Modern Day Homesteading

by Misty Smith-Beringer

At the age of 26, I desperately wanted to go back to college. There are a number of services available to low-income families (such as you find yourself when you return to college and have children in the home) but none addresses the very tricky issue of housing three children. I didn't want to live in subsidized apartments because there are some associated problems with raising children in them, so I had to find another way to get around the housing crunch.

I began with an abandoned home in a rural area about twenty miles from the college. This home had an owner, but no one cared for it. Most of the windows were broken. The furnace was in questionable repair, and the fuse box had been stolen. Some of the plumbing had burst.

I contacted the owner in June before I was to start school and offered him a deal: I would turn in receipts totaling $75 each month for materials I had purchased for the house, if he in turn would allow me to live there for no rent. He agreed, if I would promise to keep the utilities paid and not collect junk vehicles on the lot.

I should be quick to tell you that this house was in an unincorporated area that does not have codes and building permits required.

Each semester I used part of my college loans for larger repairs that would pay my rent up for four or five months or more. I had to have a fuse box installed, plumbing fixed, and other sundry repairs. I took care of the safety issues first, and kept a backup wood burning stove for heating emergencies (We live in southeastern South Dakota). I duct-taped corrugated cardboard over all my west and north windows and saved enormously on my heating bills. I cooked on a hot plate and used electric skillets and crock pots from Goodwill for a couple years until I could afford a range. My first year I wrapped a turkey in twelve feet of aluminum foil and cooked it on a dented Weber grill that had been given to me. We delivered newspapers so that the kids could earn their allowances and so that we could get a free newspaper each day.

While this isn't for everyone, this was a way that I could live in a decent home and teach my children the value of making your way in the world. Sometimes you have to trade immediate comfort to realize you goals. Plus, the owner eventually sold me the home for very little money on a contract-for-deed, the home that we had coincidentally tailored to our tastes.

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