Prepping: How to “Go Rural” – Smart

We recently decided to take down our website, but there are a number of very useful articles buried in the archives of that site that should be considered today because they offer very valuable – timeless – advice to preppers and contingency planners of today.

Here’s an example from 2004 where I wrote up our “process” to go rural the right way…

September 11,  2004

As our readers may already know, we had about 5-months of lead time when George’s job in sales and marketing in the education software field was eliminated due to a change at the COO level of the company he was with in Florida (2003).  With that much lead time, we were able to take a very measured approach to looming unemployment.

One option was to do what millions of other Americans are doing, namely hitting the newspaper and hoping that just by some chance, the dream job of a lifetime will be in the local paper.  We’d learned from past experience that is not likely to happen, and that the best jobs are those which come from personal contacts.  We thought about things for a while and decided that in our mid-50’s it was probably time to settle down on a real piece of property, as quickly as possible, because we need somewhere to hang our hats when retirement arrives.

Having done a lot of research into “processes” we began by making a list of all of our search criteria.  We figured that if we laid out what we were looking for in a very precise manner, we would not be disappointed by the outcome.  Curiously, and most people find this amazing, we didn’t even walk the property until two months after the sale closed and we moved.  We had decided early on that what did matter was not the “curb appeal” of property, but whether it would be a good investment for us to make and would it meet our requirements.

Here’s a list of the search criteria:

  • Weather:  We’re not “cold weather people.”  For Elaine, an Arizona native, this was an easy decision: warmth is number 1.  While George does a little bit of skiing on the wimpy hills, he’s no downhill artist and the idea of driving several hours to stand in line at the slopes has lost its appeal.  Moreover, having suffered through a few heart-stopping power outages on lift chairs, George wasn’t keen about cold weather either.
  • Water:  Besides our preference for the warmer parts of the country, we also wanted somewhere that had enough rainfall, on average, to provide for basic farming without a lot of water.  We figured a minimum of 25 inches of rainfall per year would be needed to keep us happy.
  • Size of Property:  We figured at least 10 acres would be the minimum.  This is because George wanted to have ham radio antennas.  Lots of room for towers and wire antennas.
  • Foliage:  Not only did the ham radio antenna-farm seem important, but Elaine loves wildlife.  Except for snakes and spiders, not normally on anyone’s list of favorites, most wildlife is a lot of fun to look at.  We figured that about one half of the property ought to be treed and if it was a bit more than half, that’d be fine, also.
  • Distance to Big Cities:  We have taken our writings on very much to heart.  We don’t want to be anywhere near a big city in the event of a terrorist attack, racial riots, or just plain martial law.  We reckoned that a good minimum distance from a big city would be 50 miles, while much more than two hours would be hard to find.  But somewhere far enough away from a big city that it would be hard to walk to our part of the countryside.
  • Taxes: Although people make a big deal about paying property taxes, we figured that with the right piece of property, the taxes on the property would be a minor expense compared to what our federal tax bite was.  As it turned out, we paid more than $20,000 of income tax for 2003.  But what we didn’t pay this time around was state income taxes.  Whatever we wanted, it was above all a state with no income tax.  Agriculture exemptions are not hard to get and benefit all.
  • Home Size:  We wanted a three bedroom, two bathroom, home.  For one thing, Elaine’s brother, Panama Bates would be living on the property so we could pursue a higher income “big city” jobs or contract work.  But we also planned to spend a fair amount of time each year working the land on weekends.
  • Energy Independence:  Although we knew that finding a home with a renewable energy system was just a dream, we wanted to get a home that at least had some energy aspect that would make it a “stand out” from other properties.
  • Outbuildings:  You never know what will develop out in the rural areas.  Thousands of small businesses have had their start in places like barns, garages, and the like.  Having an entrepreneurial bent, out buildings made good sense.
  • Septic System:  We preferred to have a gravity-run septic system.  That choice was made after investigating a number of properties and research what the term “lagoon” meant.  Essentially, a lagoon (legal in some states)  is a lake of sewage that is generally open.  Some states have outlawed lagoons, but in some southern states, especially older properties, have lagoons.  Thanks, but we’ll keep our poo’s covered.
  • Neighbors: We didn’t want to be able to see our nearest neighbors.  OK, maybe that’s unreasonable, but we only want to be able to see one neighbor.  Not neighbors on all four sides of us.
  • Price: This was a toughie for us.  Although we would qualify for anything up to $300,000 because of our financial condition, the idea was to find something for under $100,000 and if possible, less than $75,000.  We didn’t want a payment of more than $500/month because we didn’t know how long George’s period of unemployment would last.  (We’re two months into it as of this writing.)

Our next task was to find suitable homes.  Easily enough done with the Internet.  We started a detailed search of everything we could find in the under $100,.000 price range on  It worked like a charm.

Our first possible selection was 73 acres in Oklahoma.  But while this was a huge piece of land, it didn’t have some of the things we needed – like a house, for instance.  We thought that would be easily overcome, but as it turned out, there were some other issues involved, so that  one didn’t fly.  That land was (and still may be) a wonderful piece, though.  It was offered at less than $65,000, but the problem with it was that was land only.  What we discovered was that banks don’t lend on piece of land to anyone but established farmers in the local area.

If you want to try a hard sell sometime, try getting a loan from an Oklahoma bank as an out-of-state software sales exec.  Wowzers.  No go.

Panama and Elaine went through about three weeks of looking and going through the details on literally dozens of possible candidates.  It looked like East Texas or Northern Florida would win.  George’s favorite was a 15-acres site in Arkansas with it’s own natural cave, which he thought would make a dandy shelter/office/food storage area would have been perfect.  But he was over-ruled on the septic and water issues.  And as you might expect, that one was only on the market (under $100,000) for a matter of a few weeks.  Caves sell, and they’re hard to retrofit.

Let me run down the match with our criteria that we ended up buying in East Texas..

  • Weather:  Although we had 3? of snow this winter, that’s very rare.  Most years there is no snow here and even in January, temps in the lower 70’s can happen.
  • Water:  The local water utility runs its own wells and has backup power.  If worst comes to worst, it’s a short walk (about a block) to a weak brook where we could pull out water (and boil it, of course) if we needed to.  The land it runs through might come up for sale in the future at about $1,500 per acre for a 16-acre parcel with the creek running through it.  That would be a nice piece.
  • Size of Property:  Our selected property has 13 acres on it.  (NB We acquired an adjointing 16 acres later in 2004. )
  • Distance to Big Cities:  What we finally ended up with is in East Texas, about 13 miles from Palestine and 45 miles from Tyler.  That places us about 120 miles from Dallas and 160 miles from Houston, close enough to weekend at the ranch, and far enough such that people are not likely to wander by unexpected.
  • Taxes: Property taxes on our property runs about $1,500 per year.  (Note, with the ag exemption as a tree farm, and as seniors, it’s down to $585 in 2018.)
  • Home Size:  The main home is three bedrooms (which we have turned into two large bedrooms as part of our rebuilding – another story.  The outbuilding is the third bedroom and we’ll put in one of those composting toilet systems for it.
  • Energy Independence:  There’s a certain beauty to a 500 gallon propane tank that’s over 1/2 full.  We figure we can heat the house with it for at least two years.  If necessary, we could retrofit a wood stove and burn wood from here on the property for heat, and have seven years of cooking fuel for a two burner camp stove.
  • Outbuildings:  The main out building is 40? by 40? and under that big metal roof (great for certain kinds of ham radio antennas) is an office/shop building that measures 12 by 25.  That will become the Urban Survival / Independence Journal office and a spare bedroom.  It wasn’t finished when we bought it, but it’ll be easy enough to finish off.
  • Septic System:  The property has a very nice over-sized septic system for the sanitary sewer, and a separate gray water system for things like showers, sinks, and laundry.  That’s a plus because Elaine likes to use bleach on clothes and with a septic-only system, that’s a problem.  (If you don’t live on a septic system, you might not realize that bleach kills the good bacteria that make a septic system work.)
  • Neighbors: The one neighbor we have lives across the street from us and raises rabbits.  That’s wonderful from a gardening standpoint because rabbit poo is not too “hot” and it’s a short drive for us.
  • Price: Our 2003 price was $74,000.  We paid a little higher on the mortgage rate (6.5, 30-year fixed) but as it turned out after the fire, that doesn’t matter.

Would we do it again?  Almost no doubt about it.  However, there are some additional due diligence questions we might ask in the future.  One of them, for example is “Is this a dry county?”  Not that we’re big boozers mind you, but having a glass of wine with Italian food seems like a good thing to us.  (George calls ’em Italian vitamins and is partial to Pisano or Chianti with picata.

But can you buy property trusting only the web and digital camera pictures from the realtor?  Yes.  But then again, maybe we’re just lucky.

Looking back at our decision then?  Well, let’s toll through what worked and didn’t in a future weekend.  But this should give even those with weak hearts the idea that downscaling to the country is not only doable, but also quite enjoyable.

We think about it every time the news comes on.

“Could we really live in one of those big cities with all the CRAZY PEOPLE?”

Not until health issues force us to bivouac near a healthcare facility.  Until then, we like things just the way they are…

Write when you get rich,

12 thoughts on “Prepping: How to “Go Rural” – Smart”

  1. George & Elaine, you are spot on. My Lady and I did this some years ago. I added to the ‘Water’ a pond, lake or running stream. Alternate was a well with solar pump. Propane is great! Used it for years and still do. Keep the tank as close to full as practical. Rabbits are an excellent meat source looking at cost per pound and quality of meat.

    To help our decision making we each make a list of “NEED”, Want and would really be nice. Each item (house, land, water, climate, etc) is listed then we get a glass of something and discuss the items. Works very well for us and prevents arguments. Cheers!

  2. When I was in DC… I had a group I hung out with spelunkers we would venture in to West Virginia.. god I loved that country.. I loved the people there.. ( which is why I think John Grisham moved to the virginia’s.. a super sweet man to I totally loved visiting with him..long story great man I am not normally a fiction reader ( well what is real what is fiction argument comes up) but I have read most of his books ) the problem I had was economics.. the area is extremely repressed and jobs were slim.. but it was close to some of the greatest libraries around..
    I married young and ended up moving back home to where her family lived and of course jobs here are low wage on average and back in those days and lack of economic development jobs were slim to none.. got a government job right off and ended up quitting because of my moral beliefs. Then my wife got sick she had one of those questionable IUD’s that everyone had troubles with and medical bills took over then the recession of the eighties.. on top of it my step son fell almost sixty feet and impaled himself on a branch.. they had to fly in a surgeon and that is when we discovered that the boss had been using our money for insurance on the stock market.. a half a million dollar medical bill and making three dollars an hour.. phew brings the chills back as I think about it… ( now that I am older I see the error of my ways on my morality with the govt. job and have made the same choices that I took so much to heart back then )
    then there was the map.. some of the things I had access to gave me indications as to what to expect IF future events took place.. so I took the map of the USA ( courtesy of National Geographic. ( which offered me a great part time job I should have took it) and drew an x.. from the nw to se then ne to sw.. then put area’s on the map that I knew and decided to be at least fifty miles away from any known area of expected activities.. discovered that my old home town was within those guidelines and decided to stay..
    Texas was out.. since if the major climatologists of the world whose reputations are at risk if they are wrong all support this consensus.. then Texas will be an ocean again at some point. AAAS,ACS,AGU,AMA,AMS,APS,The Geological Society of America,U.S. National Academy of Sciences,U.S. Global Change Research Program,Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,ETC.. the pros and cons are there.. with a list just about as big for the contrary.. but if you check to see who sponsored the studies on the contrary.. the credibility of those studies comes into question do to cash flow on who will benefit the most with their products.

    statistically the odds are greater that they are on the money or close to it than not.. if what they have done studies on happen there will be wilder weather patterns more storms harsher winters more volcano action an accelerated seismic activity, colder winters.. considering the earths destabilization due to tectonic movement and the effects of the magnetosphere changes due to climate change it could be ugly.. more than likely after my time on this planet is long over with but then you have the economic crises looming..
    Will they inform us if they knew something big is coming.. LOL it is laughable if you think they would.. since mass chaos comes to mind panic.

    etc etc etc.. I decided to stay right where I am ..
    I agree on Oklahoma.. an odd state..
    Moving to the country has its benefits as well.. the big thing is career choices.. you can live in fly over country.. but how close is it to your career choice and what is the income level of that area.. if your rich and don’t have to work.. then move.. if not then you have to find a place within a reasonable commute distance and time. having a place a thousand miles from the home turf is just not going to work.. its to far.. if an emp happened at this point the way they have the power grid structured.. it is over with for the vast majority of us.. with a 90 percent casualty expectation the odds are you won’t be here neither will I.. but then would you be able to adjust.. watch naked and afraid..or the colony that is a pretty good assessment of how it would play out in my opinion…..

  3. @Looking: So you’re making the argument that corporate money corrupts study results, but government money does not?

    • Great debate subject @Prepper..
      for the money that has been given out as gifts and donations…. well I could be corrupted for a whole lot less and yes if someone is spending a bucket load of cash and expect to receive x results I would do my best to find the results they were looking for..
      I have a favorite book.. called home fires burning.. why is this boring say nothing book mean so much to me.. well when I worked in waste management my boss was torked off at me one day because I read and it bothered him because he didn’t read so when someone dumped a truckload of books he tossed that one to me and said why don’t you read this one..( I did) but every couple of pages was a fifty dollar bill.. I still find myself thumbing through the book…
      My point is on the subject of climate changes is that if you have over what two or three hundred of the worlds best scientific institutions whose reputations depend on their prediction accuracy then the odds are that they are on top of the game since I think they wouldn’t want to soil that reputation that took so long to build.
      (the i’m still a virgin theory for a young woman ).
      But I will refer to it as the yes / no .. what would the consequences be if they are right.. what would the consequences be if they are wrong.. on one side if they are right then anything spent to slow the process down is money well spent.. if the money spent and the results are no they were off then we have an added expense to made up money anyway they just print a little bit more and our debt is even higher which could result in catastrophic financial.. if they are right and we don’t spend the money then look at the results there to the results could be catastrophic with over ten times the negative compared to a financial investment on mankind and our environment…
      take the bee’s and GMO crops as an example.. we ventured forth with GMO crops.. without really giving them the study that they needed before full steam ahead production and sales.are they good are they bad time will tell. on the other hand we live on a small planet where population has now exceeded our ability to feed the people adequately so we needed to come up with an alternative avenue to increase food production… the good the bad.. which is worse.. one way we could work our way towards starvation if a solution can’t found to fix the reduction of the bee population.. the other way would produce a more expedient end to the same situation…a yes / no..
      I personally think that we are way to late in the game to worry about the environmental issues.. it is a natural environmental process that would eventually happen anyway..
      On the other hand to think that our human footprint on the planet doesn’t have any affect is just ignoring the fact that our presence does have an affect on everything.. sort of a butterfly effect..expediting the natural order of things that will come to pass whether or not we do anything at all anyway.. even if carbon emissions was to totally cease today the co2 would continue to build for what another fifty years plus.. so what good will that be.. we should have done something in the fifties. or earlier when the first studies were done. YES / NO. the same with the economy. in my opinion we should have let ourselves go through the eventual process of leveling itself out in the early eighties instead of pushing it along and bailing out.. today the end results are going to be many times worse than if we had let it happen then.
      when I first started to contemplate this environmental changes was when I was in school it was mandatory reading for us to read the HAB theory and cataclysms of the earth.LONG BEFORE AL GORE even came into the picture.. and I hate it that he coined the phrase global warming that totally rubs my rhubarb the wrong way because he made the void that would allow a missunderstanding….

      I have both books at the chair side and from time to time I read through them just for fun.. the debates we had then were thought provoking .
      as for the changes in Antarctica..( the one place other than china and the Balkan sea that I would love to visit..actually tried to get down there.. )
      thirty five years ago it took them almost five months to get their work done.. most of the time they would be traveling back to New zealand.. then about ten years ago that timeline changed to under a month to get the work done because the weather had been so nice.. little changes..

      anyway I digressed again LOL.. any money spent towards a result the researchers will try to find a result that will fit the criteria that the financier is seeking whether or not it is corporate or government funds.

      • @ Looking

        Being a numbers guy, I always want to see the data.

        Turns out that most of the “warming” occurs in the “adjustments” to the thermometer recordings. If you take out the adjustments, there is no warming in the actual thermometer record.

        And most studies are performed on the adjusted data. So of course the studies find warming.

        Everything else is noise.

      • @Prepped…so true..
        To see if their claims are true or false time will tell.
        My personal belief is what changes needed to be done should have years ago we at this point are in it for the ride. A change today will only be helpful to our great great grand children.
        It’s a change. Mankind as a rule hate changes..

  4. George, I am 58 and live in OKC. Property tax last year $5500 and state income $9500. You think its worth moving to Texas?

  5. George, I am 58 and live in OKC. Property tax last year $5500 and state income $9500. You think its worth moving to Texas?

  6. Well I lucked out with my ‘forced early retirement’ from broadcast TV engineering. I grew up in the midwest small town, and hated living in a concrete box in the big city for nearly 40 years. The plan was always to retire to the smaller town of Hilo and I managed to accomplish it with limited resources. When a hurricane dropped trees and damaged homes in the area… followed by an intrusive lava flow that threatened the nearby village, there were lots of home bargains in the area. A flipper refurbished this home, new roof,3Br/2Ba, and it was still a bargain that I got for $97k cash. The subdivision is ‘mature’ with my home built in 1972 on a 1/3 acre lot. That’s big enough considering the area gets 150 inches rain annually and jungle grows. The subdivision has private water system that serves about 800 homes so no catchment water needed… although I could survive on rainfall if needed. Cesspool cut 16 ft deep into layered lava rock is working fine, but State has outlawed any new cesspools, and all must be converted to septic tanks by 2030. Oh, yeah, my ‘senior homeowner’ property tax is $200/year.

    I’m quite happy on Social Security and a modest pension. I’m 20 miles south of Hilo in the country. One neighbor next to me is retired Seattle firefighter (Can’t be all bad, eh?) with local wife who raises chickens and trades us eggs for fruit and veggies. Across the road another good local couple who watch out for the neighborhood to prevent shenanigans.

    The rain appears to have stopped… mostly. There is a strange bright orb in the sky, with weird blue cloud shreds. Upper Hilo stations reporting 41-45 inches rain, storm totals. I’ve taken off the scuba gear.

  7. Can anyone explain to me, and others, how a so-called ‘hero’ politician has improved the voters standard of living? I mean YOUR personal standard of living ;-).

  8. @ Looking

    Being a numbers guy, I always want to see the data.

    Turns out that most of the “warming” occurs in the “adjustments” to the thermometer recordings. If you take out the adjustments, there is no warming in the actual thermometer record.

    And most studies are performed on the adjusted data. So of course the studies find warming.

    Everything else is noise.

  9. George:
    As a designer in the past of municipal and industrial waste water systems, I am interested in hearing more about your split sanitary vs grey water system.
    Do the kitchen sink(s) go into Grey or Sanitary?
    Do you have a garbage disposal? (What hp rating?)
    With just the two of you, how long did it take to fill the Grey system?
    Do you have a dip pipe and fire hose connection on the Grey cistern, to use for fire water if necessary?
    If the flow in the sanitary is low, how do you keep the bugs active?
    What do you feed them (supplementary)? Anything to boost the bugs or eat roots in the field lines?
    Thanks in Advance, always looking for ways to keep this system worry free.

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