Seriously Off Grid on a Shoestring: Couple Lives Off Grid on Their Own Terms

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Years ago I was a prepper too. I had bought in into one particular scenario and all these variables were supposedly coming to a head and (like Y2K), the world as we knew it was coming to an end. This guy had all the charts and all his doomsday scenarios all mapped out and I had bought every word of it — hook, line, and sinker. But the prophesied day of horrendous chaos came and nothing happened. That day was no different from a thousand days before it; indistinguishable from thousands of days since. And I was DONE. Not only DONE with accepting someone else’s version of reality and how to protect myself from it, but DONE with *any* individual, group, or agency who stands to profit from the promotion of FEAR — just done with the whole notion of it.

I can relate to much of what you’ve written in this piece. I’ve lived through very similar situations myself. I think, too, that when we spend too much time trying to please others (or at least doing what we *think* will please them), we set ourselves up for ultimate failure. Only when we are true to our own personal vision and stay the course regardless of what anyone else thinks can we be assured of a successful outcome. At some point I made a decision to surround myself with people I love and (perhaps more importantly) people who at least seemed to love me and the rest of ’em could take a flying leap off the nearest cliff — so-called friends, family, whomever. They were dead to me. And because they were dead to me, how could I possibly get upset about anything they did or didn’t do? I have never regretted that decision.

I know that the typical “off grid” bundle is returning to the land, growing your own food, raising some domestic livestock, hunting and fishing for what you can get, etc. And I’ve no particular issue with any of these chores as long as they work — I’m a huge fan of whatever works. But the big problem with all of these typical approaches is they require a major investment in land and infrastructure = which is a major investment in the dominant paradigm as it now seems to me . . . little more than perpetuation of the status quo. We working-class Americans, on average, spend nearly 50% of our income on a sheetrock box in which we sleep, take a shower, and cook some food to eat — mostly so we can get up early the next morning and put in another thankless day of work for the Man. When you get to thinking about, it’s almost criminal! Plus, on average, that box won’t be paid for until we’re 55 (if we’re lucky and hop on the treadmill when we’re 25).

off grid rv living

I’m suggesting there is a cheaper way to live and live quite well. We call it “seriously offgrid on a shoestring.” It’s the way we’ve been living fulltime for 18 months now and we plan to keep on living this way as long as the powers that be will let me keep driving. We’ve actually lived this way for 23 months because it’s how we lived the last five months while we were working at our jobs — before I retired and my wife just quit her job. There are people living this life for $500/month and some couples do it for $300/month. I took the 25% cut and retired early at 62 (my wife won’t be eligible for early SS until Feb 2020) but I also got a pension after 15 years working for the State of Idaho as a carpenter. So we currently live — and live well — the two of us — for about $1,650 per month. And, trust me, we could live on a lot less if we had to but we eat fresh salmon as often as we want, we eat well, and we like wine so we buy it. I hope to get back into making our own homemade wine as I had that down to a fine art for about $1 per bottle. We also have two large cats who travel with us so we cover their minor expenses as well.

We live fulltime in a 1994 33′ fifth wheel that we bought in 2015 for $4,200 and we tow it with a 2000 F350 (7.3 diesel and 4WD) that I bought about three years before I retired so it would be paid for when we hit the road. In 18 months, we have only spent $150 for a place to BE — and every dollar of that was discretionary. We already had four RV/Marine 12-volt batteries and early on we paid $1,350 to get our initial solar system up and running in one day. Our guy (Solar Mike at The Sun Works near Niland, CA) provided all the equipment, materials, and labor and we lived with that system fulltime for 14 months — a 420 watt PV panel and a 100 volt/40 amp MPPT charge controller. A few days later we bought (less than $200) a 300 watt pure sine wave inverter from the same guy but I installed it myself. We live as if we are plugged in 24/7 but we almost never are. Since then, we’ve made a few other upgrades to our system but it was perfectly adequate already . . . which is to say the additional money we’ve spent has been purely voluntary and truth be known it was quite a chunk of additional change for only a tiny bit more functionality.

off grid rv living

We almost always get our water for FREE and we never pay more than $5 to dump our holding tanks. More often than not, we’re able to dump them for FREE in various places as well. Because I was 62 (now 63), we paid $10 for what we call my ‘geezer pass’ and that gets us (*and* up to four people in our truck) in FREE to any of the 400+ national parks in the US. We typically find a FREE spot to camp close to whatever park entrance and then do multiple day trips to explore, hike, ride our mountain bikes, and check out the park. So far, we’ve been to Joshua Tree, the Grand Tetons, Petrified Forest, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, and Arches NP — all FREE. Of course, we spend some money for fuel to make these trips but we return each evening to our paid-for RV with all the comforts of home. I do miss my girls (hens) and having a garden (and I could still do those things if I’m willing to get creative enough) but those are small sacrifices to make for a life of unlimited liberty and virtually zero stress. We take our house with us wherever we go so it’s never a burden for us to spend a few days with family or friends.

There may come a time when it’s no longer this much fun to travel and move about all over the west like we do = north in the summer months and south from Nov until May. When and if that day comes, we’ll buy a small lot up in the mountains somewhere and convert our fifth wheel into more of a cabin with a snow roof and a covered porch. In southern AZ, there are many RV parks where one can get a special six-month rate (about $180/month with full hookups and for $100 more total (for the year), you can leave your RV there during the off season (when it’s so HOT that most mortals bug out and move north). This reserves your spot and preserves your investment in shade awnings, carport, etc. So we could buy another used fifth wheel and just leave it in southern AZ = all set up and ready to go and just drive a small car back and forth. Living in the mountains is easy when you’re retired because there is no commute. One can make a grub run every week or two and life is good. And then we could have chickens and a garden again — at least during the summer months — maybe loan our hens to a neighbor while we’re gone during the winter months? Or take the girls with us — like pets — that would be fun 🙂

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If you’re interested, here are two recent 15-minute videos about us and our rig:

Interview With Us:

More About our $4,200 33′ Fifth Wheel:

We also have our travel blog = sailingondryland.com

JIM & ANNIE (currently living for FREE and loving it on BLM land near Moab, UT)
PS ~ Which reminds me — if anyone is looking to work a few months of each year and make enough to goof off the rest of the year, McDonald’s here in Moab is hiring for the summer months = $12 an hour to start.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you so much for sharing how we live seriously offgrid on a shoestring. I hope it inspires others and lets them know there are lots of options out here — and one for every budget. I’ve been pre-occupied the last eight days replacing part of the roof on our rental house but I’ll get caught up on everyone’s questions soon.
    JIM & ANNIE
    sailingondryland.com