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Homesteading – how much does it cost?

Homesteading and equivalent self-sufficient scenarios where you have a few acres, dedicated water source, and the intention of being able to produce at least some of your own food/fuel seems to be one of the gold standards for practical, attainable prepping.

But I’m curious what the extra/unexpected costs are – now I know its a bit gauche to talk about money in this society, and to be honest if you’re fortunate enough to have millions to invest, some advice on higher cost items may not be practical those who don’t have millions to spare – still interested in your perspective on things to look out for, just might not be able to use all your advice is all!

So what’s actually involved, cost wise, in setting up a viable homestead?  I know costs vary wildly based on location but are there any rules of thumb?  For example when buying a “normal” house I was told “aim for something 2-3 times as expensive as your combined household income” as a reasonable mortgage.  Sure, the bank was willing to approve me for a loan for much more, but I was not interested in living pay-check to pay-check in order to live in a larger house.  I assume this applies to homesteading too, no point in buying the perfect place if the bank takes it from you because you can’t afford it or you can’t afford to buy seed/fertilizer/tools to make it useful.

So with that as the set up I started looking at Redfin listings just to get a wild ball park of what 5-10 acres would actually cost.  I was surprised at what I found as a couple random examples:

The knee jerk reaction would be “get the large cheap one” but what realistic factors are involved, even assuming the *only* different was location (don’t focus on these three specific plots, I just had no idea what the price range was for land and wanted to put boundary conditions on the problem).

So what are the major costs?  I can imagine at least the following:

  • Building an actual home, anything from a tiny home to a mansion so costs could vary wildly – is there a good target range estimate?
    • what if there aren’t local builders near by?
    • What does it cost to add things like septic/well water where utilities may not exist?  How does an electric hookup work if the nearest residential power line isn’t close to your building site?
    • What does it cost to build a road when one doesn’t exist?
    • how expensive are things like site surveying, permitting, soil testing, etc?
  • Transportation:
    • if you buy far away and you don’t already have an off road car, do you need to buy one for unimproved roads with no snow plow service?
  • Land improvement
    • what does it cost to clear an acre or 3 of trees and roots?
    • What does it cost for grading if land needs to be leveled?
  • Agricultural start up costs
    • realizing you can try and start small, learn slowly, what is a realistic range of tools/costs for building a self sufficient mini farm?
      • storage sheds
      • minimum viable tool/equipment set estimates
  • What are the time costs – if you’re working a full time job, lets assume you can do so remotely (and also get high speed internet…) – how much time does it take to homestead?  If you expect to still work full time for a pay check, how does that impact your infrastructure expenses (say a log splitter and chain saw because you can’t spend all day using an axe, even if its cheaper)

To sort of tie this all together, I bet if I had a casual 20 million to spare I could pull something together easily (hah!).  I bet if I had a million I could probably make something work (I don’t, though).  If I got a loan for half a million I probably have options, but perhaps only a smaller/more remote option to really make it work?  If I could only finance 200-300K, am I SOL or at risk of living pay check to pay check?

I can research these individually but it seems like there are a whole lot of variables to factor so curious what I’m missing and if there are any shortcuts?

I’m also really interested in all the extra costs you don’t think of, for instance, a rural trash service, or a PO Box, I’ve even heard of air-ambulance insurance if you need to be flown to a hospital in an emergency from your remote farm (is that just a rich people thing?).

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  • Comments (24)

    • 6

      Wow, I just don’t think it is possible to list costs, as they vary so much by location and the amount of work needed.  For example, when we were looking for our property, the land costs varied greatly.  We paid $100,000 for our 20 acres about an hour outside Memphis.  Those same 20 acres in the county closest to Memphis would be double or triple that.

      Now I’m not a homesteader but just practice at it.  I do run a company and have a full time job.  But I suggest doing similar to what we did.  We started slow and gradually added projects, paying them as we went.  Doing everything at once would be extremely expensive.

      When looking for land, the cheaper land will not be in prime shape.  For example, our land was covered in woods with several fields/pasture areas, not connected.  It was not the type of place that screams homestead.  However, I got out & walked the whole property and saw a lot of potential.  It would take a good bit of time having someone clear a few acres worth of trees, but by doing so, those fields could be mostly joined into one.  Long story short, by the time we were finished clearing trees and starting to build our house, the original property owner told a neighbor that if he knew the property could look like that, he would never have sold the land.

      We were older when we purchased this property, so we had a lot of equity in our old home.  That gave us a fair amount of capital to work with.    I think you are younger, so my suggestion would be to break the project into attainable goals.  Find your land & purchase it.  The next few years gradually make improvements, such as land clearing, power, water, roads, fencing, planting orchards, etc.  Depending on your circumstances, you might could live there in a trailer.  When the time is right, build your home and then later add gardens, etc.

      When looking for land, don’t let the search for perfection keep you from finding the best.  No property will be perfect.  We really didn’t want to do a lot of land clearing but by doing so, we got a really good price on the land.  We really didn’t want our house very close to neighbors, but the lay of the land meant building on the crest of the hill… next to our neighbors.  Ended up being a great choice as we have incredible neighbors and I feel more secure having someone else to watch over our properties.  I really preferred being closer to Memphis, where family lives, but it was much cheaper to live further out.  Living further out is also very nice during a crisis.

      Most importantly, make sure you have the mindset to be a homesteader.  Yes, when you see pics & read stories of other homesteaders, it seems like a wonderful life… especially if you are a prepper.  What those pics don’t show is all the hard work and all the failures.  And yes, you will have failures and make bad decisions.  The proper mindset is that you love to work outside and that once you discover you made a bad choice, you get over it and chalk it up to the learning curve.

      I’ve had a long, hard week at work, and one side of me says take a day off & watch some TV.  However, I know I need to cut the front yards, put some broadleaf herbicide in the spray rig & spray the front, remove that sprayer from the tractor and put on the mower because the 2 pastures are very tall with grass.  We just had 7″ of rain the last few days, so the time is right to cut the pastures.  I’ve already fed & groomed the horses, taken my lab to the store for his breakfast treat & picked the garden.

      I do love the homesteading life but it is not for everyone.  Works well for me because I really don’t like people but love being outdoors… even in the Mississippi heat & humidity.  I love nature and always find something interesting out there.  I love seeing my bald eagles in the trees around the pond & welcome them to harvest as many catfish as they need… and they need a lot in the spring when raising their babies.  I love watching the barn swallows act like jet fighters, as they remove mosquitoes during the day and likewise love sitting out back at dusk to watch the bats take over the night patrol.  I haven’t been on vacation in 15 years and could care less.  I have everything I need here on the farm.  This is the life I love.  You just need to make sure it is the life you love too.

      Good luck!

    • 5

      This is something that my family has been looking at recently. I don’t have hard figures, and don’t think those would help because a homestead in California is going to be very different in price than a plot in Kansas. But I will share some of the things that I’ve casually seen that have affected price. 

      • Two cheaper solutions for the actual house would be to buy a manufactured home and have it shipped in, or to get those metal shipping containers and make your own. 
      • Septic prices will depend on the terrain and how hard it is to dig.
      • Well prices will depend on the depth needed to dig. You can look online for the average depth of wells in your area and then call the well people and ask how much it might be to dig a well that depth.
      • You probably are going to want to do solar because we were quoted 100K to wire electricity from the grid to an off-grid location. For a portion of that price you would be better off with solar. And that price will depend on your energy needs, panel types, and battery chemistry.
      • Most homesteads will be further away from the city and resources so you do need to account for having a more reliable car, more maintenance, and more fuel consumption. More travelling time as well.
      • Land improvement can get expensive fast, but if you have the time and want to rent out equipment, you can do a lot of it yourself.
      • Internet was a huge factor for us, and with the releasing of Starlink satellite internet, this will hopefully be less of a deciding factor for many.
      • I have some family that live off-grid and they do need to haul out their trash, use a PO box for their mail, and have that extra insurance for medical because they live so far away. 
      • Another expense is fencing. If your  property isn’t fenced or needs to be maintained, that is a lot of work to keep an eye on.

      Great topic by the way! You hit on many of the things that I have seen when looking for an off-grid homestead. Realizing all the hidden/unknown expenses is very important like you said so you don’t get over your head. We were able to see how costly it would be and it just isn’t feasible for us now. One day though, we hope to live this lifestyle.

      • 2

        Some parts of Kansas are actually offering people money to move there, I would if I was American I love the space and people of KS.

      • 4

        I’ve seen that. There are four main categories that everyone should consider before they move somewhere. 

        1. The cost of living will be either high or low
        2. The availability of well paying jobs will either be high or low
        3. The quality and safety of life will either be high or low
        4. Proximity to family will either be close or far away

        There isn’t going to be any one place that is going to have a low cost of living, high paying jobs, great quality of life, and close to family. So you need to pick and choose what categories are important to you and what you can sacrifice. 

        So going back to your comment on Kansas. I can see there being low cost of living, high quality of life, but probably far away from family and not as many high paying jobs. If you are retired or work remotely however, then that high paying job isn’t that big of a deal.

      • 2

        I agree 100% Robert, I dont know anything about wages / cost of living in KS these days, I do know they are always short of staff in Trucking Cattle and working the Feed lots, but I guess they wont be well paid.

        But if you can afford to retire or work part time i think parts of KS have great potential for off gridding / homesteading etc.

      • 2

        Totally agree with you there. If I didn’t have to worry about money and feeding a family, I would love that lifestyle off-gridding it on a Kansas farm.

      • 1

        So Bob and others looking at this issue, if individuals or families cannot afford to go homesteading / off griding independently, perhaps some of you could create cooperatives or collectives ( no not like hippy communes)  Where you cooperate in buying some land then sharing it out and then helping each other build your homesteads ( like the Amish or Mennonites cooperate )    ?

      • 2

        Good morning Bill,

        Yes, this is occuring.

        Only by circumstances – to include being married – did not do this for dwelling. After assembly of a small group of similiar preppers – no recoilless rifles to handle intruders – (We’re all modernized.) we did establish a food co-op.  I’m the business manager.  There is always a postiive P&L statement and books are always open to any group member.

        We have one trailer of food eg coffee, canned stuff, with climate control. We can expand to 5 (five) trailers if necessary.  The county now prohibits trailers on tires so we must factor this in.

        Cannot write on web how done, but our procurement costs are LESS than the big box stores.

        Trailer has climate control using only “trickle” of electricity.

        Not a co-op arrangement but we do have a nearby … had to get out of county … dental trailer.  I rehabed the trailer and helped fix up inside. You know me; I also placed a couple of issues of Architectual Digest glossy magazine and Southern Living magazine inside.  It is visible where the prepaid post cards were detached from.

        “Where one can live, one can live well.” Anon.

    • 5

      I think a parcel within commute distance to work is going to go for a premium, even if it’s fairly worthless for agriculture (like ours). Oregon has strict land use laws and getting the dream 5-10 acres close in is nearly impossible.  There are very few properties in our area that can be subdivided further so those that already are, are scarce.  Same with domestic well permits. And the cost of building is insane.

      If I had my life to live over again, I’d have looked for property with both the climate and arable land to make agriculture practical.  With year round flowing water. And infrastructure.  Where we could work nearby. We landed where we are 41 years ago for all the wrong reasons, and attempts to practice agricultural pursuits has been largely disappointing.

      A 2+ acre parcel with a 1992 double wide, a small barn and assorted other structure, within about 50 miles of Portland was recently listed at 695,000.  Sellers are typically getting more than the property is listed for. Hay for the horses is scarce this year due to irrigation being shut off in central Oregon, and is going for $450/ton. So, that’s about $3150 to feed two horses for a year. Cows, sheep, goats, not included. Could we hay our own property, yes, by hiring it done, which would cost more than buying it cut, baled, delivered and stacked in the barn, and it would be junk because our climate prevents timely harvest.

      Chicks at the feed store are up to $6.00 apiece (cheaper for meat birds) and $20-35 for a 40 lb sack of feed.  I haven’t figured out how to raise chickens on the cheap as they’d all end up feeding the wildlife.

      We can grow a big garden, but the ground is so leached and rocky, it takes a lot of inputs, and a big tiller, to get stuff to grow, again making a garden more of a luxury than a sustenance. The fickle, short growing season precludes growing a lot of the really luscious things that Redneck grows down south.

      We pay a $75 a year membership to LifeFlight in case we need to be flown out for a medical emergency.  Cheap insurance.

      Because every area presents its own challenges, if my goal was self sufficiency, I would do a whole lot of research, avoiding all that hippy feel good stuff that swayed me back in the 70s. Go for very up to date information sources.

      • 2

        Good information .

        Did not the US federal government not so long back have a long term land leasing scheme aimed at encouraging folks to move into agriculture??

      • 2

        Good morning Bill,

        Yes.

        I know about Florida and Alaska.

        In the 1950s my reservist father (WWII ATO, CBI, Korean War) got activated for Florida assignment and bought a small place in Florida under their Homestead Exemption Act. Alaska still has program and added a check for bona fide residents for a small (Did I need to write “small ?) check of oil revenue from North Slope area.  

    • 3

      I found this interesting like, I hope its allowed and of use.

      10 Best States for Homesteaders

      • 2

        really interesting link bill. i am surprised that there are some east coast states on there and the list doesn’t just contain mid west states

    • 3

      Good morning Rich DC,

      You’ve already received quality replies.  So far had only read Redneck’s and Robert’s and they provide just about all.

      Had written on a thread elsewhere my initial plans after finishing sentence in Army to get much land and minimum housing on it. The minimum to get the local government permits was what was sought.

      Now, during career and in retirement, I determine(d) my plan of action based on what I’d budget for. NOTHING is financed.

      Numerical costs won’t be available to you because of the rapidly changing circumstances. The big change re real estate … the dirt … is the COVID quarantine and work at home. What was once called the outer bounds of metro-Washington now goes well past Sterling/Dullas Airport.  The southern boundary is still Fredericksburg. Young folks in the work force with PCs and web access RAPIDLY moved out of the swamp. They start to save a fortune on housing circa year 3.

      My free advice for now, FWIW, is to join a group.  It need not be local geographic but rather placing emphasis on trustworthyness. Consider checking out Puppy Mama operations at:

      preppergroups.com.  Puppy Mama (R. Ann) spent time in USMC. This site is owned by our John Ramey of here, TP,com. It’s a quality site. I’ mentioning it because it’s not just for millionairs buying ocean front land. There are Fed Civil Servants on GS pay scale buying dirt and improving on it. Just attended a prepper meeting at Goochland.  Now this was prepper white collar if there is such a term.

      There are no real shortcuts except for the big orgs like those working Castle Grande and White Water.  Vince Foster passed away near us at Fort Marcy Park. The real estate pressure can be intense.

      If you can buy luimber and timber, there are contractors at the ready for any and all projects.

      You can do it like the rest a little ahead of you.

      Remember, just about everything takes time. Redneck was clear on this in his nearby post.

      Hold off on the log splitter. You can’t store it on any recently acquired land. It will be stolen near as fast as in metro D.C. Plus, it needs a trailer with license plate and insurance. I am not aluding to an Abe Lincoln spike banged with an axe head.  

      Air Ambulance service is under review.  Much was financed by Medicare … not only for the Medicare-enrolled air evaced patients.

      At my latest prepper group get-together met some young people who worked in Swamp and bought dirt just east of I-81. It’s still available.  Remember 2 acres is better than waiting for a better situation. These young folks, were, for the most part contractors for the Fed agencies and lived in Crystal City, Springfield. (Apology for use of word “lived”.)

      Again, you can do it.

    • 3

      If I were young & just getting going, and possibly had a job that could be done at home on the internet, I think homesteading could be done rather quickly by going the route of CSA… community-supported agriculture.  With this business model. the small farmer signs contracts with local homeowners where once or twice a week, the homeowner can receive a package of farm fresh produce and meats.  Whatever is in season is what they get.  I like this business plan better than selling at farmers’ markets but depending on the location, you could easily do both… if you have more food available than CSA clients.

      • 1

        I had never heard of CSA before! 🤯 Is this kind of program available for us city dwellers 🏙️? How can I learn more about it?

      • 2

        Google is your friend.  I’d start there.  Then I’d attend all the farmer’s markets.  You can ask around there & possibly some of the vendors have already set up one & are advertising for members.

    • 3

      It’s really hard to say because there are so many variables. In Escape the City, Travis Corcoran says he spends about $10,000 per year on farm assets. I spend maybe $1,000 per year between animal feed, tools, lumber, plants, compost, and seeds. But I dropped about $4,000 earlier this year electrifying my barn, so again, it varies.

    • 6

      We aren’t a true “off grid” homestead – instead we are slowly retrofitting an existing rural residential property/small farm to make it more resilient. I think this path is probably alot more cost effective and less expensive for most people than building a brand new homestead from the ground up, but it’s still expensive to pull off. Below is a breakdown of approximate expenses we’ve incurred.

      Property

      Our home and property in the pricier Northeast cost well over 500k when we bought it a few years ago, and it’s small – 5 acres. It’s half cleared and came with a newer barn in good shape, plus existing fencing/paddocks. A bigger plot with the same features would have been a million plus in our region back when we bought it years ago. Ours is probably worth about that now.

      Power/Heat/Water

      Even with our good luck at finding such a great property, we still have to retrofit resilience-building power/heat sources – things like wood/pellet stove, solar panels, and generators. A permanent, whole house generator like a Generac, connected to our propane would set us back 10-12k so we use a portable one that cost us about $1000. We have yet to put in solar because we are looking at about a 40-50k layout (we want the battery system to store the energy on property for private use which makes it much more expensive). Our pellet stove for supplemental heat was about 6k to buy and install. We also had to put in some special whole house water filtration systems for our well because arsenic and radon are big issues around here – those can set you back about 10k+ depending on what systems you need.

      Total approximate cost: 70K

      Power Equipment/Homestead Maintenance

      There are the other big upfront expenses for a homestead – things like power equipment, fencing, etc. Tractors (and attendant attachments), ride-on mowers, snowblowers, chippers, chainsaws, etc – these things can set you back tens of thousands total. Fencing is surprisingly expensive but luckily we have only ever had to invest in wire fencing because ours already came with existing wood fencing where needed. Most of us have a truck too because of all the hauling we do – so you could also theoretically include the purchase of a used SUV or pickup to the list if you don’t already have one. Large livestock will require a trailer too.

      Total approximate upfront cost for 1st year power equipment purchases: 15k (a ride on mower, snowblower, new chainsaw, etc)

      Total approximate cost for a used pickup in good condition: 30k

      Ongoing Expenses

      Ongoing yearly expenses number in the hundreds to thousands depending on what you have going on – fence repairs/additions, reseeding pastures, livestock purchases, animal feed, butchering fees for the animals you don’t do on your own, maintenance on the outbuildings, etc. Generally the bigger and more diversified the homestead, the more costs you will have to maintain and keep it running. More gardens and animals need more fencing, housing, feed, medications, butchering supplies/fees, etc. Large livestock farming (beef, dairy production, horses) is particularly costly. We stick to small stuff – poultry, pigs, gardens – and that’s expensive enough as it is. It’s impossible to give cost estimates for this stuff as it’s so variable based on your circumstances. But my husband is constantly complaining that our home produced food makes Whole Foods look like a steal, largely due to the upfront costs of getting set up. 😛

      All in all, I’d estimate we needed a bit over 100k just for the upfront homestead/prepper/rural specific purposes, which doesn’t include any money you’d need to do the usual home maintenance/repairs/upgrades to the house itself. After that, we probably spend a couple thousand a year in ongoing costs for the animals, gardens, etc.

      • 1

        Do you mind me asking what you both do for work to support this lifestyle? Seems like quite a bit of money and work. 

        Thanks for your explanation, I am going to share this post with my wife so we both can reevaluate and plan for our dream of living more resilient like you are.

      • 4

        I’m a stay at home mom and my husband works in tech. We have a higher income over 150k/yr which may be impressive or not based on your perspective (it’s actually a pretty typical higher income in our HCOL region). Having me at home to do chores during the day is a huge help – it would be crazy trying to live this lifestyle if we were both working full time outside the home and commuting. 

        That being said, I also know homesteading families with incomes low enough to qualify for government programs like WIC and CHIP. These families are able to pull it off by “right sizing” their homesteads to their finances, and by creatively adapting less expensive rural residential properties. So instead of buying an expensive homestead/farm/acreage from the get go, they buy a rural home in a less expensive town (often in need of some DIY care) and then slowly add in the least expensive/most cost effective homestead activities, like kitchen gardens from seed and small flocks of chickens. None of the families I’m thinking of have solar panels or permanent generators, but they have portable generators, woodstoves, and other useful resilience-building preps. Their smaller lots can be maintained with a regular mower and weed whacker instead of ride-on equipment, and they might convert an old shed to a chicken coop rather than build a barn. Since they aren’t dealing with large livestock, they don’t have a need for expensive fencing projects, big barns, trailers, or even a pick up. So it is clearly do-able with less money too, the expectations for what a homestead looks like just has to change a bit.

      • 2

        Very sage and wise advice.

      • 2

        Thanks for mentioning some of the lower income solutions and modifications to make make homesteading possible. I make about a third of what you do, so it’s nice to know that it is still doable in some fashion.

    • 2

      The one thing I wanted to do since I was young was have a small place. What I found is you have to be pretty well-off to live low on the hog.

      There are essentially 2 tracks: 
      1) Commute or tele-commute to a good job and hobby farm on weekends
      2) Eschew all modern life and be a subsistence grubber

      Right off I’ll say that anyone with any arable land sufficient to grow calories would be ahead of the game in a worst case situation. But having said that I’m also gonna say that hobby-farming is not really practice for TEOTW because it is a hobby—something one pays to do for fun. Even if the hobby is prepping to be a grubber, by necessity one trades “town money” for hours of back-breaking manual work. Growing grain or other staple is job one for a “homesteader.” But learning the ins and outs from scratch and practicing them constantly is a huge investment of energy, time and money. 

      There is a reason that humans toiled in the fields for millenia and could not invent modern life until they discovered the miracle of fossil fuels that freed them from work.

      I say this from experience. I made pretty good money for a while and in my mid-forties I bugged out for 40 acres in the Ozarks. For a dozen years I tried to work them as low-tech as possible while I tele-worked maybe half-time. It is hard. My Amish neighbors have a hard time, the most successful of which were building contractors with a dozen kids who worked their butts off on the farm worked dad went to town. I bought my “farm” from an Amish family who went broke even though Dad had an onsite tractor repair shop. Even large acre “English” commodity farmers mostly have in-town jobs.

      I don’t mean to disparage hobby-farmers, I was one. I “farmed” until I was near broke myself. 

      As the old joke goes, when asked what he would do with his lottery winnings, the farmer said: “Well, I’ll guess I’ll just keep farming ’till it’s all gone.”