Book Review: How to Survive Without a Salary

Perhaps I should start this review with a little explanation. I’ve been doing a little research into alternative lifestyles lately to see what little parts of how people handle things could be useful to me on my own journey. Now what is an alternative lifestyle? Well that is a little hard to define other than they don’t follow the standard model of: get job and work your @ss off until you retire at 65. Other than that there seems to be no end to methods these people use and ideas on how to go about it. Since I’ve never been a big fan of the standard model I felt I could learn something from these people. So one of the first books I’ve dug up is How to Survive Without a Salary by Charles Long (it was published in 1996 so you best look at your library for this one).

Overall I would have to say Mr. Long’s theory goes something like this: if you reduce your spending level to the bare minimum and then do some casual work during the year you can possible get by with paying very little or no tax and get off of the salary (aka: slavery) lifestyle and into the ‘conserver lifestyle’ (which I would define as semi-early retirement with a health does of frugal and a dash of environmentalism).

I have to give the man credit that the basis of his lifestyle is somewhat sound. When you consider all the tax we pay on income getting money any other way is good idea (ie: capital gains, dividends). Then if you combine that with a low cost lifestyle you can get off the salary lifestyle a lot sooner.

This book isn’t a series of tips, but rather an introduction to his philosophy.  Mr. Long comes across as very motivated that he enjoys the way he lives and encourages others to consider a few of his ideas.  You get the idea while reading the book that Mr. Long lifestyle consists of a large garden in the backyard, some pigs, all used furniture and used clothes (not there isn’t anything wrong with this, but it really isn’t for me).

I definitely learned a few things from this book. His chapter on needs is priceless to understand how we have been conditioned to solve problems in our lives (ie: go buy a ready made solution). He uses a series of questions to help you break that conditioning and then look at the alternatives. A classic example he provides is ‘I need a new car.’ He correctly points out that no the need really is ‘I need to get back and forth to work, do a few trips in town at least once a week and a couple of trips out of town a few times a year.’ This may or may not require a car depending on your own circumstances.

A few of the other chapters that I found useful were on casual labour (ideas on what to do to earn some side income: everything from selling some excess garden produce to freelancing work), the secondhand market (where the price has nothing to do with its price tag, but rather what you decide is a fair value) and auction buying (since I’ve rarely been to one it is interesting to see the ideas of a old die hard like Mr. Long).

I didn’t like the fact that in some sections he has great tag lines, but then doesn’t really deliver much at all. For example, at one point he has a section titled “A Way of Life to Beat the Cost of Living.” Then he proceeds to tell us that if you have a low income requirement inflation will effect you less. Also if you hedge some investments on your property value, food and gas you can get increases in income to hopefully counter act your price increases in those areas. Those answers seemed so obvious to me, that I felt a little disappointed at various points in the book.

Overall I sort of liked this book. It provides a different point of view of life and how to get the most out of it for you. I don’t particularly like all of Mr. Long’s ideas, but in general I felt his philosophy was worth the read.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: How to Survive Without a Salary”

  1. Thanks for the heads up on this book CD.

    I’m in the process of gathering some reading materials on this alternative lifestyles to the regular 9 -5. I’ll add this one to this list.

    A lot of these books tend to “sell the dream” but don’t mention things like health care, family needs, and larger capital expenses (eg: you can live without a car but you do need a non-leaking roof). It would be refreshing to find a tome that has the dream but also has a healthy dose of reality.

  2. MM,

    Actually this one doesn’t do too bad on being realistic. He points out there will be problems which I agree is nice, but do recall he doesn’t do a lot of examples of how to do it.

    So what else is on your reading list?


  3. Oh my goodness, I read his book years ago and what I remember was his comment about being in style every 20 years. At the time I read it wide ties (if I remember correctly) were way out of style. Interesting book but I would prefer to live a little.

  4. I read Mr. Long’s book more than a decade ago. I like his idea of thinking horizontally to look for solution to make daily needs. But his ways of making incomes may not work for everyone.

    The bottom line may be: one can have a less demanding job and enjoy a better life than those who work hard and spend hard.

    Perhaps it may be a good idea to buy a rundown house in a good location. Do the renovation yourself. Rent the basements or spare rooms out and let the tenants pay for his utilities and food bills etc.

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