Seeing Red

Reader Contribution by Erin C
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There is a meme that says “How do you become a millionaire farming? Start out a billionaire.”

It’s no secret that homesteading and farming are expensive to begin and to maintain. We got lucky with our chicken coop, because that building was already there; we just had to add some windows and a front door, and we were ready to go! But a from-the-ground-up chicken coop can get pricey. Starting out is a delicate balancing act, and there is a lot of hurry up and wait on a new homestead. And there are moments of panic like I had today.

I’m sure at least some of you reading this are familiar with the sensation: I checked my bank balance and discovered I was in the red. It only takes once to carve that feeling of panic into your memory. I have experienced this event more than once, but not recently. When I was in school and waiting tables, I managed to have more outgoing than incoming a few times. On this particular occasion, it was a perfect storm of factors: I had a busy weekend at work and forgot to clock in for a shift, which I only discovered when I didn’t get paid for said shift. So my check was really short that pay period. Then I sat down and paid the bills, and immediately forgot about my car payment. It automatically withdraws, and I thought I had a much bigger cushion than it turned out I did. I also spent some money that I didn’t have to spend, which happens. So as I sat staring at the red numbers across the screen, I panicked. And felt like crying a little bit. And acted like a two year old for a few minutes (OK, maybe an hour).

We had been doing really well with our budget and paying off old debts. I was really excited the other day when I got to tell my parents that one of my student loans will be paid off this month. We were in a pretty good place. But let’s be honest — for most of us, $300 isn’t pocket change. And the unexpected lack of $300 isn’t a comfortable place to be. Well, I got over my temper tantrum and made peace with the idea that we would be staying close to home this week and not raiding the farmer’s markets and thrift stores. Then my husband asked if I was ready to go to the feed store. Oh crap. The ducks, chickens, and the rabbit were all out of feed. Cue meltdown #2. Honestly, I am usually more in control of my temper than this, but this was just the last straw. I had made peace with not having milk for my coffee; I had made peace with not having butter to cook with, but this was too much. My babies were going to be hungry. And on a homestead or a farm, where your livestock are also your livelihood, this is not acceptable.

Thankfully, my husband saved the day; he had just gotten paid from a couple of custom knives he recently finished up. So we could afford feed. And he got milk for my coffee.

When we got home, he went outside to his forge to work on a wedding gift he is making for someone, and I decided to mow. The front yard was looking a little shabby, and I needed to work off some of the adrenaline from the banking disaster earlier. I mow a little differently than my husband does; he is a “get the whole thing done in one big push” kind of guy, and I like to break the yard up into sections so I can look at it when I feel like quitting and see that I only have three more sections to go. As I was making my way around the different sections of the yard mowing, I was also beating myself up about the bank account. How could I be so careless? How had I gotten so distracted that I overdrew that much? I struggle sometimes with money and budgeting; I think that’s probably pretty common. But this hit me a lot harder than any of the times I’d messed up my math and money before. Earlier in my life, when it was just me, if I didn’t have any money in the checking account, I could live on the Ramen noodles in the emergency cabinet. But now, it’s me and my husband and an ever-growing number of animals, both pets and livestock, that depend on me not to forget how to add and subtract.

So as I was about to pass out from pushing that stupid mower around the yard, I resolved that we would take a metaphorical Ramen-approach to the budget for a little while — make sure we build back up to what we had before I missed a whole 12-hour shift on the paycheck, and then we can move forward from there.

I may be in the red until Thursday, but at least my yard looks nice. And, just like most other farms out there, even if my husband and I don’t eat like kings, our animals are fed.

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