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Tips from a tree changer – the hidden costs of country living

If you’re following along with my tree change adventures on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll have noticed my most recent posts have featured something a little bit different – another round of flood photos.

For the second time this year, we found ourselves well and truly underwater – not to mention cut off from the supermarket and other conveniences – for a few days when all of the rivers around us rose significantly thanks to heavy rain.

And now, we’ve also found ourselves once again dealing with the aftermath of extreme flooding, repairing severely damaged roads and going on a hunt for equipment relocated by floodwater!

While far from ideal, it has been a good prompt for me to share some of the hidden costs to look out for if you’re considering a tree change to a rural block.

It’s fair to say living in the country can be far cheaper than living in the city, thanks to lower property prices and the generally lower cost of living. However, there are some surprising expenses related to rural life which we certainly hadn’t anticipated before we moved here:

1. Those rustic (and fun to drive on!) dirt roads may be all yours to maintain.

It’s essential to understand the ownership of the main roads into and through your property and what it means for maintenance. 

I won’t bore you with the legalese around Crown roads, versus private roads, versus council maintained roads. Suffice to say that if your land includes a road that’s not maintained by your local council but stipulates a right of way for others, you’re up for the costs associated with maintaining those roads and repairing them when needed – something which can add up to a few thousand dollars each year.

An added bonus on larger properties is you also have your own internal roads to maintain.  We have five roads to get us around our 100 acres and give us plenty of options to escape in the event of a bushfire. Two of these roads were utterly inundated with rapid moving floodwaters last week and now require some serious repairs.

2. Be prepared to take on essential services management.

While I’m a lot happier not paying astronomical city living energy and water bills every quarter, the cost of managing these services in the country came as a bit of a surprise.

Yep, managing them.

Most rural properties aren’t connected to town water or sewerage services. Many will also have limited, patchy or no access to the electricity grid, mobile phone networks and high-speed internet services.

This can mean a decent investment in equipment and maintenance is needed. We work a lot from home (even pre-COVID-19), so reliability and high service availability was a must. Our spend highlights so far have included:

  • Setting up an old fashioned landline phone service, including extra cabling to bring the line into a workable location at our place.
  • Purchasing a mobile phone booster and antenna to help with network coverage.
  • Investing in a back up mobile internet service that automatically kicks in when the NBN satellite goes down.
  • Building extra water tanks and installing additional guttering to ensure we capture every drop of rainwater possible (essential given the extended droughts of recent times).
  • Investing in as much solar as possible, including a decent battery.
  • Paying for a smelly septic tank to be emptied and ‘serviced.’

It’s also quite common for services to go down thanks to bad weather, bushfires and the will of the gods.  In more remote areas, these outages can run for days as areas with fewer houses get a lower priority when it comes to restoring services (think 5,000 complaining households in town versus 500, 50 kilometres away!).

At the extreme, this can mean you can go without power for days. As a case in point, our grid power was out for almost three days when we were hit by heavy snow last year.  Given we need reliable & always available power, phone and internet for work, we also invested in a backup generator and management system for our solar to make sure we’re using power as efficiently as possible when the grid is out.

3. Be prepared for entirely new and extreme forms of maintenance!

While building and maintaining fences, or keeping weeds under control doesn’t sound like a big deal, when you have 100 acres, it adds up!

If you’re keeping animals, all of your boundary fences must be stock-proof and well maintained. Even if you’re not, good fences are a must for keeping uninvited visitors (trail bike riders, illegal shooters, mining companies) out.

If you have land, it also must be free of noxious weeds and pests, something which the council can and will regularly check on, and fine you if you don’t have your act together.

Three years, and about eight thousand dollars down, we’re almost on top of our problems with serrated tussock, blackberries and St. John’s Wort. But it is an uphill battle when a flood and other conditions can quickly bring the seeds of things you’d thought you’d beaten back into your paddocks.

It’s also best to get an account (and get on first name basis) with the local rural supplies store. You’re guaranteed to need to overhaul those garden shed supplies when you move from the city to country – in fact, it’s probably easier to just leave the lawnmower and garden tools behind!

At a minimum, you’ll be investing in things like chainsaws. At the extreme, you may need to replace that lawnmower with a tractor!

When you live in the middle of nowhere, having the right tools can mean the difference between getting yourself out of a jam quickly when trees come down and block your road and a long wait for help.

While all of this may sound like a money pit horror story, our tree changed balance sheet suggests we’re still well ahead of where we were financially when we were living in the city.

It just pays to go into a tree change with eyes more open to the costs involved – literally!

Got a question? Hit me up by leaving a comment below!



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