Frugal Homesteader snow lead

In recent years the terms “homestead” and “pioneering” have come to mean something completely different than in years gone by.

Today a homestead often consists of a large house with all the modern conveniences and road accessibility. Likewise, modern pioneers often have a large financial investment in commercial farms, animals of some kind, or a serious cash crop being developed—all of which can easily add up to an initial outlay of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This article is about something completely different. In the three homesteads I have owned over the years, the objective was to get a piece of land as cheaply as possible, build a house as cheaply as possible and live as cheaply as possible.

Under the above parameters, I’ve found it best to forget about trying to meet my meager cash requirements from the land. Under ideal conditions that could happen, but overall I’ve found it much more productive to go to town and work for three to four months to earn enough to last for the rest of the year.

Off The Beaten Path

Okay. How to get a cheap piece of land? First, let’s talk about some conditions.

My three homestead plots all shared the same primary characteristic: no road access. Why? The most important reason is that the cost of the plot of land decreases according to its distance from a year-round road. And this allows us to meet the condition related to price: absolutely no debt is allowed going in. So buy the land for cash or don’t buy it! The other advantage of land without road access is that you get rid of about 95% of the riffraff, those who would not consider investigating a building if they couldn’t get to it with a motorized vehicle: car, 4×4, powerboat or ski-doo.

The other two main considerations for a piece of land are abundant firewood and water. In your new lifestyle wood heat is not merely an occasional romantic interlude; it will supply 100% of your heat and nearly all of your cooking needs.

And the wood doesn’t have to be a rare hardwood species. I have burned everything, including cedar, poplar, pine, spruce and birch. More important than the species is the quantity and the dryness of the wood. During your first year you won’t be able to have your wood seasoned for a year, but I’ve usually found there is enough standing (or leaning) dead wood in a new area to get through the first year.

Water for washing, cooking and drinking is also a primary necessity. Even if the water is not safe for drinking, it’s still good for washing and cooking, and with proper boiling, drinking.

So I can hear readers asking “where are such plots available?” Usually the best places to look are not real estate offices. Rather, try bulletin boards in small, out-of-the-way towns, or try advertising in such places yourself. Just to illustrate that such places are still available, let me give you two examples.

Having moved back to northern Ontario three years ago, I decided that I wanted to homestead for the third and probably last time. So I was on the lookout for a proper spot. A parcel of 22 acres came up for taxes in a small town where I was living. The land was three miles in from a paved road. A four-wheeler was needed to access the second mile, while the last 200 yards could only be traversed on foot. The parcel featured great moose, bear, and small-game hunting, was never logged and was less than a mile from a pristine lake. The price: $6500.

Shortly after this purchase, I heard of a private sale that was happening: 1 acre on a mile-long lake with only one other lot on the lake, drive access to the lake but small boat access across the lake to the lots, good fishing and fair hunting. The price: $7000.

After having set up a 14’ x 16’ wall tent with a wood stove on both properties, I spent time on both lots over the course of the next year. I eventually decided to sell the 22-acre lot. At present, I have the footing and floor done on the lakefront lot and am waiting for enough ice to take more materials in by ski-doo.

Two 18-foot canoes lashed together with a 3-horsepower outboard motor for power took in the first material.

Simple Home Solutions

Remember the K.I.S.S. principle: “keep it small silly.” The smaller the house, the cheaper to build, the less work to build, the less fuel to heat, and the easier to maintain. My new cabin will be 16’ x 24’.

I know that everyone loves a log house. However, having built one large and one small one, they are not my first choice. Horizontal logs are pretty much impossible for one person to handle. If you must, or are forced, to have a log house, build it of vertical logs. Most people can carry an 8-foot log of a fair size.

From my experience, if you can arrange to get the material to your site, the fastest, cheapest, warmest type of cabin construction is lumber and plywood. Stay away from all chipboard products. It stinks and disintegrates if it gets wet for any length of time, not to mention that it’s visually unappealing. Pricewise, I’m estimating my 16’ x 24’ modest dwelling will cost about $7,000.

About lighting, it is extremely important in those long, dark winter evenings to have serious lighting to read and work by. The very worst choice is candles—a little better than shuffling around in the dark, but not much. Almost as bad is kerosene light. And this includes Aladdin Lamps, which constantly soot up, need trimming, and are fire hazards. There are really only two serious choices for off-grid lighting: Coleman-style lanterns and propane. Coleman lanterns give the best light next to propane, but are noisy and require frequent filling. Propane lights give the best light of all, probably the cheapest, but you do have to be transporting tanks frequently. I haven’t mentioned solar light because I don’t have experience with it, but will be investigating this power source in my cabin presently under construction.

So, the land was $7,000 and the house will cost $7,000. And say another $10,000 or so for a used ski-doo or quad, boat or canoe, large professional chainsaw and various other tools and expenses. We have still established our homestead for under our limit of $25,000.

Some 100 years ago, before chainsaws, generators, cell phones, ski-doos, outboard motors and propane lighting there were many more people living in remote areas than today. Could it be that there has been a general decrease in that pioneering spirit that thirsts for freedom and independence? I can’t help but think so.

Get Creative

One more suggestion—even if it’s not practical to meet your small, monetary requirements from the land, it is very feasible to build much of the equipment you will need. The author has made the following items both to save money and to get exactly the design needed: a ski-doo, sleighs, canoes, firearms, knives and wood cook stoves.

So even if you haven’t found your ideal piece of land yet, you should start getting your equipment together. When you do get your land, you will be too busy clearing and building to make or collect these items.

To learn more, visit my website:

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American Frontiersman, Issue #159

American Frontiersman, Issue #159 Table of Contents