My wife and I have had this discussion before. One of the times we were picking peas in the garden with the hot sun beating down on us we questioned the wisdom of putting so much effort into a project with so little cash value. We could get a "real" job and pay for a whole case of peas for about an hour's worth of labor.
It wasn't just the peas either. It was everything in the garden and most of the other things about our homestead life as well. When we canned our food we figured in the investment in our canners (four pressure canners), our electric food dehydrators (four of these as well!). We also figured in the work in preparing the soil, planting, tilling and harvesting. We also added in the crops lost to frost or excessive rain. Then came the cost of fencing to keep out the deer, elk, bears and moose that inhabit our neighborhood. We didn't even include the cost of canning jars (well over a thousand).
Then there are the times we lose ground like when the rabbit girdled five of our six apple trees one winter and we had to start our orchard all over the next spring. Or when the ground squirrels invaded our garden one week in the summer when we were gone (with the dog) and ate all of our peas to the ground.
A little math showed that we were not even earning minimum wage for the work we'd put into our garden and adding in the investments we had in materials, land, and machinery and, from the financial perspective at least, our lifestyle was a very poor investment.
About the only thing we came out ahead in was home heating. We have long winters and heat exclusively with wood. Comparing our heating cost with those of the people living in town we came out way ahead. But then I'd heated with wood for many years before we entered into full-time homesteading!
So what keeps us here if it's such a bad investment financially?
There are a lot of things!
First, we love the life. (Most of the time!) we don't get up in the mornings dreading a day on the job or a cranky boss or finicky customers and counting the days until the weekend arrives. Even though we sometimes put in long hours and seven-day work weeks, we also take a long vacation down south every winter because after hunting season we're finished with our work until spring. By then the garden is put to bed and the food preserved and stored in its proper places. In short, we get about four months of vacation time every year.
Second, many of the things we used to do for recreation (and tried to crowd into our weekends) we now do as part of our lifestyle. Hunting, for instance, is now part of our "work." That's when we get a large part of our year's supply of meat. With both my wife and I buying licenses for deer and the occasional elk or bear I bring home we've never run out of meat. And it's one of those "chores" I "have" to do. We can also add in fishing and picking wild huckleberries and grapes to be canned and made into other assorted homestead treats. Who would turn down huckleberry pie, ice-cream, pancakes or muffins! We enjoy grape juice, jelly, (and this year) grape syrup. These are wild and free and require a few days time spent in the woods with picnic lunches and often a stop at the lake to go swimming after an afternoon of foraging fun.
Third, we live close to the land and nature. Our children know where meat comes from and have a respect for the life taken to sustain our own. They understand the concept of sustainability and the rational use of our natural resources. There's is no idealistic view of nature. They've seen it at it's best and it's worst. They appreciate and respect nature but don't worship it. They know that trees are a renewable resource and that animal populations need to be controlled through hunting and trapping.
Fourth, we value our independence. We don't worry about shortages at the grocery store nor do we have to rush out and buy food prior to the arrival of a blizzard (or in some locations, hurricanes or floods). We have several years of food stored up and ready for consumption. Like the farmers in the past, we store the excess in the good years to tide us over during hard times. We don't depend on a supply of natural gas, propane, or electricity to warm our home in winter. Our electrical power is produced by the solar panels in front of the cabin.
Fifth, we understand the difference in taste between store bought and home-grown food. We've purchased food in the grocery store knowing it was probably picked a month or more ago and shipped thousands of miles to be sold in the "fresh food" section. There's no comparison to the taste of a home grown tomato to those purchased in the store. Even crops like celery and broccoli taste far better fresh from the garden than those purchased at the store.
Sixth, there's the health difference of our food. As we've aged we’ve become more conscious of sodium, sugar and fat levels in our food. Even the so-called, "health food" is loaded with salt and/or sugar. Our home grown food is not only organic but it's preserved with no or very little sodium and very low amounts of sugar (if any). Most of our meat is homegrown or wild and virtually fat free.
Seventh is our physical health. Granted, we could stand to lose some weight but the physical requirements of our lifestyle keeps us flexible and strong. The constant bending, lifting, and (relative) freedom from the stresses of suburban life keep us in better health than many of our friends and most of our children.
Eight, financial freedom! We don't have anything fancy but everything we have is paid for. We live on a cash basis; if we don't have the cash we don't buy it. We've learned to do, make do, or do without. We do not depend on a vehicle at all. Everything we need is within walking or bicycling distance from our home. Since we are debt free we need very little cash. The only "must pay" we face is our annual property tax payment and insurance on the vehicle we are driving. We have no water or sewer payments, no electric bill, no credit card or vehicle payments and no house payment.
So, even though I've butchered 40 chickens in the last two days and my wife has been up late every night this week canning huckleberries, raspberries, cherries, and chicken and has been making raspberry syrup we know that it's still a much better life than a 9 to 5 job.
Money and the weekly paycheck is highly overrated! We'll take our lifestyle over a "real" job any day of the week!