In these lean times, people want to reduce their spending. It’s easy to cut back on non-essentials like video games and restaurant meals, but once you eliminate discretionary spending you’re stuck with an essentials budget that’s hard to reduce. At least that’s what most of us think. Mark Boyle had different ideas. He’d been working as a businessman in the organic foods industry in England, and in recent years became concerned about his relationship with money. To him, money was a negative influence: “It enables us to be completely disconnected from what we consume and from the people who make the products we use.” He also believed money was largely responsible for environmental destruction and that banks spur this on by “pursu[ing] infinite economic growth on a finite planet.”
So, in 2008 Boyle decided to try living for a year without money. His self-imposed rules were simple: he would close his bank account and not spend or receive money (including checks and credit cards). He would live off-grid—that meant he would produce his own energy for illumination, heat, food preparation, and communicating with the outside world. He sold his houseboat and used the proceeds (a few thousand dollars) to set things up. This included buying a $300 solar panel to keep his laptop and cell phone charged (he accepted incoming calls, which he could do without subscribing to a cell phone plan.) He obtained an old trailer for free from a woman who wanted to get rid of it. He made a deal with an organic farm to let him park the trailer on the land in exchange for a few hours work each day. He built a compost toilet near his trailer to harvest the “humanure” for his gardening needs. He set up a solar shower, which consisted of a black plastic bag and a rubber hose to bathe with. For heating the trailer he bought a wood-burning stove made from an upcycled propane tank, and for cooking he built a “rocket stove,” designed to produce high-heat using small pieces of wood. A bicycle provided transportation.
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He started his year of moneyless existence on international “Buy Nothing Day” (the day after Thanksgiving, which is the biggest shopping day of the year). And he wrote about his experiences in his new book, Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomics Living.
Even though Boyle launched his experiment at the beginning of winter, when gardening and foraging for food was out of the question, he discovered that food wasn’t a problem. He found all he needed, and more, by dumpster diving for products that supermarkets were required to throw out after the sell-by date expired. In the summer months, farming and foraging yielded additional food.
Transportation became an immediate problem. His bike tires punctured so frequently that he soon ran out of patching material. He posted about the situation on his blog, Freeconomy, and, fortunately, a company that makes solid puncture-proof tires sent him some in exchange for a mention on his website.
Once Boyle got started, he fell into a routine. It was quite labor-intensive—he had to wake up early and, in the winter months, put wood into the stove to heat up the trailer. Then he would have to go out and fire up his rocket stove to cook his food. If he needed to go into town he had to hop on his bike and pedal 18 miles. He was busy from sunup to sundown.
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Summer was easier. In the book, Boyle recounts the pleasures of “long evenings walking in the woods, camping by the beach at the weekend, cooking food that you’ve grown and picked yourself, cycling, listening to acoustic music by a camp fire, wandering in the wild foraging berries, apples and nuts, skinny-dipping in the lake, and sleeping under the stars.”
At the end of the year, Boyle organized a festival for 1,000 people who came to enjoy free food and drink, made with the help of friends who foraged, dumpster dived, and bartered for the food, as well as fermented the beer and wine that was given away. The festival, along with his experiences over the year, prompted Boyle to make the decision to remain moneyless after the year-long experiment. He used the advance from the book to establish a trust to purchase a plot of land for a moneyless community.
I suspect that most people who read this book won’t want to go completely moneyless. But it could inspire them to think about ways to reduce spending. For example, you can prepare more of your meals at home from fresh ingredients rather than eat at restaurants. You can play board games at home with friends and family instead of going to the movies, and you can invite friends over for impromptu amateur music jam sessions instead of going out to concerts and nightclubs.
Before Boyle started his experiment, he had prepared himself by learning “carpentry, vegetable growing, permaculture design, medicine, clothes making and repairing, cooking, bushcraft, and teaching.” It turns out that these skills, while valuable, were of secondary importance to the “primary skills” for freeconomic living: “physical fitness, self discipline, genuine care and respect for the planet and the species that live on it, and the ability to give and share.”
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