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A debt-free Christmas. When you read that short statement, you will have one of four reactions:

  1. That makes no sense. Debt-free and Christmas don’t belong in the same sentance.
  2. Does it count if I pay the credit card off within a few months?
  3. I emptied our savings, but at least I didn’t “go into debt.”
  4. No problem!

I answered #4. It hasn’t always been that way, but for the past few years we have managed to not spend beaucoup bucks during the holiday season. How on earth do we manage that? Well, it’s simple if you have some free time and a creative streak.

Back in college I took pottery classes, so a lot of my gifts to friends and family consisted of mugs, bowls, vases, and teapots. I stuffed these trinkets with cheap candy or homemade cookies and wrapped them with scrap bits of cloth and ribbon.

I’ve made elaborate origami boxes which I have then filled with cheap candy. I have canned jams, salsas, and preserves to give away. Every year I make a quilt or two to give to a family member. I make microwavable warmers for children and adults alike. I’ve sewn up cloth versions of checkers and tic-tac-toe. I always make a ton of cookies, and give most of them away. Popular ones include chocolate-mint cookies (my husband and his workmates call these Cocain cookies because they are so addictive!), chocolate covered peanut butter balls (aka buckeye balls), eggnog cookies, frosted sugar cookies, pecan sandies, candy cane cookies, no bake chocolate haystacks, and thumbprint cookies.

I have also bought cheap picture frames and put some nice family pictures in them for our parents. Some other ideas for cheap Christmas presents include homemade ornaments, homemade baking mixes (chocolate cake in a jar), framed poetry or inspirational sayings, knitted or crocheted items like dish cloths or scarves, homemade coupons for things like free babysitting or garden weeding, recycled candles (old candles melted down to make new ones), burned music cd’s, homemade recipe book or cards, homemade calendars with pictures of the family, a small book collection from summer garage sales, and anything else that you can put together yourself for very little cash.

Of course, if you have a lot of money, then it probably wouldn’t hurt you to buy gifts for everyone. But even if I was rich, I think I would still go with homemade. I think store-bought presents tend to be low-quality gadgets and thingamabobs that don’t really impart the true meaning of the season. For me, at least, the true meaning of the season is to be close to loved ones and give pieces of your heart away. While a new cappuccino machine might be nice, it doesn’t really say “Here’s something I spent a lot of time and effort on because I love you.”

I think Christmas has become way too commercialized in the past few decades, and that was what originally prompted me to be frugal during the holidays. But frugality lends itself well to creativity and making-due, so that’s why I now try to make all of the gifts we give away by hand. It’s just too bad that not everyone sees homemade as a good thing. Case in point: have you ever tried donating home-canned food to a shelter or soup kitchen? Oh well, maybe someday it will once again become popular to raise and preserve your own food.

In my last post I alluded to jobs that can be done on the homestead to earn some extra cash. There are many things one can do, from growing some market crops to running a tailoring shop. The ones I am interested in wouldn’t have any effect on my homesteading efforts. In other words, I wouldn’t want to give up arable land to raise market crops if I was short on garden space. Also, I wouldn’t want to have to invest thousands of dollars for equipment and certifications for a job that wouldn’t pay if the economy tanked.

The first home job on my list is a woodworker. Any homesteader worth their salt has some of the more basic woodworking tools, so the investment in equipment would be useful for more than just the business. Some of the opportunities for a woodworker would include custom tables, chairs, trunks, shelves, flooring, desks, benches, cabinetry, doors, shutters, dollhouses, picture frames, wagons, garden carts, bowls, spoons, high chairs, cribs, bed frames, dressers, fencing, and so many other wooden creations. I have used most of the basic woodworking tools, and would be able to produce crude but usable items, but I would love to hone those skills and be able to make money with my talents.

The second job on my list is a potter. This is something that I thoroughly enjoy, and have a lot of experience in. If we end up on a piece of land that is on or near a good natural clay deposit, this would be an easy way to make a quick dollar. Some of the things that I would make include teacups, coffee mugs, steins, bowls, plates, platters, vases, crocks, pie dishes, soup tureens, cookie jars, sugar pots, salt cellars, tiles, sculptures, salt and pepper shakers, toothbrush holders, mortar and pestles, and so many other useful items. Even if I don’t do this as a way to make money, I will probably end up with a wheel, kiln, and roomfull of stoneware/porcelain clay. This is something I really enjoy, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a very productive way to kill some time.

Daycare for youngsters¬†would be a viable option in the winter, when homesteading efforts aren’t taking up too much time. During the summer and fall this may not be the best option, as gardening, chopping wood, preserving, and other chores would take up all of my attention. In those busy times, it might be profitable to take on some older children who could help take care of animals, weed the gardens, collect the crops, and do other small chores like stacking kindling or painting. I’ve seen many small farms running successful “farm schools” as after-school or weekend programs. Children have a lot of fun learning all of these skills, and they are a great help once they have been shown what to do. While the parents of the children are paying you to watch their children, you can “pay” the children for their help with farm fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, and homemade things they may have helped with like bread. I see this as a very special opportunity for anyone who runs a homestead, because I believe it is of vital importance to teach future generations about where food comes from and how to be a responsible, productive person.

Other ideas, that can be done either as a full-time home career or just a part-time moneymaker, include:

  • Sewing quilts, aprons, baby blankets, and other easy projects.
  • Tailoring clothes.
  • Selling seeds and plants from your own garden/greenhouse.
  • Crafting things like birdhouses, mailboxes, lawn decorations, etc.
  • Forging tools and other metal items.
  • Growing and selling Christmas trees.
  • Grafting fruit trees for sale.
  • Running how-to seminars from home. (How to bake bread, how to make a meal plan, how to care for chickens, how to process game animals, how to use wheat and other grains, how to make salsa, etc.)
  • Making cheeses, yogurt, etc. This option may or may not require large financial output in order to have the correct certifications depending on where you live and what you sell.
  • Selling extra garden produce from a road-side stand or at a farmer’s market.
  • Boarding animals if you have extra space.
  • Training animals. (Again, you may need to be certified depending on your area.)
  • Breeding animals for sale.
  • Brewing beer, making wine, or distilling spirits. (I’m not experienced with this, and assume you will need to be certified.)
  • Providing a You-Pick-‘Em patch for locals.
  • Starting a petting zoo.
  • Selling baked goods like bread, doughnuts, cookies, etc.

I’m sure there are many other ways to make money from home, but these are all I can come up with at the moment. I plan on doing many of these things on a small scale. I’m not a big fan of putting all of my eggs in one basket. Been there, done that. It just isn’t smart. A homesteader should be someone who is adaptable, creative, friendly, and productive. With all of these qualities, it shouldn’t be too hard to find something useful to do that will provide a bit of extra income at the end of the month. And if all else fails, a part-time position off of the homestead will do for the time being.

November 2009

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