Strategies for Low-Cost Off-Grid Living – Intro

Loosening the Dollar’s Grip

Amanda and I want to craft our life in such a way that money becomes less and less necessary for requisite expenses (like bills), while also making the most earth-friendly decisions possible.  We believe money should enable, not shackle.  Here on Ripples, we hope to demonstrate exactly how we’re accomplishing this.  This post aims to introduce you to our many (evolving) strategies for reducing our reliance on money. 

To understand where we’re coming from financially, first we need to discuss our current life situation, how much we spend (and intend to in the future), and our goals.

Our Situation

We live in the middle of Fayetteville, AR (pretty much downtown), pay $465/month for rent, and have two cats.  My student loans have been paid off for a month now ($29,000 to $0 in 4 years, YAY!!).  Having sold our Cavalier, we also are now car-free.

For the last two years, we made poverty-level wages in Americorps*VISTA (about $4.50/hour apiece), and managed to break even.  And this included a $300/month loan payment, car insurance, and repairs, all of which no longer exist.

How Much We Spend & Our Goals

In the city, we’ve averaged about $17,000/year.  This includes vacation spending (from $500 – $1500 per year) and entertainment (about $900/year).  We want to reduce this to, at most, $15,000/year.

We anticipate the actual off-grid transition will cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the cost of land, house-building materials, and miscellaneous or unforeseen expenses.  [If you know anything about building a house, no doubt this sounds very low, but we’re confident we can achieve this with adequate preparation.  Stay tuned for those stories as they emerge.]

When off-grid, we want our spending to start out at $10,000/year.  We don’t have a “low-end” goal for spending off-grid aside from creatively reducing it to as near $0 as possible.

Our Methods

How do or will we make this possible?Off-grid Visual

  1. Expense Tracking.  We use a free online service called, which aggregates income and spending data from bank, credit card, investment, and retirement accounts into a single, trackable space.
  2. Food.  We try to keep food spending to under $600/month.  Off-grid, we will use online food delivery services, coupled with bulk buying and solar cooking, to ease us into our real strategy – growing our own food, indoors and outdoors.
  3. Water.  Using rain barrels, self-sufficient filtration techniques, and probably some other cool things we don’t know about yet, we plan to provide all of our own water at $0 cost.
  4. Heating/Cooling.  Our house design, positioning, and landscaping, if we do it right, should take care of most of our heating and cooling needs.  Site-harvested wood may provide occasional assistance.
  5. Transportation.  In town, we bike, bus, carpool, and walk everywhere.  Off-grid, we plan to do the same when possible, and will also look into services that range out to where we are.  This book discusses living without a car.  It mostly focuses on inner-city living, but many of the strategies can be ported to alternative lifestyles.
  6. Energy.  Currently, we average $20 – $30 per month in electricity usage (with a low of $14.21 and a high of $60.45 over the past 3 years).  Off-grid, using some combination of solar, wind, and hydroelectric, we hope to reduce these expenses to $0.
  7. Communication.  You may have already seen the details of our phone strategy, which is vastly cheaper than most standard cell phone plans.  Coupling this with well-utilized social media, video chat, and a travel fund we hope to build, this should meet our loved-one-connection needs.
  8. Creative exchanges.  As often as possible, we want to ditch money for barter.  This book is awesomely inspiring.
  9. Awareness.  And vigilance.  And the joyful will to learn, change, and grow.  These perspectives are arguably the most important components of our approach.

I wish I could unpack all of these strategies in fine detail right here, but that’s a job for future posts.

Which is where I’d love to hear from you.  What above intrigues you the most?  If you let me know, I can prioritize writing about it first.

Be well,


  • peacegrandma

    The Barter book looks really interesting. Did you find it at the library?

    • rpbancroft

      Yep, it’s available at FPL. It’s a really nice read. I’ve only gotten through about 40 pages of it, but it’s just so inspirational.

      • peacegrandma

        Thanks Ryan. I’ll look for it after I finish “World on the Edge.”

  • andyraelo

    I’m incredibly jealous of your energy bill… but this looks really great! My biggest question, that I feel is incredibly hard to answer for a lot of young people especially, is health insurance/care. It’s super expensive, and even more so if something happens and you are uninsured. It’s definitely something I’m grappling with, although I’m lucky enough to be still under my parents coverage. I know you must have given some thought to this area, so I’m curious about your ideas. What else besides “live as healthy as possible and hope like hell nothing bad happens”?


    • rpbancroft

      Hehe, we’ve been working intensively to bottom out our energy bills for many years now. It’s a really nice feeling to have converted saving energy into a habit!

      Thank you thank you for mentioning health care! I was wracking my brains for all of the core components of modern life, and forgot about that one. At this point, I haven’t devoted much time to unpacking that particular challenge. I will definitely make a (series of) post(s) on it at some point, though. I’m very excited to do deep research on that particular topic.

      At this point, my scratch-the-surface recommendations would be “live in (or help establish) a strong, self-supporting community,” “set up creative barter with a doctor,” “attempt to rally for universal health care in America,” and/or “move to and establish citizenship in Europe or some other country with universal health care.” I have stories and research to back up each of these, but it’s scattered and half-anecdotal at the moment. Also, I’ll bet there are some additional strategies I’m not aware of just yet.

      I hope that was at least a bit helpful for now. Kittens!