“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Theodore Roosevelt
My daughter is used to being without money. When she decided to stay home with three kids during the recession of 2008, her husband didn’t have a job. They wanted their daughter to take ballet lessons and couldn’t afford it.
I offered to help, but she said, “We’re not taking money from you and Dad. We’ll figure out a way.”
And they did.
Her husband, who was handy enough to make a dining room table and install hardwood floors in their house, struck a bargain with the ballet instructor. He would re-model her bathroom in exchange for lessons.
Bankruptcy and job loss
My daughter and son-in-law had not always been unemployed. They met when they both worked on an Event Farm, and they earned enough through extreme thriftiness to buy a house on a plot of land adjacent to the farm. Then the farm went bankrupt, leaving them both out of work.
That was over a decade ago, and my son-in-law has since gotten a job as a high school physics teacher, which doesn’t pay much. But during those lean years of unemployment, they figured out a way to eat and make house payments.
My daughter became an extreme coupon mom, sometimes cutting their food budget down by 75 percent, while her husband managed to find occasional minimum wage jobs or carpentry work. In addition to the couponing, they bought chickens and started an organic garden that provided them with vegetables for most of the year.
My daughter buys a goat
Eventually they were able to afford goats and pigs. My daughter, who had majored in Animal Science in college, researched animal husbandry extensively before buying livestock. She wanted to invest in goats that were good milk producers but could also net a decent price if sold, and she wanted pigs that were hardy enough to survive almost free-range.
She ended up breeding Nubian goats, which produce a high-quality, high-butterfat milk good for making yogurt and cheese. She also learned how to make goat milk soap, which is hydrating and soothing for damaged skin.
When they could afford it, they invested in a couple of speckled Nubian dams. Spotted offspring, frequently sold as pets or to people who want to start their own dairy herd, are in big demand. Females are worth more because of milk production and breeding ability, so the birth of speckled twin girls is cause for celebration.
My daughter told me she used to think Old Testament biblical commands to sacrifice male goats meant that males were considered more valuable. Her perspective shifted following her own experience with goat herding. Now she believes female goats were too valuable to be sacrificed.
When they decided to breed pigs, she chose Heritage pigs, a naturally hardy breed able to live off land, grass and grain. The breed isn’t too common nowadays due to unsuitability for the intensive farming techniques used in the hog industry, but is making a comeback for those who want more flavorful meat and prefer more humane farming methods.
Paying with pigs
The other day, my daughter, her son and I were walking in the park. We stumbled across a painted piano bolted to the floor of a covered park pavilion and my grandson began played it with amazing natural ability. I urged my daughter to sign him up for piano lessons.
The next time I talked with her, she said he was taking both piano and guitar. How could they afford lessons on a school teacher’s salary? She was paying in pigs. In exchange for lessons, the music instructor would receive one pig.
My daughter also paid with pigs when she hired someone to take care of the farm while the family went on vacation; half a pig and goat’s milk for five days of farm work.
In addition to the garden and the livestock, they’ve planted fruit-producing trees and established a bee colony for honey, which my daughter prefers as a sweetener. They don’t eat fast food or go to restaurants, they don’t have cable TV, and they shop for clothes in thrift stores.
Opportunities for expansion
Extreme thriftiness and good money management have enabled them to accumulate some savings. For the last several years, they’ve been buying land adjacent to their farm for $5,000 an acre. The land was originally sold for $25,000 an acre with plans for a housing development that never materialized. When the Event Farm and the developer went bankrupt, land values plummeted. People were left with tracts of land they were anxious to unload, since the surrounding acreage was farmland rather than a subdivision.
“Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in and it will come naturally.” David Frost
My daughter has always been an animal lover. In addition to their livestock, she’s rescued a couple of dogs and cats from the animal shelter, adopted a burro from the Bureau of Land Management, acquired a miniature mule from the bankrupt Event Farm and purchased a horse.
I’m still amazed at what they’ve been able to do without having much money.