Report to the Grandkids, MMX

Since this is the grandkids farm, it only seems appropriate to give a periodic report on the state of the farm, so here goes part I.

We still own the farm, no liens or encumbrances - Ye Haw!

Soil fertility balance sheet:

  1. (-) We sold a small amount of alfalfa hay last year and about 2 dozen calves
  2. (-) Traded about 25 bales of grass hay for putting up the other 25
  3. (+) We didn't hay all fields - mowed some and let it drop as usual. 
  4. (+) We continue purchasing/bartering for feed concentrate imports
  5. (+) We brought in a good wagon load of straw (with help buckin' from your pregnant Auntie/Mom!). 
  6. (+) Most of our firewood last year was from off farm.
I need to get a couple soil samples to take to the Extension but I'm going to say that we probably are still down some fertility on balance due to putting up hay on shares.

Still my biggest concern long term is water, both quality and availability. We are downhill from two dairies. One uses a lagoon to capture and spread from a freestall barn, the other is more traditional with lots of runoff. I don't mind receiving some of the "tea" that runs off but worry about the groundwater quality as well as level as dairies really use the water.

Good news is there isn't any new (or old) industrial development nearby or uphill, no big CAFO ag barns/lots and no new urban refugee barns either!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on water.

Capital Improvements [cash costs in brackets]
  1. Greenhouse Project: increased solar gain, new poly roof covering, new (recycled) south glass, hydronic heated benches, propagation cabinet [mostly recycled, $100 plumbing, $75 poly, misc hardware]
  2. New hen house. [a few 2x4s]
  3.  New back steps [recycled lumber, new composition railing]
  4. Still working on Gram's kitchen...
Equipment, facilities:
  1. 9 new calf hutches [2x4s]
  2. New 8x12 calf shed [2x4s]
Cash income/expenses:
Last year was pretty tough cash-wise: Pops got sick, graphics work was virtually non-existent, calf market was in the toilet. But, work has been picking up since the first of the year, calves are bringing better, Uncle Sam is happy for a while, we're working the hospital bill and meds/supplies aren't nearly as bad as we thought.

I was kind of slow this time last year and Gram did lots of the gardening. This year I've been doing more graphics work so she is doing most of the gardening. We had thought this would be the year went much more into market farming as a necessity but we pulled back at the last minute as graphics jobs started coming back. We did wholesale some starts to the feed store, and depending on his success selling them we may put up a small hoophouse this fall.

We ate lots of homemade beef and pork and potatoes and onions and beans last year! We went shopping a couple times at Sam's and used the pantry a lot. We've worked on our few utility bills; the phone is a bare bones plan, the Great Thunder Bottom Internet Antenna is at the lowest level of service available, we have plug strip switches on the Evil Standby Red Eye phantom loads if we can remember to use them and of course we have had curly lamps everywhere since whenever.
We haven't had cable or satellite TV for years but I recently splurged and signed up for Netflix - $8.95/mo - good time are here again! I finally watched Crude Awakening!

All in all, the last couple of years were a good experience. Our income mix is is much improved. Although graphics still comes exclusively from CA, 2 new clients are more diversified than I've had in a long time - health care and small business advertising. We have even more experience with sick calves, one day we hope to be able to keep most alive.

We remembered too that pantries (and Rule #4) are there for a reason.


How Big is Too Big?

The average US home has grown in size from 1,000 square feet in the 1950's to somewhere in the 2,400sf area in the late aughts. At the same time, the number of people per home has dropped from 3.5 or so to 2.5 or about 1000sf per person.

Is it any wonder the amount Americans owe on mortgages has increased from about 20% of the size of GDP to 70% of the size of GDP? Over 2/3 of the value of everything this country makes in a year. That just floors me.

I didn't talk about housing in my 5 Rules mainly because there are so many ways to gain shelter and I obviously have a bias toward small towns and small farms. But if I were to add a sixth rule I think it would be KISS - Keep It Small, Stupid. Granted, we now live in the largest house we've ever owned, but that's the key, we own it.

Several bloggers I read were talking about housing and households this week - Calculated Risk (a great economics site if like me, you understand charts better than equations), John Michael Greer, Sharon Astyk and some others. They talk a lot about declining resources and that dovetails right into the whole idea of a less-is-more lifestyle.

When we decided to abandon CA to the real estate flippers 6 years ago, we had a few criteria; somewhere in the center of the country, east of the treeline and south of the 200-day growing line (think somewhere south and east of central Kansas) - away from cities, 20+ acres of tillable land, 35"+ rain - those we my criteria, plus - - -

 an old 2-story house...

So yea, we have over 1,000sf per person in our house but we don't owe anything to the bank and that makes all the difference. But as far as being the wisest decision, an old house (ours is just under 100 years old) isn't the best. This old place is framed with oak - yep, oak, so it's gonna stand up for a while longer and the foundation and framing are about as straight as they get so I have no qualms about putting in time and money bringing the insulation and mechanicals up to snuff. But it is a long process and if you or yours don't have the experience of living in a work zone for a really long time you need to think long and hard about a fixer.

Much better (if you all the parties can agree) would be building a new, frugal home from scratch. I love this old house and I'm trying to get all the holes plugged and some solar gain but it's tough, starting new with solid plans would get you to frugal fast. I'd build a small, bermed, passive solar house using plastered ICF walls (basically a Styrofoam/concrete sandwich) and galvalume or tile roof. I'd spend all I had on the envelope and finish the interior as I could get the goodies.

There used to be a formula, back in the pre ETF/bundled securities days, it was called a qualifying ratio and when we bought our first house we needed the housing cost to be less than 24% of our gross income and all our loan payments plus mortgage to be less than 28% - oh, and 20% down too.


Dropout Economy

Time magazine article a few weeks ago really struck a nerve. The premise put forward was kind of a new underground economy populated by dropouts.

As conventional high schools and colleges prepare the next generation for jobs that won't exist, we're on the cusp of a dropout revolution...

As industrial agriculture sputters under the strain of the spiraling costs of water, gasoline and fertilizer, networks of farmers using sophisticated techniques that combine cutting-edge green technologies with ancient Mayan know-how build an alternative food-distribution system. Faced with the burden of financing the decades-long retirement of aging boomers, many of the young embrace a new underground economy, a largely untaxed archipelago of communes, co-ops, and kibbutzim that passively resist the power of the granny state while building their own little utopias.
So I looked up the author - Reihan Salam, like I usually do and was surprised to find he is a conservative. Not that that's a bad thing, just that this little ball-gazing effort was quite liberal - in the strict sense of the adjective:
Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; 

The dropouts he pointed to were of the young version but the underground economy he imagined could be one I'd fit right into. Today there are a large number of people who've been out of work for a long time, many are indeed blue collar and a large portion are also 50+ undergraduates. Salam thinks unemployment is so cushy and attractive nowadays many freeloaders would rather draw unemployment than find a job. I'd have thought perhaps his vision is more of a conservative's nightmare of the return of long-haired hippy types until this:
The cultural battle lines of our time, with red America pitted against blue, will be scrambled as Buddhist vegan militia members and evangelical anarchist squatters trade tips on how to build self-sufficient vertical farms from scrap-heap materials.
Wow. What a mouthful from anyone even sort-of aligned with any political party.

Anyway, it's a great idea starter for anyone thinking about slipping out of the fast lane...


Rule #5, Don't be Dependent - The Marlboro Man Paradox

Wayne McLaren, the first Marlboro Man, dying of lung cancer at 51

Individualism is participating in society for the sole purpose of furthering one's own interests. The Marlboro Man is the modern icon of individualism. He (at least one of him  anyway) died of lung cancer, I assume because he believed what he was told by those making a profit from his addiction. Philip Morris for it's part was simply furthering it's own interests by lying about the dangers of smoking - that's as individualistic as it gets. It's ironic the icon of individualism died as a result of unfettered individualism.

Americans have this image of themselves as rugged pioneers who sally forth to tame the wilderness - and get rich off it's untapped resources. The Marlboro Man is the perfect icon for this myth, a lone agent rounding up the doggies and trailing them to market. He is Chisholm, Crocker, Comstock and Rockefeller.

Our society is stuck in Manifest Destiny mode but land and natural resources (and wild cattle) free for the taking are quite gone. But like the Marlboro Man with cigarette dangling, we cling to the myth and condemn any suggestion of contributing to a greater good as socialism.

At the same time the nagging feeling that the end of our endless resources is indeed nearing and the theme is often repeated that things may not be better for our kids after all. The result - I guess, is the mass, ugly re-expression of our selfish gene at virtually any political question.

Living at the margin is selfishly individualistic if you are an individual but it could just as easily be a model for collectivists if that's your thing. Taking advantage of society's overflow seems a perfectly normal niche, after all we're omnivores, quite good at invention and utterly adaptable. 

So when I say 'don't be dependent' I'm not talking about trying to be the Marlboro Man, the poster boy of dependence, in fact exactly the opposite. Avoid dependence on the systems we all take for granted, the Just In Time delivery of stuff - food, heat, lights, transportation, entertainment, and perhaps most of all, the 9-5. The added benefit is achieving a measure of resilience in your personal economy that makes you better able to withstand the normal ups and downs of the larger economy and maybe even the turns that aren't so normal.

It's not so difficult to change...

Marlboro had a female target audience till Leo Burnett came up with the Marlboro Man Campaign and changed the brand almost overnight, probably one of the most successful ad campaigns ever...


Rule #4, Don't Get Hungry

"Get Hungry?" I imagine you yelling, "I'm so fat I can't get into my pants! Food is so cheap today how could I ever go hungry?"

Ironically that is exactly the problem. In the rich world today, the cheaper the food, the more likely it's filled with empty calories, made from highly subsidized ingredients like added sugar and Hi Fructose Corn Syrup, over processed grains and added fats. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables fish, etc, are more expensive than a Big Mac menu - and no wonder, the food pyramid and the farm subsidy pyramid are exactly reversed.

In the Rich World, producing the essentials for survival; food, water, shelter, (along with all the diversions in the Bread & Circus isle) are in the SEP Zone (Somebody Else's Problem). The good citizen takes little notice except for paying very close attention to what is the popular, most advertised product of the moment. The citizen's responsibility then is simply to work and consume what's offered in the price category matching their education and income, the lower the income, the emptier the calories, the less you are satisfied, the more you eat, the fatter you get.

Remember Rules 1 & 2 are about getting off the buy-cycle and number 3 is getting rid of your day job, so the wise, edgy person learns to be more ant than grasshopper. Conveniently, since you have less time alloted to "a job", you have more time to devote to your pantry.

Rule 4.(a Stock up.
Fill your pantry with food you buy at the warehouse store and on the sale day and from the local farm and from your own harvest. Once you get it full, just buy, grow enough to replace what you use. Voila! instant Food security.

The pitfall when trying to take advantage of the margins around our current society is mistaking cheap food for good food - exactly the same problem as buying really cheap stuff thinking you are buying stuff really cheap. Low priced, over-processed pre-digested, HFCS/fat/salt laden, individually-wrapped-just-microwave-and-inhale, mystery food is bad for you, just look at the correlation between income and obesity - the less you earn the more you weigh.

Rule 4.2 Grow food.

Wherever you live you can grow some food. Because much of what passes as food at the supermarket is beat into mush - even the good stuff, you need fresh raw fruits and vegies. To be overly simplistic, if you eat some fresh asparagus and leafy greens with your extruded mush and HFCS Whatchmacallit patty, your blood sugar won't spike quite so high or fast so you'll feel satisfied longer. And who knows, you might feed your kids some vitamins and minerals by accident!

On the edge, I 'work' less and make less money so not only do I need to take advantage of the harvests and seasons, it's probably one of the biggest benefits. Our food production system has been ruined just as surely by consumers demanding a product with a quality appearance and a cut rate price as every other product. Foreign manufacturing of some worthless widget sold by a screaming barker on the Bread & Circus channel is silly. But to concentrate food production wherever the overhead is the cheapest is downright dangerous. Today monoculture is the norm, miles and miles of exactly the same crop, every fruit designed to ship. But worse, more and more crops are grown predominately in just one region of the world - then shipped to markets everywhere.

The queue for all the rich world goodies gets chaotic pretty quickly when there is a hiccup. The complicated string of just-in-time deliveries it takes to get those goodies (including your food) to the line is long and always subject to such hiccups. As the system gets more complicated and the string longer I expect it to fail more often.

Do you know where your next meal is right now?

How about the meal you'll eat 7 days from now?



Rule #3, Don't Specialize!

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. 

Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

Falling Down

OK! The first of my 5 Rules; #1.a, One point Two and 2.1 aren't all that much fun, in part because they go against everything we were raised to believe it means to be an American, namely, do the right thing so you can buy more stuff than the Jones. I say stuff is an addiction and competing with the Jones for stuff is the root of unhappiness - why do you think the slang for addiction is "Jones"?  [I don't know if thats the reason or not but it fits my purpose perfectly!]

My first two rules, Don't Buy and Don't Borrow eliminate the need to pay interest to buy unending piles of worthless stuff so you don't blow a gasket like Douglas did in Falling Down. Now you can start getting to the fun part: reducing and diversifying your income. This is really the best part of living on the edge. For many years I struggled and sweated through my cheap dress shirts trying to make a little more money, first working for someone else on salary, then in my own business. Every time I succeeded in making more money I got a bigger mortgage, ran up more CC bills, bought (and replaced and replaced) ever more throwaway stuff. All the while I thought I was doing what I wanted but I was mostly just paying the Stupid Tax that keep the Bread and Circus Show on the air.

Just one word...

Mr. McGuire was right, plastics were the future, but they'll be past soon enough. What's the word now?

 Telecommuting. I'm no guru and I have no crystal ball but that's my prediction anyway. I have a diversified income but my primary tool (most years) is a computer and internet connection. If you do any portion of your daily grind on a computer you can probably find a way to make a living anywhere you can get a connection. I can't express how convinced I am that one day not to distant, the current model of "driving till you qualify" for the size home you desire, then driving back in to work everyday will be untenable for a variety of reasons.

Telecommuting is great for rules 1 and 2 too, because it eliminates a wide variety of stuff from your debit column, from commute expenses (you know, like a car and gas) to clothes, to restaurant meals, to child care. Seriously you can save a ton of money by not having a "Job". It also allows you to design everything about your work life, from hours to t-stat setting to choice of Muzak - I'm listening to Dan Tyminski on some-guy-from-Japan's music list on just now.  And as you can see, my office looks like a bordello, which is very soothing.

But best of all telecommuting puts you in charge of your time, get your work done by 6a? Cool, do something else!

And that's the key to making enough cash to keep the tax man away and buy a soda pop here and there, you need to diversify your income. Jobs - and job categories - are increasingly transient, very few people retire with a company pension any more. The last thing you should do is put all your eggs in one basket - the corporation don't do they?

I can't tell you what will work for you. Because we choose to live in the country, in addition to graphics we raise calves, do some odd jobs - carpentry, general farm labor (GASP! and a white man too!), wrenching, upholstery, sewing, sell some vegetable starts and excess produce, some hay once in a while (though I hate selling off fertility) and we're always casting around for something new - that we we like to do.

Another advantage of telecommuting is disconnecting income from cost of living. IOW, I can live in SW MO, with an extremely low cost of living, yet do work for clients in and at rates a shade below what I'd get in the Bay Area of CA - which I do (sometimes).

The flip side of that is if I can work from the Ozarks, someone else can work from Bangladesh and undercut me as well, I've tried and and I have gotten some work but it's tough. But the cat's out of the bag on that one. Whether you live in LA; Gutwater, Missouri and your job can be done over a cable it will be done from a cheaper place one day. You might want to think about that. My best advice is to get yourself a good rep (if you do freelance like me) or make yourself valuable in a way someone in Chindia can't before your job goes that way without you.

Working at the edge of the rich world takes a little bit of courage if you've been a company man your whole life. But this isn't your fathers world anymore and playing their game doesn't always pan out. Homo evolved to be the King of Adaptation, it's time to take advantage of your genes.



Rule 2. Don't borrow trouble...

I just found out the first true credit card was introduced the year after I was born. Funny, I thought all along I was born with a minimum payment due. The Rich World runs on credit, interest is the dues you pay to play the game.
Diners Club was actually first the first "Charge Card" to allow purchase at multiple businesses (resturants) in '50, but charges were due at the end of the month. Previously, retailers (department stores gas stations) would offer their own card. AmEx and Bankamericard (now Visa) were the first to take us down the road of revolving credit cards and the Minimum Payment Devil!

My goal in living on the edge has 3 facets; first, enjoy a small country life, second, use stuff the rich world sorta dribbles out the side of it's mouth so I need less money, and third, have a personal economy and infrastructure not totally dependent on BAU. Let me tell you about me and BAU...

My first bit of credit was for a new refrigerator. We'd used hand me downs and even an old Coke ice box and block ice but I was ready to make the leap into BAU. My Dad co-signed for me, he said, "I'll sign for you, if you're sure you want me to – you'll never be out of debt again you know."

Of course he was right, I ran 'em up then paid 'em off with every house we sold. We'd swear them off and be good till the next time the car broke or school clothes time or whatever excuse seemed handy. We got in over our heads many times but I don't think we ever missed a payment.

Anyway, we're out of the interest business for good now. Long story short:

  • After the recession started our one card (that we used for cash flow - calf money isn't a regular thing) jacked my rate from 7% to 16% for no reason (except that the law was about to change preventing them for raising rates for no reason)

  • Then a few months later I got sick and wound up in the hospital, I wasn't sure how that would turn out so we skipped a payment - they jacked my rate to 29.9%

  • As soon as I saw that statement I decided I just wasn't going to pay - [expletive deleted] 'em!

    6 Months later I offered them 20% to give up and they took it.

    That makes me feel bad, not that they're crooks but that I knew they were crooks and still wound up in a place where I broke my word. It's too bad for them too. Now, just a few months later, I have 2 pretty good new clients, the calf market is up and the calves I was raising to pay off that card would have made a big dent in the balance, but they could not see past jacking me to ridiculous rates, late fees, and then over limit fees. Had they worked with me they would not only have made their their money back with interest but more in the future. Oh well, $20k is no great loss to them and in the end "they" finally broke us of our habit and now we're learning to get some cash savings built like we should have done years ago. 

  • But there are other ways to save for the future more in line with living on the edge. An unexpected offshoot of raising calves is they are as good as money in the bank, in fact, their return is much better than bank interest. Basically we put in some time and maybe $100 dollars and stick 'em out on the grass where they can gain weight. We don't need to sell them at any particular point (as long as we have grass), the bigger they are, the more they're worth (albeit with diminishing returns) and we can sell them 48 weeks of the year and have cash in a couple of days.

    The same goes for storing hay, raising a pig, keeping chickens, growing and preserving food from the garden - even cutting firewood and unless you are really lucky those are all lots more fun than your office job. After all, there is nothing magical about money, it's just a store of value. Whether it's a gold coin, FRNs or 1s and 0s on some hard drive somewhere, it's only worth what someone else will give you in trade.

    For someone trying to live in the margin, the reason to not borrow is pretty obvious; every dollar you borrow comes with a Business As Usual tax in the form of interest - if you're trying to escape BAU, why support it by paying the tax?


    Rule #1.b Recycle

    Not recycling where you return things to be reused by "them", this is the kind where you reuse things. The classic is the spool table which I think should be the photo beside the definition of recycling, come to think of it, in this case it is.

    Previously: 5 RulesRule #1

    Obviously you aren't obligated to have a spool table to qualify as someone living on the edge, (which from now on I'm just going to call "Edgy") Here are a couple of Edgy examples from around the house:

    Reupholstered $15 chair

    Piano - free for hauling, table - homemade (but not free)

    Working chute: hiway barriers panels, salvaged gate - even the headgate was a rescue.

    I have any number of other examples, like the heated greenhouse benches and the soon to be unveiled Hen House from the Edge - in fact our entire house qualifies! It was rundown and inefficient with a roof beginning to fail, a porch roof that already had and the mechanical (and 1 outlet/room electrical) systems virtually kaput when we bought it - that's major recycling!

    The point here is there are basically two ways to spend your life, ride the BAU-go-round and specialize in one or two things so you can make enough money to pay other specialists (or little Chinese girls) to do/make everything you can't - or - spend your life learning to do things yourself. There is a pile of rich world stuff just laying along the edge no one wants to touch... 

    Not yet anyway...


    Rule #1, don't buy junk.

    Buying stuff is necessary, but buying stuff that barely makes it through the trip home is crazy.

    25 or more years ago, Susan wanted to make bread. "Cool!" I said, I can buy a tool - mixers, miter gauges, mattocks, they are all the same if you are a true tool fool like me.

    So at the next opportunity (this in was pre credit card days) I bought an expensive (for us) mixing machine. On a consumer cost scale of 1-5 it was probably a 3 and that was expensive for a carpenter.

    She smoked it on the first double batch.

    Use it once...

    This was the early '80s when there was still a blurry line between sturdy and cheap. That line was quickly fading as plastics and "engineering" made everything better - or at least cheaper. I think that's the corner we've worked ourselves into, everyone wants a deal, the low price always, and that's smart but it has created the throw away society.

    We waste about the same amount of food as we did in the 60's and only twice as much as we did 100 years ago. But we waste 100 times the amount of "product"!

    Containers and packaging made up the largest portion of MSW generated: 31 percent, or about 77 million tons. The second largest portion came from nondurable goods, which amounted to about 24 percent, or about 59 million tons.*

    What is really sad is that in addition to the 24% of the waste stream comprised of "non-durable goods" another 18% is "Durable Goods"!

    Lots of throwaway stuff gets recycled, but the price paid for junk never gets refunded.

    I try to buy stuff that can be fixed...

    I took that plastic mixer back and bought the largest kitchen aide consumer model available. We still have it. It did need repair one time, Susan's brother in law took it apart and replaced a gear and guess what, it was the only plastic part in the machine.

    I'm not really sure there are many products that can be fixed any more, especially the household variety. Parts for the kitchen aide blender we bought 15 years ago are no longer available, the unit looks the same as it has for 50 years but the working parts are new and improved - all plastic in other words. But it's worth a look around if you use something often, it seems sweet to buy 3 cheap somethings for the price of one good thing until you turn around and all 3 are broken.

    I buy old stuff...

    This too is becoming more difficult as the stuff Gram bought 30 years ago gets tossed out with her doilies after she passes. When I was shopping for a good sturdy sewing machine for a Christmas present, I asked a repair guy's opinion and he told me the best machine I could buy - by far, was any model made before about 1965.

    The other problem is many times useable old stuff gets bid up by dealers who resell it as "antique". This really hurts, I'd like to find a useable corn sheller for example but they go for so much as "primitives" I wind up twisting cobs by hand...

    Buy one good thing...

    Finally, I try to buy the best if I possibly can and forego the other 2 things. I'd rather buy a used Honda small engine anything than a new whatever with a brigs; a Lie-Nelson plane is a wonderful thing if you are a tool fool...


    Silk Purses

    Living on the edge of modern ag has kind of become the subtext here at the blog. I'm a Junker/Cobbler/repurposing aficionado at heart and enjoy the functionality of a well turned out Sow's Ear Faux Silk Purse.

    But beyond the simple satisfaction of a successful kludge, my overall goal is to negotiate my life to a simpler and lower energy level, whether as a preemptive move in the face of lower fossil energy availability or just as an escape from the brass ring grabbing contest, the plan is the same. Hopefully a side benefit is leaving a place and a way for my kids and grandkids to adopt if they want or need.

    About three years ago, after racking my brain repeatedly distilling my thoughts on "powering down" to bumper sticker sized morsels for posting on message boards,  I came up with my Five Rules. I use these to judge how/what/where to spend my time and meager resources and to what extent I'm successful.

    Here are Pops' 5 Rules for Living on the Edge of the Rich World:
    • Don't buy
    • Don't borrow
    • Don't specialize 
    • Don't starve
    • Don't be dependen

    I want to talk about these one at a time so I'll start with the firstest and hardest, Don't Buy - or the longer version, Quit buying worthless stuff and learn to live on less.

    If I add together what the SS Administration says I've made in my life to what I've made selling the houses we've lived in and fixed up over the years, it comes to over a million bucks (inflation adjusted it's more like about $756.38 but whatever). Boone Pickens says the first billion is the hardest! Point being, I don't want to come off like some monk sleeping on the floor in a lotus position and eating air. I was up there in the 80th percentile a few times and by golly I tried to spend it before it stagnated and I caused the downfall of the entire economy.

    But hey, buying stuff is the American Way. The self evident, god given right to pursue stuff was in the opening line in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. And even though "property" was replaced by "happiness" in the final item, we all knew what they were talking about and so we all became the undisputed champions of stuff consumption. As a good American, I've made myself happy by buying every kind of stuff from candy bars to bass boats.

    We left California for the Ozarks for a couple of reasons, first and foremost, it was clear the run in home prices was way overdue for a fall. I learned at the time the typical cycle since WWII was 7 years peak to peak - in '04, prices had not peaked for 20 years - that's 2-0 years! When I read the execs at the big home builder Incs were selling off their stock in their own companies to "diversify", well...

    Real estate prices, or any price really, makes no difference if you aren't buying or selling. The thing is, as we sat and watched the "value" of our house double over about 3 years we had that pile of airball equity staring us in the face. But it was only accessible 2 ways, borrow against it (and inevitably find ourselves underwater) or sell and move to a lower valued area.

    I was almost 50 and chained to the merry go round. I had a huge nut to crack each month and any little blip in the economy (oh, I don't know, RE bubble, credit bubble, commodity bubble) would cause my little free lance graphics business to go poof! The same old roundy round, chasing a buck just gets old. And most importantly Susan, my wife, and Miss, my daughter, were ready to abandon the coast - finally!

    Anyway, when it came time to jump the shark, the first step was deciding we could get by without buying so much stuff. Turns out, buying stuff  is a hard habit to break and is what keeps most people working 50 hour weeks. We've been here almost 6 years now and we still get to jonesing for stuff from time to time. Stuff seems to multiply spontaneously (though of course this is illusion), and as it does there is an equal and opposite decrease in wallet mass.

    But stuff is like food, you need to have some to survive, the key is deciding what and how much.

    After chores post more...