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What Living On A Farm For A Year Taught Me About Financial Independence (And Life)

What Living On A Farm For A Year Taught Me About Financial Independence (And Life)

I Move To Live On A Farm

After growing up near New York City my whole life, I had the opportunity to go live on my girlfriend’s family farm for a year after I got a job at a local liberal arts college near their home.

farm pic showing beautiful sun and field and flowers and cows!
holy cow!

In exchange for living for free in their house, I did manual labor around their farm. It wasn’t too bad of a trade off. I got a nice workout from most of the activities: baling thousands of pounds of hay, moving chicken coops, etc. You get the the idea.

It gave me an excuse to be outdoors in the summer and get a good workout and a tan.

What I didn’t expect was what I would learn about money, how to handle it, and how not to handle it, from the farmers’ perspective.

I Was Arrogant

Before we get to the money lessons, please let me say that I wasn’t expecting to learn much from farmers because I grew up in the vortex that is New York City.

I thought I already knew everything there was to know about “farming.”

I thought I was a hot-shot and was so cool because I was on the road to FIRE and was very “bow down before me all ye peasants who aren’t on the FIRE path.”

Moving to farm country from the city, you could say that I was egotistical, maybe even arrogant.

In the end, farming was humbling, not only to my sense of self-esteem but also to what I would eventually learn on how to handle money, the farmer way.

When Reality Hits

You could say I got hit with some down-to-earth reality.

Almost like when I first invested in Vanguard’s S&P500 Index Mutual Fund, the gains from farming were annoyingly slow. Not to mention dirty.

I learned how to properly raise chickens, in all their loud, smelly, and dirty glory.

No more washed and cleaned organic chicken eggs from Costco. These were freshly laid and covered with authentic chicken butt feathers and everything. Yummmmm…

I learned how to sow and grow vegetables the old fashioned way, with a hand till and soaker hose.

I learned how slow it takes lettuce to actually grow (3 weeks) and how bitter it tastes after that. Gone were my beautifully fresh, always crisp and delicious, Costco lettuce.

farm pic showing beautiful sun and field and flowers
no tall buildings to block the sunrise

I learned about soil biome diversity, how to maintain a healthy land, and how to reduce soil runoff during torrential downpours.

It was humbling and somewhat gratifying at the same time as I learned what “real” life was like, stripped of the glamorous facade of Instagram and city life.

On the farm, if you didn’t sow your crops ahead of time, you didn’t eat. If you don’t feed your chickens, they die and you don’t get eggs.

It forced me to slow down and take a good look at life. I think by slowing down from my frenetic City life, I was able to enjoy life more.

Yes I still could’ve gone to the local grocery store, but on the farm, things had a feeling of actual importance, like life-or-death importance.

Not the fake importance of anguishing over which filter to use on my Instagram pic.

Farming Helped Us Save Money

Living on a farm also had its upsides.

Besides the one time I built houses in Nicaragua for 2 weeks, living on the farm was the healthiest I’ve ever felt.

The air was fresh without any of the pollutants and smog.

We raised our own cows that grazed on the luscious green pastures, so we always had free, pasture-raised, organic beef to eat.

farm pic showing beautiful sun and field and flowers
who knew asparagus can grow so tall?

Because we grew our own organic vegetables, we didn’t have to buy from the store.

The tap water came from an on-site underground spring and was packed with minerals. None of the chlorinated and heavily fluoride treated gross tap water of suburbia.

I saved money by filling up my metal canteen from the tap everyday instead of having to buy bottled water every week living near the city (because tap water was gross near the city).

Creating our own food helped us save money. The only downside was having to spend the time making sure everything was growing properly.

Financial Independence Lessons From The Farm

“Tell me what living on the farm taught you about financial independence! I’m dying to know!” you shout.

Okay okay. Here goes.

Have Emergency Cash On Hand

Money lessons on the farm usually had an air of actual urgency, importance, and realism to them because if farmers didn’t manage their finances properly, they in effect, “Starve for the winter.”

This was different from the “I need $800 to buy the latest iPhone!” sort of urgency, or the, “OMG, Starbucks just raised the price of their chai spice latte from $4.50 to $5.25.”

In the farmers case, it was something like, “The tractor’s turbine just broke and we need $20,000 to replace it today otherwise we can’t plant the crops in time for harvest and our cows die, along with our income.”

If something urgent came up, you want the peace of mind to know that you have cash right now that you can use to fix your problems.

Yes, you can use credit cards to pay for that emergency, but if you don’t have the  funds to pay off the cards in one go, you’re left paying interest, and that’s not fun (unless you like that sort of thing…).

Continue To Educate yourself

Stay educated on the latest research and technology on how to live a more productive and prosperous life.

The farmers subscribed to farming magazines that were filled with scientific research on how to better take care of healthy plants, land, and livestock. It’s understandable because these are the sources of their livelihood.

Also, if you can increase the output from your land without necessarily increasing costs, this leads a boost in a lot of other areas, such as higher income.

farm pic showing beautiful sun and field and flowers
sunset on the farm

The benefit of a higher income as a farmer is that you can save more of it to cushion against the lean times, when crop prices are down. This all goes back to creating an emergency fund.

To someone who isn’t a farmer, the moral here would be to always learn more about how you can be a better investor on the road to financial independence.

Maybe there’s a new savings account that can give you more interest, or a new way to manage your money that will increase your percentage growth so you can reach financial independence faster.

You never know.

Plant A Variety (Diversify Your Assets)

With farming, as with investing, you reap what you sow.

Because of this, they made sure to sow a lot, in a variety of things, in case one portion of the crop got hit with disease or bad weather.

farm pic showing beautiful sun and field and flowers
morning dew drops on a blade of oat on the farm

By casting a wide net, they hedged against the loss of all of their crop and income.

They diversified their “assets” and didn’t put all their eggs in one basket.

Imagine if you only planted potatoes.

Yes you would make handsome profit if the potatoes all grew, but what if the potato beetles come in and kill off all of your potatoes?

You’d be screwed without any source of income.

That’s why you diversify. As a means against total loss. Even if it means less gains for you, it could make the difference between being completely broke versus having enough money to survive the winter.

Plan In Advance

Another lesson was planning way in advance.

Some farmers would start sprouting their seeds in their basements in the winter, before spring arrives, so that the plants have enough time to grow before being moved out to the fields during actual spring time.

Also because central New York has such short summers, this ensured at least a long enough growing time before the fall frost hits

If you’re reading this you’ve probably already heard ad nauseam about how you need to start saving and investing before you actually need to, so I won’t harp on it any longer, but there it is.

Don’t Buy What You Can’t Pay For In Cash

One positive lesson I got was from a family of Mennonites farmers who only paid for everything with cash outright. They didn’t take out loans and they lived very frugally.

One reason I like this idea is because let’s say they buy a $100,000 John Deere tractor in cash.

In a booming market and crop prices are high, they can plant a lot of crops, sell it, and make all that money and be fine without having to pay monthly loan debt for the tractor.

I then heard the opposite of this story and learned that some farmers go broke when they take out massive loans to buy these tractors during a booming market when crop prices are high, to try and make money.

But when the market drops and crop prices are low, these farmers don’t have enough money to pay the loan and they either have to sell the tractor and lose money, or go bankrupt.

And the chances are that this farmer who borrowed money to take out the tractor also lost his shirt because he didn’t save enough during the boom times to pay for the lean times.

Please excuse me for sounding severe here. I think it’s a lack of financial education and self awareness that leads to this sort of financial situation.

Know When Enough Is Enough

I would even say it was greed. That the farmer’s eyes were too big for his pocket book.

He sought to make big money and lost big money, not realizing that sometimes, small but consistent money is okay too.

Maybe you don’t need the biggest, newest, tractor to plow a lot of land to maximize your revenue this year.

Maybe you could use the tractor you currently have, plow the land you have, and save up money for a bit until you can pay for a new one outright.

farm pic showing beautiful sun and field and flowers
sunrise over hastas on the farm

During a down Market, those Mennonites would do fine because they didn’t over extend beyond what they could comfortably handle.

They only bought what they could afford, paid for it in full, and saved a majority of their income.

They knew when enough was enough.

Do you?

Though, last time I looked, they invested in bitcoin right before it dropped from $20,000 to $6,000, so maybe I’ve spoken too soon…

Conclusion

After typing this all out, I realized how eerily similar farming is to reaching financial independence.

Or maybe financial independence is eerily similar to farming?

Like the saying goes, don’t overextend yourself to make money you don’t need, in order to impress people you don’t like.

You also don’t need to be rich as fast as you think you do. Slow your roll. Calm down. Take a chill pill.

These are all things I say to remind myself while on the road to financial independence.

Just keep plowing along.

What goes up must come down, unless the feds manipulate the federal funds interest rate.

Otherwise, what goes up must come down to an artificial and unsustainable plateau.

In Summary

-Save money during boom times to cushion against lean times.

-Don’t get ahead of yourself during a boom time.

-Be cautious when the market is going up.

-Pay with cash when you can.

-Plan a “What if” scenario. Will you still be alright if everything goes to zero?

-Be careful of unsustainable debt levels if everything does goes to zero.

-Realize that, like growing vegetables, you can’t rush these things. Growing investments can take time. So you might as well have fun in the mean time. Start a blog. Travel the world. Meet the love of your life.

-Sow now so you can reap later.

-Diversify what you sow in case of pestilence and market volatility.

-Sow a lot.

Thank you for reading!

Jack


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This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Great post Jack! I enjoyed reading this. Did your Mennonite friends really invest in Bitcoin?

    1. Haha, Doc! I’m glad you enjoyed it 😄 yes, and because they didn’t own any computers they used the local town library’s computers to buy bitcoin. Talk about resourceful. They thought it would be a good investment for the future…next time I’m back I can then how they did. Hope they didn’t bet the farm…😂

      1. *ask them how they did

  2. Wow, this post puts things into perspective so well! Even though my parents were farmers growing up, I’ve always been a city girl and never quite understood or appreciated their experiences farming. It sounds like you learned a ton about farming, life, and finances during your time on the farm!

  3. Thanks, Cyn! No way! Did they past on some “farm finance” wisdom on to you too? Does your comment mean that you are now starting to appreciate your parent’s farming experiences more?

    I’ve always been a city boy and never much appreciated the time and energy that goes into farming either. Do you think if a lot more people spent time on farms, we’d be more down to earth and less frantic as a society? Lol “farm get-aways”?
    -Jack

  4. Great article! Yeah, farming is a unique and tough business. But like any other business, in order to be successful, you need to apply the tried and true finance principles discussed above. Diversifying, planning ahead, not overextending with debt, etc.

    1. Haha thank you! Most def 😄 it’s really straight up, down to earth, humble finances. Thank you for reading!

  5. Awesome post and great lessons! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you for reading it, Janet! Hope you’re still doing well in Switzerland (it’s Switzerland right?)

  6. It’s interesting how two very seemingly opposite things (farming and investing/being on the path to FIRE) can come together to teach you one heck of a lesson!

    1. Haha, thank you for your comment, Michelle! To be honest, that’s what blew me away as well when I got to the end of the writing it, I was like “Woah, there are similarities here that I didn’t think about…” shows us how writing blog posts can be a journey of self-discovery…pardon the cliche 😅

  7. I WWOOFed on a little farm in Italy for a month and you know, it was one of the healthiest times of my life! We ate 99% vegetarian, amazing simple pastas with homegrown fresh veggies. I learned to love dogs and chickens (and now have 2 of each). I have no green thumb but I do still enjoy trying to grow a few veggies each year – pretty sure I don’t actually save any money doing so but it’s a blast.

    1. Haha that is amazing! My sister WWOOFed for a month in northern Thailand a couple months on an Alaskan island with no electricity or running water and they had to go to the bathroom in a sand box.

      It was pretty interesting to hear lol. Having chickens is the best! Though the problem I noticed with having livestock is that you have to pay someone to take care of them for you when you’re not around or going on vacation, otherwise they die…😅 how do you get around that? Having fun is the most important thing lol!

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