A Beginner's Guide To Homesteading In Your 40's or 50's


I receive a lot of emails asking specifically for advice in starting a homestead a little later in life.  I think it's a great question since that's exactly what my experience is!

I was in my mid thirties when I discovered the more modern homesteading movement.  From the time I began reading about it I could feel it in my bones that this was the life I was meant to live.  I devoured everything I could get on the subject and the more I read, the more I wanted it.

When we moved to upstate NY, Jay and I decided to rent a condo.  We had no idea if we would like this area or not.  Turns out, we did.  So we were renting the condo when I first discovered homesteading.  Fast forward a few years, the owner of the condo wanted to sell.  We had a choice to make - buy it or move.  This was just the push we needed to take the first step toward our new lifestyle.

While we purchased our little homestead just a few months later, we didn't begin full-time homesteading until last year, I was 48 and my husband was 54.  Tired of the nonsense that comes with working for others and ready to take more control of our lives, we now own and run a farm-based business, make much of what we eat and use from scratch, and are working to grow most of our veggies.  We raise chickens for eggs and will likely raise them for meat again in the near future.  The remainder of our meat we are able to purchase, for the most part, from friends who are farmers.


What is homesteading?
I guess we should start with what homesteading actually is.  According to Mother Earth News, the new(er) definition is living a lifestyle that is more self-sufficient.  What you likely think of when you hear the term is growing and raising your own food, cooking from scratch, becoming more connected with the land, preserving it for use all year long, living off grid, simplifying, and making homemade products.  Whether you're attracted to homesteading for it's simplicity or maybe for financial reasons, being at least somewhat self-sufficient is hard work but incredibly rewarding.

The beauty in a homesteading lifestyle is that you can choose to do all of these items, some of them, or even more than what is listed.  There are people homesteading on hundreds of acres with full farms, on 20 acres living off-grid & raising veggies and meat for their family and to sell, on just a few acres utilizing their space to grow and raise a market farm, or in a suburban backyard raising half a dozen chickens and growing a family garden.

You get to choose what your homestead looks like because homesteading is a state of mind.


If I want to start homesteading later in life, where should I start?
First, what makes the journey to homesteading different in your 40's and 50's compared to your 20's and 30's?  I think the number one consideration, at least of what you all share with me, is the financial aspect.  Although many may be in a better financial position by this age, making it a bit easier, if you're not it may seem like your dream can never happen.  Because in your 20's and 30's you still have plenty of time to pay off debt and work on building a nest egg it seems more doable.  But even if you aren't as prepared as you should be by your 40's - 50's, you can still make it happen.  It may take a bit more thinking outside of the box, or, you may have to set your sights a bit lower than you originally wanted, you shouldn't give up your dream.

The other concern I hear often is regarding physical labor.  Of course, the older we get the more difficult some of the physical aspects of homesteading can be.  Thinking through what you would like to build as a homestead-based business (if applicable), what animals (if any) you will raise, and the other aspects of your homestead with this in mind will enable you to possibly avoid future problems or concerns.  With a homestead-based business, you can even think about perhaps a smaller model of a larger idea.  For instance:
  • If you want to create a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) because of your love of gardening or because you have the space, what about creating a smaller CSA?  Maybe only feed 15-25 families as opposed to more?  It would cut down some of the work as well as the annual investment in seeds.
Here is a short list of a few things really anyone, regardless of age, should consider before they actually dive into their homesteading journey.  

1. Simplify your life - begin today, don't waste another minute.  Particularly if you will be downsizing, determine what is important to you and surround yourself with those things. Keep the things you love, the tools and equipment you'll need, and the materials that could possibly come in handy one day (old windows, wood, blocks, boulders, hardware, fencing, etc.).  Get rid of the rest.


2. Pay off your debt - get your finances in order.  Homesteading is not without expense so having existing debt will only add stress to your plate.  Learn to live more frugally.  I challenged myself to cut expenses every month until I was comfortable that we had cut it as much as we could while still maintaining the life we wanted to live.  You may choose to continue to work off of the homestead in order to financially make it.  If so, continue working toward living on as little as possible while you put all extra dollars toward debt.  Once your debt is paid off you'll have a lot more options.
3. Network - find others that are like-minded.  You don't have to find a group to socialize with on a regular basis but having others who you can turn to for help, inspiration, or just to vent to who will understand what you're speaking of will help immensely.  It's also very easy to forget about community if you homestead full-time.  Having contact with others is essential and something you should work consciously toward.
Another consideration is if you network with local farmers and homesteaders, maybe you'll find that you won't have to raise/grow everything.  If you find, let's say, someone who raises beef but doesn't raise chickens for meat or eggs, perhaps you can barter.  This way both of you have variety and can stick with what you know best.


4. Save, save, save - saving every little bit to give you a cushion will only help set you up for success.  Despite the homesteading lifestyle being more simple, it's not without expenses.  Seeds, fencing, feed for animals, vet care, electricity, taxes, etc. all come with a cost.  And then there's the unexpected…..
5. Make sure this is the right lifestyle for you + determine your "whys" - homesteading means you will spend the majority of your time at your home.  Building a self-sufficient lifestyle takes time and, honestly, just like any lifestyle, there doesn't seem to be enough hours in a day.  If you enjoy traveling, for instance, this may not be for you.
I would highly encourage you to figure out your "why's".  Not just yours, but your spouse/significant other, kids, etc.  I think this does two things: 1) helps you determine if it's the right move for you (and if it's the right time) and 2) helps you start to formulate a plan for your new homestead.
Decide if it really is before you jump in and make the commitment.
6. Learn to cook with what you have - regardless of whether you are a good home cook or not, you may find new challenges when you're raising and/or growing your own food.  If you're raising animals for meat you may find cuts that you don't normally buy.  In an effort not to let anything go to waste, begin researching how to use these now.  You will also end up with a lot more of the same veggies than you do now.  Maybe your tomatoes don't do well one year but your swiss chard has grown into what can only be described as a dense forest (true story).  Again, with the idea being that you are living off of what you grow/raise, find new ways to use veggies.




When I get my own homestead, what should I do first?
As far as the activities typically associated with homesteading, start wherever you are but do it slowly if you can.  And take the time to make a plan.  Another thing easily forgotten is to check with your town (or the town of where you're looking at purchasing property) for right-to-farm laws.  Make sure you can raise the animals you would like to raise on the property you own or are interested in purchasing.  You may also want to find out local laws regarding selling from your property if that's a consideration of yours.


1. Plan
It may sound obvious but it's critical for success as well as for a conservative use of your money, to put together a plan of what you'd like your homestead to look like. Determine what you would like to raise or grow, and, therefore, what types of "chores" you will have.  This will also help you plan start-up costs, which can add up quickly.

Some things to consider:
  • Will you try to grow all of your vegetables?
  • Will you try to grow all of your fruit?
  • Will you ferment?
  • Will you can - pressure and/or water bath?
  • Will you dehydrate veggies and/or fruit?
  • Will you make kefir regularly?
  • Will you make kombucha regularly?
  • Will you mill your own flour?
  • Will you bake everything from scratch?
  • If you eat meat, do you want to eventually raise all of the animals?
  • Do you plan to butcher the animals yourself?
  • Will you raise chickens for eggs?
  • If you consume dairy, will you raise your own animals for dairy?
  • Will you make your own cheese, butter, sour cream, etc.?
  • Will you raise animals for fiber?
  • Will you grow herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes?
  • Will you make your own medical/first aid products?
  • Will you make your own bath & body products?
  • Will you distill your own essential oils and hydrosols?
  • Will you make your own cleaning products?
  • What do you want to continue purchasing from the grocery stores?
  • Will you raise bees for honey and beeswax?
  • Will you need to cut wood for winter heating and/or for cooking?


Now think about what the full view of each item you've said "yes" to.  Think about the time involved (daily) for each task associated.  Think about the initial cost as well as ongoing costs associated.

For example:
Raising chickens for meat is a bit different than raising chickens for eggs.  
  • Both need safe shelter, feed (depending on the breed, those raised for meat may require quite a bit), even if only supplemental, and equipment such as feeders, waterers, and nesting boxes (egg layers only).  
  • Will you care for any medical needs?  I recommend this book which has helped us tremendously.
  • Then the initial start-up cost of the birds themselves.  Can you buy sexed chicks locally? (make sure they are sexed so you don't end up with all roosters if you are raising egg layers)  Do you plan to hatch your own (then you need an incubator)?
  • If you're getting chicks to start you will need a heat lamp, a secure space that doesn't have small holes they can escape through, a smaller waterer and feeder, and chick feed.  
  • Who will butcher those raised for meat?  If it will be you, there's a bit of equipment for that as well and the time to do it.  
  • If you're raising Cornish for meat, they MUST be processed by week 8-10, otherwise they will begin to die on their own.  Think about the time of year:  will you have time to process?  Will you have the equipment & space to do so?
It's all very possible.  Taking the time to think it through will help you set yourself up for success and help avoid major financial or other disasters.


2. Start Slow
Start slow, allowing yourself to learn different aspects at a pace that allows you to make mistakes, learn from them, and have a better understanding of that particular area.  Starting slow also allows you to build the appropriate infrastructure, whether it be fencing, water lines, garden beds, a greenhouse, etc.

For instance, if you've never gardened before, don't plant a full garden your first year if you don't have to.  Grow a handful of things that your family eats and learn all about those plants.  Learn about the space they need, where they grow best on your property, and what companion plants will work well with them. Take notes on what does/doesn't work and next year add more.

If you've never raised chickens don't bring in a flock of 20, maybe start with 6.  As you learn about them, start to understand what to look for with regard to illness, etc. and feel like you've got a good understanding of how many you will need, add to your flock.  When you build their housing, however, you will want to build for what your flock will eventually be.  This way there isn't an additional cost of putting an addition onto the coop or building a new one.

3. Add Things Methodically
Try to get one or two things under your belt before adding others.  If you can, it will allow you to not feel so overwhelmed and to learn each of the areas as you add them.  It will also help financially because every single area has a start-up & working cost associated.


Considerations For A Homestead-Based Business
This is one area I ask you to really think about.  If you will need an income to help offset costs and/or provide living expenses, please do the research first before you jump in.

I have provided 2 lists (found here and here) of many ideas for farm-based businesses that you can consider for your own homestead.  These are simply lists.  What they don't tell you is what will be successful in your area.  It pays to do a lot of research prior to making a commitment including looking at town/state requirements and where or how you will sell products.


Take Soapmaking as an example.  Since this is what I do I feel very comfortable using this as an example.  Here is what I would encourage you to think about/research:
  • Where will you sell your products?  
  • If it's a farmers market, are you sure you can get in to a local market?  Ours are very competitive and will only accept 1 or 2 of the same type of craft vendor.  If you are pretty comfortable that you can get into a market, are you confident you can make enough sales to make this a business?  Do you have any businesses at the market(s) you can gauge this with? 
  • Are your markets year-round?  If not, how will you create an income in the off-season? 
  • If it's online sales you prefer, will there be a cost associated?  Do you feel confident that you can cover the monthly or per sale cost and still make money?  Will you accept credit cards?  Have you taken a look at the fees associated?  How will customers discover you?  What about shipping/packing material and other costs?
  • How much raw materials/containers will you need to keep on hand?  I can tell you there is LARGE overhead associated with this business.  Make sure you factor this into your start-up & ongoing costs.
  • How much will your insurance costs be? 
  • Do you need any special licensing (check with your state and town)?
  • How much will you sell each product for?  Make sure you cover all raw materials, packaging, shipping of those items, as well as your additional overhead (taxes, insurance, online costs, market costs, gas, etc.)  This should be factored into every single item.
 Take Selling Eggs as another example:
  • Where will you sell your products?  
  • If it's a farmers market, are you sure you can get in to a local market?  If you are pretty comfortable that you can get into a market, are you confident you can make enough sales to make this a business?  
  • Are your markets year-round?  If not, what will you do with your eggs during the off-season?
  • Can you differentiate yourself from other egg sellers at the local markets?  Can you go organic if others are not?  What about different colored egg shells?  **(we've done both of these and there are costs associated with both - organic feed is DOUBLE regular feed and "easter eggers" don't lay as heavily as other breeds like Plymouth Barred Rocks or Sex Links)**
  • What price do you need to sell your eggs at in order to make a profit?  (factor in all costs associated with raising chickens)  This will also help you determine how many chickens you will need in order to make a profit as well as how much above grocery store egg prices yours will be.  Do you know that you can find consumers in your area willing to pay this price?
  • What will you do with layers after years 2-3 when they are no longer producing heavily?
  • Eggs are perishable, what will you do with excess?
  • If you want to sell wholesale to a bakery/restaurant/store, search out a business ahead of time that you will sell to.  Figure out what you need to sell them at so you can have a conversation with each business owner using actual/real numbers. What will you do during the winter molt?
  • Do you need any special licensing in order to sell? (check with your state & town)
  • Can you sell at your property? (check with your town)
  • How much will insurance costs be?

Final Thoughts

All-in-all, I think having the desire to live the "simple life" at any age is an amazing journey waiting to happen.  Whether you've always had the desire, or, based on the events of your life you've developed this desire, moving toward your homesteading dream will be a scary, rewarding, and fulfilling transition.

We did not plan financially nearly as much as we should have.  Because of this, we do work a LOT on our business which means we don't get to devote as much time to the homestead as we'd like.  But we work for ourselves, and that's a huge relief for us.  Homesteading is a sense of freedom and working for ourselves is a sense of freedom as well.  It's doing things on our own terms.

Ultimately, homesteading represents freedom, a healthier lifestyle, and a positive financial move to us.  We work for ourselves, know exactly what we eat and/or put on our bodies, and raise/grow most of what we eat and make most things from scratch.  Our future plans in a nutshell are that we would like to be mortgage free and move one last time  to a (paid for) little bit larger piece of property.  We could expand our garden a bit and add a few more animals.


I would love to hear from you!  
What tips, dreams, or fears do you have for starting a homestead life in your 40's and 50's? 



1 comment

PoetPlath2.0 said...

Wonderful post, just caught it on Pinterest. Thank you! I'm 49 and have homesteaded in the past, but a divorce and move to the desert of far west Texas put an end to that. I've returned to greener pastures with remarriage to the love of my life and would like to return to my more frugal and productive past ways. Your tips here have made me think harder about the steps we need to take to realistically enact the things we would like to do on our little bit of earth.