Existing or living?

“Hey, Sal, look at those two over there.  They look like us, kinda.  Same weather gear, boots.  Driving an ‘island’ boat.  I’ll bet they live on our island.  I’m gonna introduce ourselves.”

It was about eight years ago.  We were unloading at the neighbouring island’s local dock readying our little inflatable for another death-defying ride up channel.  Even though we had owned our property for decades, we hadn’t really gotten to know any potential neighbours and this seemed like as good a place as any to start.  Anyway, I had a few questions rolling around in my head.

After approaching them and introducing ourselves, I said, “Well, enough with the pleasantries.  Tell me – how much does it cost to live there?  You know, monthly – like?”

R turned to R and they conferred for a bit and then he turned to me and said, “About $1,000 a month.”   Just then, she nudged him and they whispered again.  “Sorry, I was wrong.  It’s more like a $1050.  Forgot taxes.”

“Yikes!  You guys live for a $1000 a month and think in terms of $50 dollar-bills!  OMYGAWD!  Sal, we can afford this!”

I continued that ad hoc, unscientific poll of people who lived out our way and, of course the numbers have changed even in the past eight years.  The poorest I interviewed lived on $8,000 a year but she was subsidized by wealthy parents every now and then (boat motors, etc.) and the richest (at that time) was living off $22,500 a year, the bulk of which was made in December when the wife went to Vancouver and worked retail for 12 hours a day for three weeks in a row.

Since then I have met the couple who runs and owns part of a global gold mine and is worth billions and I have local friends and neighbours who I know live on less than $6,000 a year.  At least two of them live on less than $4000 a year.   The first couple who were content at $1050 would likely say $1500-1800 today.  The increased cost of fuel has hit rural people harder percentage wise.

But the point is not that the cost of living is rising. It is not even that it is rising faster for rural people.  The point is that rural people ‘burn’ through money at a considerably lesser rate.  We just don’t have the umbilical costs of cable, phones, TV packages, domestic help and ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’.  (Well, we do a bit but our Jones family is poor as dirt so it is still easier).  We don’t do restaurants.  We don’t get pizza delivered.  We don’t do Starbucks.  And we don’t have to park our car downtown (when I worked in the city, I often averaged around $20.00 a day in parking.  On our last trip there, that wouldn’t cover four hours!).

On a straight ‘compare-my-day-to-yours’ basis, I go two weeks sometimes without spending a dime.  I never carry a wallet – what’s the point?  No place to spend anything.

Of course, it is not as simple as that.  Our last trip to Costco was $1200.  When the barge fills our propane tank it is $1200.  When we do anything, it seems it is $1200.  So we do pay.  But, regardless of that, there is no question: we spend less overall.

Offhand, I would say that a couple living rurally with a car and a boat and the house paid off can easily live as well as they ever did in the city for less than $3000 a month.  But by ‘well’ I mean ‘different but still really good’.

“Why tell me this, Dave?  I don’t believe you, anyway.  Costs my wife and me almost $10000 gross a month.  There is no way we could live like that on a third of that!”

Well, that is why I am telling you this.  Rural living is less expensive.  OK, you give up Starbucks and golf and parking downtown.  You give up cable, restaurants and delivered pizza.  Maybe your car gets older and less shiny.  Couple of dents.  Bit of rust.  But you get better health, more free time and the odd pod of Orcas going by.  The raven becomes a friend.  The seafood is fresher, the stress levels are reduced and you can read more books.  It’s a good trade-off.

Put another way: those financial consultants that tell you you can’t really aford to retire yet are wrong.

Something to consider.


4 thoughts on “Existing or living?

  1. The nineteeth century beckons as folks retool and live the way our ancestors lived. Before you know it you will hang up you gas outboard and install a steam pot that burns fir bark. I think drastic downsizing is in our futures.


  2. This strikes me as a misguided post, and I think it exhibits the myopia of the “back to the land” movement. Urban living is more efficient, both on an individual and a social scale. The luxuries you assume as inherent to urban living are not inherent costs, but unnecessary choices, just as they are to a rural person. One can easily live in a small city apartment in an out-of-the-way neighborhood, walk or bicycle or take public transportation everywhere, eschew unnecessary expenditures, and live on the same sort of figures you quote in your post.

    Furthermore, an inexpensive urban lifestyle would also be more energy efficient than remote rural existence. What if everyone burned wood for heat, traveled dozens or hundreds of miles for groceries, used gasoline-guzzling boat or truck motors for local transportation, and used diesel generators for all or part of their electricity consumption? What if everyone took up acres and acres of land for personal property, thereby precluding the formation of walkable communities? Where do inexpensive Costco groceries come from? Those products certainly play a large part in the fossil fuel economy. In fact, it is probably much easier to support humane, sustainable agriculture in urban areas, through plentiful local CSAs. The carbon footprint of a responsible urbanite is surely smaller than that of the modern rural pioneer.

    Finally, what are the start-up costs for an endeavor such as yours? At what point do you begin to recoup those initial costs through your lower average cost of living?

    Your lifestyle, as described on this blog, is wonderful and idyllic. But it is also a lifestyle not attainable by, or extendable to, the rest of humanity, especially those not born into lives of white middle-class privilege. Nor is it a lifestyle that is saving the world from energy consumption madness.

    P.s. I’m sorry if this comes across as combative, I came across your blog at the end of a chain of links relating to energy independence. I think homesteading is wonderful, but I don’t think it’s the answer to the world’s energy problems. It’s easy to find fault with sanctimonious San Franciscans as well, I’m sure. Cheers, and I hope you get your chainsaw fixed!


  3. Firstly, I appreciate the post. I really do. I love feedback. Helps me to write better. Honestly. Thank you.
    But you miss the point (or, better put: I may have mispresented it). There is no doubt a green, sustainable, theme in my blog. Mea culpa. But, it is secondary. What I am really trying to talk about is much more than that. It is about freedom. I feel more free living out here. I am more free!
    I think that this freedom-mongering is more aimed at the post fifties, tho. I am wrting to the people who have worked all their lives and now feel a little trapped – by aging, by habit, by urban umbilicals and tethers. I am writing to the person who wants to retire to something different but is not sure they have the energy or the resources. Your critical comment is especially legitimate if you are under 50. I think. But it is not quite right on.
    Please note: my lifestyle isn’t more free – as in ‘money’. In fact, in many ways it is more expensive. Everything costs more the further you go from the city. Mind you, we consume less. So, it is about the same, I guess, in a cost-of-living accounting.
    But it feels freer on every other level. It is a liberating kind of lifestyle. A healthier one, I think (if only for the air quality). More physical in a natural setting. I plead guilty to prosletyzing healthy and free. But I am not really guilty of claiming to be ‘holier-than-thou-GREEN’.
    We use propane. We use fuel. We burn wood. Our carbon footprint is smaller, I am sure, but not appreciably so. We are into improving our rate of consumption that but that is NOT the main message. The main message is Freedom-to-live-more-naturally.
    And, even at that, I know that younger people need the urban setting for the sake of the gene pool and personal growth, education, socialization and even fun. But at 64, I have already very successfully invested my genes. My kids are great. And younger women aren’t interested in my genes anymore (more the pity) anyway. My get-along-with-the-group-needs have been experienced and, in many ways, exhausted. My kinda fun has changed. I just really prefer this at my stage of the game.
    But I’ll give you a spirited defense on what you assumed about the middle-class privilege…………I was born so poor, that we received care packages, we lived in condemned buildings and I was in 13 different schools before graduating. Spent one year as the only white kid in all black school in SF. Why? Because we lived in the ghetto. Canadians could do that back then. And we needed to. That does not make me better or worse, of course. But I was not privileged, I can assure you.
    Mind you, by the time my wife and I made the leap decades later, we had some ‘leaping’ money as a grubstake. So, that is true. I agree that the ‘move’ is greatly facilitated by having some resources whether it be skills, money or whatever. We had some money from the sale of our suburban home but we had no skills. I think that, really, the best asset is attitude. Or ignorance. We had plenty of both.
    Still do.
    I really should write more clearly. Sorry.
    And, honestly………….thanks for a lengthy comment. Appreciated.


  4. Dear Walkable Society Advocate;

    I commend you for taking a stand in defense of human scale cities and the walkability of urban communities. Sustainability is a challenge everywhere and making ones footprint as green as possible is particularly daunting. It is the dearth of livable cities that drives folks to the hinterlands to experience a peace unending. It is not the sort of peace for everyone as the flight to the cities from rural communities attests. But for those with a pioneering spirit and grit the tules are bliss.


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