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Self-sufficiency has lessons for surviving tough times

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Self-sufficiency: back-to-the-landers lead more sustainable lives, but with challenges

Spend less, consume less, save more is a common mantra of financial advisers everywhere. It’s pertinent advice that may work when everything in a personal, community and government life is in equilibrium: good stable job, educational opportunities, affordable healthcare, manageable budget with a surplus in a government safety net, great economic potential, and unlimited career growth visions.

Tack in the physical and financial challenges of Covid, still ongoing after more than three years of coping along with the current inflation costs escalation of so many necessities, this message becomes empathetically irrelevant.

So much so that dear readers, you or your family no matter your position on the financial spectrum, may have reached a state of indifferent, sensory overload to another repetitive article on the current economic climate.

A totally normal reaction

Our community’s current situation is a continuum on the scale of many other communities’ previous economic events. What the outcome of ours will be is yet unknown. Research indicated that some communities’ financial, economic, and environmental challenges had far worse outcomes while others were resolved to normalcy, expeditiously.

My last two personal finance columns in The Royal Gazette on combating inflation looked back at historical governments’ efforts to stimulate economic revitalisation with work renewals projects, motivational programmes and more to encourage communities in recovery.

Why bother to look back, one might ask? These were wartime communities of so long ago: how could their stories possibly be relevant today?

My answer is that people do not change.

Having hope in the future, having resolve and determination to move forward as individuals, communities and nations, no matter the challenge, is a huge motivator for the human psyche.

Further, history is a gift of knowledge, giving us greater perspectives on how people did manage money and costs, how they combated war, inflation, pandemics, recessions, and natural catastrophes.

One lifestyle proudly embraced self-sufficiency. Note, at various points in history, it was the only method for thousands of families to manage costs, limit dependency, and some inflation.

Economic indicator: the growing popularity of thrift shops tells a story


The thinking was that if you were not reliant upon father, government, giant utility companies, global agricultural enterprises, and imported consumer goods, you could do-it-yourself and be self-sufficient.

This dream was revived wholesale again around six decades ago in a social phenomenon labelled the back-to-the-lander’s counterculture migration movement. It embraced simple living, sustainability, experiencing nature, doing for oneself, self-sufficiency – all interesting aspects of generational changes.

People were leaving polluted urban areas, the corporate success pressures, consumerism, to go back to the land (or the sea). They would farm land located near water sources, practise animal husbandry, build a log home, or other native structure (some took to yurts and tepees), access solar power and windmill alternative energy sources and build co-operative sharing or barter communities.

A lifestyle that meant physical and economic survival a century ago – before the industrial revolution changed the working lives of millions – now was reborn as a new philosophy, voluntary simplicity, and a return to old values.

Such lifestyle would also include a large garden cultivated on good organic concepts, drying, canning, building a root cellar for food winter storage, an aviary, a truck farm stand selling garden and related products, honey, candles, soap, wintertime harvested maple syrup, cords of wood for heating by logging trees (one of the most dangerous occupations of the time), raising sheep and cotton for weaving and clothing, livestock: cattle and pigs for meat and leather, cows for diary, poultry, horses for hauling and transportation, kiln for family pottery, smith for ironworks to produce decorative art and horse shoeing, home schooling, preparing meals the old-fashioned way, hand butter churn, grinding whole wheat into flour, woodstove cooking, and many more daily crafts that homesteaders and individualistic self-employed producers of all kinds did in a routine day.

Mother Earth News became the inspiring leader of this home-grown counter lifestyle: 50 years on, it still has more than 500,000 ardent subscribers.

Independent, self-sufficient living was (and is) hard, back-breaking work. Long, cold, dark winters spent in isolation from the consuming, shopping, interactive physical world could exact a toll on the spirit. Fishermen, another proud self-sufficient group, face the ever-present challenges of an unforgiving ocean, constant renewal of equipment, subject to the vagaries of fish runs or not, and marketable prices to profit.

No matter how independent and thrifty or barter-friendly the lifestyle could be, cash was needed. Gas, medical, dental care, emergencies, and burdensome taxes on income, land, and real estate.

Self-sufficiency also then meant earning cash from “regular” world work.

One memorable narrative. “She routinely snowshoed through a mile of unploughed road to a car covered in snow, then a half-hour drive to the waitressing job where ordinary consumer people enjoyed a night out, then multi-hours later, reversed course to lug in firewood to stoke the woodstove.”

According to Green Politics, Back-to-the- land movement, the few who succeeded in living the good self-sufficient life had three attributes:

a) Other income, for example from a trust fund or nationally lauded craft persons

b) A fully committed partner

c) Prior rural homesteading experience.

Practising in later years in the US, it was very evident that many self-sufficient back-to-the-landers who had integrated were now approaching retirement with little personal savings.

Nor would they be entitled to a decent government pension: the rule being what you paid in, was what you would receive in retirement.

It was so concerning. These were independent people who lived simply by not overwhelming the system, and now would have to rely upon government assistance into their elder years.

What does it all mean?

Self-sufficiency and thriftiness can combat some inflation, and reduce costs, but it cannot do it all.

Government incentives and intervention generally can include: reducing government expenditures, issuing government bonds (for locals) securities, decreasing excise tax rates, reducing or duty-free imports, applying incentives for increased job creation and more.

Readers, tell me how you are coping!

Remember reader contributions are absolutely confidential and are always reframed without any resemblance to personal information.


The Complete Tightwad Gazette (I-II-III series) Promoting Thrift as a Viable, Alternative Lifestyle, by Amy Dacyczyn available on Amazon

Mother Earth News

The Whole Earth Catalogue

Martha Harris Myron is a native Bermuda islander with US connections, a former qualified international financial planner, and author of the Dawn of New Beginnings: Bermuda’s First Financial Literacy Primer, 298p, Amazon and Bookmart, Bermuda. Author of The Bermy Island Finance Blog, launching soon

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Published August 27, 2022 at 7:54 am (Updated August 29, 2022 at 8:00 am)

Self-sufficiency has lessons for surviving tough times

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