Category Archives: frugal living

Off-Grid with a Newborn


Off-grid with a newborn? Is it possible? Yes, just about anything is possible. Have I personally done it? Yes, but not for very long.

We built the yurt while I was pregnant and moved in four days before the baby was born. When we moved in, our plumbing consisted of a 50L water jug and a bowl (the bowl was our sink). We had an outhouse, and an indoor composting toilet (a topic for another day). Our woodstove heated the yurt, cooked our food, and boiled our water. We had four oil lamps, some candles, and a car battery to power a floor lamp.

humble beginnings

humble beginnings

Over the course of a few weeks, we slowly improved our yurt situation; we connected a wire from our barn to give us electricity and installed a kitchen sink. We were suddenly able to turn on lights and listen to the radio at the same time. This was wonderful since it was Christmas and all I wanted to do was listen to Bing while staring at the newborn by the glow of the tree. My husband installed and plumbed-in a sink (he had previously dug a “French drain”) so we were able to pour dish water down the drain instead of having to carry it outside.

one week old

one week old

We washed diapers by hand, often with snow melted in a pot on the stove. When we got too behind with the diapers (we were going through about 15 a day so we only had enough for two and a half days), we would visit my in-laws and use their washing machine. The yurt was in a constant state of diaper-drying all winter long; diapers were hung on the backs of chairs, over the stove, on cupboard doors… anywhere. Thankfully, flats dry extremely quickly in a yurt heated with wood, so we always had diapers when we needed them.

Because I was nursing, and was too unmotivated to pump/bottle feed, we didn’t have to do any extra work when it came to feeding the baby. We were blessed with an easy breastfeeding situation, for which I am very thankful, as it would have been laborious to wash and sterilize bottles in the yurt.

Before the electricity arrived, middle of the night nursing sessions were aided by flashlights and touch lamps (battery powered) given to us by my husband’s cousin who, along with his girlfriend, brought us many useful items during those first few weeks (along with the lamps they brought me copious amounts of cranberry-applesauce which turned out to be my favourite “it’s the middle of the night and I’m starving” snack).

We filled up big water jugs every few days at the in-laws’ and managed quite well. One jug holds just over a day’s worth of water: enough for dishes, hand washing, and drinking.

Bathing the baby was done in front of the stove, where it was warm, in a little plastic tub. She wasn’t a spitter-upper (that’s the nicest way I can think to describe it) and didn’t need very many baths, so that helped.

Once summer arrived, an outdoor shower graced us with its presence.  The husband connected a shower head to a garden hose and built a shower stall, so we had running water a few steps away from the yurt all summer. The baby and I were happy to wait until the afternoon to shower, as the water was nice and warm by that point.

When I visit my parents I relish in the ease of running water, a bathtub, and a thermostat. I had never appreciated those things before living in the yurt. Now, I really enjoy the amenities when I have them, but I am fine living without them. I am grateful that we lived in the yurt with the baby from the beginning; I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the experience as much had we gotten used to life with a baby in a “normal” house first. Everything was new and exciting when she was born; it didn’t matter that we were off-grid because we were so far out of our comfort zones as new parents that we didn’t notice the extra work of hand washing diapers. Would I love a washing machine in my house? Yes. Would I like to have hot water at a moment’s notice? Yes!  Would I have anything to write about if I had those things? Probably not.

State of the yurt today:

  • electricity: yes
  • running water: no
  • shower: no
  • baby tub where I can wash my hair: yes

Raising Kids on The Cheap: Babies


When I first started thinking about babies I was, thankfully, old enough to resist what the media was preaching. A few years earlier and I would have been convinced that my first priority as a pregnant woman was to paint and decorate a nursery. As it was, I felt that I knew what I would need to raise a baby, even though it was completely oppositional to mainstream advice. The “advice” was coming from well-meaning people, TV, movies, magazines, and, of course, the internet. My hope was that I could raise a happy, healthy kid without eighteen different baby bouncers/saucers/swings, annoying flashing toys, or expensive junk that you “need” such as a wipes warmer.

The Advice: Babies cost upwards of $8000 a year. In order to accomplish this, you should:

Our Hope: Babies aren’t as expensive as people say they are. To meet this goal we figured we would implement recommendations gathered from grandparents:

  • don’t bother decorating a nursery – they won’t notice
  • use cloth diapers (not the pretty kind which cost $20-30 each, but rather the old-school kind that cost $1-6 each – or less if you make them yourself)
  • breastfeed
  • enjoy the beauty of pre-worn clothing and accept all the hand-me-downs you are offered
  • if you can’t find free hand-me-downs, go to second-hand shops and find a stroller, high chair, etc. for a fraction of the price of a new one

No Nursery: We lived in a yurt when our daughter was born so we were able to live pretty cheaply. The yurt nullified the need to decorate a nursery since it is a giant round room. We didn’t end up using our crib much because it turned out to be blissfully easy to nurse laying down (read: sleep while baby nurses).

Cloth Diapers: If it had been up to me I would have probably spent hundreds on diapers, because I thought that it was necessary. Cloth diapers have become trendy and are therefore being marketed as an organic, natural alternative to disposables. I was told that it would cost $200-400 to get started with cloth-diapering. Thankfully, my mother-in-law gave me her old flats for free and told me I’d be fine. Our baby peed her diaper after about fifteen minutes whether she was in the pretty kind or in an old flat; the pretty diapers took days to dry whereas the flats took less than an hour, so we found that the old fashioned flats were not only cheaper, they were also a lot easier.

Breastfeed: We were given really nice glass bottles that I had every intention of using, but alas, my laziness reared its ugly head and I couldn’t bring myself to wash the pump, wash the bottle, dry the pump, dry the bottle, assemble the pump, pump the milk, refrigerate the milk, warm the milk…

Hand-Me-Downs: We were lucky to receive bags and boxes of baby clothing from friends and relatives out of the baby stage. Had we not been given so many things, I would have been at second-hand shops and yard sales sorting through piles. Yard sales are great, especially when you stumble upon parents in the “we are never having more kids” phase of life and want to get rid of everything. These parents often sell boxes of baby clothes for a few dollars. Wonderful.

the grumpy stare-down [hat, sweater, vest, and boots were all hand-me downs; overalls were made out of an old wool sweater]

the grumpy stare-down [hat, sweater, vest, and boots were all hand-me downs; overalls were made out of an old wool sweater]

We had second-hand everything: crib, high chair (a family piece from the 20’s), cloth diapers and clothing from my mother-in-law (she faithfully washed everything well and stored it for thirty years). We did get a new carseat (as a gift from grandparents, and great-aunts) because I was a bit leery about getting a second-hand one (although lots of people do find great used carseats).

I didn’t keep track of what we spent on our baby in her first year, but off the top of my head my estimate is that we spent about $100 on new diapers, clothing, and fabric (I got really excited about making baby clothes); $100 on travel expenses (we flew to Europe for two weeks when she was 6 months old and paid 10% of a regular ticket price for her); $100 on toys or clothing that I really liked (a set of wooden blocks, wool to knit her a doll, and a few cute sweaters).

Obviously, having a baby costs more than a couple hundred dollars if you take in to account the gas you need to drive to the prenatal appointments, the mountains of food you inhale because you are extra hungry from nursing, or the lack of paid work that goes on once the wee one arrives. The point is, however, that you needn’t listen to people who insist you need X amount of money to raise a child. Babies don’t need much to be happy. Given a blanket, a diaper, and a boob, most babies are quite content. Special circumstances such as health problems, or an inability to breastfeed certainly make things more of a challenge, but one can still keep the costs low with a bit of ingenuity.