Friday, July 16, 2010

Many irons in the fire

It's been heartbreaking to see how many of our friends are without work. Along with millions of other people, a lot of our friends have lost their jobs and simply cannot find another full-time position that pays anywhere approaching the income they were making before.

I remarked to my husband that it's a good thing we've voluntarily lived close to the poverty line for the past seventeen years because it's given us good practice for a tough economy. Over these years we've scaled back our spending and tightened our expenses to the point where we can get by on very little (relatively speaking). Our mortgage is low. We've managed to pinch our electricity bill back to about $35-40/month (though, frustratingly, the power company automatically tacks on a surcharge of $16.50 to everyone's bill to pay for their new building). We have no water bill (we're on a well) or garbage bill (our property taxes pay for county dumpsters). We have no car payments, student loans, or credit card bills. We do have costs associated with running our business - FedEx (which can be pricey!), wood, supplies, etc. which can add up to quite a bit. We fill our propane tanks about twice a year (we used to fill them about four times a year until I stopped using our propane clothes dryer). All normal household purchases are made at thrift stores. (God bless thrift stores.) We rarely shop retail stores for anything (we just bought some new socks and underwear for the girls, which is the exception to our thrift store rule). Our biggest expense by far is our catastrophic high-deductible health insurance.

So that gives you some idea of our household expenses. So what about income?

Our home woodcraft business continues to provide the bulk of our income, and because it's seasonal we've learned to salt away money during flush times to see us through lean times. Works quite well, actually.

Lately we've developed what we call the "many irons in the fire" theory of earning money, which means we'll take on any paying job we reasonably can, even if it's dribs and drabs, to supplement our income. I've taken on a weekend job (working from home on my computer) which pays $400/month. I write a monthly article for a magazine which pays $300. My husband "monetized" my blog, which means that whenever someone clicks on an advertisement in the margin I receive a few cents. I've been contracted to revise a craft book, which is due at the end of the summer. I take on freelance desktop publishing jobs when they come available. I write freelance articles for a variety of magazines. Et cetera et cetera et cetera.

As the economy has dipped lower, I've become a huge advocate of this "many irons" idea of income. It means that if one source of money dries up, we are not left destitute as some of our friends are. By working so many little things here and there, it broadens our experience and abilities for any new job that comes available.

This is something I urge others to think about: diversifying your income portfolio (also known as not putting all your eggs in one basket). It leaves you less vulnerable. It makes sense in a down economy.

Of course it helps if you cut your expenses too. After seventeen years of self-employment and starting our home business from scratch, we've become blackbelts in frugality (though I would say just a first-degree blackbelt - I have friends who out-frugal us by far).

I'm always interested in hearing how others lay "irons in the fire," so feel free to comment on what you're doing to get by in this economy.

(And I would seriously appreciate it if everyone reading this blog would make it a daily policy to click on at least one advertisement. Okay, I'll stop asking.)


  1. Well done! Well done, indeed.

    You opened up a big ol' can of Troll Whip on that one, honey.

    And lest the less explicit element of the message go unvoiced, please allow me:

    It is not advisable to dis Ms. P's homegirl! They definitely have each other's backs!

    A. McSp

  2. Fortunately, I retired long ago. My pension (non-government) isn't much, but I get by. When I worked 40 hours a week, I used to supplement my income with a little of this and a little of that. While others were vacationing in Europe or sunning themselves in Acapulco, I was doing this stuff:

    Antique picker (flea market seller)
    Freelance photographer
    Freelance writer
    Jewelry designer
    Rock shop consignee
    Treasure hunter

    I never earned much from these endeavors, but they provided some cash when I needed it, and I had a great time learning the jargon that goes with each "job" and I met some fascinating people.

    Now, at 60, I still do some picking and treasure hunting, but more for pleasure than for pay.

    Anonymous Twit

  3. Anticipating this time many, many years ago, I set out to create products that solve the problems of agriculture, viticulture and apiculture. I now have over 70 products, including for personal care, and this wide range of products people can use gives me a lot of flexibility in the market place.

    The down side of this is that I have over 70 products to make and track. Exhausting. But what usually happens is that when one product begins to wane, another picks up. It's kept me in business for nearly 20 years.

  4. Hmmmm. I sell 7 to 14 dozen eggs a week, sell some chickens and ducks, and sell sheep and lambs. If I were to get really industrious (grin), I could spin all my fleeces into yarn and sell it but, sadly, I don't have time as I do have full-time employment in the city. Usually my excess fleeces end up as mulch. Husband and I build porch rockers, child rockers, and porch swings in our spare time by request only (no advertising).

    I have some skills that are periodically requested for hire but that I don't have time for presently such as refinishing sinks and bathtubs, acid dying concrete, making concrete countertops and planters, wallpapering, decorative paint finishes, demonstrating weaving, spinning, and sheep shearing. The demonstrations used to bring in $150/4 hours, but I'm not sure what the going rate is now since I haven't had time to do it for a few years.

    I was recently blessed with thousands of dollars' worth of German and Swiss-made carving tools that belonged to somebody that died and the widow wanted them given to somebody that would enjoy them, and the organization that she tried to give them to never showed up. It came up in conversation that I whittled, and she was so happy to have them going to a home! I'm having fun fooling around with woodcarving. (I'm a little leery about using them, though, since my previous most expensive carving tools were Flexcut knives! Yikes!)

    Something that I would like to learn to do (someday, when I have time?) since we have some thick clay deposits would be making pottery. I ran across a big kick wheel a few years back at a garage sale for practically nothing and bought it because I have plenty of storage space and those things don't come along every day! Ditto the kiln taking up space in the workshop.

    Some women collect dishes or jewelry or shoes. I collect tools.

  5. This is a great topic. I am putting together a little list of 'things you don't hear around the water cooler' and one of the items is, "say, how is that second job turning out for you?"

    Would you be willing to share some of your secrets on drumming up some of your alternate sources of income?

    Thank you for your great blog.

  6. Save the Canning JarsJuly 16, 2010 at 4:36 PM

    My kids graduated from college with highest honors, one a 4.0 gpa and the other a 3.95 gpa. They started job searching and applied for anything reasonable but it was no use as the economy had tanked. (And no, they did not get degrees in history or basket weaving, but rather computer security). Despite a great cover letter and resume, they could not even get an interview.

    Now my husband is an important big-shot employee in a large company, and when a computer job opened up, my son was not even considered because there were HUNDREDS of applications for that one job and most applicants had experience instead of being fresh out of college. My husband pulled NO STRINGS.

    Now these kids could feel like failures because so much time has passed, but they don't. They do odd jobs as they see an opportunity, like mowing, tutoring math (12 regular students), and transferring a church's financial info from an old computer to a new computer. No charge for this as one can never out-give God. Do you know that my kids always have money and they have no debt...not even student loans?!!! Now are odd-jobs going to be their destiny? No. But did God throw open a door (a career opportunity) that they refused to walk through? No!

    So being available, flexible, and open to odd-jobs is the key to success in this day and hour.

    Bright people diversify!

  7. it is nice to know there are other people out there using their talents and gifts. i sew and design useful things like quilts, aprons, padded cell phone cases, wrist cuffs, etc...and i like using vintage linens in my creations. my motto is the old "use it up, make it do, or do without"....i also make and sell jams and jellies. i have been layed off from my partime job in the home building and supply business for almost two years now...and there is no work to be found i make my own way..ain't easy but is very satisfying! looking for a treadle sewing machine in good condition just in case the power goes out.

  8. Hey Patrice, just a word of warning on suggesting people click on your Google ads. If you read Google's terms and conditions it's clearly stated that suggesting or "hinting" people do that is a clear violation. Besides that, they have a very elaborate click tracking system. When my blog was young some friends were making one click a day and it wasn't long before Google suspended my account and I had to beg to get back. I since instructed them to not do that again.

    *shrug* Just an FYI, don't want to see you loose your Google ads.

  9. Patrice, should've mentioned this is my site:

    - Ranger Man

  10. Ooooh, a good warning, Anonymous. That's a mistake I won't make again. Although I *will* take the opportunity to thank all who clicked!


  11. Lehman's has (expensive) treadle sewing machines and cabinets. I have a couple I picked up at garage sales (grin) that need the cabinets rebuilt.

  12. I wish I could respond with a list of the things we do to bring in extra $$ and keep our eggs in different baskets, but as it is, my husband's income is all we have. We are spending all our "free" time learning a whole new lifestyle. Raising chickens for eggs, gardening on a scale that might actually help feed the family instead of just raising a couple of tomatoes (boy do we have a LOT to learn there!), learning about our goats and putting up fencing and housing for them, and hopefully getting some broilers soon. All our tasks aren't bringing in any extra money, but they're teaching us some pretty good things so we don't NEED as much money anymore. Thanks for all your posts on "how-to", Patrice. We've gleaned a lot from you.

    Swampie - One of my daughters and I REALLY want to learn to spin and weave. If you have "extra" fleeces lying around, I'd love to work something out with you.

  13. Hi, all! I closed down a small consulting company in the US and migrated to Australia in 2008. It was a shock to friends who didn't think I would be able to handle the low income or isolation of a rural life. But in fact, I've never been happier! I have to confess, I came into the country with a healthy nest egg from the US, but I've saved that money and invested it very judiciously. . . bought a 14-acre farm and began furiously setting it up with a well, a pond, electric fencing, and lots of trees. . . .

    One thing I still have, probably because I was raised by two small business owners, is a kind of entrepreneurial mindset, so even though I'm enjoying the heck out of gardening, setting up an orchard, etc., I find myself still drawn to thinking up ways to make a good income out of our farm activities. My husband is a winemaker, so we buy grapes and make our own wine, which is on the wine list of some restaurants and in several bottle shops in Tasmania. That brings in enough to pay our land taxes AND keeps us in a good supply of lovely wine. In addition, we are raising steers, but we've decided to buy two steers while young, raise them to slaughter weight, and then butcher both but sell one in order to finance both steers' original cost. And that appears to be working! In addition, we keep thinking of other ways to reach beyond just simple sustainability: e.g., we recently discovered and got seeds for a rare temperate hot pepper, which we think might prove to be a great market-garden item to sell to veggie shops.

    We've also approached a veggie shop in our small town of Penguin, Tasmania, and they are interested in bartering for our general veggies and produce--we con't expect to make much, but would be very content to simply take out in 'trade' for items we don't produce ourselves, such as butter, milk, berries. . . .

    So in short, I agree that it's possible to apply your creativity and talent to bring in some cash. But also don't forget the wonders of bartering--we are lucky to have neighbours who are eager to trade their organic, home-grown pork for our grass-fed beef! In other words, we are working on ways to reduce the NEED for money without sacrificing variety and a decent quality of life.

    Very much enjoying your blog, Patrice! I shared it with my sister who happens to live in CdA, and she loves it too! Praise to all Preppers! Cheers from Aussie. . . . .