My second secret is this: In farming, there’s something called a ‘lifestyle paycheck’, and it can only be cashed by you. Being a farmer comes with proprietary perquisites, impossible to quantify with dollars. This summer, I had a mockingbird sit on the edge of my roof for weeks—weeks—singing his heart out. I had the most delicious watermelons volunteer in my garden, and I’ll never know what variety they were. My gym membership this year was zero dollars, because I didn’t need one. And I’ve got enough Vitamin D soaked up to make a dermatologist chase me around with SPF 40. What are these things worth?
The bottom line is this: Go ahead and put a price tag on happiness and satisfaction if you think you can. I hear Coke is hiring.
4) Save One Dollar Each Day, And Invest It.
Now wait just a minute here… I keep telling you not to worry about money! But in order to not worry about money, first we have to save for a rainy day. (Of course, rainy days are usually a positive thing on a farm, but you get my point).
Have you heard of the Rule of 72? It’s a simple equation that allows you to predict a doubling of your money, based on a fixed interest rate.
Need to turn a dollar into two dollars? At ten percent interest—compounding—divide 72 by 10 for your answer: 7.2 years. How about turning $1,000 into $2,000? At 5% interest, we divide 72 by 5 to get… 14.4 years. Make sense? The takeaway is this. Saving money is a lot like having a baby: There’s never a perfect time to do it. But when it comes to farming, being financially proactive is key.
Learn simple tricks such as how compounding interest works, what a reasonable annual return in the stock market is (roughly 8%, btw), and where NOT to put our money (savings accounts at banks are typically bad voodoo; stay away!). Then, you can better understand how to accomplish your farming goals (recall: ‘Goals’, paragraph #1).
One dollar a day. A hundred pennies, scrounged by rooting through your seat cushions. And after that? Root through your friends’ cushions. They won’t mind, they’re your friends. Can you scratch up one dollar each day, save it, and invest it? When it comes to farming—where economic uncertainty is the norm—your resourcefulness might mean ultimate success or failure.
Let’s quickly model a financial scenario. At age 25, invested in a generic mutual fund, after 40 years you’d have $116,000, all for an investment of $14,000 (that’s $1 a day over 40 years). What if you could save $2 each day? A free online calculator projects $245k. Compounding interest, amigos, is your farming friend.
So do yourself a colossal favor, and save a dollar or two each day. And if you can’t (be honest with yourself), then please consider a different career. Finances will crush you in farming, and there’s no sugar-coating this reality.
5) Take Pains To Take Care.
Feel like an emotional yo-yo yet? Sorry to jerk you around, but that’s farming in a nutshell. You just signed up for one of the most difficult jobs on the planet, fraught with risk, uncertainty, and daily challenges. You’ve studied all the pitfalls, had (many, many) honest conversations with yourself and your loved ones. Now, at long last, you’re ready to get started.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. We love you for it, and want you on our team. Godspeed. May you live to be one hundred and seventeen, and still have all your teeth.
But, please, do take care of yourself. When it comes to farming, no one can care about you more than YOU. Seriously. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, on my own. For nearly twenty years, I’ve surrendered weekends (and sleep) to farmers’ markets and livestock schedules, waking before dawn and going to bed late. I’ve worked through natural disasters, predator catastrophes, equipment calamities and family upheavals. In other words, I’ve managed a small business, just like a million other small businessmen and women. And at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
So there it is, a generic road map to successful farming.
Did you notice I didn’t mention corn, cantaloupes or cucumbers? That’s no accident.
A farm is the ultimate small business, irrespective of production. And like any small business, hard work, common sense and a little dumb luck usually carry the day.
Ready to get started? The rewards will last for a lifetime.
Photo credit: Smith Meadows