Do you often find that the less money you spend the richer an experience or connection is? I sure do. For a recent potluck dinner at a friend’s house I made limeade with limes I’d rescued from a grocery store dumpster and added mint from my garden. The limeade was a hit! In exchange I was treated to homemade chocolate and papaya ice cream, tasty entrees, and engaging conversation on my friend’s back patio overlooking her beautiful gardens. How much of what truly brings joy to our lives stems from money? It all got me thinking about the intriguing stories of those pursuing moneyless living.
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The point of this post isn’t to encourage people to completely avoid money. In fact, for most of us a certain baseline amount makes life easier to navigate and helps us thrive. There are a number of people in our modern day society though, who for ethical reasons have chosen to eschew it all together. They’re sharing their inspiring stories online to motivate others and get us thinking differently about what is possible.
What Can We Learn from Moneyless Living?
Before highlighting some of these folks I’d like to offer a couple caveats. Firstly, each of these individuals comes from a place of privilege merely by the fact that they’ve consciously chosen to not use money. There are sadly many other people living without (much) money, but not by choice. And secondly, in our current society it seems to me it’s completely impossible to eliminate all interactions with money. For example, you may choose to not use it, but if you are staying with someone they are paying property taxes that support your living arrangements. So with those caveats out of the way let’s get onto their stories and see how they are living beyond money. Thirdly, most of the examples of moneyless living I’m about to cite take place outside of the U.S. in countries that provide universal healthcare. I think having access to universal healthcare makes this lifestyle a bit more accessible and compelling.
Moneyless in Moab
Daniel Suelo was my first exposure to someone intentionally living without money. He spent about fifteen years of his adult life sleeping primarily in caves outside Moab, Utah. In 2012 author Mark Sundeen shared Suelo’s intriguing story in a book titled The Man Who Quit Money. Suelo has since gone back to using money after returning home to act as caretaker to his parents in their later years.
A statement on Suelo’s personal blog notes:
“With a few exceptions, I still don’t take or use money for myself. But I did have to get a state ID, I manage my mom’s finances, I pay her bills, and I shop for her, dealing with general bureaucracy. I don’t have a driver’s license, though I’ve been offered the gift of a car several times but have refused it.
I feel as passionate as ever about a moneyless world, and I hope to return to moneyless living.”
The Moneyless Man
Another story that caught my attention about the same time as Suelo’s is that of Mark Boyle in the U.K. Boyle studied economics at university and then found himself disheartened with the economic realities of the business world. This eventually prompted him to spend a few years living without money. He found a place to trade labor for accommodation, set up a solar shower, cooked over a makeshift rocket stove, and grew much of his food. He shares his philosophy as well as his experiences from those years in The Moneyless Manifesto. Boyle now owns a simple off-grid cabin and still limits his use of money as well as technology.
A Psychotherapist Finds Happiness Living Without Money
Heidemarie Schwermer experienced a riches to rags back to riches childhood in Europe. She then went on to become a teacher and eventually a psychotherapist in her fifties. Schwermer found that the money didn’t satisfy her. In fact she missed the strife, challenges, and struggle of her childhood years. One of her first steps towards looking beyond money came when she established Germany’s first exchange circle, facilitating simple swaps between members. The major catalyst for moneyless living occurred when friends invited her to housesit for them.
Heidemarie initially thought she’d try the lifestyle out for a year. Her experiment ended up lasting 20 years until she passed away at 73 years of age. Her story is chronicled in the documentary Living Without Money.
Less Money, Lower Impact
In search of ways to reduce her impact on the planet Jo Nemeth started living without money in 2015. To do so she initially bartered her childcare and maintenance skills in exchange for being able to reside on someone’s property in a DIY shed she built for herself from salvaged materials. More recently she moved in with her good friend Sharon after Sharon’s husband passed away. A primary focus of Jo’s is eliminating her use of fossil fuels and she’s now working with Sharon to retrofit her house to set it free from them. She’s blogs intermittently sharing her musings at Jolowimpact.
The Richness in Life Comes from the Moneyless Moments
If you’ve made your way to this blog post you likely agree that our current economic system isn’t working. Our collective participation in this harmful economic model has created huge wealth gaps and tremendous environmental degradation. It also leaves many of us tethered to unfulfilling jobs just so we can afford to live without much time left to experience the fullness of life.
When all of the people highlighted here gave up money they found their lives becoming much richer and more intentional. That doesn’t mean all of their problems have disappeared and life is only unicorns and rainbows for them. But by directing their focus away from money they make more time and space to live mindfully and work more calmly through issues as they arise.
Those of us participating in the money economy operate primarily in the role of consumer. We use the money we earn to purchase what we need to meet our needs. This is a very passive role that robs us of the joy and satisfaction of solving our own problems while increasing our isolation and distance from others. Our moneyless friends on the other hand get much more resourceful and regularly tap their creativity by stepping into the role of producer to get things done.
They also develop strong ties to others in their community finding synergystic ways to share what they have and access what they need. Social ties are strengthened and a supportive community emerges around them. They find themselves surrounded by abundance and true wealth.
Living & Thinking Outside the Box
Since living in the money economy is so pervasive less conventional thinking is required to help us move beyond it. When I work with my coaching clients I sometimes ask them to contemplate how they could meet a specific need (such as feeding themselves or finding shelter) without money if they had to. This exercise prompts some very creative thinking and shows how many more resources people have access to than they realize.
It can also be helpful to think differently about what is right within our midst. I explored this concept more deeply in this post about getting more from what we’ve already got.
Another useful perspective shift can be expanding our view of capital, wealth, and assets. Money is only one form of capital we have access to. And we really only want money to access the other forms of capital so what if we found more ways to bypass $$$ and access the the forms of capital we really want without it. Then we can keep our money to meet other needs and direct excess $$$ where it’s needed most, all while distancing us from the fearful messages of high rates of inflation filling mainstream media.
The Wealth in the Waste Stream
I don’t live a moneyless life, but I spend far less money than most Americans. One of the key ways I’m able to do that is by sourcing so much of what I use from the waste stream. Eco-activism is my main motivation for doing this – plus it’s fun, like treasure hunting – but the financial benefits are also sweet.
At least 70% of what I eat comes from grocery store dumpsters. Recently, my boyfriend and I started visiting an area food bank at the end of the day to pick up produce that would otherwise be thrown out to add to our compost piles. We’ve also begun taking perfectly good raisins, dried figs, bread, rice, split peas, and so much more that is added to this about to be discarded pile. It’s truly sad how much of a distribution problem we have when it comes to food. There’s so much out there that even at food banks good food becomes waste.
My waste stream diversion activities aren’t limited to grocery store dumpsters. I recently retrieved two plastic adirondack chairs in pristine condition from the side of the road. This score prompted me to turn an empty nook in my back patio into a cute little sustainably sourced sitting area by adding in other artistic pieces I had previously rescued.
Tapping the Riches of the Gift Economy
Usually those striving to reduce their interactions with money end up actively participating in the gift economy. A gift economy is simply a moneyless mode of exchange in which items are given without expectation of receiving anything back. We see elements of this in all of the examples of those living moneyless lives highlighted in this post.
Participating in the gift economy isn’t limited to those completely forgoing money. In fact, most people who participate in it are people like you and me who still also actively engage in the $$$ world
These economies have been modeled throughout history for us by indigenous cultures. Robin Wall Kimerer eloquently describes the reciprocity and abundance inherent in a gift economy in her essay The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance.
Certainly, being able to obtain items and services for free is a tremendous benefit. Another advantage of gift economies is that they value relationships. That means by their very nature gift economies strengthen our social ties and create stronger communities. This is the antithesis of our current capitalist system in which we further isolate ourselves and reduce our connection to others when we use money and transactional relationships to meet our needs.
Timebanking: A Moneyless Bank
My favorite way to engage in a moneyless economy is timebanking. In this “bank” the currency is time, not money. I’m fortunate to live in a community with one of the most active time banks in the country.
When someone provides me with an item or service I enter the exchange in our time bank website. I’ve earned time credits from doing all kinds of things such as helping a friend weed her yard, donating a pack of brand new face masks I rescued from a dumpster to the youth time bank, and even for taking some curious timebankers on a dumpster diving excursion.
Many of my friends joined our time bank and it’s also been a way for me to make new friends. Our organizers place a lot of emphasis on community building activities so it’s a fantastic way to build social capital.
Moneyless Living Makes You More Resilient
At this point it feels appropriate to reiterate that I am not suggesting we all strive to sever our ties to money. As I’ve outlined in this post though, I do find some tremendous benefits in reducing our use of it once we’ve achieved a certain baseline of enough – among them:
- decreasing our environmental impact
- increasing our social capital and connections to others
- keeping more of our money for ourselves to meet our needs and reducing our need to exchange more of our time for money
- improving our quality of life
- exercising our creativity and resourcefulness
- building resilience
That last point is particularly important given the climate challenges that we’re beginning to experience. It will be critical for each of us to develop resilience and it’s cousin adaptability to better navigate the unpredictable times that lies ahead. I’ve come to believe the more we can meet our needs without money the more resilient we are. How resilient do you feel?
If you’d like to feel more financially resilient consider scheduling a coaching session with me. I regularly help people get their financial lives in order and build true wealth in ways that prepare them to thrive amidst uncertainty. I’d love to help you too so schedule that session today and let’s get to work forging a more resilient future for you.
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