Permaculture Zone Zero
If you listen to the experts, they will give you an idea of how to live lightly upon this earth. After listening to Joel Salatin (Polyface Farm, Staunton, VA) I have learned that step one is to get yourself out of debt. I'm working on that. It's hard. Banks hold your mortgage, credit cards, car loans, etc. Until you own your land or car outright, you are just working for the bank. All that interest! It will be the death of you. In medieval times, Christians were not allowed to charge "usary fees" ie interest. Some Islamic/Muslim banks are still that way. I also have indiginous friends who also feel that way. Sadly, the major banks I deal with do not have a moral compass. (Capital One, Bank of America, First National Bank, and American Express) Nor do hospitals, Allegheny Health Network and UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center).
It was a surprise when I opened my credit card bill today. Despite the fact that the billing cycle (number of days) was the same as last month, the interest rate hadn't changed, and I had no additional charges or penalties, my minimum monthly payment required went up, not by much, but still higher. I must admit that has me perplexed. The way in which these companies figure out a minimum payment is a mystery. I know there are federal requirements for paying down both your interest and principal, but what range is allowed between minimum and maximum? I don't know.
I keep a spreadsheet of the debt I am in. My husband and I had good paying jobs at one point. Our debt was high but our credit score stellar. Unlike other get-out-of-debt programs, I include my mortgage, credit card bills and hospital/medical bills. The cars are paid off. They need work but they are paid for. No student loans either. After my husband's stay in the hospital in Oregon in 2013, we had an outstanding total debt of $160,000. Working very hard to pay that down, but incurring two more hospital stays in between, we were able to drop that down $52,000 over five years. It's going to take us a lot longer to pay off the rest with rising interest rates. But now we live on a fixed income since he can no longer work. It is all the more frustrating when monthly bills go up instead of down.
Last year we were able to pay off the first mortgage and some of the hospital bill with help from friends. This year should see a few smaller tickets paid off, the Firestone (CFNA) bill, the last hospital bill, and our overdraft protection accounts. There are a few approaches to paying off debt. One is called the snowball effect. You pay the smallest bills off first. Then you take the same amount from those bills and apply it to the next bigger bill. Another approach is to pay off the accounts with the highest interest first. Snowball has quick, gratification rewards but the highest interest method is more cost effective in the long run. Then there is us. We cannot budget either way because our income is smaller than the bills we owe.
How does that work? How can that work? Well, I'm self-employed. If I have sales, it works just fine. I must sell enough to pay the business' bills, reinvest in product, and book shows plus make enough profit to cover my surplus household bills/expenses. If I don't have sales, I have serious food insecurity and incur late fees, have the utilities cut-off, and head into a downward spiral, culminating in loss of my house. So I have become fixated on producing my own food and follow the financial reports very closely. The government shutdown is affecting sales. I am seriously pissed off about it. There are things I can control, like how much product I list online, how many shows I book, etc. Then there are things I can't control, like climate change and political stupidity/greed. I shake my head. There's only so much boot strapping and belt tightening a gal can do.
Assuming the finances can get settled, the next credit card will not be paid off for another four years. No, interest rates are not my friend. But I console myself with the fact that if we survive, it won't be just one card paid off, but three. (Caveats are no medical care at all for five years and keeping a vehicle with 319,000 miles working.) Leaving me in my retirement years to get the Home Equity Loan paid down. So when I'm 65, I can actually start living. Doesn't that make you proud to be an American?
Insulate your house. Lower energy costs. Use energy efficient appliances. Very hard to do while working on getting out of debt. You will still see a lot of posts in 2019 on this because our refrigerator is dying and our overhead light fixtures as well. We'll be visiting the energy efficiency of the dehumidifier this year and looking at ways to cut down on utility bills. I've another spreadsheet of those compared with average tempatures. Despite climate change, where we live, the average temperature was colder in 2018. It did reflect in our bills. 2019 goals are an energy efficient fridge with a stretch goal of energy efficient ceiling fans..
The back porch figures into heating costs. Without a roof over part of it, the picture window frame started rotting and air is blowing through the house. Not sure we can swing repairs, heck I can't even afford a ladder, but it needs to be addressed. The gutter is also falling off the garage because the wood is rotten. The garage needs to be painted and have other minor repairs as well. Soffits need wire mesh to keep bats & birds out of the garage. The house roof leaks around the chimney. I don't have a clue how to tackle this financially.
My ultimate goal would be to hire a permaculture consultant like Uncle Mud. I would want landscaping to prevent water in the basement. Rainwater collection systems installed, and a RMH in the basement for heat. You could call it a stretch goal or a pipe dream.
Once peak energy efficiency is achieved, procede to the next step.
Work on getting your house off grid.
Not sure I'll live long enough to get this far. I have numbers on energy usage. The garage could be repaired enough to support solar panels that would cover our usage. Battery technology is getting better so maybe by then it could really be done. Energy credits for solar start to go away this year. So if we don't implement by 2020, its pretty much not going to happen. With a RMH and solar power, we could cover two of three utilities for off-grid living. Water being the third. Our water usage is already much lower than the average household. This was the first thing we tackled. A house filtration system could go a long way but there are no immediate plans. A Berkey Filter is already on my wishlist. I'll table this for future exploration. I will be trying to install rainwater collection this year. I picked up 2 food grade 55 gallon plastic drums as well as an IBC tank. So stay tuned for that. Rainwater collection is for the garden. The Borough is very firm on not allowing rainwater into the house sewage system.
So those are the goals as I approach Year 4 into my permaculture adventure. Stay tuned for updates!