Off-Grid – On The Cheap

It seems that the “green” (or brown) movement is growing faster and faster. It used to be the realm of unwashed hippies, tree huggers and other so called “degenerates” who lived off the grid, in the wild, on the fringes of society.

Lately, I keep reading about how more mainstream people are jumping in, purchasing solar panels, adding passive solar rooms, collecting rain water. I read about people who build $300,000+ green homes, that price doesn’t include the price of the land it sits upon! It’s all fine and dandy for those who have lots of readily available cash sitting around, or worse, they get loans to bankroll their ubergreen homes.I have no complaints about those who can afford the extravagant green homes, if you are wealthy and can afford to do it, then by all means go for it. But what about all of the rest of us, living on fixed or small incomes? Is it possible to live the green dream if you don’t have a cool million sitting in the bank? The answer is YES, you can!

In this article I talk about solar panels, but this can also refer to anything it takes to live off-grid, solar power, wind power, water power…

That doesn’t mean you can go out and buy an entire setup of solar panels and everything that goes with it right off the bat. That would just be foolish. It would be even more foolish to buy on credit, there is no point in making this cost more than it has to, and buying on credit, unless you CAN and WILL pay off the balance before the next billing cycle, you will be paying more than necessary.

The way to bankroll your purchases is to do it one step at a time. I am assuming that you have taken the time to educate yourself on solar panels and everything that goes with it. You don’t need to go crazy, just do a little homework, learn what you need, figure out how you can reduce your power needs, the less power you can use, the less you need to spend on your solar setup.

doit-osaat-textFigure out how much money you have left over at the end of the month, after all of your bills are paid. Take that money, put some of it aside for a “rainy day”, and take the rest and purchase as many solar panels as you can. If that is one, then just get one. Set these aside and add to it each month. You will need more than just solar panels, but this will get you started. You will also need to get deep cycle batteries, there are several different types, again you need to educate yourself. They can be expensive, so buy them as you can. You also need to try to stay with the same size or as close to the same size as possible as well a the same type, you don’t want to mix wet batteries with gel batteries, again, you need to educate yourself. It might even be advisable to make those your latter purchases since batteries generally require some maintenance, they don’t like just sitting idle.

You will need to get at least one charge controller, don’t skimp on this, this one item will insure that you don’t overcharge your batteries, this investment will pay off big time in the long run.

For the solar panels, I have heard many different opinions about how much to spend on them, I find that they don’t have any moving parts, and either they work or they don’t, so if you can find them cheaper, then buy the cheaper ones. Harbor Freight has good prices on a range of solar panels, I find nothing wrong with them. Just a little bit of advice, I used to work in the electronics industry, in general, the sales people tended to disparage the “cheaper” generic items in favor of the more expensive brand name items. The only reason they did this was so their paychecks would be bigger, ie they earned commission on their sales. I even found this trend in a store where no one earned commissions.

I don’t know why they did it other than the bottom line of the store, but it happened, and it happened frequently. It was their perception that the higher priced, name brand products were somehow better than the lower cost generic products. The funny part about it is, usually the generic products were made by the same manufacturers that made the name brand products. These often had a lower price point AND a bigger markup, so if they had been “pushing” the generics, they would have been, in reality, making more money for the store in the long run! Go figure! So don’t get caught up in the “it has to be a brand name” solar panel, buy what you can afford.

If you do this, starting now, within a year you should have a pretty good stash of solar goodies waiting for you to hook them all up. If you think this will take too long, just think of it like this, the time WILL go by whether you are slowly stocking up or not, if you had started this a year ago, how much would you have now? So don’t let the perception of time passing slowly discourage you from getting started, the sooner you start, the sooner you will be in better shape to be off-grid. The longer you put it off, the longer it will take for you to become independent!

If you don’t have enough money to purchase an item at the end of the month, then set aside the money you DO have, don’t blow it, just save it and add it to next month’s funds. Anytime you come into extra money, an unexpected raise, a bonus, Christmas or birthday money, put that towards your solar purchases. Try spending less on unnecessary things, instead of eating out, eat at home, bring your lunch to work, stop buying those $4.00 coffee’s, you know what I am talking about! Take the change out of your pocket or purse everyday and put it aside, every little bit adds up. Eat closer to the earth, stop buying all the pre-prepared, over packaged microwave junk foods, your body, mind and pocketbook will be the better for it.

Ladies, do you REALLY have to get your nails done every week? How about shopping at discount stores or even (gasp) second hand stores? I have found brand new clothes, with retail tags still attached in thrift stores, I can buy a pair of good jeans for a few dollars instead of paying $30.00 and up. You can even find deals on some of your groceries if you are willing to shop at salvage grocery stores, just look in the phone book. Also look at the dollar stores for some of your grocery needs, you can get lots of staples at a great price there. Just take inventory of what you are spending each month, decide which things can be trimmed or even cut out all together, what is more important, going to the movies this weekend or becoming free from monthly utility bills?

Do you really need to have 2 cars? Do you really need a NEW car? Buying an older model car can save you thousands of dollars in car payments as well as lower insurance premiums. What do you have laying around collecting dust that you can sell? What can you give up that will save you money, how much are you paying to watch TV? I’m talking about cable and satellite services, how about dropping the service all together, or if you are not willing to do that, how about dropping the premium channels? How much would that save each month? Shop around for internet service, you may be paying too much for your current service. Try this, turn off your modem, turn on your wireless card and see if there is a signal you can “use” to get free internet. Check with your neighbors and see if you can go in with them on an internet connection and share the bill.

If your company has an employee stock plan, or some other type of savings plans, especially if they match your contribution, then GO FOR IT! That’s exactly how I was able to buy my little parcel of land, I worked 10 and a half years at Best Buy, the last 7 years I worked part time. I signed up for the employee stock plan as soon as it was available for the part timers. I gave the maximum that I could, it was 20% of my paycheck. Working part time, that wasn’t much, on average it was about $70.00 per paycheck, we were paid every 2 weeks. I left the money alone, most of the time I didn’t even know how much money I had in that account. Too many time I saw this happen with the other people I worked with, they would get a couple of thousand dollars saved up, then they would cash it in and make a down payment on a new car, or something else that was equally unnecessary.  I only became interested in how much I had when I started looking for a place to buy to live off-grid. In the 7 or so years that I had participated in this program, I had saved/earned enough to be able to buy my land outright. I didn’t have to get a bank loan, I didn’t use credit cards, I just cashed in one investment and put the money into another investment, my property.

Fortunately this all happened about a year before the stock crash. But my point is to start saving and cutting back NOW, the sooner you do, the more money you will have to get that perfect little piece of paradise where you can live off-grid using the panels and other equipment you purchased along the way.

There are hundreds of ways to cut your cost of living right now if you are willing to buckle down and do it. How bad do you want to free yourself from the rat race of life? If you want it bad enough, you will find a way. People generally do what they want to do, and if you want to live off-grid, then DO IT, don’t just dream about it.

We certainly didn’t have $300000 to spend on building a house, we built the house ourselves, we used a lot of recycled and scrap material. We spent less than $15,000 TOTAL on our property and cabin. We choose to live a fairly sparse life, it’s not for everyone. But if you are the type of person who can thrive living like we live, this is the way to do it, one step at a time, one solar panel at a time… it can be done, and it can be done on the cheap.


Just a quick note, I received my order from Diane, she is a grandmother who sells bulk foods (and other bulk items) in a co-op website. My order was well packaged and arrived in perfect condition, Diane takes great care with the products she packs up. Thanks Diane, visit her site and see what she has to offer.


10 Responses

  1. me and my husband have been talking about getting of the grid and farming our land but the problem we have is the land is narrow and long and the soil is not to good we have started getting animals we have some chickens and thought about a cow and pigs but not sure we have a little over 5 acrea here but we thought about looking for more land some where else but not sure if this a good start and what is the baby steps you started with

    1. acytracey, without more info, I don’t know what to tell you about your current land situation, I can say this, anything is better than nothing, the shape shouldn’t have that much to do with whether or not you can live on it and do the off-grid thing, as long as you actually have soil, it can be improved… if you aren’t happy with your land, you can always look for another place. You can also be buying up the components you need to go off-grid (no matter where that may be), do it while you are still living your “normal” life and (I assume) you have the income to do it. You can also be buying up foods that don’t need refrigeration, canned goods, dry goods, things that come in pouches and don’t need to be stored in cold temps, it’s a good idea to have a stock of foods anyhow, one never knows what the future will hold, from global disasters to merely losing your job…


  2. Tracy, that is great! I wish you luck on getting your condo sold before your job goes sour, but even if you don’t, isn’t it nice to know you HAVE somewhere to go?

    I worried (slightly) about pulling out all of my savings, my investments to do this, but after it is all said and done, I realized that I merely moved my money from one investment into another, this land and home IS an investment, it may or may not increase in value, but it will never decrease in size and it will always be able to house me, feed me and take care of me as long as I am able to pick up a hoe and garden, and pay the taxes.

    $2500-$3000 is a good amount to spend on s solar set up, it will get you started quite nicely. Do you get a lot of sun where your property is located?

    Don’t forget about putting back some food, canned, dry, anything that doesn’t require refrigeration or special conditions to keep. Hopefully your transition from your current life to your off-grid life will be smooth, either way it’s nice to have some stores of food to survive on after you get out there, it’s one less worry. :)


  3. Hi. I enjoyed your article above. I too pulled money out of retirement right before the market took a nose dive. I boought 1-1/2 acres and it has a small spring fed creek running thru it. I just completed a 12 x 20 rough sawn building 2 lofts. I am putting a 31ft airstream out there on Tuesday. I am so proud to say thus far I have paid for all cash. I built 3 8ft x 4 raised beds and planted my garden this weekend. Since the land is raw, I had to haul some water in. I have 3 55gal drums and cleaned them out this weekend and took out to lot. Putting a hose in and sucking worked , but I will head to harbor freight and get a manual barrel pump. My condo has been on the market for awhile now. When I get laid of at work I will not be able to afford living here. That is a bad feeling to feel like you are stuck working at a stressful job because you need the money. You mentioned above about buying panels a little bit at a time. You also mentioned about selling some things. I have some things that I can sell and would be able to put 2500-3000 on a solar setup pretty quickly. Thanks again for the post.

  4. Thank u for taking the time to share a glimpse of hope. I feel shackled to corporate America and I’m desperate to come off the grid! I took a baby step this past month n starting some seeds for a continual harvest garden. (using square foot gardening). We already own 27 acres but live n a triple wide mobile home. Is it possible to use solar on mobile homes or do we need to look into building as we collect panels? I have at least a hundred more questions but I’ll start with that one. Again- thank u for the ray of hope! -Ga.

    1. Georgia, thanks for your comment. I enjoy writing about this stuff. LOL Taking baby steps is good, saving seeds is also good. I love square foot gardening, have you read any of Ruth Stout’s books? There is some good info there too. I would say to start collecting panels if you can, you can use them on your mobile home, but I think it’s easier to start off by building your home with solar panels in mind. If you want to use solar panels on your existing home, try converting one room at a time, or even one part at a time, such as make some of the lights in one room run off of solar. What do you want to do? Are you wanting to build a new home or do you want to stay in your mobile home? If your mobile is already on your land, and you are happy with it, you might consider keeping it, unless you have your heart set on building something else. That is just a personal choice.

      If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask, that’s why I’m here. :)


  5. Anonymous, when and where did I wander into expensive country? The most expensive part of our venture was purchasing the land, and that was a bargain because of “issues” of the property, ie vehicle access is difficult but not impossible. We do take advantage of solar gain in heating the cabin, and as for water conservation, we have a 300 gallon water tank, we do conserve water because we have to bring in every drop we consume. We do have other water tanks, gifted to us, all of these have rust and holes, we need to patch them or find something else to do with them. Our entire life is about living on the cheap, please, if you can find something that I wrote (above) that looks expensive, let me know what it is, I’ll see if I can clarify what I wrote.

    I agree in taking baby steps, taking any steps to achieve the lifestyle that you want to live. My point here was to let people know that is IS possible to live the off-grid life (if that is what you want to do) without breaking the bank, you don’t need to spend $300,000+ to live green/off the grid.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate each and every one! :)


  6. You started off fine but then wandered off into expensive country!
    It isn’t just electricity that is ‘on grid’. Solar heating and water conservation are two inexpensive ways to increase the amount of money left over at the end of the month. By increasing the amount you can invest in off-grid or green improvements, you create a multiplier effect.
    By starting with an even smaller step, you can climb onto the green ladder faster!

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