Probably one of the most attractive features of an off-grid lifestyle is that it’s so inexpensive, leaving the dreaded day job behind becomes very viable. You have no power or water bills. You don’t (hopefully) pay rent. You are not spending idiotic amounts of cash on travelling to work, or on a corporate wardrobe. And most importantly of all, I think, is that the mere act of being outside in nature is in and of itself very fulfilling, so you are not wasting money on myriad distractions. I still say building with mud is one of my cheapest hobbies.
After a while you start growing your own food, which shaves a lot off your food bill too. I worked out that even in my paltry first-year herb garden, I saved about fifty euros on herbs alone in just twelve weeks! My friend said she’s saved thirty euros on tomatoes alone this summer. We’re single. If you’re a family, then growing your own vegetables is a big money saver.
Even so, as I learned to my chagrin back on Mud Mountain in Turkey, unless you are prepared to cut yourself off entirely from humanity, not have internet, or be a parasitic scrounger, you do need a few bucks to live off. In Turkey I was getting by (fairly uncomfortably) on about 150 dollars a month. Here in Spain it’s more like 350 euros. A good half of my outgoings are on petrol and communications (wifi/phone, etc.), and I won’t lie, I still harbour a dream of cutting those out one day. And then there are the times things ‘go wrong’, the inverter blows up, or your water pipes freeze, and you have to repair your infrastructure.
350 euros isn’t much… unless you haven’t got it. So I asked around in our Special Mud Home Facebook Group as to how the other off-gridders and system-escapees earn their crust.
How to make a living off-grid:
1. Teaching natural building and homesteading workshops
This is one of the most common ways people keep the money clock ticking. The learning curve for people building small off-grid worlds is immense, so once you’ve built your own little world it usually by default attracts others who want to learn.
Pros: Depending on your location it’s very viable. In Europe and the US, a lot of people want to learn this stuff.
Cons: You need a decent infrastructure in place to be able to host workshops. Then there’s the food issue (bane of my life). Who’s doing the catering for ten people, who no doubt have all manner of ludicrous dietary requirements? In my experience (and many others concur), workshops are exhausting. You’re not going to be running them every week.
2. Renting out your yurt/tent/campervan on Airbnb
You’d be amazed what you can rent out, so don’t limit yourself by thinking that your mud hut is too basic for Airbnb. Even a square of land in a beautiful place can potentially be rented out to campers. There is a hunger for beauty and nature and simplicity.
Pros: A nice little earner without a huge amount of effort.
Cons: Depending on your location, there may be legal or tax implications with this. It’s tricky to keep rented properties under the radar, and I’ve heard a few cases in various countries of local guesthouse owners complaining, and then fines being issued.
3. Selling your own produce/handiwork
A lot of folk are doing this in my area of Spain, because there are some tax advantages to being a stall holder:) Whether there is a local demand for fresh, organic home produce depends on your location. In Turkey, because everyone already made everything themselves, it was harder to sell your own creations. But in many, many countries, home produce is viable. Jam goes for five euros a jar in my local market, which is a pretty high markup I reckon:)
What to sell?
Jam, honey, organic veggies, chutneys, herbs, herbal remedies, soaps and natural cleaning products, bread, cakes, pasties, cheeses, butter, handmade jewellery, foraged food.
“I’m a big forage geek. Wild gourmet mushrooms sell high in the right season and restaurants ‘eat them up’,” said Wynter Spring in our Facebook Group.
Where to sell it?
In your local market, restaurants, create a ‘pick your own’ and let people do the hard work for you, or sell online.
Pros: Easy to stay under the radar and earn ‘cash-in-hand’.
Cons: Potentially labour-intensive. You need to be sure you have a market for your stuff.
4. Online teacher
If you are a native speaker of English you are lucky. You have ample opportunities to teach your mother tongue online. Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese are other popular languages to learn. But people are teaching almost anything online these days.
Pros: It’s flexible and sometimes pleasant to chat to different people if you’re getting cabin fever up there in your off-grid world.
Cons: You need a decent internet/power system. Teaching takes more time, energy and skill than people think. You have to prepare classes (usually), have decent social skills, and shedloads of patience.
A number of people edit journals and articles. Or if you speak more than one language, you can also flex your translation muscles.
Pros: Flexible. This is non-physical work (which can be important when you are off-grid, as you can get physically very tired).
Cons: Little room for creativity, so potentially quite tedious.
6. Retreats and Travel
These are similar to workshops in their need for effort, but retreats and homestays usually require better infrastructure and more comfortable lodgings. You can run spiritual, ecological, ‘writers and artists’ retreats or responsible cultural holidays like Poonam below:
“I have a little responsible rural travel project in the Indian Himalayas, where I have trained and hired underprivileged women, mainly widows and victims of domestic violence - www.fernweh-travel.com . Plus we have a homestay looked after by women too www.peachesandpears.net,” says Poonam, (also a member of our Facebook Group - it's nice in there:)
Pros: You will probably meet some interesting like-minded folk. Some are like angels bringing fresh air and ideas into your world.
Cons: You may meet royal pains in the backside as well:) For some, the end of the world = no chia seeds, composting toilets, too much quiet/noise, beds too hard/soft/big/small etc)...it goes on and on.
7. Social media manager/online assistant
You need to be fairly tech savvy and dextrous with a number of social media platforms to pull off being a virtual assistant. These skills can be learned though. A VA may have to upload blog posts, edit, sort out inboxes, post on social media, organise travel arrangements, do online research, write or collate newsletters, and more.
Pros: Flexible and not too time-consuming if you have the skill set required.
Cons: I think the most challenging part is getting yourself out there in the beginning so that people can hire you. There are a number of sites where online freelancers tout their wares. Here is a sample of some of the biggest:
8. Start Your Own Online Business
I think by now I could write a book on this, which is ironic, because not once in this off-grid adventure have I consciously tried to create a business. What I did want to do was create a platform, which by default is what you need to do if you want to stand a chance of succeeding in the smoke and mirrors world of online business.
Online businesses can involve selling products. But I’d say selling things is only one side of online entrepreneurship. You could be creating online courses, such as I do for the Mud Home, or offering services such as therapy sessions, or creating online communities.
“Over the past 10 years I've built my business as a master doll sculptor so that I would be able to one day explore my off-grid passion,” says Rhonda, who unlike me and many others was smart and got her ducks in a row before she left the system:) You can see her creations at https://creamsodabjd.com/.
Kirsty Henderson has called herself an accidental cartographer. She’s got a great blog post about how she fell into the online business of selling maps. http://www.portugalfromscratch.com/earning/so-how-am-i-funding-this-crazy-adventure/#more-63
Pros: Creative and exciting. It’s great to be your own boss.
Cons: There’s a lot of rubbish touted about earning millions online. Don’t believe a word of it. An online business is not a get-rich-quick option, but hey, that’s presumably not what you’re doing it for;) Still, for the sake of realism I reckon it usually takes a good two years to learn the ropes and get a decent online platform going (unless you’ve got a stack of money to throw at advertising).
9. Building/designing projects for others
When you have a built a few natural homes and are on the level that Shagun Singh is, you can design or build for others. “I started taking designing and building projects very selectively. These are mostly social with no charge but a few commercial ones too to support finances,” says the amazing woman behind Geeli Mitti in India.
Pros: Potentially lucrative. Could improve your standing in the natural building world.
Cons: Potentially exhausting and frustrating. You have to navigate other people’s vast and often unrealistic expectations.
If you are an expert with hands-on experience in any field, you can offer advice to anyone who’ll pay you by becoming a consultant. There are permaculture design consultants, natural building consultants, online business consultants… heck, even dog psychology and hairstyle consultants. This may be part of your online business, but not necessarily.
Pros: Potentially interesting work because you have a deeper level of input into someone’s project without the burden of actually making it happen.
Cons: Make sure you have decent internet. Your main challenge will be to find customers.
Links and Further Reading for Online Entrepreneurship
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