To my surprise, when I posted on twitter that I had managed to tell both my parents about my new plans of leaving academia and applying to organic farming school, I got some questions about where I was in the process, and if I would write a post about it. Ever one for accountability, I thought I would map out the slow steps we are taking towards the rather big career change.
Mostly these are steps I am taking. Mr. Frugasaurus is still doing his part, typing away on his computer in his attic office. The master plan is still that he will build a steady passive income from his ebooks while I work away and provide him the stability he needs to focus on that.
That is still the big plan we are following, but I would be greatly amiss if I was relying on that being the only plan. It could take him a while to build his passive income empire after all, and he could do that from anywhere, including from the west coast of Norway where the school is located.
I have previously written about how I was first contemplating a career change, and later about the opportunity cost of not know what to be when you grow up. Now that I have made my decision, I suppose the time is ripe to make an extensive post about the specific steps we are taking towards reaching that goal, and perhaps give you some ideas along the way if you are thinking of making a similar change in your life.
The first thing of course, make a plan. And in my case, create trackers(shameless plug of my Etsy shop) that visualize your progress, because that is one of the things that keep me motivated.
Fellow food enthusiast and former PhD-student Budget Epicurean already put together a great post on what to do if you are contemplating a career change. Paying yourself first (putting money in savings), living below your means and cooking at home are all habits we have implemented in the years Mr. Frugasaurus and I have been together (and before, as poor students). If you are thinking about making major changes in your life, setting money aside and reducing your expenses are some of the most important steps in making sure the transition is as smooth as possible (and indeed, make it possible at all).
The deadline for the organic farming school was 1st of March. So it has just passed at the time of writing this (leading to a bit of a depressed slump, but we are working through it). That gives us one and a half year to prepare if the goal is to attend next year. I hope we will manage that, but if we don’t, there will be the year after that when my contract expires. So we are looking at a 1.5-2.5 year timeline for me to first attend an organic farming school and then look for a homestead.
While we could probably just buy a homestead and muck about and figure things out, I think I would meet many great people and learn many great things if I go to this school. Plus, I might avoid some of the largest mistakes and most definitely pick up tips and tricks or more efficient work.
The things we need to deal with before I can go are:
Now, as many of my readers will know, we were super-excited about buying our very first house last November! Yeah, uhm. That will have to go. The school I want to attend is a nine hour drive from the city we currently live in, so a commute is absolutely not an option.
Selling now would definitely net us a loss, because of fees associated with the purchase (almost $10 000 for our house). We are discussing whether we want to try to rent it out or not. Renting might be a good option if we can manage to find solid tenants who will take on their half of the snow shovelling and lawn mowing for a reduction in the rent. But both Mr. Frugasaurus and me are rootless people, and I must admit I am tempted to sell and invest the difference while I study. I just get the urge to pack up all my things and leave (or give away most and take only what I need). It is an irrational urge, but it is there, and we are both prone to it.
For now, we are staying here until we have our expenses saved up, at least another year and a half. Depending on the market, we will reassess closer to the actual time. We are both comfortable here, but it isn’t our dream homestead.
Then again, we had all intentions of not buying anything else between this house and the homestead. But I’ve been around long enough by now to know that anytime I make plans they are prone to change (like finally deciding a few short months after buying a house that I really want to go to farming school).
I am the designated breadwinner in our household at the moment. While I labour away at work and keep a roof over our head, Mr. Frugasaurus is working hard to create sustainable, passive income that is location and employer independent. I believe strongly that he will manage to earn more than I am at the moment if he is just given time and space to do so.
So in order for Mr. Frugasaurus to keep writing while I take a massive pay cut and go to school, we will need to have savings. That way, he can keep working on his income even while I am earning next to nothing. I don’t want him to have to find a job outside the house, especially with his disability.
Because we are both trying to make our sidehustles grow, we are striking a compromise at one year of expenses. (120k NOK, $14k, the sum on the right hand side counter that I am currently throwing all my sidehustle earnings and fun money at). School is two years, but the last one can be done remotely. I would rather not, but that is an option. Also, we are both earning a little off our sidehustles. If they keep growing, they might be able to carry us through that second year without too much hassle.
The school itself is free (welcome to Norway!), but we would still have to find a place to rent (they have a dorm but I want my husband, honestly), gear, equipment, food, etc. I hope we are able to do it without me incurring more student loans. But if Mr. Frugasaurus is still in his building income phase, we will have one year of expenses to cover rent while I take up a student loan to cover food and equipment. The bottom line is that a year of expenses will come in handy either way, so we are going for it.
Currently we have… not so much saved up. We had over 50k NOK ($6k) in our emergency fund last year, but closing costs brought us back to square one again. But that is how it is to be a baby at the financial independence game. We keep getting thrown back to zero, but a little stronger each time.
And this time, we have a public counter to keep us accountable.
If I had attended vocational high school for farming and agriculture, I would have done what accounts to a basic farming exam in my first year. The school I want to go to only covers the last two years of high school, so you can get in one of two ways. Either by having such an exam in your back pocket, which grants you preference in the line, or by having 3-4 weeks relevant farming experience.
In Norway, you can sign up and pay a fee if you want to take any high school exam (common to get a higher score to get into more prestigious fields like medicine) at two times during the year, February and September. The February deadline has already passed, but I am aiming for signing up to the farming exams in September this year (2019). If the farming exam is available in autumn (fingers crossed) I will take it in December. If not, I will try again in February 2020.
Since this is not one of the typical exams taken to improve your grades, no one advertises giving it, and there is very little information available online apart from which course books to read from. But there is a conventional farming school half an hour from here, and I am hoping they will give the exam if any of their students need to re-take it.
The alternative, as I mentioned, is speaking to a farmer and getting real, hands-on experience. I am not at all opposed to doing it that way, the only problem is that students with the exam are given preferential treatment, and the school is getting more popular every year. When the school is only 53 students in total (both years!), every bit counts. So I will aim for the exam first, but if I can’t do that, I will spend next summer mucking out barns and weeding vegetable fields. The good thing about the school is that you can apply before you have the necessary credentials, and then just send them proof of exam/farm reference once you have it.
As you can see, most of my plan is just to sit on my bum/keep working until we have money saved up. It is a game of patience, and you can count on me having made a 16 month tracker and hung it on our bedroom wall, so that I can color in one day every day as we work steadily towards our goal. Like the annual habit tracker in this bundle, only with an extra couple of months.
It is still half a year until I can even sign up for the basic farming exam, and our summer this year is already planned for. What to do in the meantime?
Continue plodding along with sidehustles, of course!
In my perfect world, we will have built a steady stream of sustainable, liveable income by the time I finish school. Either one or both of us will be earning enough online to make up for the income I currently have as a PhD-student. We will save more money, and have a substantial down-payment ready for when our homestead comes sailing along. Mr. Frugasaurus might still want to take a master’s in creative writing, but I hope – I really, really hope, that we will have enough to cover our basic expenses from sidehustles by then.
No more anxiety over being unemployed and rapidly burning through savings.
No more feeling inadequate and like a failure.
Time will tell if we manage in the next handful of years, but I hope – I really, really hope. And we work for it when we can.
And even if the worst was to happen, that will only delay our plan from 1.5 years away to 2.5 years away. That is still pretty dang close for a massive and major life change!