and last year Brendan and I went a couple of times. I mostly relied on him to pack everything we needed, so this year I want to work on my own camping skills.

To achieve this badge there are a few things I need to learn/work on.

  • Know first aid for and how to prevent injuries or illnesses that could occur while camping, including hypothermia, frostbite, heat reactions, dehydration, altitude sickness, insect stings, tick bites, snakebite, blisters, and hyperventilation.
  • Plan an overnight trek using a topographical map and compass OR a topographical map and a GPS receiver.
  • Prepare a check list of clothing and gear needed for overnight campout in both warm and cold weather.
  • Know the importance of camp sanitation and know a couple of ways to treat water.
  • Know how to use different types of lightweight cooking stoves and be able to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner on the trail.
  • Know how to make a fire using materials in the local environment.

Climbing:

Brendan has been climbing for a couple of years and our friends back in Australia are keen for us to become their climbing partners when we get home. I’ve been indoor climbing, but have yet to learn the skills required for rock climbing. Lucky for me, Brendan is an instructor so I should be able to learn what I need to know from him.

  • Know first aid for and how to prevent injuries or illnesses that could occur during climbing activities, including heat and cold reactions, dehydration, stopped breathing, sprains, abrasions, fractures, rope burns, blisters, snakebite, and insect bites or stings.
  • Learn how the difficulty of climbs are classified. 
  • Learn the verbal signals required during every climb and rappel, and while bouldering.
  • Learn the kinds of rope acceptable for use in climbing and rappelling and know how to care for rope to prevent damage.
  • Learn the different types of knots required for belaying, climbing, or rappelling.
  • Learn how to belay a climber using a top rope as well as a lead climber.
  • Learn how to climb different types of routes on rock face.
  • Refresh myself on how to rappel down rock face.
  • Learn how to store rope, hardware, and other gear used for climbing, rappelling, and belaying.

Backpacking:

After I’ve worked on my hiking and camping skills, the next logical step is the Backpacking merit badge. I’ve always wanted to undertake more backpacking trips. The last one I did was over 10 years ago when I was much younger and fitter and it was tough work. I want to work up to being able to go away on backpacking trips later this year.

  • Develop a list of essential items to be carried on any backpacking trek, while limiting the weight and bulk to be carried.
  • Adhere to the principles of Leave No Trace while backpacking, including the proper methods of handling human and other wastes.
  • Know what to do if I get lost.
  • Know how to prepare properly for and deal with inclement weather.
  • Plan and undertake a backpacking hike of at least three days.

Cycling:

I currently ride my bike to and from work most days, however Brendan does all my repairs and tune ups. I need to be a little more self-reliant and know how to do these things for myself. As part of Brendan’s new bike business he’ll be offering bike maintenance course, so I guess I can start there.

  • Know first aid for injuries or illnesses that could occur while cycling, including hypothermia, heat reactions, frostbite, dehydration, insect stings, tick bites, snakebite, blisters, and hyperventilation.
  • Learn basic bike maintenance.
  • Learn the skills required for mountain biking on cross-country trails.
  • Plan and undertake two rides of 10 miles each, two rides of 15 miles each, and two rides of 25 miles each.
  • Plan and undertake a a 50-mile trip within eight hours.

Energy:

Saving, producing, and using energy wisely is something we all should be doing and I was pleasantly surprised to see this merit badge on the scout’s list. While I already minimise the amount of energy I use, I suspect there is still so much more to learn.

  • Conduct an energy audit of my home and then record what we did to reduce our energy use.
  • Know the types of energy used in our home (electricity, oil, liquid petroleum, and natural gas) and know how each is delivered and measured, and the current cost.
  •  Know ways to use energy resources more wisely. Consider the energy required for the things you do and use on a daily basis (cooking, showering, using lights, driving, watching TV, using the computer). Know how you can change your energy use through reuse and recycling.
  • Identify and describe examples of energy waste in our community, suggest possible ways to reduce this waste and describe the idea of trade-offs in energy use. Examine how the changes would lower costs, reduce pollution, or otherwise improve the community. Examine what changes to routines, habits, or convenience are necessary to reduce energy waste. Consider why people might resist the changes.
  • Learn which energy resources supply  most energy, the share of energy resources used by different countries, the proportion of energy resources used by homes, businesses, industry, and transportation, the fuels used to generate electricity and the world’s known and estimated primary energy resource reserves.
  • Learn what is being done to make FIVE of the following energy systems produce more usable energy. Understand the technology, cost, environmental impacts, and safety concerns.
    • Biomass digesters or waste-to-energy plants
    • Cogeneration plants
    • Fossil fuel power plants
    • Fuel cells
    • Geothermal power plants
    • Nuclear power plants
    • Solar power systems
    • Tidal energy, wave energy, or ocean thermal energy conversion devices
    • Wind turbines

Rifle Shooting:

I already know how to safely shoot firearms and have experience with rifles, air guns, 9mm and cross-bow. I wouldn’t say I’m always the best shot, but  I do OK and know how to be safe. I’ve already met most of the requirements for this badge, but there are a few things I need to learn first.

  • Understand the main points of the laws for owning and using guns in my community and state.
  • Understand the main points of hunting laws in your state and any special laws on the use of guns and ammunition.

Wilderness Survival:

I’d really like to learn some wilderness survival skills. It’s likely I’ll learn some of these skills while working on my other badges, but if I do get a chance this year, I’d like to add this badge to my list. 

  • Learn the priorities for survival in a backcountry or wilderness location. 
  • Know what steps I would take to survive in the following conditions:
    • Cold and snowy
    • Wet (forest)
    • Hot and dry (desert)
    • Windy (mountains or plains)
    • Water (ocean, lake, or river)
  • Put together a personal survival kit and know how each item in it could be useful.
  • Using three different methods (other than matches), build and light three fires. 
  • Know how to attract attention when lost, use a signal mirror and give ground-to-air signals.
  • Improvise a natural shelter.
  • Know how to protect myself from insects, reptiles, and bears.
  • Know how to treat water found in the outdoors to prepare it for drinking.

LS had some more good ideas for Peak Oil Prep badges. Anyone got more suggestions?

On getting out of Debt (I bought back my Freedom)

Two years ago I was in a lot of debt. I mean A LOT! We are talking seven figures here. I was ok with it because I considered it ‘good debt’ (i.e. it was all investment related). I earned a good wage, worked in a secure job, could comfortably make the repayments and my assets were consistently growing in value. I was also clueless about what debt really means.

I learned the hard way that debt is equivalent to slavery or at the very least forces you into indentured servitude. The minute that any of my lenders wanted the money back, I had to be prepared to give it. This happened to me a number of times in late 2008 as margin loans were called in because of falling stock prices. My lowest point was the day I received a margin call while on Christmas vacation in Mexico. Rushing around to arrange fund transfers internationally with limited communications was not the way I wanted to be spending the holidays. After a few months of sleepless nights I resolved to sell all my stocks, and I exchanged financial loss for some peace of mind. It was an expensive lesson, but at that point I had my eyes opened to the real world lurking beneath the veneer of modern life.

While shackled to my debt repayments I had no choice but to keep working, even if I hated my job. I had no freedom. I exchanged my time for money, and in the process I felt like my precious time was slipping away. I dearly wanted to work less and undertake some personal projects I was passionate about but instead I felt I needed to stick with a high paying job for the ‘security’ it afforded in making those loan repayments. In some ways I sold my soul for a salary.

Once I had my eyes opened to the true nature of money and debt, I made the decision to get out of debt entirely and do it as quickly as possible. I made some tough decisions about my assets and was fortunate enough to sell some Australian properties quickly for a reasonable price. I’m not sure how much bigger the Australian property bubble can inflate, so I felt quite comfortable with this decision. I’ve always been a saver, so tightening the budget wasn’t too difficult for me. Brendan and I stopped going out for coffee as often and we found lots of free things to do around town. In the process of simplifying our life, frugality was a natural outcome. Growing a vegetable garden, cooking at home and consuming less were not only good for our finances, they were also great steps to take towards a more sustainable and self-sufficient life. As my debt began reducing, the snowball effect started to kick in. With less debt came smaller interest payments and the whole process sped up.

As of today, I’m pleased to announce that I’m now debt free!

In less than 18 months, I’ve paid off seven figures worth of debt. I think I may have single-handedly killed the economy, but I’m OK with that.

It’s still hard for me to come to terms with it. This was a huge goal for me and proves once again that if you set your mind to something you can find ways to achieve that goal. I have bought back my freedom!

Now that I’m no longer shackled to loan repayments I can CHOOSE how I want to live. I can CHOOSE to leave my job and study basket weaving if I so desire. I can CHOOSE to work part-time. I can CHOOSE to move to the country and raise goats and chickens. I can CHOOSE to stay in my current job for as long as it remains fun. Whatever my dream, I am now FREE to pursue it.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those personal finance and frugality bloggers out there who inspired me in the initial part of this journey. I’d also like to thank my husband and best friend, Brendan for all his support. We make a good team.

So what next? Well I guess I want to encourage people to make this one of their goals. There are so many good reasons to break away from debt slavery and I intend to dedicate some future posts to this issue as well as some personal finance related topics based on issues we might encounter in an uncertain future .

Read more from me:

Voluntary Simplicity, Frugality and why all this economic stuff is relevant

photo by: Strevo

Finding our Place – Adapting in the City or Country?

Sharon Astyk wrote a very interesting post a couple of weeks ago about Reconsidering Cities. It got me to thinking about whether the right decision for us is a few acres outside a small country town or a large house block in a medium-sized city. We go back and forth on this question very regularly, so today I’d like to spend some time determining the pro’s and con’s of each option.

I apologise in advance if this is not at all interesting to anyone but me, but it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while. If you do happen to have some thoughts that I’ve missed, I’d appreciate if you could leave me a comment.

This thought process is part of our five-year plan. For the next five years we intend to keep working, saving money and maybe starting a family. We also intend to keep working on our self-sufficiency plans and making our vision become a reality. OK…onto the two options I can’t seem to decide upon.

1. Adapting in the City

There is really only one city I’d be interested in living in permanently when I return to Australia. Here are a few statistics to put it in perspective.

  • Population ~320,000
  • 31% of the population are aged between 20-39. Only 14% of the population are aged over 60.
  • Over 40% of the population are working in government administration and defence.
  • 68% travel to work in a car, 6% walk or cycle and 5% catch the bus.
  • Median Household income is $1400 per week.

It’s very much a government town, with much of the population well educated and well paid.

My vision for adapting in the city

We’ll be living in a small house (2-3 bedrooms) which is likely to be a post-war brick or weatherboard ex-government house. We’ll be on a block that’s about 500-600m² (5300-6500ft²) which is in the inner city area (within 7km drive of the city centre). We’ll be within walking distance of local shops, restaurants and cafes and can cycle to most places within the inner core of the city because it’s extremely bike friendly. We’ll have made our property as sustainable as possible given the climatic conditions:

  • By Australian standards, summers are hot and winters are cold (snow is rare although frosts occur 25% of the year). Good insulation is a must, as is an efficient heating source to stop us freezing in the winter.
  • We’ll add solar hot water and solar electricity panels to the roof. It’s a very sunny city, with mean daily sunshine of 7.6 hours/day and completely clear days 27% of the year.
  • The average annual rainfall is 629 mm (25 in) with an average of 108 rain days per year. Rainfall is reasonably evenly distributed throughout the year.  Unfortunately in El Nino years the region is prone to drought and bushfires. We’ll add rainwater tanks and a grey water system to the property to maximise the usage of all available water, but the lack of rainfall is a still a concern to me.

Most people require a car to live here, but the design of the city is such that small ‘townships’ have been developed to cater to residents. Each neighbourhood has at least a local store  and it wouldn’t be too difficult to ‘relocalise’ much of the population. Farmers markets and food co-ops are already up and running and bus transportation is available.

Because it’s a reasonable sized city, I imagine we’ll find plenty of like minded friends in the community and will find many opportunities to get involved with sustainable solutions to the issues of peak oil and environmental degradation. There is a fabulous weekly market where local people can sell their home-made products and home-produced food. There is plenty of culture with fantastic museums, art galleries and theatres. There are a lot of parks and recreational areas throughout the city, making it easy to get out into nature regularly. There are plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails all over the place, making it ideal for us.

Both Brendan and I will be working part-time jobs. I imagine I’ll be working in some type of government agency which deals with the environment or energy. Between us, we will probably be running a couple of home based businesses. With a population of young government workers, the disposable income in this city is likely to remain higher than what could be expected in other parts of the country. This would make this city a good place to operate small service-based businesses with low overheads.

Because of the high cost of living in this city, we’ll have to maintain an income within the real economy to pay for the mortgage, food, transport and services. We will not have a tremendous amount of free time available to become self-reliant, so we’ll be relying more on a large community over an extended area for food and services.

Pros of adapting in the city

  • Access to culture (museums, art galleries, theatres, cafes and restaurants)
  • Potentially a larger group of like minded people.
  • More options for employment. Jobs typically high paying. Better ability to run home-based businesses for income.
  • Lovely natural environment with great hiking and biking trails.
  • More opportunity to influence leaders and people to prepare for a future with less.

Cons of adapting in the city

  • Prone to drought and bushfires.
  • Vast distances to family.
  • Car dependent culture unless able to afford inner-city living.
  • Must keep working to afford the cost of living. (Rent alone would be a minimum of $500 per week for an old house)
  • Expensive housing. Median house prices in a low-priced inner-city suburb are more than 8 times the median income. Prices rose 230% last decade.

2. Adapting in the country

The town we are considering is Brendan’s childhood hometown which is located on a plateau at the top of a mountain range.

  • Population is 2643 including the outlying areas.
  • 25% of residents are over 60. Only 15 % are aged between 20-39. It is a town full of older residents as young people tend to head to the city after school.
  • 28% of the population work in agriculture, forestry & fishing.
  • 48% travel to work in a car, 19% work at home and 10% walk.
  • The median weekly household incomes is about $400-499 (compared with the state median of $800-899 per week).
  • The unemployment rate is double the state average.

My vision for adapting in the country

We’ll be living in a small home (2-3 bedrooms) which is likely to be an old weatherboard house. We’ll either be on a large block (1/4 – 3/4 acre) within walking distance of town or we’ll be on a few acres less than 10 km out of town.  If we are in town we’ll be within walking distance of local shops, schools and a couple of restaurants and cafes. We’ll have made our property as sustainable as possible given the climatic conditions:

  • Summers are mild and winters are cool and windy. The town doesn’t receive snow and frosts occur less than 10 days per year. Insulation will be important and a good wood fire will keep us warm on those cold, wet nights.  
  • The average annual rainfall is 1979 mm (78 in), making it the wettest town in the state. In a dry country, this much rain is a rarity. If we live out of town, we will not have to rely on town water at all.
  • Despite all the rain, there is still quite a bit of sun (31% of days throughout the year are clear and sunny). We’ll add solar hot water to the roof and may look to use a combination of solar and wind energy for electricity.

The local community is quite well set up and all the essentials are available for purchase in town. Some of the businesses are resupplied by traveling salesmen, which seems a quaint reference to a bygone era.  If it’s not available in town, we’d have to drive one hour to the coast or one hour inland to a small city. A local bus goes to the coast once per week for the day. The region is extremely fertile and plenty of food is being grown locally, although I’m not sure that a local food movement is up and running formally yet.

It’s a small town and much of the population is elderly. While this may be good for learning skills from our elders, I’m a bit concerned about the viability of a town with such a small proportion of young adults. This situation may change as more people become aware of the need to adapt to a changing world.  On the plus-side, the town at the bottom of the mountain has a thriving cafe and arts scene with many local people already living ‘alternate’ lifestyles. The shire is already part of the transition town movement and I can imagine that we could get involved and bring much of that activity up the mountain.

As you can imagine with all that rain and sunshine, the town is surrounded by green, rolling hills and national parks. The town itself has retained much of its original character and hasn’t suffered too badly from modern times. In fact the local bakery still uses a wood-fired oven and the Gazette is the last Australian newspaper printed by the letterpress method. Apparently it’s the last independent newspaper in Australia.

The town is currently very reliant on vehicles to bring everything in from the coast or via the inland route. Occasionally the mountain will be cut off for a week due to flooding of the waterfalls. The train line closed in 1972, but I imagine it could get back up and running under the right set of circumstances. There is still an active group of residents who are doing some fantastic work to preserve railway vehicles and the equipment of a bygone era.

Because there aren’t many options for employment in town, I imagine Brendan and I will both end up working at a variety of things such as in local businesses, working at home and volunteering in a variety of ways.

We should be able to afford to purchase our home outright and with a small income from investments, we could be financially independent to the point that we can choose the type of work we partake in. We’ll have time to grow some of our own food. We can also get involved in self-sufficiency on a community level.

Pros of adapting in the country

  • Plentiful water and food
  • Close to family
  • More affordable housing
  • More time due to financial independence
  • Beautiful location with access to National Parks, rivers and countryside
  • More opportunity to interact with the local community and make a difference on a more personal level

Cons of adapting in the country

  • Cultural activities different to what I’m used to (local theatre and blues festivals, rather than cafes and museums)
  • Elderly population. Potentially more difficult to make friends our age.
  • Employment opportunities limited.
  • Potentially cut-off from the outside world if car usage has to decline.

I just can’t decide which option is for us

I need some new perspectives. Have you chosen one over the other and regretted it or do you love how you live? What do you see the future becoming, and what would you choose if you were in our position?

Thanks for any comments you wish to provide.

Self sufficiency, independence and lifestyle planning

Today I wanted to talk a bit more about some topics I haven’t really touched on before but which I find myself thinking a lot about.

My Background

First, a little background. At the age of about 22 I decided that I did not want to be working for someone else for the rest of my life. I came to the realisation very early on that I hated being trapped in a routine that required me to go to a job every day of the week, and I certainly couldn’t imagine doing it for the next 43 years until I was old enough to officially ‘retire’. It felt like a slow death and I was determined to get out of that ‘rat race’ as soon as I could. It was about that time that I set my goal to retire at 40.

So at the tender age of 22 I started looking for ways to achieve financial independence within the next 18 years. At that time, the only way I knew how to get to that goal was to invest, and to take some risks in doing so. I had always been a saver and had no debt. At 23 I purchased my first home just before the property boom hit my town. I scrimped and saved, built enough equity in that property for the down payment on the next. I then renovated that second property, set it up as housing for students at the nearby university, built my equity and bought a third house. I repeated this process until at the age of 25, my partner and I had five houses, four of which we had cleaned up and rented to students. It was practically a second job to manage all this work, but the cash flow was good, enough that we could make all the mortgage payments easily; and because we had bought in an area just beginning to gentrify, the property prices doubled in short order.

At that time I had many people call me crazy. At my age I was supposed to be out partying and living life to the fullest, not being so sensible. I was laughed at when I told people I was going to be retired at 40. They either didn’t think it was possible, didn’t think the sacrifice was worth it or couldn’t imagine living life any other way than the prescribed path of running the rat-race until retirement.

Flash forward a few years; I was 30 and on my way to being financially independent. I had leveraged the houses and was heavily invested in the stock market. Everything was going to plan….until it wasn’t. After the crash of  ’08 a large portion of my stock holdings were wiped out. Suddenly my old plan wasn’t going to work anymore and I had to rethink everything.

The last 18 months has been a time of learning for me. I see the world in an entirely different way. My goal of independence is still as strong as ever, but the way I’m planning to achieve it has changed dramatically.

A New Plan for Self-Sufficiency and Independence

One of my biggest realisations over the last year is how reliant on the system we’ve all become. This clearly works during the good times, but when things go wrong we have no control over our own lives. This is how I felt after the crash. I was in a lot of debt, I had to find cash at short notice to cover margin calls, I was extremely stressed and couldn’t sleep. I never wanted to feel that out of control again. This is when I started looking into new ways to be more self-reliant, making improvements to my level of self-sufficiency and decreasing my dependence on the system.

I’m going to talk more about this in upcoming posts, but here are some of the important changes I’m making:

  1. I’ve started making sure I’m more prepared for emergencies, natural disasters and economic turmoil. I want to ensure that if I’m ever affected by one of these situations that I have made preparations as much as possible. There are plenty of easy things I’ve done to make myself more prepared while improving my life even if nothing adverse ever happens.
  2. I’m reducing debt as quickly as possible. Two years ago my debt to earnings ratio was about 10:1. I was holding huge amounts of debt which in good times allowed me to leverage larger returns on my investments. When things turned bad, my debt became financial cancer! Now I have a plan in place to be debt free within the year.
  3. I’m stockpiling more food than I need. Food is increasing in cost faster than just about any investment right now and certainly faster than the rate of inflation. When things are on sale, we simply stock up and we buy in bulk every six months or so. An additional benefit is that we never feel like we have to rush to the shop when we run out of food. There is always something on hand. I can’t see how you can lose by storing additional food that you use on a regular basis.
  4. I’m growing some of my own food. Growing food is for everyone, not just people who want organic fruit and vegetables. Our food system is not at all robust. The ‘Just in Time’ method of delivering food to the stores is extremely efficient, but also prone to disruptions if something occurs along the supply chain. Stores only hold about three days worth of food on their shelves, so you can imagine how quickly they would be stripped bare if there were a local emergency. Producing our own food (even as little as 10%)  reduces our dependence on the system. Gardening is also good for emotional and physical health and makes you popular when you bring fresh goodies to your friends.
  5. I’m undertaking some planning for disasters in the following order of priority – Personal-Local-Regional-State-National-Global. Despite the real possibility of a true economic melt down or catastrophic terrorist attack or some other major global disaster the most probable “disaster” for any individual is personal such as a loss of a job, loss of a family member, a fire or local weather event. I’m planning for those first.
  6. I’m reducing my dependence on energy.  Cheap Energy will not last forever and we are already seeing prices rise on the electricity bill and at the gas pump. Reducing our dependence on these systems is reasonably easy to do by being more efficient in our use of household electricity and minimising our use of the car. This year we are working towards producing more of our own energy, mostly related to Solar.
  7. I’m working on a plan to own some productive land. Being able to provide for ourselves in terms of our most basic needs is the true definition of wealth. Owning productive land and removing ourselves from the systems of dependence as much as possible is a dream we are working towards.
  8. We hedge against “disaster”. Pragmatic things like cash emergency funds, good insurance and secondary income streams are good ideas for everyone. These types of protection can make life a lot less miserable when something goes wrong.
  9. What I now understand is that I am in control of my life and that what I do matters. Our culture tells us that to be successful we have to be rich and beautiful. Somehow, most of us buy into this from a young age and until we challenge the concept and decide on our own path we will never be truly happy.

This last 18 months have been a wake up call for me and in redesigning my life I find myself more in control, more content, happy and stress-free. I’m designing the life I’ve always wanted, but it’s coming about in a way I never expected. Life’s funny like that.

Photo by: alicepopkorn

It’s a new decade, and I’m ready to jump right into it

Yesterday afternoon I arrived back from two weeks vacation, and since my body clock has not yet adjusted I thought I’d use some quiet time at 4am to update this blog.

At almost the last minute, Brendan and I had decided to spend a couple of weeks in the UK and Ireland. In the last half of 2009 I had done so much travelling that I was almost exhausted, but I felt if we had stayed at home for the two weeks I had off I wouldn’t have got a break away from the grind. In Australia, the holidays coincide with Summer so there is usually a big sigh of relief as the year winds down. Yes, it has occurred to me that we shouldn’t live such lives where we approach the end of each year in such a state. I’m working on it and I’ll get to that in a minute.

Despite the atrocious weather in the UK and Ireland over the period, we both very much enjoyed the time away. London and Southern England were particular highlights and I’ll post some thoughts on that in a few days.

For now I want to quickly touch on the New Year and New Decade we find ourselves in. I feel refreshed and ready to get into 2010. I don’t have any resolutions as such, but there are a few things I’m going to focus more on this year:

  • I will simplify my life. I hope this means less travelling and rushing around for work. We only have one year left here in the United States and I want to savour it and get into some good habits before heading back to Australia later this year.
  • I will become more resilient and self-sufficient. There are so many ways in which I’m completely reliant on the complex systems of our society. We’ve already see what can happen when a very specialised but fragile financial system comes under stress. There are many other systems which we rely on that are equally specialised and fragile. I think that building individual resilience is important and I will be focusing heavily on that this year.
  • I will take care of myself. Let’s face it, two years of living in the USA have added more than a few pounds to my body. A healthy body is so important. After all, it’s the only one I’ve got. If I plan to see the next century I’m going to have to take better care of myself.

So there you have it…a very broad outline of my focus for 2010. I’ll get more specific over the coming weeks. For now it’s 5am, I’m hungry and we have no fresh food in the house after our time away. Thankfully Brendan can whip up some damper in no time. Ahhh….the beauty of food storage and a little bit of self sufficiency. Perhaps I had better go and learn how he does it. That might be a good start for the year.

Photo by: ViaMoi