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Calculating Self-Worth in a Modern World


The equipment shed is complete (with the exception of various finishing touches). Winter’s cold is upon us and I’m taking a few days (okay, it’s been a week) to relax before beginning the next project, the tool crib. During the down time, I’ve been browsing various building publications, gathering ideas, and educating myself on the many new elements I’ll be tackling on our next barn project. (We’ll break ground sometime in the coming year.)

Within the articles I’ve read, a figure typically cited is “cost per square foot” (represented in terms of the cost to the buyer). As might be expected, those numbers cover a very, very wide range of prices. I couldn’t help but wonder how those numbers compare with our cost to build the equipment shed. More importantly, however, I was curious about how much we’d earned in the process. Or, is it that I’m seeking something more – perhaps a way of “measuring up” in a modern world.


In this day and age of work-a-day routines we have come to value our worth in terms of the dollars in our pocket after a paycheck arrives. With self-worth assured, we use those monetary rewards to purchase the necessary stuff of life – a shelter in which to live, fuel to provide heat (for those of us in northern latitudes), food for sustenance, and the transportation which gets us from our homes to the workplace and back again. (Of course, in our affluent society, much of the spending goes well beyond basic “needs.”)

That’s not the only model, of course. In fact, we don’t have to go too far back in our history to find lifestyles of lesser monetary dependency and greater self-sufficiency, but the economics of that bygone era are sometimes hard to grasp in this modern world of profit/loss accounting. In my family, I only have to go back to my grandfather to find an example of an essentially subsistence based way of life. My mother recalls little disruption in her lifestyle during the Great Depression years as there never was much money in the pocket but there was always food on the table. Most of that way of life was left behind over the course of two subsequent generations, including the measures by which we evaluate self-worth.


As I’ve tended back in the direction of my grandfather’s day, there have been many who’ve tried to enlighten me by urging, “You could be earning $XXX,XXX if you did “this or this” for a living,” In response, I ask them, “Why would I want to give up doing the things that I love to do so that I might earn a paycheck so that I can pay someone else to do the things I love to do? It just doesn’t make any sense!”

In a typical year I receive a paycheck for about half of my working hours. The other half of my time is spent providing for myself – services that would otherwise require monetary expenditure – i.e. building shelter, cutting wood for fuel, growing food, performing repairs, maintaining vehicles, etc. Last year the bulk of my energies went into the building of our equipment shed, so I’ve decided to take a look at what I’ve “earned” in that process.

A traditionally built timber frame barn is certainly not the least expensive option in today’s market. In fact the opposite is true. But, to our advantage, most of the cost of a timber framed barn is the labor required for building. The raw materials are relatively inexpensive, especially here in a state where forests cover 75% of the land. For our project we used locally grown hemlock that was rough sawn in a local sawmill, then transported to our land via a trailer behind my poor overworked pickup truck. The earthen fill required to level the site was hauled in by my neighbor (who owns a dump truck) from the village pit a few miles away. The crushed stone for the final layer of the floor was hauled from a quarry about 10 miles away. The oak pegs were turned by a woodworker not far south of us in Walpole, New Hampshire. The forms for the foundation piers, the concrete, and the steel rebar encased within came from places unknown, as did the metal roofing – the component requiring the most manufacturing energy. (Perhaps someday I’ll trace its path from raw material to rooftop, but for now I’ll remain blissfully ignorant of its origin.)


Adding it all up, our out of pocket costs were just over $5,000 (about $1000 for the site-work and foundation, $3,000 for the wood, $1000 for the roof, and another couple hundred dollars for assorted hardware). That translates to about $8.50 per square foot. The bulk of the value added to the project came in the form of our own labor.

So, what did we earn on our investment of time in this project over the past year?

If we’d had to pay contractors for a completed building, we’d have been looking at a price tag upwards of $75 per square foot of ground floor area for a timber framed building of the same quality. (If the loft area were included in the calculation, the price would have been about $50 per square foot.) That price includes all labor and materials for design, site-work, foundation, timber framing, siding, and roofing.

Adding it up, the total market value of the building is approximately $45,000.

On an income/expense sheet that gives us net earnings of $40,000. But here’s another way to look at it. That’s $40,000 we didn’t need to earn in a paycheck (after taxes) in order to pay someone else to build for us (again, doing something that I love to do).

Those numbers assume, of course, that one has the cash on hand to pay up front. If one had to finance a $45,000 project, say with $5,000 down over a ten year period at 6% interest, the total out of pocket cost would be $58,300, making the value of our time worth significantly more.

Alright, I feel better now. I’ve determined (rationalized) my self-worth. I have a dollar value, therefore I am. I’ve found justification for this mini-vacation. But now it’s time to put this Sunday morning exercise to rest. Where was I? Oh, yeah, the pros and cons of dry laid stone vs concrete block vs poured concrete vs insulated concrete form (ICF) foundations . . . I’ve got another barn to build someday.




um...hello? dis is Hermie? your barn is so beautiful, i know cause i've seen it from the inside? i left a few bits and bobs for you in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet? merry christmas friend :)

Hermie!, you old devil you . . .

Glad you like the barn. I should have known that you'd be up to your usual antics!

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