If you are like me, the biggest obstacle to the dream of living off grid is money. Today, I thought I would help out wannabe homesteaders by gathering together tips for living off grid without money, some you probably haven’t seen before.
How to live off grid with no money:
- Get yourself a piece of free or low-cost land (4 methods below)
- Build a free home
- Gather and grow naturally abundant foods
- Purify available water for free — no wells to dig
- Set up dirt cheap (free) waste disposal
- Bonus: Find a free living community
Despite what advertisers, builders, and real estate agents might want you to believe, there are actually many ways to get off grid with out much cost. It all depends on how much work you are willing to put in, and being able to think outside the box.
Getting Land for No Money
Free land is still out there and still available. Right now there are many out of the way towns and villages offering plots free or basically free if you are willing to live there. Out in the country, there also opportunities for farm caretakers or land contract deals that will not be advertised online. You have to know where to look. Lastly, there are many tracks of land sitting, unused, that could be yours for free, using the unknown law called “adverse possession” that exists in some form in all 50 states!
Free Land in the US
While the original homesteading act is no longer on the books, there are many remote cities in the US that are offering free and, usually in exchange for building a home and living in that city for a set period of time. Here is a list of all the towns in the US offering free land for living there:
- Beatrice, Nebraska
- Buffalo, New York
- Curtis, Nebraska
- Elwood, Nebraska
- Lincoln, Kansas
- Loup City, Nebraska
- Mankato, Kansas
- Manilla, Iowa
- Marne, Iowa
- Marquette, Kansas
- New Richland, Montana
- Osborne, Kansas
- Plainnville, Kansas
Free Land in Canada
Being the world’s second largest country yet with only 37 million people (just over 1/10th the United State’s population), Canada is interested in getting more people to live in their many underpopulated rural regions. Right now, there are countless small towns looking for people to move in, in exchange for free or practically free (eg $10/acre) land.
Many of these deals stipulate that you build a home within a set amount of time, in order to get the free land. But read the section on low cost housing below to see how you might be able to get that done on your own for free.
Here are some towns and regions in Canada offering free land:
- New Brunswick Strawhouse Community
- St-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec
- Pipestone, Manitoba
- Scarth, Manitoba
- South Knowlesville Community Land Trust, New Brunswick
- Mundare, Alberta
- Free Land for Working in Wycocomagh, Cape Breton
- Free Land in the Yukon
- Craik Eco-Village , Saskatchewan (ecovillage website not up at time of writing, but community may still be in operation)
Also, crown land in Canada (land owned by the government) allows people to live there free for 6 weeks at a time, after which time you would have to move on. This could be a perfect free way for a yurt, RV, or portable tiny home dweller to live free of rent.
Cheap Land and Free Money in Alaska
Long one of the last bastions of truly untouched wilderness, Alaska is still one of the freest states in the Union and one of the most beautiful places in the world. While not free up front, the Alaskan government routinely sells cheap land over the counter as well as through periodic auctions.
Free Money for Living in Alaska
While not initially free, establishing residency in Alaska makes you eligible to receive the annual Permanent Fund Dividend. Last year’s dividend was $1,606 per person including dependents and children. So a household of five would have seen a $8030 payment this year. The amount paid depends on how much money Alaska is making, and thus the economy, but the dividend payout has been between about $1,000 – $2,000 per person in recent memory.
For a family who lives frugally and attempts to produce most of their food off grid through hunting would be able to pay of their off grid land purchase in only a few years.
Subsistence Hunting and Fishing Licenses
Residents of Alaska also get special privileges concerning hunting and fishing rights. This includes practices such as net fishing for Salmon and subsistence hunting that are not possible in other states. When I lived in Alaska, it was rare to find a home without a chest freezer packed with salmon and moose meat caught for free.
For those of you haven’t spent time in Alaska the remoteness of the land and ferocity of the cold weather may astonish you. Likewise, the cost of necessities such as gas and food is well above most regions of United States. So be careful if you decide to go up there. However, for many of my readers, Alaska might just be the perfect spot.
USDA Farm Grant and Loan Program
No money, but interested in opening a functioning off grid farm? USDA Grants & Loans has programs to provide money for family size farms as well as a program specifically for new farms.
In exchange for accepting these funds you will be obligated to attempt to start a farm that conforms to the USDA’s standards of farming. But, for looking to get started with their own off grid agriculture business, these programs could be perfect for you.
One way to get started off grid for no money is to become a Farm Caretaker. Farm care taking is a free rent situation where you work in exchange for free rent. And, can often be a longer term arrangement, lasting years if you choose.
With labor in rural farm lands at an all time low, and children of farming families moving to the city, there are many farms out there that are looking for people to watch over them. Depending on the situation, some owners may ask you to work part time on the farm — tending livestock and the like — while others may just want someone around to keep an eye on the place and do occasional maintenance work.
You will not find offers for farm care taker advertised online or on job sites. and will have to search for your own opportunities. Try posting an add on Craigslist, Facebook local forums, or in regional newspapers with good rural distribution. Explain clearly and quickly what you are looking for and what you plan to offer in return.
Undeveloped land is not easily financed or mortgaged by banks, which makes land contracts, also known as owner carry, very common practice for purchasing off grid land. A land contract is an agreement between the buyer and seller that you will pay off the purchase over time at a set rate, and at the end of the contract you become the full owner of the land.
Essentially, the seller becomes the bank.
Finding No Down Land Contracts
While land contracts typically require a 10% – 20% down payment, finding a motivated owner through direct contact gives you the opportunity to negotiate for a zero down or work exchange situation. See my article “How to Find Off Grid Land – Ways You Haven’t Heard Of” for details on how to find and contact motivated sellers not yet on the market.
Local Businesses that Sell Land
Another no down option would be to contact small companies that specialize in off grid properties. Some have special deals for no down payment parcels, while others might be amenable to negotiating special terms. Also, if you are in a lumber producing area, search for local timber investment firms. I have found firms that sell off grid “timber land” with land contracts, and may be willing to provide good terms on parcels of land that they consider unproductive.
Land contracts are well established legally, generally safe for both parties. However, be wary if you sign one, because failure to pay timely payments or follow through with the contract usually results in the buyer losing the property and anything they paid up to that point.
One legal concept for acquiring land that you probably haven’t heard of before is adverse possession or “squatter’s rights”. What they are is the right to claim ownership of a piece of land that you have been openly living on it for a certain amount of time (see above map), between 5 – 30 years depending on your state.
The idea of these laws are that vacant pieces of land where, the owner is completely absent, should go to someone who is putting it to good use. What that means in practice varies form state to state. Every state in the US has some form of adverse possession.
Adverse possession does not mean you have the right to live on a piece of property if you have been asked to leave. The legal owner can ask you to leave at any time. Ultimately, it can be a gamble, since you must live on the land without the owner’s permission in order to claim adverse possession.
Low Cost or No Cost Off Grid Housing
The next big hurdle to get started living off grid is housing. While some of the options provided above may come with a living arrangement, there are may free or low cost ways to live comfortably off the grid.
Homes are usually the mainstream family’s biggest expense, but if you are willing to work and to live conservatively, a dept free or even plain free home is within your grasp. Building a tiny home is well within the skills of most people with minimal training. And, they can be built quickly and cheap or free depending on your building material foraging skills. There are also may natural building styles like cob building, light straw clay, earth bag, and straw bale that can be build largely from earth already on site, and can last for generations.
Tiny Home from Recycled Materials
With the tiny home craze growing every year, there are many places to learn just enough about traditional stick frame construction to build your own tiny home on wheels. Tiny homes have several advantages for the low cost builder:
- Easy to find materials
- Can be built in down, and transported to the country
- Fast to construct
Where to Find Free Construction Material
Most construction sites have large dumpsters, and end up throwing away substantial quantities of usable material. Contractors generally over buy lumber, sheeting, siding, and roofing in order to make sure they have plenty to complete the job. There will also me piles of cut offs that didn’t make it in to the final home. Also, remodels may be discarding otherwise usable construction material that was removed from the home.
The best way to get construction discards is to scope out construction sites in person. If you see anything usable, don’t hesitate to ask the foreman if they have anything that you can take. Usually, if have anything that day, they are happy to see it gone, as you loading it up makes their job a bit easier. Be sure to leave everything as clean as possible and stay out of the way of work, in order to be polite as possible. Once you get know by local foreman, they may even start calling you if they have anything of use.
Finding Free Tiny Home Materials on Craigslist
Craigslist is another option of find free or cheap building materials. Check listings often and be ready to move on them right away as free building material usually goes fast once posted online. In the past I have had good luck using a free service like IFTTT to set up a saved Craigslist search, which will text me any time something new gets posted. I have gotten great deals this way on stuff that had 2 – 3 other people call just minutes after it was posted.
ReStore Supplies for Low Cost Tiny Home Building
Lastly, you could check for a Habitat for Humanity ReStore in your area, which sells low cost used and surplus building material. While not free, they can be a low cost way to get those last few things you are missing for your tiny home build.
Log Cabins, Cob, and Natural Home Building Methods
Not yet widely know, but increasing in popularity, are earth based “natural building” techniques. Generally based on centuries old techniques that predate modern construction, natural buildings can be quite inexpensive, as you may be able to build with hand tools and materials you find on site or can buy cheaply.
Cutting and stacking logs, if you have the woods around you this is a fast and cheap option.
I recommend the book How to Build and Furnish a Log Cabin which is a classic resource that teaches old fashioned methods requiring inexpensive tools. No expensive chainsaws necessary. Plus it’s step by step details make it easy to make both the cabin and log furniture from the woods already on your property.
Cob is an ancient form of building from all over the world using earth, sand, and straw. Cob houses have been know to last centuries, and are great for off grid living because the thick walls naturally regulate internal temperature like the inside of a cave. Yet, they also help regulate moisture and buffer loud noises.
Depending on the soil in your area, you may be able to build from earth already on the building site. But in every case you can amend the solid with local clay and sand to get the prefect mixture. Cob buildings can be anysize, including multiple stories, and can be quite low cost if you build yourself from free materials.
The biggest down size to Cob is that you can only build so fast, because each layer of Cob mortar needs time to dry before adding the next. This means a full size house could take a couple of months to build the wall, depending on drying conditions, and can’t be built in the rain.
The classic book on the subject of Cob house building is The Hand-Sculpted House which I highly recommend.
Other Low Cost Natural Building Techniques
Other techniques include straw bale construction, earth bag construction, and light straw clay. All of these methods share some similarities with Cob construction, but rely on additional straw or bags to make the construction process faster.
Junk RV / Camper
One quick and clever way to get a free home is to look for one of the many junk RVs parked in rural areas. Ask around and you will probably find someone with an eyesore on their property that they would rather have removed, but aren’t interested in the hassle of getting junked.
With a little skill you could possibly yet that old RV running again, or ask a friend to help you tow that camper up to your property.
Then, gut out the insides as necessary and build back up with recycled materials, street side couches, and second-hand finds until you end up with a comfy and low cost off grid dwelling.
DIY Yurt Construction
Yurts are relatively simple to build, check out my article “How To Live In A Yurt Full-Time To Save Money And Go Debt-Free” for details on how it can be done. Essentially a large, semi-permanent tent used by the people’s of Mongolia, they are mode to be portable and to handle harsh climates with ease.
Building a yurt required two major materials: wood supports & a canvas or vinyl waterproof skin; and simple tools like a saw, drill, and sewing machine. Wood can be found as construction scraps, and in a pinch you could use sections of used lumber wrap as the skin for a free yurt build.
Such simple tools could be borrowed, although I recommend keeping a few around for repairs. Most can be had for dollars at an estate sale or garage sale. Old fashioned sewing machines with good metal gears can often be found that are capable of sewing canvas or vinyl. I used a $10 sewing machine from the thrift store to sew my 12’ canvas yurt with no troubles. All it took was a little oiling and a sharp needle to get working.
Free Food — Growing, Hunting, Finishing, Foraging
Growing and preserving food doesn’t need to be a drag. With food forests, modern no-dig organic gardening, and some old fashioned out doors skills food can be both free and nutritious.
Gardening on the Cheap
Gardening has a reputation as an expensive hobby, but as our ancestors knew, it can be done with almost no money.
Free Compost and Biochar Soil Amendments
The first order of business when starting a garden is to improve the soil. Most virgin soil will not produce great vegetable yields without work.
Initially begin by composting any organic material you can find, which there will usually be plenty on the homestead. Also consider bringing domestic animals who’s manure is great fertilizer, chickens being a great low cost choice to get started. Lastly, consider utilizing your own waste as compost with safe “Humanure” composting techniques or a Biogas digester.
Another powerful and free soil amendment is biochar, which is simply a cool name for charcoal added as a soil amendment. Charcoal has been used historically, to drastically improve soil productivity, sometimes for decades at a time. Charcoal can burned from brush or useless branches. See above video for a demo on how to do this.
Seed Exchange Programs
Seed exchange programs are cooperatives where gardeners and farmers give some of their own seed and receive some back. Some exchanges allow you to take seeds even if you have none to give. Others allow you provide seed from wild plants, which you could collect free on public land, in exchange for domestic verities.
Another option regarding seeds is to search out a local gardener who would let you collect the seeds from their garden, if they don’t have time or the interested. You could offer them a share of the spoils, keep some yourself, and send the rest to the exchange to round out your collection.
Also consider joining a local gardening group or extension class, and ask if anyone has any extra seeds around. Most gardeners end up buying more than they need, and, since they only last so long, are more than happy to share.
Starter Plants for Free from Produce Department
Many types of plants can be started from cuttings you can get for cheap / free at the grocery store. Most types of live herbs sold in the store — such as basil, thyme, and rosemary — can be propagated from live cuttings sold cheaply in stores. You may able to pick them up half off or free even when they begin to wilt. Just ask the manager of the produce department.
An old bag of potatoes can also be a great source of seed potatoes. Let them sprout in a cool, dark place. One you see roots begin to form, cut the potatoes to separate each root, and let them dry a few days before planting to reduce rot. Potatoes can yield 8 – 15 times the amount planted each year, by weight. And, they grow well in almost all climates.
Fruits like apples and avocado can grow from seeds, which are usually discarded anyway and therefore easy to get for free. Be aware, however, that many fruits seeds will produce fruit that isn’t as good as the parent, and are usually propagated by grafting and cutting. So while you may get a free plant, it might be better save up and buy the real thing, unless you have someone with fruit trees near you that is willing to show you what to do and give you a cutting.
The concept of companion planting and food forests in Permaculture uses the example of nature to drastically improve food production efficiency without extra work or cost. Natural ecosystems use a mix of beneficial plants and animals to grow strong, productive systems. Food forests attempt to recreate this example, in the context of editable and productive plants.
Food forests also may not require irrigation to grow properly, which takes away the need for an expensive deep well, pump, and power system to drive it. Especially in natural dry climates or western states with little rainfall in the summer on plots where you don’t have access to surface water.
There are many good books on food forests, but the most practical and useful to me is the Food Forest Design Handbook.
Foraging for Free Food
Depending on your area, there are likely many edible plants growing on or around your property. Taking full advantage of free foods is key to surviving on no money or little money. Some of my favorites found in many places are.
— Dandelions — as greens, dandelion wine, or roots dried and roasted as “coffee” — Nettles — nutritious greens once cooked, also as tea — Plantain — Found all over, natural green — Berries — Wild berries are abundant in many areas in the fall. Eat fresh and/or can preserves for later — Burdock — root, cook like potato — Lamb’s Quarters — Basically free spinach
Subsistence Hunting, Fishing, and Trapping
Hunting and fishing is guaranteed by constitutional or legal provision in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hamshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. (source)
Many states without the “right to hunt” have programs for free or discounted tags and permits for veterans, the elderly, and occasionally children. Check with your local fish and wildlife office for more details on what is available.
In many environments, wild game can be a great source of protein and fat that is hard to get otherwise. A knife and quite a bit of skill is technically all that is needed to bag some game now and again, and can be done basically for free. However, a rifle and a box of rounds can be an exceptionally cheap way to secure meat, if you have the skills.
Low Cost Water, Off Grid without a Well
Digging a deep well can be one of the biggest expenses when moving on to a piece off grid land. Yet, filtering surface water or rain water could be expensive. However, with smart DIY filtering, off grid solar water purification methods, there are ways to get clean water for practically free.
Free DIY Water Filters
Filtering water is essential if you are drinking easy to access spring water, surface water, or rain water. There are number of contaminants that could impact the water that you drink.
While you could boil all the water that you drink first, or build a solar still, all of this is pretty impractical of you are living full time off grid, except as an emergency method.
For a free DIY water filtration system, I recommend building a combination of a sand and charcoal filter and a solar hypochlorite (bleach) generator. For sources with taste or issues with solids, a cheap DIY sand and charcoal filter built in a bucket can filter large quantities of drinking water for basically no cost, size you can find the sand and burn your own charcoal.
Charcoal filters don’t deal with biological contamination, like bacteria, so you will need some other way to take care of that. By far the easiest way is to use small amounts of bleach before the charcoal filter. Any taste of bleach will be remove by the charcoal, but the bleach will clean the water and probably the filter as well.
While bleach is cheap you could also manufacture it on the homestead from salt water and a simple solar step.
Another good option to clear out bacteria and other biological hazards is a UV sanitizing light setup, which you can build yourself cheaply, and it can run from tiny amounts of solar or microhydro DC power.
See my article Off Grid Water Purification: Safe and Low Cost for more details on how to build these water purification systems.
One free source of water on the homestead is rainwater. Collecting water from your roof is a no brainier, and highly recommended in most situations. Rainwater can be used for irrigation, grew water for toilets, or purified for drinking.
More info on rainwater collection systems here: Off Grid Rainwater Collection – Complete How To Guide
Dirt Cheap Waste Disposal, Better than Free
Septic systems are renowned for being expensive, and require occasional pumping from professional services. All of this costs. However, between safe DIY waste composting systems, or low cost biogas (methane) generation systems, your waste doesn’t need to be an expense at all. And, in fact can provide valuable fodder to fertilize the garden or free heat to cook your food at the same time.
Humanure and Free Compost
The easiest and cheapest way to handle human waste is the Humanure compost system. The gist of the process is that you collect the waste in a bucket, which is covered with a layer of wood chips, moss, or dirt after each use to prevent any smell and absorb liquids.
Periodically, these buckets are removed and dumped in a compost pile outside. Once a pile is “full” or has been used for a year, you switch to a new pile. After two years of gestation, that file is infection free and safe to use as a soil amendment.
A Humanure system can be made for the cost of of a bucket and toilet seat, although you can put together quite a nice bathroom arrangement if you like. Properly managed there need be no smell in the house or by the compost. Currently, the best resource on Humane, including health and safety research, is the free online Humanure Handbook
Biogas for Free Off Grid Energy
Biogas is methane produced from the decomposition of organic material. The technology to harvest this gas has been developed and widely used by farmers in Germany to produce energy from their agricultural waste.
Properly managed neither the gas or the tank need smell bad during normal operation. And they also produce large quantities of fertilizer as a byproduct, which does smell a bit, but also does wonders for the garde.
Cheap, or free, small scale systems can built quite easily, producing free methane for cooking or for heating in the summer, or year round if insulated and kept up to operating temperature — about 85 F – 90 F.
For more information and recommendations on how to get started with Biogas, check out my article: How To Cook Off Grid Without Electricity
Free Off Grid Living Communities
For those out of the loop, you will probably shocked at how many free or nearly free living arrangements there are out there centered around sustainability or eco-friendly living. Much of the time these communities are partially or entirely off grid. If money is what’s keeping you from getting started, then these work-exchange living arrangements might be just the thing to get you going and to build up your skills. And, you might just meet a few friends along the way.
While setting up your own off grid homestead may be romantic, if you are younger, single, or have a lot to learn, joining an existing off grid focused community might be your best bet. There are a surprising number of organizations out there that offer low cost or work exchange programs that help you get off grid with no money, while giving you the opportunity to learn vital skills and methods from people that already know what they are doing.
Increasingly common around the world are intentional communities, which are groups of people coming together to accomplish particular lifestyle. What this lifestyle is varies from community to community, but there are many with sustainability and/or off grid as a primary focus. Some of these require some form of monetary input, while others allow people to live there with some form of work exchange.
The Foundation for Intentional Community lists over 1000 communities from around the globe, including listings in all 50 states. Use the advanced search to filter for programs that allow work-exchange vs monetary buy in and percentage of local food production and power production to fit your own needs and desires.
Want to just try out the off grid lifestyle, or perhaps you want to learn in a hands on way from various people living different lifestyles? Then WOOFing might be right for you.
WWOOFing is a term for people who volunteer on a network of organic farms and homesteads that will host you, providing living space and food in exchange for working along side them on the farm. The WWOOF program prohibits any money changing hands between host and volunteer, which means you live for free, but also have the chance to learn skills that may be acquire otherwise.
At the time of writing there are over 2000 WWOOF hosts in the US, and many more world wide. Conditions vary widely from host to host, but there are many opportunities to find an off-gridder to help ease you in to the lifestyle, or even a traditional farm to help get your food self-sufficiency skills going.
Communes, Communities, and Eco-Villages
You may be surprised to hear that, rather than dying out in the 60s, there are many “communal living arrangements” that have survived and thrived through out the decades. Some of the more well known ones are:
- Emerald Earth
- Twin Oaks Community
- Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage
- Lasqueti Island Community
You may want to ask around in your local area to see if something like this is going on. Many off grid communities do not advertise or have websites, so you may have to learn about them by word of mouth.
How much money do I need to live off the grid?
You could start living off grid with no money if you are creative and hard working. There are many opportunities for free or no down payment land in the United States and Canada right now, and tones of possibilities for cheap DIY housing.
How do I buy land and live off the grid?
Land can be had from free land programs in the US and Canada, sale by owner through land contracts, through local businesses the specialize in off grid land, or adverse possession. Other opportunities exist in intentional communities and ‘eco-villages’ to work-exchange or buy parcels of land to live off grid.