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A year without money

'The Moneyless Man' describes living for a year with no income and no expenses -- Dumpster diving, growing and foraging for food, riding a bike and using solar power.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 10, 2011 3:34PM

This post comes from Mark Frauenfelder at partner site


In these lean times, people want to reduce their spending. It's easy to cut back on nonessentials such as 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 had become 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 -- meaning he would produce his own energy for illumination, heat, food preparation and communicating with the outside world.


Boyle sold his houseboat and used the proceeds (a few thousand dollars) to get ready. Here are some of the things he did:

  • He bought a $300 solar panel to keep his laptop and cell phone charged (accepting incoming calls didn't require 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 for bathing.
  • 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.

Started on Black Friday

He started his year of moneyless existence on international "Buy Nothing Day" (the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday -- the biggest shopping day of the year). And he wrote about his experiences in his new book, "The 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. Post continues below.


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.


Discovering simple pleasures

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.


Inspiration for living with less

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."


More on and MSN Money:


Nov 11, 2011 6:38AM

Boyle sold his houseboat and used the proceeds (a few thousand dollars) to get ready.


See, THAT'S what all the homeless people are doing wrong.  They should sell their houseboats and use the money to prepare to live without money.  It's all so clear now.

Nov 10, 2011 7:48PM

I'd like to point out this isn't living without money. It's living on someone else's money.

Someone's elses land, someone else's trailer, someone else's, someone else's food, someone else's bicycle tires. 


So this is just glorified freeloading.  Been around for years.  Completely unfeasible on a larger scale. 

Nov 10, 2011 6:35PM
I applaud his "experiment." But what if say, just 10% of the rest of us started doing this too? I expect there'd be insufficient dumpster fare for all of us, and that those nice folks who "gave" him the bike tire patch kits and the free trailer to live in, well, they'd be in short supply too. I say that this nifty little way to live will only work for a very, very small number of people, and if too many people started doing it, well, I think we've all seen "Mad Max." Next!
Nov 10, 2011 10:40PM
Man goes a year without money so he could write a book of being without money. To in turn make money...Brilliant!!!
Nov 11, 2011 9:30AM
Personally I'd like to read the book. In keeping with the spirit of the theme, should check it out at a library rather than purchasing a copy, so I won't have to spend money on it. 
Nov 11, 2011 5:06AM
That kind of living by millions of people wouldn't  work.  There's only so much food that's thrown out by stores.  Also, this guy burned wood for heat and cooking.  Wood was used for fuel and building materials before oil and other materials were discovered.  The forests in Europe were disappearing at an alarming rate.  Oil saved the forests. 

And the guy on here who thinks we should live like the Indians did.  Are you kidding?  Do you think there's enough animals and other resources for over 300 million people?  Can you imagine what it would be like to have that many people hunting, fishing and foraging for food.  Again, it would come down to burning wood for heat and cooking, and how long would that last.

It's nothing but a pipe dream.

Nov 10, 2011 8:41PM
Um... to the poster named "Well Excuse Me".  You had the balls to write: "No health insurance at 55, no home, no savings, no stocks, no family..get real..anyone can be "broke" for a year..try no future"... and blame it on OBAMA? I am not going to attempt to defend ANY President of this great nation for anything they do nor would I actually blame them, since the three part system of goverment means that ALL of them are culpable for ANY state this country is in... repub, dem, independent...they are all bent. But YOU are broke, homeless, no savings and apparently useless to society AND are 55 years old and you think you can blame ALL of that on ONE partial term of any President? I'm sorry, you couldn't budget? Save? or become skilled enough to find a job in the first 53 years of your life to suffer the 'hard times of the past two-three years? The article aside, take some responsibility for you own lot in life... I am pretty sure the Repubs had 8 years straight for you to 'get it figured out' and save for the upcoming doom of Democrats rule... there are lots of problems with our governmet, wiping your @$$ and teaching you responsiblity shouldn't be one of them..and it surely isn't to blame for the mismanagement of your life. For the record, i scoured the news and I couldnt find where the President OR Congress passed a law limiting the earning potential for people with Emmy nominations... life sucks either fight for it...or give up...but make sure the finger of blame on failure is pointed in the proper direction... jfc.
Nov 10, 2011 8:25PM
My brother and sister-in-law live on a 4-acre plot of land on the Lake of the Ozarks in Arkansas, and own another 3 acres just down the road. Their house is heated by woodstoves and a fireplace; the wood is cut right on their property from trees that have fallen due to age or storms. They use solar panels and small windtowers to provide electricity to their home and run the underground spring wellpump which pumps fresh springwater to the house. The windtowers are about six feet tall and look like floor lamps with 4-foot cylindrical louvered "lampshades" that catch the wind and rotate the cylinder or drum around and around. They generate so much electricity from their solar panels and windtowers that the local electric co buys their surplus from them. They put in a huge garden every year, eat and can the different berries and plentiful wild fruit from their woods, fish in the lake, raise their own chickens for eggs and have goats for milk. Yes, they have vehicles but would rather ride the horses into town or hitch up the wagon behind one of them because it's simply more relaxing and enjoyable. And most of their neighbors have a barter system where if one needs eggs and fresh honey, my brother will trade those items for bacon or ham from one of the neighbors' pigs. My sister-in-law weaves baskets and braids rag rugs out of old clothes, also using  scraps for quilting. All the neighbors and folks who live in the nearby town believe in a barter system so if someone gets sick and has no money, the nurse practitioner or doctor in the town will accept barter as a means of payment. Everyone helps everyone out, which is the way it should be. The house is absolutely beautiful, very homespun, and a dream for anyone who would want to move to a quieter, slower pace of life. My brother & sister-in-law are offering to sell the 3-acre plot to my husband and me when we retire in a few years, and we are seriously contemplating that option. The lifestyle is not for everyone though; some people would simply not be able to adjust. 
Nov 10, 2011 9:04PM
I lost interest when I read that he fertilized his garden/ food with his own feces. 
Nov 11, 2011 2:48AM
...... he lost me at the humanure part..... human manure causes ecoli
Nov 11, 2011 7:14AM

I agree with a lot of the other comments. I enjoy reading about people living off the land except this particular guy is a real crock. Only a year, with a few thousand dollar head start, probably with the intention all along to write a book and make money off of it? psh


Right now there's a guy around off the coast of Mexico that truely gave up monetary living, literally building his own lil' island using purely plastic bottles as the base to keep him afloat. Growing his own food and purifying his own water on his plastic bottle island haha. How about you give that dude a shout out MSN!

Nov 10, 2011 7:43PM
An interesting experiment however I don't think most folks that end up broke and homeless have a chance to plan for it much less start off with about three thousand dollars.A good story and a nice accomplishment but perhaps net reflective of the "real" world.To have and reduce is nothing compared to losing it all quite suddenly leaving you without options or choices.
Nov 10, 2011 8:46PM
Alot of people on here are saying that he spent money advance and he didn't TRULY live a year without money. This is true, he did spend money in order to get things in order before the year started. HOWEVER, I challenge any one of you to do what he did. Many people couldn't make $300 last a week, let alone make it work for him for a year!

Perhaps he didn't truly go "money-less," but he went a lot further than anybody else on here (including myself) could have gone.

Nov 11, 2011 7:43AM
People with no money to start this cool way of living could simply have a much harder time and possibly freeze to death in winter. Not everyone has a chance to learn or teach themselves survival skills before hand.I have done winter camping and have knowledge of survival skills and would love to live off the land and such. Either way, he did it his own way and i am sure it was tough for him also and had some fun living free for a while.
Nov 11, 2011 1:56AM
Let me guess--no girlfriend (or boyfriend, if he swings that way). I love how the no living with money doesn't really mean no money to start with. It also means basically living off handouts created by the monetary economy.
Anyway, whatever, good for him and the book, movie rights, blog, etc., will mean money in the bank in 2012. Next step--get a life with another human or at least with some human contact.

Nov 10, 2011 11:21PM

I saw somewhere in these posts a nasty remarks about "lowering his standard of living", using it as a stunt to make money, using money to buy a generator....


You miss the point dumbos!


Living is what you do with other humans...not what what kind of BMW you have. Until we remove ourselves from thinking we are somehow superior to others because we own more stuff--we will keep breeding unhappy people who live in quiet desperation and fear that somehow someone is going to get a bigger slice of pie than them (and after all they worked SO hard to get their pie). Self-righteous prix.


So retreat into your McMansion and keep putting SHXT on your grass to keep it green and driving $50,000. cars. It will stop one day and you won't have a clue as to what to do next. I was in London 15 years ago and gasoline was well over $6.00 gal (yes I converted liters to gal and pounds to dollars). What will happen to your utilities, food, transportation, plastic mfg cost (EVERYTHING) when the US starts paying a realistic price for oil?


 What happens when your ego is sold off for pennies on the dollar? Your Escalade or your Benz won't start! You might think about this guy with the $300. solar panel. The "solution" can only be found in your HEART. Politics ain't gonna get anything done. Its only until we redefine "success" that the US will come out of this dark place.


 Good luck to you! I'm sure it will bring you great comfort to be "right"--when you are starving and freezing in the dark!






Nov 10, 2011 9:56PM
If money doesn't buy happiness, why am I so bummed when I have 1/8 tank of gas, no money for food, cigarettes, utilities, cell phone and happy as **** when I have a few of these things covered and an extra $100 in my pocket.
Nov 11, 2011 3:25AM
Sorry but I'm not dumpster diving for food.  What i have done is craved myself out two garden spaces, one for vines like cataloupe, cucumbers and water melons and the other for tomatoes and other vegatables.  I have also planted apple trees, cherry tress, peach trees, grape vines, blueberry bushes, blackberries, and dug out two fish ponds.  I believe I can live long and prosper from what I produce here.  Cheap enough for me.   
Nov 10, 2011 8:12PM
he spent money to prepare himself to live for a year without money? so he was able to live for a year on the money he spent earlier!  In essense he did live on money only spent it in advance!
Nov 11, 2011 1:06AM
If I didn't have a wife and family I would move to my Dad's farm in Virginia and live off the land too.I salute him for showing many people that you can live and survive without much of the spoils of society.
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