making money with permaculture
Financial Lifestyle Livelihood Mindset

Permaculture & Money

People are usually drawn to permaculture through the garden gate. That’s certainly how I entered the permaculture realm. We see pictures and read books about all of the amazing abundance we can cultivate when we work with Mother Nature instead of against her. It’s so easy for us to presume that abundance lies dormant in our landscapes waiting to be activated by installing swales, water catchment, and plant guilds. But why is it that when it comes to permaculture and money the default mindset is one of scarcity, lack, and even disgust?

While we don’t pay much attention to them, some of the major permaculture texts and teachings contain information showing us how to use permaculture to create regenerative livelihoods and economies. It turns out the permaculture principles are just as easily applied to our personal finances as our gardens. So with that in mind let’s take a look at how you can use the extensive permaculture toolkit to design your life (and community) for true wealth and financial resilience.

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Before we do that though, I want to make it very clear that it is NOT my intention to encourage people to hoard wealth or aspire to be permaculture billionaires. I simply want to point out that there are regenerative ways we can interact with money and that the permaculture principles and major texts can help us do that. Wouldn’t you rather have more money in the hands of permies so we could be investing in each other’s businesses or the solidarity economy instead of sending our $$$ off to Wall Street? If you aren’t comfortable thinking about designing for wealth as an individual apply these concepts in your community instead.’s no good any longer just being an organic gardener or farmer, we have to be effective financial and political units….we have to become bankers.

Bill Mollison during a 1983 PDC

Note: Some people have started referring to a 4th permaculture ethic – the ethic of transition, which acknowledges that we are working to evolve a new way of living and being while embedded in an existing reality that is very much out of alignment with that vision. This 4th ethic is especially applicable as we navigate within the realm of finance and economics.

Design from Patterns to Details

That means you start by figuring out your short and long-term life and financial goals. Potential money goals might include paying off debt, saving up a down payment on a home, quitting your job, or saving for retirement.

You also want to get clear on what a wealthy life looks like to you. Given you’ve made your way to permaculture, your vision likely doesn’t consist of fast cars, yachts, and private jets. Most likely you value things like time freedom (the autonomy to choose how you spend your time), more connection, with others, self & community sufficiency, time in nature, and simple pleasures.

lifestyle design

When you have a clear sense of what your goals are and what’s important to you then you can apply your permaculture design skills to reverse engineer your life from there. In my own case, my most recent major life shift was guided by three core factors – 1) to no longer work a 9 to 5 office job 2) to live in a place that compelled me to spend more time outside 3) to ride my bike as my primary form of transportation.

When it comes to thinking about how you are using your money to support these efforts it can be helpful to ask yourself “Am I using my $$$ in ways that move me towards the life I want to live?”

Observe & Interact

Looking at your numbers and interacting with money can feel icky, overwhelming, and scary. Yet it’s vital that you pay attention to how money flows into, through, and out of your life. You want to get very clear on where your money is coming from, where it’s going to, and whether it’s moving you towards or away from your goals.

For those that are inclined to manage their lives with the help of technology apps like Mint and You Need a Budget (YNAB) can be useful. You can also find income and expense tracker templates online to print out and write on or you can create your own if you prefer simpler options.

Getting clear on your “enough” point can be super helpful and liberating. How much money do you need to meet your basic needs and lead a fulfilling life? After a certain point more money can add complexity, hassle, and worry to your life about how to protect it .

Image Credit: Iris Brilliant

One thing that often sidetracks people in their efforts to get a better handle on their finances is known as lifestyle inflation. This means increasing your spending as your income increases and it’s what we want to avoid. Instead of eating out more, buying lots of new clothes we don’t really need, or purchasing a new car to replace one that was still in good shape when you get a raise, you want to use that money to move you towards those financial and lifestyle goals you outlined above.

You’ll also find the more intentional you get with $$ the less you’ll leak it out into the entities and elements of capitalism that make you cringe – and the more you’ll have to invest in your own life and community.

If you are in debt, observing and interacting more with your money can help you develop a strategy to get yourself out of it. The internet is awash in stories of people previously crippled by hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, who got intentional with their money and paid it off.

Obtain a Yield

To me this is the permaculture principle that seems most explicitly related to money. It essentially means you want to earn more than you spend. You do that in two ways – by spending less than you earn and finding ways to earn more.

You can reduce your costs and obtain more of a yield by practicing frugality and low footprint living. Tapping your resourcefulness and pursuing inexpensive and creative solutions are also useful strategies to help you meet your needs without spending a lot of money. As a permie, you are likely already primed to direct your designer’s mindset (that believes in and draws out the latent abundance in our landscapes) to identify and utilize the overlooked wealth and resources already in your midst.

While those attracted to permaculture tend to be naturally inclined towards these frugal options, they can only take you so far. The second part of this equation is to earn more money.

The Buddhist concept of Right Livelihood, which encourages us to do work that doesn’t harm others, can be a helpful guidepost. Why not take it a step further and seek out regenerative right livelihoods???

If you are still trying to figure out what you’d like to specialize in within this vast space that is permaculture Heather Jo Flores’ donation based Find Your Eco-Niche online course can be illuminating. Or maybe you are one of the many people to emerge from a PDC (the 72 hour certificate conveying Permaculture Design Course) with a strong desire to put your newly acquired knowledge and skills at the center of your livelihood efforts, but you lack the entrepreneurial experience to make this a viable option. Luckily, permaculture instructor Karryn Olson established Regenepreneurs, which helps people develop livelihoods in service to life.

Another super useful tool in your efforts to run a financially solvent business in ways that don’t compromise your permacutlure values is the treasure trove of resources made available by Tad Hargrave over at Marketing for Hippies. Tad’s work covers marketing and so much more.

You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to pursue right livelihood. To find your dream environmental and social justice job check out Brown Girl Green’s Job Board or the New Economy Roundup newsletter (scroll to the bottom for the job listings and read some of the inspiring articles they include about the solidarity economy on your way there). If you pursue this route of working for someone else make sure to improve your (salary and benefits) negotiating skills by reading books such as Never Split the Difference.

permaculture principles
We can apply these principles to $$$.

Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services

Nurturing a true wealth mindset is fundamental to your efforts. One thing wealthy people understand is that a defining element of something that is considered to be “capital” is that it’s being used to generate more wealth or value. Certainly, most of the examples of this that we see in our mainstream economic model are extractive and harmful, but when we look to nature we also encounter numerous examples of systems that are continually enriching themselves. (Indigenous cultures understood this as well, although they were able to practice it in a beautiful non-extractive way that viewed what the world offered them as gifts instead of resources, assets, or wealth.)

It’s essential that we move beyond the limited perspective of trading our time or labor for money as the only way of building financial security. Wealthy people know that wealth is accumulated when instead of you working a job to earn money, you put your money or assets to work earning more for you. As a permaculturalist you’ll do this by investing in your food forest, community garden, small business, well-made tools and equipment, making your home more energy efficient, skills, regenerative farms, locally owned businesses, etc.

One of the most commonly taught frameworks for thinking about wealth in a permaculture context is the eight forms of capital. Financial capital (money, currency) is but only one form of capital to which we have access. The other forms of capital include living, material, experiential, intellectual, social, cultural, and spiritual. In fact, it’s when interacting with these other forms of capital that we experience joy, fulfillment, and meaning.

When you take time to inventory these additional forms of capital in your life you’ll find some gaps, but you’ll also likely recognize you’re richer and more resilient than you thought. In terms of building and flexing that true wealth mindset it can be helpful to get into the habit of asking yourself questions like “What assets and capital in my life am I underutilizing?” and “How can I obtain more of a yield from what I already have?” That doesn’t mean we always want to act on it and extract $$ value from everything in our lives, we just want that muscle to get stronger.

Catch & Store Energy

This is where you want to stretch your wealth mindset to build up some savings and start making regenerative investments that will grow your wealth (in all forms of capital, not just $$$) and increase your resilience. Now you may find yourself scratching your head wondering if it’s even possible to catch and store financial capital in ways that also re-distribute the surplus.

profitable permaculture
From my interview with Ethan Roland

When considering financial investments it can be helpful to keep that ethic of transition in mind. These days though, it’s becoming easier for us non-accredited or non-wealthy investors to access investments off Wall Street that are far more in line with our permaculture values. Whether it’s making 0% interest loans to regenerative farmers with Slow Money or earning a bit of interest off your capital by lending to them on a platform like Steward, you’ll find an option that feels right to you.

If you want to learn more about the wide range of more socially conscious investing opportunities that exist outside of the stock market through which you can put that surplus financial capital to work doing good in the world, then check out my pay what you can Beginner’s Guide to Regenerative Investing.

For those invested in the stock market you can flex your shareholder advocacy muscle to hold corporations accountable and encourage better corporate behavior. Connect with organizations like As You Sow, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, or ShareAction in the U.K. to learn how.

Beyond the world of stocks, bonds, and currencies, one important way we can improve our ability to catch and store energy is by getting better at recognizing the difference between assets and liabilities, or in other words things that make you money or at least hold their value vs. those that cost you money and lose their value. You want to become cognizant of each of these in your own life and start directing more of your time, energy, and money towards assets and as little as possible to liabilities.

making money with permaculture

An example of an asset that my boyfriend recently acquired is a wax press. He’s a beekeeper and this press allows him to harvest even more honey to sell from his hives. He’d removed and sold enough additional honey using that press in one season that he’d recouped the money he spent on it and all the money he’ll earn when using it in the future will be profit. He also researched his options and purchased a high quality press that is a good piece of equipment, which will retain its value and utility for years to come.

One of the most commonly cited examples of a liability is a car. The moment you drive a new car off the lot it decreases significantly in value and it only continues to decline in value from there. Plus, there are numerous costs associated with maintaining and insuring a car every year. Then there’s the cost of gasoline. We may not be able to avoid putting some of our money into liabilities, but we can be more strategic when we do so. In the case of a car that would involve prioritizing brands and models that hold their value, are less prone to breaking down, and have good fuel economy.

Permaculture & Prosperity

Permaculture and money aren’t diametrically opposed. You can harness the energy of money as a tool in your efforts to regenerate our beautiful planet and its many ecosystems. The more those of us in permaculture (and other regenerative spaces) step up to earning, investing, and managing money (and other forms of capital), the more we’ll divert it away from the extractive economy towards the life-serving economy by investing in ourselves, our friends and families, and our communities.

Enroll today to stop struggling financially and start building true wealth!

You may be surprised to know after reading all this that there’s still a great deal to delve into around permaculture and your fiscal well being. My pay what you can Permaculture & Prosperity course, which has been described as paradigm shifting, offers a deeper dive into the true wealth building tools in our permaculture tool kit that will help you achieve financial resilience in uncertain times.

So what do you think? Are permaculture and wealth building compatible? Share your thoughts in the comment section below…

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