Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Estimating Income

I often listen to the Dave Ramsey podcast where people will call in with their money questions. Most of the time he’ll ask the caller what their estimated income is, and I am amazed (and not in a good way) at the number of people who aren’t sure.

When setting up our monthly family budget, the very first information I enter is our expected income. From that number, I then know how much I have to cover our monthly expenses and how much we can save for the future.

money

Let’s look at the three things to consider when estimating what your monthly income is going to be.

  1. Hang on to Those Pay Stubs: If you are a salaried employee (like myself), estimating your monthly income is a matter of looking at what you get paid each pay period and multiplying that by the number of pay periods that month. If you don’t have your pay stubs, go online and see what was last deposited into your bank by your employer.
  2.  Estimate your Monthly Average: If you have a variable income (meaning it may not be the same each pay period), you are going to want to find out what has been your average income. Look over your bank statements for the last year and total up your income (you could also look at last year’s tax information to determine your yearly income). You’ll next want to take that total amount and divide by 12 to figure out what your average monthly income would be.

adding up money

If you are in a field that varies greatly depending on the season, take a look at what you made this month last year to help you determine what you might make this month.

3. Don’t Forget All Sources: Your income does not just include money earned through your job. Don’t forget any other source of income you might have. Other sources of income may include, but are not limited to:

  • Government benefits
  • Investment earnings (if you are not reinvesting)
  • Rental income
  • Child support / alimony
  • Even that tax refund you might be expecting.

If you are self-employed, you may also be interested in what it means to estimate your income in a worst case scenario .

Your Turn!

  • How do you approach the budgeting process?

 

Common Off Grid Living Misconceptions

It’s been a full year since I moved out of my apartment and into my tiny house, with that came the shift to living off grid.  Many of you have read my tiny house solar posts which talks about all the nitty gritty details of my solar panel system, if not, check it out because I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on it.  Now that I’ve done this for a while it’s become very clear what I got wrong and what others non-off-griders (grid muggles?) about off grid living.  I can now spot a grid muggle a mile away when they start talking about living off the grid.  Here are some of the misconceptions you learn about when you go off grid.

Harbor Freight solar kits is all I need!

I hear this all the time from folks, “I’m going to get one of those Harbor Freight solar kits to power my house”.  These kits are great, if you only need 45 watts, which really is only good for changing a laptop (30 watts) and cell phone (5 watts), maybe some power drill batteries; all of these things are insanely lower power consumption.  If you need to run much more, these system will leave you very disappointed, cold, hungry, and in the dark.

Clothes washing is easy… right?

Time and time again people geek out over various contraptions for washing your clothes.  I’ve seen them all, the plunger looking things, fancy peddle powered spinning ball gyros, and  hand crank counter top tumblers.  The truth is hand washing clothes isn’t terribly difficult; sure a normal washer is easier, but barring that, I’ve found a tub or large sink really works great.  You can always spot the people who’ve never actually done it because they talk about washing clothes while true off gridders talk about drying clothes.

Drying clothes in an off grid setting in a tiny house is a royal pain.  It’s fine if the weather is nice out, but if it’s really humid, or freezing cold, or worse, raining, you can forget about having dry clothes.  What it really means is for about half the year you get dry clothes, the rest of the year you’ll have mostly dry clothes that you’ll give up and put on because everything is still damp and you need to leave the house.

Drying racks are great if you have just a few things to dry because you can rig something in your shower.  But when you’re talking about a full load, it means you have to setup your drying rack inside your tiny house, which takes up most of your living space, then you need to let it dry in a day or two.  This typically translates into perpetually having your drying rack out, which makes the tiny house much less livable.

The ideal option would be to have a small outbuilding where you could setup a clothes line and have a wood stove in the corner.  You could also do what I do, head to a laundry mat or pay a laundry service.  After doing laundry by hand for 3 months while living in Croatia, I’ve since transitioned to doing my laundry in a normal washer and dryer.  Here in Charlotte I can have my laundry washed, dried and folded for $2.50 a lb, which as someone who loathes folding clothes, is so worth it.

Roof top mounted solar panels

The weird thing about solar is mounting on the panels on the roof is one the worst places you could put them.  By their nature roofs are hot, which heat decreases the efficiency of solar panels.  They are high up, so they are hard to get to in order to maintain, brush off snow and clean grime that builds up over time. Finally, on a tiny house the space you have to deal with is very small, because tiny houses have tiny roofs.

If you’re going to be traveling a lot with your tiny house, roof top is very practical, but you’re going to be hard pressed to do any sort of heating or cooling with that few panels.  The best option is ground mount if you can swing it.  You can access it easily to clean off snow and grime, you can easily inspect it and fix things for maintenance.

Not having backups… for everything

When you are your own power source, there is no power company to call when things go wrong.  In most cases that’s a good thing because you often find yourself at their mercy and if you’re in a remote location, at the bottom of the priority list.

It also means that if something goes wrong, say the morning you have an important meeting to get to, you still need to make breakfast, take a shower, and do what you need to do.  To this end I have backups for each of my main systems:

Thinking you can live off grid with no propane

I hate the fact that I need to use propane, but its an absolute necessity.  Of course if you have $50,000 to spend on your solar system, you wouldn’t need propane, but most folks don’t.  Even my system, which is around $20,000, couldn’t come close to powering a hot water heater or stove/oven.  The one exception to this might be if you have a really good hydro power turbine, then maybe, but that’s dependent on you having flowing water and a large drop, very difficult to find when buying land.

The one thing with all of this is how appreciative and grateful I have become for fossil fuels, they are a true miracle.  They don’t come without their consequences, but the fact that I can pay $2.50 for a liquid, put it into my car and it takes me 50 miles in less than an hour… have you ever had to walk 50 miles?  I have gone on multi night backpacking trips over 50 miles, fossil fuels are a true small miracle.

You could potentially get away with no propane if you did wood heat and had a water heater exchange on it, but honestly the idea of waking up 2 hours before I need to leave every day to make a fire, heat water to shower and cook on, isn’t in the cards.  Even if I had the time to do that, I wouldn’t, I don’t want to spend me entire life chopping wood and stoking a fire, life is way too short.

A wood stove is the dream

This is something that many off gridders have in their cabins, but I personally can’t get into.  When I grew up, I had a wood stove, everyone did when I lived in NH in the 80’s.  I distinctly remember going over to my friend Jimmy’s house and his mother telling us we needed to go chop some wood so we had enough for the night.  Chopping wood, stacking wood, moving wood, building up the fire in the morning: it was just a part of life.

The part that no one talks about how much work it all is. Here’s what every day would be like:

You wake up to a pretty cold house every morning in the winter, dash out of bed to rekindle the fire and put a few logs on the fire.  About an hour later, you can finally take a shower without freezing.  But oh wait, you forgot to fully close the stove and some smoke came back into the house, your work clothes smell like a camp fire.  You head off to work and then come home to a cool home, time to add more wood, but wait you’re out of wood inside.  So you get dressed again to go into the snow, you head to your wood pile and start stacking wood into a wheel barrel.  While you’re loading up, you pull a log to find a snake making it’s move to bite your hand.  You take care of the snake and keep stacking.  Wheel the wood to the door and start carrying it in.  You finally get wood stacked and fire roaring, to turn around and see a trail of destruction where you tracked in mud and dirt from the wood.  You spend the next 15 minutes cleaning the floors.  

Compare that to me:  I walk it, press one button and in three minutes my house is super comfy.  I kick off my shoes, grab a drink and start reading a good book.

Solar tracking is really important

This is another one that I can spot a solar newbie a mile away.  They talk about a pole mounted tracking system, which allows your panels to follow the sun.  But here’s the dirty little secret:  You add one more panel to your system and you’ll make more power and save a lot of money!

Typically solar trackers improve solar gain by about 15-20%, so if your system were to generate 1 KW fixed, it now might do 1.2 KW.  But here’s where it all falls apart.  A solar tracker usually is at least $1000 extra dollars in equipment and you need to pour a large concrete footing for a couple hundred bucks.  Let’s call it $1500 for the whole thing if you do it all yourself.  But if we were to just use a fixed system and buy one or two more panels ($250 a pop) we could increase our system to 1.5 KW in a day.  So for 33% less money I can get around 30% more power AND have no moving parts to break.

DC appliances and propane fridges are worth the money

It is absolutely true that DC is much more efficient and inverting DC to AC takes up some power, but it’s not the only thing to consider.  There is a major myth that is perpetuated from information that was once true, but is now no longer.  The problem is that there are a lot of websites out there with old information.  With recent advances in inverter technology and lower costs for panels, the gap has dramatically decreased.  While it is inefficient to change from DC to AC, you can make up the difference completely by the addition of one or two solar panels.

When you weigh the cost of specialty made DC appliances, for example a Sun Danzer Fridge for $1100, against going regular AC fridge, mine was $130, plus an extra panel, mine are $290 each, the math is simple.  I can add one more panel and save hundreds.

The other part of the story is that a lot of electricians are hesitant to work on DC systems, many won’t.  In addition to that, the market for DC appliances is small; this means less options for a higher price tag.  Going AC give you lots of options, easily sourced electricians and all at a lower price.

My recommendation is to go full AC power and then just add a panel or two to your array.

 

Those are my thoughts on common misconceptions about going off grid

Your Turn!

  • What things have you thought about when going off grid?
  • What surprised you about this list?

Ten Ways to Start Minimalist Living Today

A minimalist lifestyle is an enviable one; it can give you more time, energy, and money in the bank. Living minimally can give you time to focus on your hobbies, relationships, and health, while cutting back on most of those dreaded household chores like excessive laundry or cleaning.

When I first went minimalist, I was shocked at how much free time I was able to reclaim. I had so much more time on weekends; I was able to really explore the area that I live in, try new hiking trails, learn to cook, and even plan a trip around the world. Minimalist living can truly open your eyes to what you care about and give you time to focus on your passions. Minimalist Home Office

If you are interested in trying out a more minimalist lifestyle, consider implementing some of these tips:

1. Get rid of the junk. 

Get rid of anything that doesn’t bring you happiness.  Decluttering is the first step in obtaining a truly minimalist lifestyle. Decluttering is a process and can take time; just try to do a little bit each day. Clothes that don’t fit, anything broken, anything you have multiples of – chuck them to the side for donating. When I started decluttering, I was shocked at how many clothes I had kept that just didn’t fit right. It felt so good to donate them to someone who could actually use them.

2. Ask yourself if you really need it. 

Impulse shopping used to be my weakness. I’d go to Target for laundry detergent and walk out $100 later with new clothes, lotions, and stationary. When I chose to take a more minimalist approach, I would go in and tell myself that I am only buying laundry detergent. If I left Target with only the things I needed, I’d give myself a little pat on the back.

Minimalist desk notebook

3. Become a handyman (or woman). 

One perk of minimalist living is learning to reuse things. Learning to repair or fix things will not only help you live more minimally, it will also help keep your bank account high and lessen your carbon footprint. Also, you’ll feel like a boss after repairing something for the first time.

4. Know you don’t have to get rid of everything. 

Often, minimalism is misconstrued as meaning that you can’t have things that you love. Quite the opposite! The point of minimalism is to focus on things that you love and get rid of the other stuff. If you are an avid reader and book collector, keep those books! But if you have tons of clothes that you never wear cluttering your closet, maybe look into donating those. Minimalism can enhance your life so much for the better, just keep in mind that you don’t have to get rid of all of your stuff. A minimalist home can mean something different to everyone.

5. Take a look at your calendar. 

How do you spend your time? minimalist houseIs your calendar full of things that you don’t want to do? A minimalist lifestyle includes being conscious of the way you spend your time. Think about what kinds of activities you get the most value from, and get rid of the ones that don’t bring you joy. I like making sure to have one day a week that is purely mine – to go for long hikes, spend time coloring or taking pictures, or even just binging on Netflix.

 

6. Invest in high quality when you do buy something. 

Buying a really nice t-shirt that is made out of the best fabric, fits you perfectly, and will hold its shape and color for years will bring you so much more happiness than buying a cheap t-shirt made from low quality material that may not fit you well. One of the best parts about minimalism is that now that you have less, you can get the best.

7. Simplify your meals. 

Learn to cook at home. Make a few simple meals that you love. Cooking at home and having a few recipes on standby will drastically reduce your grocery bill and make meal times so much simpler. I’ve started cooking simple curries that are not only delicious, but they are super cheap to make and hold really well for leftovers.

8. Open a savings account (if you don’t already have one). 

Now that you’re living like a minimalist, you’ll be able to contribute regularly to your savings, because you’ll be saving so much money. Create a goal for an emergency fund to work toward. When I started my minimalist journey, I would create small and large financial goals. The first $1000 warranted a celebration, but the first $10k gave me the most incredible feeling.

9. Look at your relationship with stuff. 

Are you putting emotional value into things? Do you keep old shirts because of memories associated with them, even if you never actually wear the shirt? You can keep those memories without keeping the physical item. For some, taking a picture of the item before releasing it can help. Instead of keeping that ratty t-shirt from a concert you went to five years ago (that you never wear), consider creating an online photo album of pictures from that day to keep the memory alive.

10. Practice gratitude. 

travel to pragueTell yourself that you are enough, that you have enough. You have everything you need. Share what you don’t need with those who do. It may sound a bit corny, but I would tell myself on my way to Target to buy soap; “I have everything I need, I don’t need anything other than soap.” It’s a bit funny to look back on, but when you shop with a simple and straightforward mindset, you are so much less likely to purchase things on impulse.

 

I hope you enjoyed my ten tips to start minimalist living. I can’t wait to hear which ones you want to try first! 

 

Your Turn!

  • Which tip are you going to try first?
  • Which tip do you think will be the hardest?

 

How to Set Up a Garden You Can Actually Keep Up.

Gardening feeds more than my body it feeds my soul and connects me to my food and the earth. I love being in my yard and feeling of the cool soil between my fingers. But something you don’t know about me is that I have a chronic pain condition that makes hard labor difficult. How do I keep up with a 1200 square foot garden?

Better to start small than too big

green bean seedlings

Learning to garden is a process that most gardeners will tell you never ends. There is no rush to grow everything now. Start small and add to your successes each year. I have heard countless stories of people who started with half an acre and burned out before they reached the harvest.

 

Don’t fight if you don’t have to

Raised beds can be helpful when you are battling invasive grasses and weeds or if bending down to work on a traditional row garden is painful. A couple of years ago the soil in my garden needed some amendments but I didn’t have it in the budget to bring in compost for the full 1200 square feet. We chose instead, to amend just the rows. Be creative, don’t fight if you don’t have to.

Weed Control

deep mulch garden

Traditionally, the growing season was spent hoeing and raking between the rows in the garden to keep the weeds at bay. Over the last 40 years, there has been a shift in our thinking as we have come to realize weeds are the Earth’s method of protecting the living micro-organisms in the soil. Those little “bugs” feed the soil and ultimately your plants.

Bare earth is not necessary for a thriving garden. Mulch, cover crops, and companion planting are all strategies you can employ to guard those healthy micro-organisms and hold the weeds at bay. I have a deep mulch garden and spend very little time weeding.

Irrigation

watering gardenWatering cans make for pretty pictures and flower pots but are entirely ineffective at keeping a backyard garden watered. Growing a successful garden relies on consistent water. The first few weeks with my current garden I was trying to water with a hose. It took nearly two hours a day. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up, especially when the heat of summer kicked in.

We set up drip hoses that could all be turned on at once. I attribute much of my success in the garden to our drip system. There are lots of ways to successfully water your garden. Make sure that whatever you choose is easy to keep up with so that your hard work is not lost on a busy, hot summer day.

Preemptive pest control

Some plants are more susceptible to pests than others. Cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower are some of the worst. They seem to send out signals calling the cabbage moths and aphids to come feast. Placing row covers over these plants when you plant them into the garden prevents pests from laying eggs on them. Fighting pests can be a full-time job, save yourself a headache and keep them out from the beginning.

The easiest way to keep up with your garden is to set yourself up for success before anything is planted. Be creative, don’t fight if you don’t have to, keep it small and then build on your successes. Gardening doesn’t have to be a full-time job.

Your Turn!

  • What makes your garden easy to care for?
  • What intimidates you most when you think about gardening?

Your Debt

If your financial goal this year is to get out of debt, you’ll first need to figure out what your debt is. We knew we were ready to face the music when we felt the weight of our debt. We knew it was probably going to be a lot, but soon found out that it was a lot plus another $10,000.

If you’re ready to rid the burden and weight that is debt, follow these simple steps to help you identify your debt and then we can start looking at ways to attack it.

calculate debt

 

How to Determine How Much you Owe 

Make a List of Everyone You Owe: Gather up your statements and print off a copy of your credit report. Listed on your credit report will be all companies that you have credit with and how much you owe as of the last time it was reported (this may not be updated every month, so it’s always good to check the latest balance on the statements or online).

It is a good idea to check it on an annual basis anyway to make sure that the information is up to date and there aren’t any errors or possible fraud. You can obtain a free credit report here .

credit report credit score

Find out Everything You Can About Your Debts: You’ll want to find out the following about each of your debts:

  • The total amount owed
  • The minimum payment for each of your debts
  • The interest rate
  • When each payment due (monthly, quarterly, annually)
  • If it is an installment loan, the date when that debt is scheduled to be paid off.

 

Assess Your Situation:  Although this may seem scary, remember that this is just the starting point and it’s only going to get better from here.

  • First, add up the total amount of debt you owe. This may number may seem scary and overwhelming, but remember it won’t be that number for long because we were going to be knocking it down.

buried under a pile of debt

  • Next, take the amount of all of your minimum payments and add them up. This the minimum amount of money that you owe on your debt every month. Again, this can be overwhelming depending on the amount of debt that you have, but those payments will seem more manageable once you start eliminating those bills.

 

The other thing I realized about myself when I added up all of the debt was the amount of money spent to keep up with the Jones’. None of our debt was the result of a medical or financial crisis. It was all just stuff, items purchased to impress. After reading this blog post though, I was happy to know I wasn’t alone.

Now that we have faced the music, let’s look at some different plans of attack and figure out which one will work for you. 

Your Turn! 

  • What would having no more debt payments mean to you?
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