Posts Tagged ‘income’

Finding My Power: To Farm or Not To Farm

This seems to be the perpetual question. On the one hand, if we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food. This should be pretty straight forward, right? On the other hand, it is difficult, verging on impossible to be a farmer and be able to afford to feed yourself. That should be a ridiculous statement, but it’s not.

In my blog about what it would take to gross $10,000, I only addressed the numbers generated from my interest in farming. This needs to be looked at from another angle, though. What are the numbers my current employment is generating and what are other possible income amounts broken down into the hours, weeks, and months they take to get to $10,000.

I am currently working at a temp job that I rather enjoy making $12 per hour. In Maine, I’m doing ok as a moderately skilled temp. To gross $10,000 I need to work 833.33 (call it 833) hours which is 20.825 (call it 21) weeks or 5 months. That’s a long time. It’s also not taking into account commuting time, gas, clothing requirements, or the fallout from not feeling like I’m contributing in any meaningful way to the world. Gas and commuting time are fairly easy to attach numbers to. I am commuting pretty much exactly an hour each way five days a week plus five 30-minute lunches, making my 40-hour week actually a 52.5-hour week. 40 hours times $12 per hour divided by 52.5 hours means that counting the commute and lunch, I’m being paid $9.14 for each hour the job is consuming. Gas is costing me about $38 per week and the vast bulk of it is for my commute. That means that 21 weeks of commuting costs me $798. At $9.14 per hour before taxes, that means about 87 hours are spent just paying for gas. That’s over 1.5 of my 52.5 hour weeks every 5 months are just paying for gas.

Let’s say I find a job with the same commuting and lunch time and cost, but I’m making $15 per hour for 40 hours. That’s 666.66 (call it 667) hours which is 16.675 (call it 17) weeks or 4 months. My actual time being used is still 52.5 hours per week, which means I’m actually being paid $11.43 per hour before taxes. 17 weeks of commuting at $38 per week is $646 or 56.5 hours. That’s just over a week every 4 months is to pay for gas.

Temping, like an increasing number of permanent jobs, does not offer insurance or any guarantee of hours. Unlike a permanent job, my temporary employer can send me home at lunch time and tell me not to come back for absolutely no reason other than they don’t need me. Poof- no more income. The staffing agency has it in their best interest to get me back to work as quickly as possible, but that might be days or weeks of unemployment. Have you ever tried to save an emergency fund on $12 per hour?

Farming also offers no insurance, no guarantees, and if you’re not careful, the potential to end up with no income and a pile of debt if it all falls apart. On the other hand, I will be using and learning skills that are actually useful in the real world. The world in which being able to feed yourself means knowing whether those berries are yummy or deadly. I have the potential to make my corner of the world healthier, cleaner, and better habitat for both my cultivated plants and animals and the local plants and animals that are using the same space. I can help to perpetuate skills, genes, and equipment that we will need when we realize that Agribusiness might not be working as well as advertised. Farming, particularly small-scale farming, demands a certain level of fitness that will keep me healthy long past the time when an office-bound body would fall apart. It has its own challenges for health, but at least you can often see them coming. I can build the business to embrace my strengths and interests and my income is limited only by my imagination and ability to manifest what I see.

Now comes the hard part. I have been told, am being told, will continue to be told that the responsible thing is to get a “real” job. I need to work on a skill set that employers are looking for. I need to invest time, energy, and possibly money in pursuing what society tells me is an acceptable, respectable, logical use of my time and energy resulting in a “fair” income. I will be paid what I am “worth.”

I was talking about this with a friend and he asked if I’d considered what I would regret not doing in 10 years. 10 years ago I was just settling into a job with a company that I had spent the previous couple of years building a resume to get into. It was a good, solid company. I knew people that loved working there. I was making more money than I had ever made before. I was studying hard to get the licensing to move up in the ranks exactly the way I was supposed to. I may have even had my first exam under my belt at that point. I was doing everything right.

I’m not saying I didn’t learn things from working there, but in the end, you learn things from walking face first into a wall, too. Just because everyone’s doing it and everyone’s saying you need to do it, doesn’t mean it’ll work. Not everyone can get through to Platform 9 ¾, and it turned out I’m one of the ones that can’t.

I can’t quit my job and start farming tomorrow. I do have access to land that I don’t have to pay for, which is more than most people in my situation can say. What I don’t have are a significant number of skills or the money for the infrastructure. 31 hives worth of materials (excluding bees) will cost me about $5,663- that’s 472 hours (12 weeks or 3 months) worth of work at $12 per hour before taxes and expenses. However, I can take the time I would spend looking for a “real” job, and the small amount of disposable income I do have and spend it on a small number of hives so that I can build the necessary skills. If things go well, the hives themselves may gradually generate the income needed to expand my operations. If things go badly, I won’t have spent more than I had and it could be chalked up to an educational expense.

I guess it wasn’t as much of a question as I thought.

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$10,000

Money’s funny. One number can seem like so much or so little to the same person, depending on the circumstances around it. If I had to pay $10,000- wow, that’s a lot of money! Where would I come up with it? If I were to receive $10,000, it’s a lot of money up until I start paying bills. Then it goes mighty fast.

I was doing some end-of-year looking at my spending in 2016. I’ve been tracking it for most of the year to help me figure out where it all goes and why there’s never quite enough. The number $10,000 came about because it’s an annual budget of modest spending for one excluding rent, food, utilities, renters insurance, and internet. Just for giggles, I wondered what it would take to gross $10,000 from my farming ventures.

If you know anything about farming, then you are familiar with the fact that gross and net income are not the same and often very, very different.

Honey: 1,250# at $8 per #. That’s 31.25 hives (call it 31) harvesting an average of 40# per hive

Nucs (nucleus hives): 67 nucs at $150, but only 56 if I sell them for $180 each

Eggs: 20,000 or 1,666.66 (call it 1,667) dozen at $6 per dozen

It was just an experiment. Everyone knows farming has no security and little if any prosperity attached to it, but some of those numbers looked almost possible. I don’t have much information on the net income for each, but I could make some educated guesses.

For the eggs, with the numbers I’ve been collecting since I got my chicks in the spring, to gross $10,000 I’d be looking at a net of $-20,000 or thereabouts. Yes, that’s a negative. The housing is killing me. I’ll never make money off of the eggs, but eventually I would like to at least get them to pay for the eggs and old hens the family eats.

For the honey, I found a place where I can get a kit with two deeps and buy one medium super for about $173 per brand new hive (2016 prices). At $8 per pound of honey, that’s around 22 pounds per hive to pay off the woodenware. If I’m buying bees, that’s another $125 to $190 or 16 to 24 pounds. With average harvests in Maine in the 40 to 45# range, that means I should be able to pay off even a purchased hive with the first full harvest- which isn’t until the second summer/fall. If I am splitting my own bees and/or catching swarms, I can make a dent in paying off the bear fence in the first harvest, too. Looking at my 31 hives, they will cost $5,363 for the hives themselves, no bees, and $300 for the bear fence with a potential income of $9,920. (31*40*8) That leaves me with $4,257 to either purchase the bees or pay for my time to split hives and catch swarms.

Splitting hives will mean making at least some nucs for my own use, and I can certainly make more for sale. I’ve heard of available patterns for making nucs out of ½” plywood, about four per sheet. At $20 per sheet that’s about $5 for the box. I also need 5 frames and 5 foundations, a total of about $18. That makes the gear requirement around $23. Nucs are selling around here in the $150 to $190 range for local bees, more if the nuc was overwintered. As a newbie I’d probably start selling at the low end, meaning that after deducting the gear, each hive could net me about $127 less the cost of my time. If I manage to make 67 successful nucs to sell, minus $23 per nuc for the gear, I could have around $8,509 to pay for that time.

If I have 31 healthy, producing hives, making 67 nucs shouldn’t be that hard. If I can do both simultaneously, I could spend around $7,204 but gross about $19,970 to net around $12,766. Hm.

These numbers aren’t taking into account some very important information. It doesn’t include rent/lease/mortgage on the land I’m using. It doesn’t include taxes. It also doesn’t account for the hive bodies and nucs that I have to buy and/or build for the hives that are too weak to produce honey or split into nucs. It doesn’t have room for the farm up the way to spray their fields at just the wrong time of day with the wind blowing in just the wrong direction that wipes out most or all of my hives. It doesn’t take into account the time it will take me, a beginning beekeeper, to learn the skills necessary to take care of 31+ hives and build 67+ nucs.

The numbers are still very interesting.

Regaining My Power: What I’m Worth

I got a call on Friday with an offer to do a day of flagging on Saturday. It paid $12 per hour, which is pretty good for flagging. I would be one of those people in bright vests that endeavors to get people to park in straight lines at a fairground event. I really should have worn a hat, and I was told at one point that I was so polite I must be from the South. For my 6.5 hours of chasing cars, directing people, and not sitting down once I made $78. Assuming a 25% tax rate- the least individuals pay that are living off of work not investments- I get to walk away with $58.50.

With all of my job hopping lately, I can tell you that $12 per hour is considered a half-way decent amount. It’s certainly far above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 or the Maine minimum wage of $7.50. I, personally, look at $12 and see an amount that’s big enough to work with. That $58.50 that I made? That’s almost 3 bags of chicken feed (yeah, I get the pricey stuff) or two pairs of jeans bought new. It’s a week and a half of what I set aside for my food and supplement budget.

But let’s look at that $58.50 from the other direction. The President of the United States makes $400,000 per year. The government uses 2,087 hours per year to calculate hourly pay. According to this calculation, the President makes $191.66 per hour. In other words, I spent all day making the amount he makes in about 18 minutes. Unfortunately, most Presidential candidates are looking at a pretty severe pay cut to take office.

In 2015 the CEO of Coca-Cola made $14.6 million- or $6,995.69 per hour. Just typing that makes me a little nauseous. What took me a day to make, he makes in about 30 seconds.

The CEO of Time Warner did a bit better at $18,051,386 in 2015- or $8,649.44 per hour. He pays his customer service representatives as little as $9 per hour, but averaging around $13. What I made in a day- and what his customer-facing employees make- is worth 20 to 25 seconds of his time.

The CEO of Citigroup took a hit in his pay for 2015, only making $13 million while over at JP Morgan, the CEO is going strong at $20 million. The people that crashed our financial system and had to be bailed out by, well, you and I, are making $6,229.04 and $9,583.13 per hour. A good solid sneeze will see them paid what it took me 6.5 hours and a sunburn to earn.

How many people do you know that make in the $10 to $15 range? Or less? For better or worse, a whole lot of our personal self worth is tied up in how much we make. The more we make, the more we’re “worth” to society. Certainly the more we’re worth in our current democracy where there are more lobbyists in DC than politicians.

I am worth more than a CEO’s sneeze. I spent my day keeping order so that small business people and individuals could exchange goods and money. There is no way that as many cars could have parked in that field as were there if it weren’t for the team of us keeping order. I’m not saying that I need to make a CEO’s salary for something like this. However, I think there is a big problem when what I’m looking to make in a year is what the JP Morgan CEO can make in 3 hours. Or less.

Like so many others in the precariat class, all I want is a home, the chance to reduce or eliminate my debt, and the chance to maybe not work until the day I die. Why is that too much to ask for when there is a not insignificant portion of our society that needs to decide whether to buy a second yacht, a third house, or, the heck with it, both! I need to hold on to the idea that I’m worth more than a CEO’s sneeze. Because I am. Considering the behavior of a fair number of CEOs over the last 10 or 20 years, I have more to give to this world than the CEO does.

That Money Thing

It’s uncouth to talk about money. Yet one of the first things we ask upon meeting someone is “What do you do?” And we aren’t talking about what a person does to make the world a better place or to make themselves happy. We want to know what their job is. And we know that someone who says “teacher” has a smaller income than someone who says “lawyer.” Even “lawyer” has it’s levels. “Public defender?” That’s almost as bad as “teacher.” “Prosecutor” is a bit more monied and has that sheen of absolute respectability. But what you really want to be is “corporate lawyer.” That’s where the money is. And where the money is is where you find the respect.

Right?

I found this calculator from MIT. They call it a “Living Wage Calculator,” but right on the first page they tell you it’s really the amount a family (they offer several sizes) needs to meet minimal standards of living. They break it down by city/county in each state, as New York is not going to have the same expenses as Bozeman is not going to have the same expenses as Hidalgo County, Texas.

So, for the sake of comparison, let’s go with a random place and income level. Say . . . mine. That puts us in Cumberland County, Maine. I am a family of, well, me. So according to this calculator, I can get by on $10.95 per hour if I work a full 40 hours for every single week of the year. The fact that the job I just left was paying me a salary of $920 every two weeks ($11.50 per for 80 hours) meant I was doing pretty well, right? Let’s see what the breakdown is:

Food: $3,497 annually

Divided by 52 weeks, this gives me a weekly food budget of $67.25. That’s about $3.20 per meal. Working off of their assumption that you will never eat out or order in and that you will be more likely to choose the less expensive options in the grocery store, I can see how one could make that work. Assuming you know how to cook. And you already own the necessary tools. And you’re not trying to fix or improve your health with nutritionally useful food. However, having been a single person living alone, I know that sometimes you just can’t handle another meal alone at your kitchen table. You need a meal surrounded by people. Or at least one where you don’t have to do the dishes. So you spend $15 on an omelette at Denny’s. That’s five meals worth of food, according to this budget.

Childcare: $0

It’s a good thing I’m not a single mother, because I’d have to make more than twice as much to support us.

Medical: $2,084

This covers insurance premiums, deductibles, drugs, and any medical devices. I just got new glasses. For the pair that I absolutely had to have for work, I was looking at $300 or so after the small portion my insurance would help with at the eye doctor’s. I ended up going to WalMart and got them there for $118. New insurance plan? Don’t get sick, injured, or need new glasses.

Housing: $8,100

That gives me $675 per month for rent and utilities. According to Craigslist, at this very moment in time, there are 17 possibilities within 20 miles of Bridgton, Maine in the “Apts/Housing” section. As an adult making a “living” wage, I should be able to afford an apartment, right? Right off the bat, two are seasonal. One requires the lease of the downstairs commercial space.One varies up to $681 per month plus electricity. That’s out. Two more vary in a similar manner, just higher. One is $675 without utilities. One is not an apartment, it’s just a room. One posted a weekly rate. That leaves me with a studio, a single-wide, or a one-bedroom for $600 plus utilities. Heat alone will cost more than $75. My options are two apartments for $500 plus utilities or one for $550, utilities included. None of them offer pictures. None of them appear to be professionally managed.

Transportation: $3,575

This gives you $297.92 per month or $68.75 per week. When I was commuting all the way to South Portland, I was budgeting $40 per week for gas- this is a number I can work with! Except that it also has to include car payments, insurance, maintenance, repairs, and snow tires.

Annual Taxes: $3,376

My thoughts on taxes require their own post. Or three.

Other: $2,146

This category includes everything else. Clothing, shampoo, phone, internet, furniture, entertainment. I have a pretty cheap phone plan at $53 per month. That is $636 annually. I just bought a pair of work pants last week that I tried very hard to find for less, but I ended up having to pay retail for because they were required. $40. I’ve been gathering cooking utensils for years, so I don’t need to buy anything, but if I did, it would be in this category. So is savings. Or it would be if there were anything left to save.

I left the job for several reasons, but one was that I had taken it under the impression that the commission piece would make up for the non-commission trial period and the minimal salary. The two commission payments I have gotten made my income $13.65 per hour and $14.15 per hour, assuming 40-hour weeks. But because I’m salary, they were starting to tell me that I needed to do the “rest of my job” by being rabidly pro-employer at after-hours business functions, and take the phone, which would give our customers 24-hour access to us, for one week out of three.

Somehow, being told that my salary-plus-commission is “pretty good”and justifies asking me to do the “rest of my job” just doesn’t make me want to be rabidly pro-employer. Not when the numbers break down to a sketchy apartment, very limited food options, the kind of vehicle that would be held together with inshallah and duct tape, and nothing left over for silly things like debt payments and savings. Assuming of course that I hadn’t already been so beaten up by similar numbers that I had been forced to move back in with my parents.

I don’t want to be rich. My debt, while significant, is not out of control. My tastes do not run to Dom Perignon and diamonds. I want to live comfortably and expect to afford retirement. If I am working 40 hours a week, I want to be able to afford hobbies to help me unwind from work. The fact that these expectations are, evidently, unreasonable is in no way the fault of myself or my generation. Yet we are handed the blame. Everything would be going much better if you handed us reasonable incomes, instead.

Where Have I Been?

I am so sorry I haven’t been on here in an age- and many thanks to the people that are showing up to read old posts anyway! Life has been throwing me curve balls and I haven’t been dodging quite as well as I would hope to. However, I do believe I am back for the time being.

One of the challenges that I’m coming up against is that I can either work on farms and learn how to farm, or I can hope to afford my own one of these days. I want to do the former. There’s no better way to learn than to do. Particularly for something that requires the sort of knowledge that only comes with experience. One really can’t know if they are able to work outside doing labor for sometimes crazy hours until they have actually done it for a season. It’s how I learned that I can only handle so much weeding, but dodging angry geese every day is fun. Unfortunately, I got started on the learning curve a little late, so I have to go with the latter. Maybe it’s my nesting tendencies finally getting around to having an opinion, but I’m at this point that I’d rather screw up on my own property than learn how to do everything right on someone else’s. The problem, here, is that I have to make that choice.

I am slowly working on putting together a business plan. I do need to have a “normal” job for several more years to make this work, but the sooner I can get my hands on land, the sooner I can start making those mistakes that need to be made as part of the learning process. My main focus right now is laying hens. I think they are something that can have income pretty quickly but can also be handled around a 40+ hour work week. I need some feedback from you folks, though.

  • What is your pie-in-the-sky perfect egg?
    • Feed concerns?
    • Housing concerns?
    • Ethical treatment definition?
    • Heritage or modern breeds?
    • Egg color?
  • Do the above concerns extend to meat birds?
    • What are your thoughts on stew birds?
    • What weights and prices seem reasonable to you?
  • Would you be interested in duck, quail, or other meat and eggs if they were raised similarly to the chickens above?
  • What are the other food/farm items that you would buy locally if you could find them?
    • Honey?
    • Herbs?
    • Feathers?
    • Flowers?
    • Homespun thistle yarn?
  • Delivery options?
    • Would you take a drive in the country to pick up your eggs, or would they need to make it into town?
    • Would you sign up to purchase X dozen every week, or do you prefer to pick them up as needed?
  • What questions and concerns have I missed that you would like to have me (or your other farmers) address?

I know what I want in my eggs, meat, and other food, but if I’m setting up a business, I need to know what you want, too. You don’t have to be local to answer this- but if you are local, let me know how many eggs you’ll buy every month!

I look forward to the feedback to help me get this dream off the ground. Thank you!