The Costs of Living in This World and my Desired World – Part 2

A couple of days ago I wrote a post detailing my Real World – current – cost of living. The costs totaled $33,000 per year. Many would think that is not much at all. Considering my salary is roughly double that it allows me to save a substantial amount of money. However, it’s not where I want to be financially. To earn that money requires sacrifice. Namely, my freedom. I work upwards of 70 hours a week (not including preparation, commuting, winding down, de-stressing time, etc) in a 9-5 white collar office job and managing my own small business part-time. Much of my leisure time is spent stressing or thinking about work. I find it hard to remove myself. And for what? Some money? I’d much prefer to earn, say, $10,000 per year, live deliberately, and have endless amounts of time to do what I enjoy. To wake up naturally, go to bed when I am tired, take long walks and not worry about what productive things I could be doing instead, lay on ground and watch the clouds drift by, read all the books I have always wanted to read, potter in the garden when I feel like it. To enjoy life.

“Live on $10k? That’s impossible!” I hear you insist. Well, in my current state, yes it is. My relatively simple life costs well in excess of that. And it is for exactly this reason I wish to simplifier my life even further. I pay $7,000 in rent each year alone. To earn that amount requires me to sacrifice a substantial amount of time with which I’d prefer to be doing something else. To live on $10k would require much less sacrifice. Think about it. How many hours of work would it take to earn that? My calculations, based on a job that earns $25/hour, less than 8 hours per week. That’s a day of work per week. But how can I live on so little money. Well, let me share with you my plans for my Desirable World.

Before I would I’d like to state that what I write below isn’t meant to be instructional or certain. Many of the ideas I propose will seem and may be nonviable. As I am so early in the process I have a lot to learn. Consider them foundational positions on which I will expand. Most are conditional – they depend on certain things being true in order to be viable. For instance, pumping water from a stream will only be viable if I buy a block that has a stream that I can access. For now, it’s really just one big brain fart. It’s the possibilities that may become potentialities that I am thinking about, researching further and am using as a starting point on which to plan my Desired World.

Rent / Housing

When I first started piecing together my Desired World I toyed up with a number of housing options;

– Permanent caravan and annex in a holiday park;
– Caravan on a block of owned / rented land;
– Cheap doer-uperer house in Zeehan or Queenstown, Tasmania; or
– Tiny house on owned / rented land.

Each is with its pros-and-cons. The holiday park idea for instance; it can be quite cheap – some caravan parks in Australia have permanent sites available for as little as $1,000 per year – but doesn’t offer much in the way of security. I have heard many stories of permanent residents being uprooted due to parks closing or being redeveloped. Plus, you never know who you are going to get as a neighbour – a bother when you live so close to them. Even a cheap house in a struggling town, like Zeehan, is up towards the $100,000 figure. That is too expensive and doesn’t provide me exactly what I want – I’d prefer not to live in a town. I really don’t want to take out a mortgage. That will just leave to more wage slavery and anxiety. I’d prefer to buy outright. Hence, I need an affordable option.

I’ve decided that a caravan / tiny house on a block is what I want. Surprisingly, there are decent blocks of land in Australia for as little as $10,000. The sort of land I am looking for is more in the $20-$30k territory. That would get me 1/2-1 acre in a pretty rural area, within 20km of a town. As I don’t drive, I need for there to be a town that has some sort of shop and public transport connections. I will cycle to town when need be. Initially I wish to live in a caravan and build a small shed to the side – with a shower with a view and composting toilet and small laundry / storage shed.

When the time is right – and depending on the council’s view on caravans as dwellings – I will build my dream tiny house. The house I have in mind is 6×3 metres, on poles or a concrete slab (the former is easier, the latter is better from a passive solar point-of-view – something I have come to appreciate living in a drafty old house). It has a wooden stud frame, cedar cladding and plenty of windows, placed where they should be. Out the front is a small deck with a cob oven to the side, overlooking my land where I will plant a small orchid and a vegetable garden.

As the figures in this budget are meant to reflect my monthly variable costs I won’t go into much detail about how much it might cost buying and refurbishing a caravan, building a shed, building the tiny house and so on. This will all comes from my initial savings. As for the purchase of land, my ability to reach my savings goals and the health of my business will determine whether I buy it outright or take out a small mortgage. I prefer the former. Council rates for the sort of land I am looking for will be around $500 per year. For the sake of this budget, let’s assume I did take out a small mortgage for the land at an interest rate of 4.95%.

Cost: $216 per month.

Food

My aim is to become as self-sufficient as possible with food. I intend to grow a large vegetable garden, tend a small fruit and nut tree orchid and keep chickens for their eggs. I will garden following permaculture principles to ensure the land is used sustainably and to limit the need for external inputs. I want to work with the environment, not against it.

The few people that I have spoken to about this mentioned that food in rural areas is much more expensive. This is true, especially if you’re shopping at small-town IGAs and FoodWorks supermarkets. However, my intention is to buy as little as possible from supermarkets. I wish to move away from processed foods and instead will buy in bulk and will cook everything from scratch. I will also preserve excess fruit and vegetables that I grow or may buy on special.

I’ve been rather generous with how much I have budgeted for food and expect it to cost much less when my garden is established.

Cost: $200 per month. 

Water

Water is the trickiest of the “utilities” to off-grid. Energy you can be quite certain of and waste management is straight-forward to keep within the property. Water is dependent on so many hard-to-predict variables. The off-grid options include: rainwater catchment, drilling a bore or pumping from a stream. Bore drilling is probably the most certain of these three options, but expensive. Relying on the rain water in Australia is risky. However, most of the regions I am looking at have decent rainfall. It is for this reason I intend to experiment with rainwater catchment and explore bore drilling later on only if necessary.

I enjoy being austere and for that reason I will try to limit my water consumption. And my grey water system will certain factor into the effective use of water on the property. According to the Australian Government, Australian’s use on average 350 litres each of water per day [1]. Of that, only about 1% is for drinking. The rest is for bathing, washing, cooking, flushing the toilet, and other wasteful endeavors. Most of which is then swept out to sea. My aim is to use a fraction of that. I haven’t set any numbers but I will purchase a large rainwater tank and will ensure there is a sufficiently large catchment area feeding into it – the shed roof, the house and perhaps some freestanding structures for that purpose solely. I also intend to have recycled food-grade water drums sprinkled around the place capturing water for use on the gardens.

Cost: Nil.

Electricity

In my novice opinion, off-grid electricity is the easiest of utilities to install and generate. One can pop down to any electronics (Jaycar, Dick Smith, etc) or camping store (Ray’s, Anaconda, etc) and buy a small solar system with inverter and plug in their phone charger and start generating their own energy. Designing a system that can support a house is obviously a little more complex.

Australia is blessed with sun. That’s why solar is such an obvious option for energy production in this country. During summer in the SE corner of Australia, 6-8 hours of good sun light is the norm. Even winter, in many parts, good solar access can be almost guaranteed. I intend to produce the majority of my energy via solar, with a diesel generator for backup.

Using a number of 180W panels and a battery bank I will be able to produce around 5kWh of electricity per day. My usage will probably be around half of that. The only things I intend to have plugged in are a couple of 12V lights – with LED globes – my laptop charger, a small fridge and maybe a chest freezer. Things like air conditioning and a caravan-style twin-tub washing machine can be run off the generator. The only variable electricity cost I will have is some diesel when I have to resort to using the generator.

Cost: $10 per month

Gas

My cooktop will be a two-ring cast iron camping stove. I love the simplicity of thse and, if I am honest, I think they look great. This will be plumbed into a 9KG gas bottle that lives outside. I will have a second 9KG gas bottle connected to a BBQ which will also be used for cooking. When the house is built – or maybe before, if I feel inclined to bake – I will build a cob pizza oven which will run on a wood fire. I expect two gas bottles will last approximately one month.

Cost: $45 per month.

Internet

A lot of punters argue that one can not be off-grid and have the internet. By definition, this is true. However, I believe the internet provides a greater good. It’s environmentally sensible to generate your own energy – especially if you live in whoop-whoop – and manage your own waste. So these are obvious things to off-grid – plus connecting to the grid in rural areas can be expensive. The internet will allow me to earn money from home – by allowing me to continue to run my business – and is a valuable knowledge and entertainment tool.

I’d like to say that rural Australia is hard done by when it comes to broadband but I don’t believe this is entirely true. The NBN is on its way and, for a lot of rural users, is already available through interim satellite services – for many, this is as good as it will get. Then there is ADSL2+ in many rural exchanges, 3G wireless, and fixed wireless like WiMAX. From what I have read about broadband in rural United States, we’re in a pretty good position by comparison.

Satellite will be my only option in the sort of places I want to live. At the moment, under the NBN, one can have a satellite connection installed at no cost. To be sure, the monthly fee is much higher than with ADSL but cheaper than mobile wireless. Several providers offer a 30-60GB satellite plan for $60 – this would suit me fine. Whereas the highest wireless plan is around 15GB for a whopping $95 per month. Wireless can also be problematic from a performance point-of-view, especially in hilly, treed areas.

Cost: $60 per month.

Phone

I don’t need a landline. Haven’t used one – nor VoIP – for many years. I will opt for a pre-paid Telstra mobile. This will be mostly used for business purposes and when I am away from the house. I expect that Skype and email will be my main forms of communication at the house. I expect even Telstra coverage will be patchy there.

Cost: $30 per month.

Entertainment

My idea of entertainment has already changed significantly from what it was 5 years ago. Back then, shopping, dining out, drinking at pubs, clubbing and other costly activities were my idea of a good time. Perhaps I have grown up. Perhaps I have become boring.

Nowadays I find great enjoyment in tending to a garden, going for walks or hikes, cycling, reading books or blogs, writing and, sometimes, just sitting in silence with my thoughts. If I am completely honest, many of these activities are made better with a glass of red wine.

I expect that my entertainment costs will be next to nothing in my Desired World. Perhaps something to eat or a drink out when I am in town or in the city once a month or so?

Cost: $50 per month.

Medical

Much like at present, I don’t see my medical expenses changing. Touch wood.

Cost: $5 per month.

Booze

Back to the cask wine I say. Don’t judge me!

Cost: $20 per month.

Transportation

As I mentioned above, I don’t drive. Transport costs will therefore be higher than they are now as I rely on limited – and expensive – public transport. The places I am looking at are near towns that have public transport connections. I only expect to use public transport once a month. The rest of my commuting will be done by push bike. And maybe I will be lucky enough to arrange for a neighbour to taxi me into town on their trip sometimes?

Cost: $50 per month.

Holidays

I have made a pact with myself. If this all works out and I have as much disposable income as I have budgeted, I will make an annual trip to NZ – love the place. I will probably do this over the hottest part of the Australian summer – I really don’t like the heat. When I travel to NZ I backpack – I stay in hostels, catch coaches, hitchhike, and spend most of my time in the wilderness rather than in tourist towns. I have done this trip many times and have a good idea of what it will cost.

Cost: $1,500 per year.

So there you have it. The budget that I intend to live on in my Desired World. A grand total of $8,232 excluding holidays. Let me ask you. Does any of that seem particularly austere? I don’t think so. The way I look at it is I will be connecting with reality again. I will be working for what I need rather than to further someone else’s end. I will being going back to our roots – shelter and food. With those things ticked off, I can pursue the things I enjoy without feeling guilty about not doing something I am made to believe I should be doing.

Well, that’s what I think.

[1] http://www.naa.gov.au/Images/sunburnt_tcm16-36815.pdf

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14 thoughts on “The Costs of Living in This World and my Desired World – Part 2

  1. medical bills are the potential problem in future.
    also, what about wife and kids, or dont u want to have them?
    i wonder whether another strategy might be better. like find a place in or near a seaside town or area which is up and coming,and rent out rooms and get income that way. then u can indulge in all the things u want to do without the hassle of growing a garden etc..esp that bit about holidaying in new zealand.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response.

      The beauty of the structure of this lifestyle is it allows me to sell more capacity for money or other things. I have oodles more hours in the week to afford this trade. The problem for many people in consumerist societies is that they are failing to get ahead and they have already maxed out their available capacity.

      If I needed more money for medicine, then I have the capacity to earn it – provided I am not too ill. If I were too ill, I wouldn’t be able to earn in any system let alone one as low-effort as this. I didn’t go into this very much in the post, but I will be ensuring I have sufficient emergency funds available to me.

      I don’t have a wife and kids – I am gay. But I do have a partner. Unfortunately, he is unlikely to come along for the journey. He wishes to pursue a high-flying career in the city. Maybe we can make it work – he comes up on weekends. But we’ll see.

      Living by the seaside. I’m not sure where you’re from, but real estate is extremely expensive near the sea in Australia. Having said that, one of the potential blocks is only 50KM from the sea but is inland. The idea of living with people in the scenario you suggest isn’t appealing with me. Plus, I much prefer the bush than the sea.

      As a rule – land in or very near to town is expensive.

      The garden – that isn’t a hassle at all. That’s one of the parts of this I am most looking forward to. Growing my own food is a love.

      • thanks for going to all this trouble of clarifying… much appreciated. it makes me understand your reasoning. being gay means u will have more chance to get your wish. Having no wife or kids to cater for can simplify a lot of things for us gay guys. esp if we are not wanting to adopt kids.
        u must have got a nice source of income when u said there is more capacity to increase hours if u want more income. though u are allready working 70hrs a week, and that is not including preparation etc. is there really that many more hours u can cram in?
        or maybe it is not hours but you are saying u have not even exploited the huge potential in that income source. if that is so, u would have a source of passive income which is money u can get whether u are there or not. if u got that, u allready are well on the way to getting your wish.
        it is the reason why i suggested rental income, u dont need to live in the same house as your tenants. it is passive income.
        i have tried planting veg and i have come to realise it is not as easy as people think. pests for one thing. another is u need plenty of fertilisers,(not cheap) esp if u want tomatoes. and plenty of water. then u get a glut of stuff in summer and nothing in winter. or the veg get old and grow to seed. unless u want them to go to seed to plant next year. but then u find the seeds are not fertile… but i daresay i am not successful because i am not a good gardener. i think u will be better at it. practically anyone will be better than me. haha.

        i forgot about the expensive properties with sea views. i was in sydney years ago and it was expensive then, i bet it must be even more now. though i was thinking of some place in the north of australia , queensland for eg. but i daresay everything near the sea will be expensive now. just as well u dont like near the sea but prefer the outbacks.

        .

      • Thanks for replying back.

        Let me clarify a few more things;

        1. This piece is about my Desirable World: What I am aiming for. I wrote another piece the other day about The Now.
        2. Right now I earn a good salary, of which I save about 50%. This is the money I will spend to establish my Desirable World. As for my ongoing income, well that will be the profits I derive from my business. This is of unlimited potential but I have established all I need to get by is $10,000 per year.
        3. In the Desirable World I don’t intend to work much at all. Maybe 4-8 hours a week. 70 is The Now. By more capacity I mean that if I am only working, say, 6 hours a week to earn what I need then I have plenty more hours in the week to “spend” on more work to earn more if I so choose.
        4. The idea of renting out a house etc doesn’t appeal to me – I haven’t the need. Plus, I don’t want to get into that whole mortgage trap, managing tenants, etc. The thought stresses me out.
        5. I argue that growing veg isn’t as hard as people make it out to be. I have been growing veg in various ways for years and tend not to get bothered too much by pests and know a few tricks for building good, fertile soil. I like a challenge.
        6. I don’t like the outback but rather the bush. In the South East corner of Australia. Up North is too hot ‘n’ humid for me.

  2. Hi Pavel, Tell me that you know lots of people who think like you, it gives me hope for the future! I am in a demographic far removed from you being a woman in her fifties, but would love to live in your desirable world! I was wondering if you had considered caravan technology for your home? We have a van so I have some ideas.
    You can get a fridge that runs on gas and a 9kg gas bottle will run it for a month! Ours is very efficient and we need to keep it low or it freezes the veg. (also your gas will last a lot longer for the stove) You can also get little gas water heaters which do a great job, and even 12v air conditioners though I don’t know how efficient they are. We get by with a 2.4kva petrol generator for the odd need for 240v which is also very quiet. Along with solar panels and 2 storage batteries we can be off grid in the van quite indefinitely. You can also run water pumps off 12v, we have a set up that will fill our tanks from a creek. Another thing to google for water storage is boat bladders..We don’t have one as we live up north but I hear that the diesel space heaters are good too. Like much miniaturised technology this stuff is expensive compared to traditional 240v counterparts, but some you may find useful
    Good luck, I hope it works out and your partner sees the light!
    Regards
    Julia 🙂

    • Hi Julia,

      Thanks so much for the comment.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know many people that think like me at all. My father has probably been the most supportive. But he is an old hippy, so I kind of expected that.

      I have considered caravan technology indeed. In fact, I wish to run as many 12V appliances as I can. Adapters are readily and cheaply available for most things, including for my MacBook charger. I’ve done an inventory of the electrical items I wish to run and they are few:

      – Laptop charger;
      – Mobile charger;
      – Modem;
      – Fridge (115L);
      – Chest Freezer (optional);
      – LED light in each room (4 in total);
      – Water pump (to pump water to a feeder tank);
      – Washing machine (one of those nifty little caravan versions); and
      – Air conditioner.

      There may be other things that I have missed – perhaps I will yearn for a TV? – but even so, I wish to cut back on the number of appliances that I own. And where possible will opt for the “caravan” option.

      My partner is still very cold on the idea. Likewise, I am cold to his idea of continuing to live a workaholic city life. Who knows how that will turn out. But what can you do? You can compromise and potentially have both people unhappy or follow your dreams.

      Cheers,

      Pav

    • Thanks for the comment, Darren. And thanks for sharing the links.

      I have heard of Early Retirement Extreme before. The thing I don’t like about a lot of those sites is they are targeted at people that want to continue to earn a middle class wage and live a middle class life. I find that hard to penetrate but many of the tips still quite helpful.

      4-Hour Work Week, for example. It makes those every day tasks that, in and of themselves, we may find unpleasant out to be of little value – to be outsourced to some poor desperado in India. I prefer to look at these things in terms of their value and how they fit into an overall picture of happiness and meaning, rather than dismiss them so readily.

      That said, I shall check out the links.

      • Hi Pav,

        ERE is a long way from 4HWW. I have the same reaction as you to the latter.

        ERE is about living well within your means (as in, saving 70% or more of your take-home salary!). The basic premise is to reduce your cost of living well below what most people think is possible – living on, say, $20K/yr or less. Depending upon your salary, that can give you a lot of left-over money that can be saved and invested. And because your cost of living is so low, it doesn’t take very long for your investment income to build to a level that you can live off.

        The exact plan isn’t really what you’re aiming for, but the ideas about how to keep your cost of living so low is very in line with your thinking. As you said in your post, you really don’t need to do much work each week to cover your bills if you hardly have any bills!

  3. Hi again Pav,
    I have some suggestions to add, from someone who lives the life you envisage.
    Water; Install as much water storage as you can afford; it is better to have too much storage than not enough. Others in our area have had to resort to buying water, which is a very expensive exercise (at a rate of $400 per 20000 litres). We have 75700 litres of storage (total) which is collected off our 15 x 9 m roof (inclusive of storage and undercover work space) in an area of approximately 1 metre rainfall annually. We find this is enough for our needs as long as we reuse most of the water more than once. To this end I wash in a twin tub (80 litres) using the same water for at least four loads and rinsing in a bucket beside the machine. The water is then pumped out into the bath and used to bath four dogs, following this it is bucketed onto the vegetable garden. Showering is achieved by filling a 45 litre container with warm water and pumping the water through a shower head using a 12 volt solar pump, this arrangement showers three people. The water from showering is collected and used on the vegetable garden. My extensive collection of animals are watered every day and water pots are emptied (onto the garden), cleaned and refilled twice weekly, so the tatal water usage is usually about 50 litres a week. These methods are time consuming and sometimes exhausting, but we do survive very well on the small amount of water we collect (comparative to the national average).
    Budget; Always have some money put aside for new projects, there is nothing more frustrating than needing to purchase something for a project that will save time and money and not having the dollars to do it. We live on a combined income of $38,000, which is quite high for our area, but as we are paying off the property and my partner’s car, we are eternally broke. I have been frustrated many times by lack of funds.

    Other than that, I think you are on the right track. I would not trade my lifestyle for anything. I love having time to be busy on my stuff. I love living in a pocket universe only I have the key to, and I love having time to think real, full thoughts.

    • Thanks for the tip, Jude. Water has always been a concern for me. Capturing energy and turning it into electricity, managing grey water – they are pretty straight forward and predictable tasks here in Australia. But water – one of the most unpredictable resources of all.

      My current plan, for an area with 600mm+ rainfall, incorporates two 22,000L tanks. One will never be run down to less than 10,000L for fire fighting purposes. (Well, according to my Bushfire Management Statement, that’s my story). Water catchment area is more of a concern seeing my house design is so small. However, I intend to have a shed / workshop with a large roof and a greenhouse. Maybe I will have to build a series of freestanding ‘roofs’ around the place to capture enough?

      My water usage is much less than yours – you have more people in your household, a large washing machine and animals. The only animals I will have are chooks and their house will act as a water catchment area to fill several blue water barrels. My usage is really just showering, cooking, drinking, washing hands, food, dishes; and the gardens. Personal and household use would probably ring up to about 15,000L with a good deal more going onto the gardens – a lot of which will be recycled. I think – and hope – 44,000L will be enough but hey, if it isn’t, I can always get another tank and can get it trucked in if needed ($350 I have it averaged at in rural Victoria) – the cost of doing so, arguably cheaper than my water usage here in the city.

      Definitely with you on budgeting and having money squirreled away. I think I have mentioned elsewhere on the blog that if push came to shove, I will have all this time available to sell – if I am only working a handful of hours a week on my business. Sure, there aren’t exactly hundreds of jobs available to someone with my skills in the areas that I am looking to live, especially ones I could do without a car, but this is where I need to be adaptable. I have already set out one exit plan that would see me living back in the city for 3 months a year and working as a temp in that period if need be. I don’t expect it would ever get to that – my business pays me a fairly handsome profit and its growing and I have a few freelance opportunities I could exploit – but it’s good to think about what I would do if such a situation did eventuate.

  4. Great to see your plan. Just do it. There will be plenty of naysayers but just don’t listen to them. I agree that having lots of roof area to collect as much rainwater as possible is highly desirable. These can be as simple as cut down trees used to build a structure with roofing iron on top. The more water storage the better. So many people make the mistake of being too frugal with their infrastructure costs. Your estimate for food seems to be unusually low but then I suppose you know how much you usually spend. Best of luck. Sounds like a lovely plan.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Aussie. I have never really listened to the naysayers. If I had, I’d not done nearly as much as I have.

      That’s good advice regarding water catchment. I first saw the idea on Container House. They weren’t capturing water off the roofs of the containers so erected a freestanding structure.

      My budget has evolved this writing the post and has been significantly beefed up. That said, I will be fortunate enough to have another 100% of the budget to cover any blow outs. (I am trying to be frugal as to not needlessly burn through that buffer.)

      My food budget is about right. It’s not much lower than it is here in the city. Plus it takes into account growing some veg – be it only a few herbs and annuals to start off with.

      • We live in the ‘burbs’ and the costs of council rates, water, electricity, insurances, mortgage (modest), phone, internet and income tax is becoming ridiculous. The amount left for food, fuel, extras is very small indeed. We are thinking of selling, moving into an area with much lower rates and going off the grid so we can have unfluoridated water, solar power and no mortgage.

        Electricity here has increased by around 30% in the past five years. Water has increased by over 20% in three years. Council rates were $1700 four years ago and now they are $2230.

        We grow organic veg and fruit. The area is lovely but the expenses are not.

        Good you have a margin factored in. Sleep is better when there is a nice safety net. We used to live on 20 acres. Miss it heaps. Don’t want a big lot of land now thought.

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