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6 May 2013

Home-based economy

Google "home-based economy' and you get a lot of links about setting up a business at home, earning money from home and a lot of flim-flammery about earning big bucks working one hour a day at home. My idea about home-based economy is as far removed from those concepts as is possible. To me, home-based economy is exactly that - the domestic economy that revolves around the work done in the home by the people who live there. A domestic economy is a multi-faceted resource that involves prudence, thrift, sound judgement, home production, hard work and common sense homemaking.

We set up our home economy here about ten years ago. I had just closed down my business and Hanno was still working in our shop, having previously retired from the mines. I was absolutely sure that at our stage of life, having already paid off our mortgage and with no other debt, we'd be able to cut back, earn less but still be able to live within our means.  We did that in a number of ways, the main ones being:

Live with less
One of the first things we did when we decided to cut back was to get rid of pay TV and our second car. We then went on to drastically reduce what we bought. It felt good but we were out of touch with the rest of the Australian population. Since 2003, people here have increased what they spend on internet fees by six fold and they're paying a third more for pay TV. At the same time the number of electrical appliances in Australia increased by 45 percent.

We decluttered, and found that's an ongoing activity. We do small areas and then stop until we decide to do it again. I also realised the challenge isn't just about getting rid of what we already had but also not buying as much as we used to. Changes to shopping habits reaped big rewards and I also started to make quite a few of the things I used to buy.

Home production of previously bought goods
I looked in books and online to find a variety of recipes that would enable me to make things that used to be made in the home. Our domestic production line still includes bread, soap, laundry liquid, jam, sauce, relish, cakes, biscuits, dishcloths, cleaning rags, all sorts of knitting, aprons, napkins, tablecloths, salves and creams. Doing this taught me what my grandmother and her grandmothers had known all along - that home production generally gives you better products at a cheaper price. Making as much as we can with our own hands is still one of the hallmarks of our home.

Remain debt-free
Living with no debt at our stage of life gives us a feeling of security and that we're in control. Paying money out for rent or mortgage repayments earlier in life is usually the norm for most of us and it's a great relief when that last mortgage payment is made. Adding more debt not only increases your footprint it also requires you to work to pay it off and often that brings a level of stress with it. Going hand-in-hand with debt-free living is developing the capacity to feel content with what you have. The ability to feel that contentment needs to be developed and nurtured along the way so that when you finally pay off your debts, the temptation to spend has been replaced by other more benign and rewarding activities.

Growing food in the backyard
Learning how to grow food in your own backyard, or in any space you have, will help you cut down on your grocery bill and give you fresh healthy food. If you want to eat fresh, local food, nothing will beat your own backyard produce. And not only will you reap what you sow, vegetable gardening gives you the opportunity to get your hands into the dirt and reconnect with what is outside your back door. Getting to know your land, learning about the birds and insects that visit your backyard will place you within your eco-system and help you understand more about your local climate and environment, and how what you do in your home affects it.

Community-based bartering and swapping
No matter how sharp and switched on you are, I doubt you'll be able to make and do everything you want to do in your home, particularly if you're working outside the home as well. We all have things we can't make and therefore have to buy or barter for. If you connect with your local community you may find there are some things that can be had, simply by producing more eggs, tomatoes, honey or dishcloths. Bartering is a great way of getting what you need without the need for money. See what you can find out and try to get yourself into a bartering arrangement with someone.  You'll still be getting local fresh produce but you'll also be helping your local area develop its own economy.

Cooking from scratch
Without a doubt, cooking from scratch will help you save money, eat healthier food and look at your household systems in a different way. Before I made my change I cooked from scratch about 90 percent of the time, but I did it out of habit rather than the radical action I see it as today. When I chose to cook from scratch everyday, it allowed me to shop in a different way, saving more while being more selective in my choice of product, point of origin and packaging. Grocery shopping became a political act as well as a domestic one. It also moved me towards stockpiling which saved me much more time than I ever expected and helped me get more value for the money I spent.

Green cleaning
Along with cooking from scratch, making your own cleaners will help you save money and become healthier.  Using simple products such as borax, washing soda, bicarb, olive oil, vinegar and soap, you can make every cleaning product you used to buy at a tiny fraction of the supermarket cost.  No matter what you hear on the TV ads, you do not have to buy a different product for every cleaning task in your home. As long as you match the cleaning ability of these simple products with what you're cleaning, it will do a very good job. The added bonus for you, as well as the dollars saved, will be that you bring far fewer chemicals into your home.

There will never be one thing that allows you to reduce your cost of living, it will be many things. What I've written about here allowed us to reduce what we needed to live on and it made us healthier, more self-reliant, stronger and happier. Developing your own home economy enables you to see beyond the commercialisation of the home and brings you back to a place where there are many alternatives and possibilities, not the single one - the supermarket - that is predominant today.

Have you developed your own home-based economy? Please share what you do in your own home.


  1. Hello Rhonda,

    I am learning so much with home-making and sustainable living, I am now keeping a notebook to write in new recipes (food / cleaning etc) along with home making ideas, garden growing etc. It is invaluable as there is so much to learn all the time, not all of which you can put into practice straight away so it's good to keep note for a later date.

    I am finding I am growing in confidence all the time in this field. That probably sounds strange to you, who has been a homemaker for years, but it's quite daunting to start with when you have been used to buying just about everything. My greatest fear has been to make mistakes and waste money and time on those mistakes. However, practice makes perfect and the satisfaction of making something from scratch and seeing it's end result is just brilliant! I made homemade yoghurt this week, which I was hesitant to do as I had tried it once before and it just turned out like milk. However, I really wanted to see what homemade yoghurt is like so I found another recipe and gave it another go. It turned out fantastic! That's another recipe (tried and tested now) to add to my notepad, and another step forward in developing my own little home-based economy. It also really inspires others when I share with them what I have achieved. I will say that it is due to your blog that I am changing my lifestyle, so thank you and please keep it up! Georgina, UK

    1. Hi Georgina. It sounds like you're making some very practical changes in your life. It's great that you're making those changes and sharing what you can with your friends as well. We all need to do that. I just wanted to tell you that I made a lot of mistakes when I first started living this way and soon realised they provided the best learning experiences. It's better to make mistakes than to never try. All the best in the future. Please stay in touch and let us know how you're progressing.

  2. As well as (trying) to do most of the things you do I'm starting to make more toys and activities for my daughter. She needs lots of activities to help with her fine motor skills after the operations on her hands but there is no way I can afford to buy every toy that is suggested for her occupational therapy. Last night I set some of her duplo farm animals in jelly which she will have to dig through with her hands later today and I'm currently sitting down cutting toilet rolls into smaller 'beads' for her to thread onto some ribbon I saved when unwrapping a gift. Of course everyone used to make their own playdough (I remember my Mum adding heaps of salt to stop us eating it!) and the pot and pans will always be a favourite!

    1. Hi, I'm not sure if you've found this activity or not, but putting some toys in a tissue box (or any other box) and then encouraging your child to put their hand in and pull the toy out will also help to develop fine motor skills :) Also, like setting the toys in jelly, I've been told hiding things in rice and getting your child to sort through the rice for their toys also works really well, just another idea. Melissa.

    2. Thanks Melissa! Those ideas are great!

  3. Thanks again for the words of wisdom. I have been making laundry liquid, all my cleaners, wash clothes, quilts for beds and throws, presents for friends, and growing things for years now and I always find your posts very reaffirming. Your book is an inspiration that I have lent to many others. I have many more things I would like to try like making ginger beer, cheese, bread, pickles etc. Over the years I have done some of these but not with the regular action that would have them as part of our lives everyday. This style of life is exciting and complex enough to mantain interest. Thank you for the support you offer for like minded people. Looking forward to anything else you publish.

    High Regards
    Alison Turner

  4. I also agree with the real concept of home economy. I make bread, cook from scratch, stock pile and preserve, I also make my own home cleaners and soap now(thanks to your kind inspiration). I grow some of my favourite veggies out in my back garden again this year, and I share my knowledge and produce with friends and neighbours, thus hoping to encourage more people to adopt this healthy life style. I work part time, but have also time to be a good homemaker. Dispite my partners current redundency we still manage financially as I have learnt to be a savvy shopper. We only buy when something is upsolutely needed. I have enough basic DIY knowledge to keep our home in good standard, so we can feel comfortably provided for. We recycle as much as possible and I compost kitchen scraps for the garden. Every little task makes sense to me and gives me a satisfaction that no other life style could ever provide. Home economy plays the biggest part in this. It`s a way of life I`m now acustomed to and would never want to swap.

  5. I do many of the same things you do Rhonda. One thing I've done for many years is make Halloween costumes for our five children rather than buy them. The children are almost all grown now, but they have very good memories of the costumes Mom made for them. I have rarely shopped for fabric at a fabric store. I let it be known at church and around the neighborhood that I sew and people have given me fabric over the years, many times older women who no longer sew for their families, or someone who is moving and can take it all with them. I find fabric at thrift stores and at yard sales. I also use bed linens and other items (like very large shirts and such) as a source of fabric. Patterns can be bought for a few cents at thrift stores as well as just about every kind of notion you could need. Sewing has saved us more money than I can count. Curtains, slip covers, pillows, quilts, clothing, costumes, and all kinds of gifts. The process of creating something wonderful out of cast offs gives me a high that can't be beat. I love your blog. Keep up the good work.

  6. Hi Rhonda
    you have inspired me so much to try new things.
    I couldn't get my first soap out of the container so had to scoop it out then mould it into shapes, very ugly soap but did the same job!
    I also made some yoga pants (pattern from one of your readers) for my granddaughter from a $2 large t-shirt from op shop.
    I haven't bought herbs or salad greens for about 2 years.
    I very rarely have any urge to buy anything new, I have nearly all I need or will convert what I need.
    The change in my mind has been wonderful and enlightening, thank you for your continued encouragement and ideas.
    regards Leonie

  7. The warm fireplaceMay 06, 2013 9:17 am

    We have just started on the journey to a more pared down simple life, growing our own vegetables and fruit has begun and will be an ongoing process as we put in more fruit trees and bushes, de cluttering, we make do and mend, i am making clothes, i bake my own bread, cooking from scratch 80% and increasing every month, making my jams, i plan the food shop meals etc, all of this inspired by your blog, there are lots of areas to improve on and start on but we are on the road and feel the better for it, thank you for your help and encouragement.

  8. I sew a lot of my own quilt covers and pillow slips, and I find I can make things custom made to suit my own tastes and budgets!

  9. Learning to be content with what we have is such a transformative idea - still a work in progress for me!

  10. Rhonda, having been brought up to cook from scratch, and watch the pennies - my parents were not well off - we got into 'bad habits' as our boys were growing up and then we were both working. Now with retirement we have time for more cooking, baking, gardening, fishing, and we are saving money, helping our health and hopefully making a contribution to helping the planet.

    Since reading yours and other frugal blogs I have got myself more organised at home, with a more organised kitchen, meal planning and so on. Writing about what I've been doing in my blog has brought many comments from other like-minded women. I know many, many people these days a re following a more frugal life-style through difficult finical circumstances, but those of us fortunate enough not to be in dire straits can also benefit from living more simply. Hey, what goes around comes around - we were heading this way in the early 70's but got diverted!

    Your blog, as well as providing very entertaining reading, has been a huge inspiration as well. We need the principles of frugality to be taught in schools, as there are a couple of generations now who have no concept o cooking from scratch, being part/fully self-sufficient, and living simply.

    1. frugality does need to be taught in schools. Thankfully I have two daughters who are willing to learn from me. They are going to be far better off financially than their friends who don't have a clue.

  11. Rhonda,

    I make my own soap and laundry detergent, as well as lotion. I find my need to cut coupons has drastically reduced, mostly because I no longer buy those products. I'm just starting my career, so with the busy week I often lack the energy and inspiration to try the more difficult things--cooking from scratch, for example, but I hope to get there one day.

  12. Great post and I agree with it all. Although we still work for a living it is from the farm and to be able to live of the land these days means adopting all of what you have said. The biggest thing is contentment for me. I am just so content with the way we have chosen to live. It means hard work but that hard work is so fulfilling and our hours are filled with meaningful activity rather than mindless consumption. Love it.

  13. Hi Rhonda,

    As a Mum of three children it has always seemed like the most important thing to me to be able to teach them how to look after themselves and not rely on others for everything. If they reach adulthood able to grow there own food and cook most things from scratch. Have skills like sewing, knitting, butchering etc. I will be a very happy mum! (I'm learning a lot of the time as I am teaching them and still have a lot to learn). We live on a farm and are working hard to own it. We try and grow as much as we can and live as simply as we can. It is the way of life that we love!

    1. Jo, you're doing absolutely the right thing in teaching your children life skills. In the future, simple living may not be a choice but more of a necessity.

  14. I knew one person at one time thought she was going to make a living from a home base business from her computer. Sad to say she sent them cash if I'm right it was either $40 or $60 and they send her a blank Cd.

    My husband get $750 from social security retirement and I have a small part time job which I make $200 to $300 a month...We seem to live quite well on that even putting a little a way for raining days.
    We have no on going debt either. We have four bills we pay every month then twice a year we pay our property taxes and vehicle insurance.
    Our home insurance is due once a year.
    Then of course like every one else we have those odd life happening. Plus we don't drive new rigs both of them our in the mid 90's

    It would actual be interesting what one NEED to living on. I once ask a question on my facebook page and gave quite a few choices what one need a month to live on..It was hardly anything like $1,200 a month or $125,000 a month...I hope the ones who answer $125,00 was pulling my leg.

    Being debt free gives on since of security it does me. I know people talk about credit score. It doesn't really concern me. I'm not stess out trying to figure out which bills will get paid they all get paid each and every month.

    All in all I like the life of domestic engineer....

    Coffee is on.

    1. Hi Dora,

      I must say I am blown away that you and your husband are able to live on roughly $950 - $1,050 per month!! That is very impressive. Do you grow most of your food? Make your own clothes?

      I'm just so curious as to how you are able to actually save money on such a little income. Quite an accomplishment!

      Diane in North Carolina

  15. Hi Rhonda
    I'm off to work in the office tomorrow and I'm so proud to say that I'm taking stewed plums (stewed by me and grown by hubby) for my oats for breakfast, lunch will be home made pumpkin soup (pumpkins grown by hubby, soup made by me), home made croutons (made from left over bread, bread made by me) and for a treat, some chocolate slice, also made by me! I am just so proud of myself to be able to say that. I love your blog and get inspiration from it and your book on a daily basis!
    Cheers Judy xx

    1. Your comment made me smile, Judy. Well done. You should feel proud.

  16. As a widow with five kids I learnt early on the ways to make a dollar go a long way. Now I live alone I'm almost debt free, I still have a car loan, which has a few months more to pay. I plant most of my vegetables and have four fruit trees in my small yard. I make jams, pickles, chutneys, tomatoe sauce, pasta sauce and do my own baking. I don't eat takeaway food. I have recently been bartering with some friends, this weekend I swapped some fresh eggs for some clivias I had seperated, and last week I swapped some homemade pitas for a jar of salsa with another friend. It is not difficult to live within my means. I am going to have a go at making my own washing detergent, something my mother always did

  17. I work full time, live in a unit in suburbia with no backyard and conditions unsuitable to grow plants but I still do what I can. Each year I make all the toys I give as birthday and xmas gifts to my nieces and friends children (at least 21 gifts per year) I use green cleaners which I make myself. Firm believer there is nothing vinegar & bicarb can't clean. I knit my own dishcloths & cleaning cloths. I make my own laundry liquid & a form of hand soap. When possible I cook from scratch or near scratch. I recycle & upcycle where possible. Don't have cable tv but would be lost without my internet. I enjoy the simple pleasures of making gifts or even cleaning products. It makes me feel connected to what I'm not sure but I just getting a feeling a feeling of peace doing what I do.

  18. Rhonda today's blog captures what skills used to be taught in schools - "home economics". Sadly many of the younger generation do not possess this mindset. Prudence, and thrift have been replaced by spending and accumulation.It is a shame that since the post war years (1945 to the present), a total of 68 years, that our lives have changed so dramatically.Since the introduction of welfare payments, money is a commodity that we all have -we either earn it or receive it from the government. We have the ability to accumulate wealth (and debt) like never before.But it comes at a cost.I recently came across a great quote while reading a book. Donald Olson wrote "The average American is busy buying things he doesn't want with money he doesnt have to impress people he doesn't like".

    There are some wonderful websites such as Moneysmart by ASIC (Australian Securities & Investment Commission and Simple Savings that can really assist people analyze their spending habits, and get out of debt. If the average person that would normally spend $4 on a morning coffee, or $5-10 on lunch,big bucks on gym membership, use hard earned cash in place of 'plastic' and put the money they saved on their mortgage payments, the savings are mind blowing.For example, by placing an extra $20 per week on their mortgage payments, this can save over the term of thier loan, approximately $60,000 in interest payments, and around 5 years and three months off their home loan!!

  19. hi

    thanks for another inspiring post! on a side note can i have a recipe (+ picture of the pan in which you baked it)of the big beautiful round of bread in your pic?


    1. naveena, the bread was made using my normal bread recipe - you can search for it using "bread for beginners". The pan I used was just a plain old round cake pan.

  20. Great post, Rhonda. Our home economies can be so vastly different given our climates, physical abilities and stages of life. Our own personal home economy changes rapidly as we learn more and continue to challenge ourselves. We are in a strong "upswing" stage at the moment with new skills being added weekly. I love that challenge as it really keeps things fresh and exciting (and a little overwhelming, truth be told).

    The evolution of a home economy is fascinating to me as it has tremendous power to drastically alter one's financial situation. The ripple effect can be enormous! It isn't just about "doing more", it's about "doing wisely". Yes, we "do" a lot for ourselves, but at the same time we are in a very busy season of life so we always weigh the net yield of any endeavour/effort. It isn't just about finances - we also weigh quality of life and energy/time expended. All of those things dance and dovetail together to help us decide where to invest our time most efficiently for the maximum return be it monetary, health improvement, enjoyment of life, resiliency, community building, sustainability, etc...

    I love using business minded thinking when it comes to managing a home. It helps us to prioritize our time which is essential. We try to invest wisely in our home economy ~ and while that often means putting some tasks/learning aside for the future, it is comforting and reassuring to assign tangible value to the work done in and around our home NOW. Numbers give an accurate picture of the value of your work. Of course, no figure could ever represent true happiness and contentment which is THE most important to us :)

    At this time, our main focus/priority is food security (growing/producing as much as we can) as it is our largest expense after our mortgage. It makes sense to invest a lot of time and energy into resilient, sustainable food growing systems as the return is so high (in both monetary and health terms).

    Our next largest expense for our large family would be clothing. Looking at it from a return on investment perspective (the investment being time) it makes sense to scour thrift stores for clothes for the family. This regular activity saves us THOUSANDS of dollars a year over buying new clothes for everyone.

    In summary, we compare time invested with the return on said investment. Sometimes one can't measure the return by any means other than happiness - and what a wonderful return THAT is! :)

  21. I printed out this post to have it close at hand to keep me inspired and on track. Sometimes I slip back to old habits and need a nudge to get back towards the direction I want. Thanks for a well written post! Darlene

  22. We took the leap from full-time corporate employment to self-employment here on the ranch a few years ago. We discovered it would be possible to be at the ranch full-time if we could get by on less money. We are now living a life that we love and are able to do it through the methods you speak of above - gardening, scratch cooking, making items for yourself instead of buying, not paying extra for tv, finding joy in the simple things, etc. To my surprise I found it's a very fulfilling life - not a sacrifice at all just a more mindful way of living.

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

  23. A million thank you's Rhonda! I love reading your blog and everytime I feel myself loosing my motivation I read your blog. You continue to inspire me to try more and harder to be the person I really want to be. I have constantly been aware of saving and lowering our debt as I grew up with a father that was ill most of my childhood and witnessed my mothers attempts to be frugal. I have, for most of my adult life, bought clothes for myself and my children from opportunity shops, cooked and baked from scratched, made as many jams and preserves as possible, hand made birthday and Christmas gifts, mended clothes, made as many of our soft furnishings as possible and with some success I have had vegetable gardens at one time or another.
    To me the greatest part about giving a hand made gift is the making of it and I ask the same from my children. I don't want store bought presents! In fact I'd rather not have a gift at all if it has be bought from a shop.
    Thank you for your constant inspiration and support through your blog.
    Kindest regards

  24. Hello Rhonda, here in Brazil, I do my dish towels, rag carpets, soap, have a coconut, banana and blackberries in my backyard.

  25. Rhonda, what is that deliciousness in the pics above? Is that a babka bread and little cakes? Have you listed the recipe for them? If so, would you please direct me to them. Goodness, my mouth is watering!

    1. Sue, that is my normal bread recipe baked in a cake tin and the condensed milk biscuits - thick cut. :- )


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