Book Review: The Moneyless Man

Here is an interesting thought: can you go an entire day without money?  Not earning any, or spending any.  Given how often we use or make money that would be difficult, but possible.  Now, can you do the same thing for a weekend, a month, or how about… a year?  If you are like me, the first thought you have is you would have to be insane, which granted is what many people though when Mark Boyle did the same thing for an entire year.  He then wrote about the experience in a book called The Moneyless Man.

As social experiment goes this one was definitely on the fringe, but like any experiment there has to be some ground rules.  For example, Mark could barter for things, that he could accept things in any normal context (like dinner at a friend’s house, but not every day).  He would also try to reduce his fossil fuel usage to nothing and try to help others where possible.  That last point is rather critical to Mark’s theory about the experiment.

You see Mark makes the argument that money has left us disconnected from the world around us.  We have little idea of where the products we use come from and the difficulty in making them or the society costs we pay in pollution.  Money also changes the game from cooperation to competition.  People prior to money were just in the habit of helping each other: for example you help me with my harvest and I will help with yours.  Now days we typically expect to be paid for a similar arrangement.  So the heart of Mark’s experiment would do two things: one bring him back into difficulty of having to either make, borrow or trade for everything he needs to live.  The second part would be to try and get into the habit of helping others with no expectation of getting something back.

The second point might not seem all that important until you realize prior to the invention of money our economy worked on the idea of you give support to others and receive support in return.  Typically these daily exchanges weren’t kept track of like money so by giving freely Mark hoped to get back to that concept just a little bit.

Now the majority of the book is the strange tale of how Mark spends his year without money and how it works out.  Overall the entire thing comes together fairly well for him.  He gets a free trailer from someone who does want theirs anymore and sets it up on an organic farm in exchange for working at the farm three days a week, so that was his shelter.  For food he grew some of his own on the land near the farm or he bartered for some, forged for wild food or hit a dumpster or two for perfectly acceptable food that was still in its packaging (just one day past its expiry date).  Then transportation was with a bike and he did buy a small solar panel prior the experiment to charge a cellphone (incoming calls only or 911) and his laptop (so he could write about his experience on his blog or email others).

Overall the book was an entertaining read and it reminded me of a fact a lot of people forget: there is no one right way to live.  While Mark’s lifestyle would be a completely not for you, it doesn’t invalidate that it might work for him or others.  What’s struck me as interesting about the experiment was basically a large part of it was based on the fact of using what other didn’t want anymore.  We waste so much as a society that in moderate climates, like England, it is possible to live off that waste stream.  Obviously it can’t work for anyone since you need a certain amount of waste to sustain those that choose this way to live that way, but if it turns your crank have fun.

If nothing else I enjoyed reading this book as a reminder.  We often talk about needing so much money to hit early retirement, but the fact is if you just want out of the system you don’t even need a dime to do that (depending on where you live).  It may not be for you, but it is an interesting reminder of you can get buy on less than you think.

So would you ever try something like this?  Or at what point in your life did you live on the lowest amount of money?  I personally recall right after university and prior to my first career job, my wife and I both made about $6 or $7/hour and we managed to do fairly good.  We were broke, but happy.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Moneyless Man”

  1. Hey, this is a great post! In opens up some very interesting threads. Your insights — or Marks — describe a FAMILY! Families work on an economy that internally doesn’t involve money. We all do our duties and help each other, without contracts or payments. This is an awesome way for the world to be, and we can extend it maybe to a circle of close friends.

    The place where Mark does use the concept of money is when he barters. This is the same as money, but he’s substituting. And this is different from a family. In a family, you just do what is good for the family. Mark said something like “I’ll work on your farm for X amount of time if you let me live here”. That’s exactly the same as saying “You pay me $1000 for working X amount of time and I’ll pay you $1000 to live here.”

    The introduction of money let’s him optimize more than that. Maybe he can make $1200 worth of value by fixing some guy’s car, and that guy is willing to work on the farm for $900 but he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to because he had no car. Then Mark makes an extra $200, the farmer makes an extra $100, and the guy with the broken car has a job paying him $900 per month.

    Bartering is just using something other than money to make trades with. But a “family” economy is totally different and awesome. Sounds like this books dabbles in both. I might look it up.

  2. I agree, great post…. and it sounds like an interesting read for sure… Further to Perfect Dad’s point….. in a traditional family as you aged and became less productive your family would care for you. In marks case once he was not able to work(barter/grow/scavenge) he would have no means of supporting himself. With the introduction of money he has the ability to create a monthly surplus that can be saved up to support him later on. Whereas in a family the good will and kindness you showed to others when you were able is “saved up” and paid back to you by your friends and family in your later years.

  3. I RSS this blog––and this guy’s been living moneyless for some time.

    It’s like you say, another way of living one’s life. Not for me, but I do take inspiration from it.

    BTW, I do like your blog. Original content and enjoy your thoughts. Thanks, Mike

  4. During the first year or two of ER my plan is to live ultra frugally… grow, catch, much of my food. Walk or bike pretty much everywhere. Not only will I be much healthier, but it will allow my investments to grow nicely, with very little draw down. I expect my spending to increase as the years move on.

  5. I managed on $150/month back in around 1990 (bartered housing obviously) and about $700/month throughout university itself (not counting tuition etc).
    Do-able? Yes. Enjoyable? Not sure. I had to put up with roommates / living situations I would not have wished on anyone to do it.

  6. @ Perfect Dad,

    I think you hit it on the head. It is like a family, but what Mark was doing was extending the concept to include others…similar to a tribe setup.

    I agree barter is basically the same exchange as money, but the value amount can vary more. Assigning price to things tends to create a more strict exchange.

    @ Mike_crosby,

    Thanks for the link. It was interesting and also thanks for the compliment.


  7. Great – I see several guys living moneyless in downtown Detroit everyday. They do a bit of dumpster diving too.

    Where can you find a cell phone that is free for incoming calls? I see plans with no charge for incoming calls if you pay a monthly fee.

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