Frugality

Skills, Infrastructure, and Experiments in Subsistence Farming

Developing skills and infrastructure that will help my family live well is an important part of my job as a husband and father.  Skills are important because I can leverage them for wages or for meeting my family’s needs directly.1  Similarly, by developing a robust infrastructure I will be able to assist my family in the daily business of living – helping maintain an adequate supply of food, shelter, clothing, and technology. This is my major role as a leader in my family.

There are a host of skills that are useful for living.  Each of them can fall into the four basic categories I mentioned above with a less essential but equally important fifth category – entertainment.  The skills that fill each category are things like the ability to grow food, farm animals, build houses, mend ruffing, make shirts, sew socks, keep a gun, fix a car, play a guitar, or write poetry.  Each skill is useful both to my family as well as being potentially useful to another individual or family.

Some of the skills I mentioned above are harder to develop than others – they require more time, acumen, or resources/infrastructure to learn properly or effectively.  For example, it is much harder to learn how to hunt whales than it is to learn how to hunt deer.  Even though the mental discipline is probably essentially the same, the resources and the time needed to hunt a whale are much greater than the time and resources needed to hunt a deer (boat, harpoons, crew vs. gun, bullets, deer urine).  The barrier for entry is relatively low in the case of the later while extremely high in the case of the former.  Because of this, it is my expert opinion2 that a novice deer hunter is much more likely than a novice whale hunter of landing a kill and bringing home the bacon.

This example also sheds light on the fact that many times the biggest barriers to acquiring a skill are infrastructure and time.  You can’t learn to farm unless you have access to land.  You can’t learn to play like Mozart unless you have access to a piano.  You can’t learn to bake unless you have access to basic baking ingredients and an oven.  And you can’t do any of them if you don’t have the time.  I think we all get this point, but I mentioned these because I want to underscore just how important infrastructure is to the core needs of a family. Without an adequate supply of it a family limits its skill acquiring potential and its ability to survive/thrive.

Developing Skills, Acquiring Infrastructure

It is becoming my new goal to acquire as many useful skills and as much portable, useful infrastructure as I possibly can for my family.  I only want portable, useful infrastructure right now because I am not currently “settled” in a single location as of yet.  My wife and I have plans to move around a bit within the next year after our baby comes (November 10 is the due date) and I personally don’t want to be bogged down by purchasing a tractor or other large, bulky, and expensive tools (can you say table saw?).  As of right now the most important infrastructure needs are met:

  • Transportation – 1995 Toyota Corolla and 198? Panasonic DX 2000 road bike
  • Communication – Wife’s Cell Phone
  • Computer – Dude, you’re getting and HP
  • Information Access – Internet, Library Card
  • Stable Bank Account – ex. WaMu On-line Savings3
  • Credit Account – Now Savings Account Holder, Chase
  • Clothing – Years and Years Worth
  • Cooking Gear – Yes!

I don’t see any immediate needs to add anything to this basic infrastructure as of yet, but you never know what might happen between now and the indeterminate future. Right now I think I should focus more on developing a set of skills.

The reason for this focus is that my useful skills are a little lacking.  Aside from my tremendous ability to do a whole heck of a lot of nothing and play tons and tons of video games,  I can’t really say that I know how to do much that is particularly useful to very many people.  At my current job I just essentially do what anyone with half a brain could be able to do.  My level of experience working there isn’t what I would call sufficient to consider myself indispensable either.  I am essentially a very replaceable cog in a very small sub-machine that is part of a much larger super-machine.  I am Jack’s totally dispensable career.

In an effort to increase my money making skills and to supplement my income I have been trying my hand at a few different things.  Many of them occur in the online world – things like blogging, internet marketing, and SEO – and I have had some very limited success pursuing these avenues.  I am certainly not making money hand over fist by any means, but I feel like I am starting to catch on and make some solid gains.  By the end of the year I hope to be making an extra $100 a month from these skills, and with that I am extremely happy.

This growth in revenue is like giving myself a 5.3% raise in take home pay.

In addition to developing these money making skills, I am also trying to get some useful skills under my belt that may not make money, but sure do save it.  I’ve tried my hand at some basic auto repair, bike maintenance, cooking – but auto repair scares the be-jesus out of me, bike maintenance has been really easy, and cooking is mainly done by my wife who is way better at it than me anyway.

There is one skill that both my wife and I have wanted to try our hand at but have been unable to until recently due to a lack of infrastructure – garden.  At our apartment we did not have a spot of land to try our green thumb.  We didn’t even have a balcony where we could put potted plants due to fire codes.  But now that we have moved out of that apartment and temporarily in with my dad we have plenty of space to start turning soil to good use.

Fortunately for us, California has a nearly year round growing season.  I’m not entirely sure if we are going to be able to make it for the fall planting season since we are getting ready for our baby to enter the world, but I think we are going to give it a good college try.  We really want to get some homegrown strawberries going.

So in the next month or two we are going to be hitting the yard and getting acquainted with the fine art of “container gardening.” This is exactly what it sounds like. We are going to try to grow a garden in pots in the back and front yard of my dad’s house. This garden will exists solely to provide food to my family and to teach us how to grow things that you can eat. Neither my wife nor myself have any experience with this type of thing so there is probably going to be a bit of learning curve.

I am not expecting to have very much success with the garden for at least a season or two. I think that by setting the bar low I will be pleasantly surprised if things go well and not too terribly depressed if things go as I expect. Low expectations are a win-win!

I’m not to sure what other skills or infrastructure to try and start acquiring after that – does anyone have any suggestions?

  1. An example might be the skill of cooking, I can cook for someone who pays me for my services or I can cook for my family. []
  2. Being someone who sits behind a desk all day typing and clicking definitely qualifies me as an expert in this all fields involving hunting. []
  3. This is arguably unstable, but I will put some faith in our house-of-cards financial system []

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