Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Getting the Skills to Pay the Bills (or avoid them altogether)

In the last post on this blog, we looked at the core concepts of Your Money or Your Life, and how they help to transform your relationship with money.  Like the system of permaculture, YMOYL is an ethical system that is based on some core values.  In fact, the values of permaculture and YMOYL can almost completely overlap each other.  Both are concerned with wise use of surplus, especially -- after all, financial independence is next-to-impossible without accumulating some level of financial surplus.

In this post we're going to delve a little deeper into how to accumulate that financial surplus, focusing on the subject of skills.  I have become convinced that gaining a true measure of independence is dependent upon developing a broad set of skills that increase your self-reliance while decreasing your reliance on outside products and service providers -- and the money that you have to trade your time for in order to pay them.

Defining "Skills"

There are some pretty significant economic benefits to skills that we will delve into a little bit later.  First, I would like us to just get a solid definition along with some basic examples.  A skill is any kind of knowledge or training that enables you to become a producer instead of a consumer.  So far on this blog, we have delved into three important skills for any self-reliant homesteader: gardening, cooking and food preservation.  By integrating these three skills into one system -- growing fresh heirloom tomatoes and herbs; processing and cooking my own tomato sauce with basil, oregano and garlic; and canning that sauce in order to put it up on my basement shelves for the winter -- I have helped to make my household more self-reliant.  (Did I mention that I also compost the seeds and skins left from the tomatoes, "closing the loop" by turning my "waste" into valuable compost for next year's garden?)

Some other skills that I've picked up over the years include: basic bicycle repair and maintenance, changing the oil in my own automobile, basic carpentry, and map reading / navigation.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, and some of the skills listed may seem rather rudimentary (such as changing my own automobile oil), but they are all important because they help to increase my own self-reliance, while simultaneously reducing my reliance on outside people and systems to provide those services for me.  My skills at basic carpentry and electrical installation literally saved our family thousands of dollars when we remodeled our house shortly after we closed on it and moved in.

More than just saving money

Skills save us money in the immediate term, but their benefits go far beyond that.  One of the benefits of broadening our skill set as opposed to purchasing items and services with money (that we trade our life energy for), is that by learning a skill you often learn a process for doing something.  What differentiates processes from products is that often time the former cost very little to get, and once you have them they don't go away and no one can take them away from you.  Products and outside services, on the other hand, must be continually replenished after they are used up.  The most common means of replenishment is to exchange money (in reality, life energy) for them.

Looking at our skills through this lens provided by YMOYL (money = life energy) is very useful for putting this into perspective.  For example, many friends and members of my family (more on my wife's side) express amazement at how I am able to find the time to maintain my garden.  And I will admit that all of my home food production activities and processing take some serious time.  However, I also know that I seriously cut our home food bill through these activities, creating a greater financial surplus for investment.  Eating fresh, wholesome food raised without chemical fertilizer or pesticides increases our family's health.  In the long run, the garden actually saves me time, because it contributes toward my long-term goal of financial independence.  In another few years, when I have reached the point at which I can step away from having to work for someone else and truly live the life that I want, many (if not all) of the people who don't see how I can find the time to garden will still be stuck on the same hamster wheel of exchanging their life energy for money to pay for the products and services they need and want.

Another benefit of developing skills is the opportunity for self-employment.  For example, part of my longer-term plan is to develop a small business line where I help people to establish home vegetable gardens or even maintain them throughout the season.  One example of this kind of business is Suburban Farming Company, LLC in the Philadelphia, PA area.  Another kind of business along these lines I have read about (sorry, no link immediately available on this one) is where people essentially run a farm through developing sizable gardens at the homes of those who want fresh produce but either can't or don't want to deal with the work, and then take the surplus for market sale.  While neither of these models likely provide enough income to support a household by themselves, the skills I have developed in permaculture and gardening nevertheless provide opportunities for some income along these lines.


Developing and broadening our skill set helps save money not by necessarily increasing our income (at least in the short run), but by avoiding expenses altogether by relying on ourselves.  Skills are something that, once we get them, stay with us for life and cannot be taken away.  They help us move along that path to self-reliance instead of reliance on people and systems we cannot control.  I urge all of you to take a look at the skills that you have and figure out how you can use them to increase your own freedom and self-reliance.  Also, use skills as a means of increasing community with those around you by sharing them with your neighbors -- and maybe picking some up from them in the exchange.

As always, I invite you to share your thoughts on this post in the comments below.  And, if you like this kind of thing, please forward it along to your friends.

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