Living without money in today’s society is a challenge, but it’s also satisfying. My dad led me to this lifestyle; he didn’t like that his tax money was going to support wars, so he figured he wouldn’t earn more than $6,500 a year. For the first 20 years of my life, he filed taxes, but he didn’t have to pay, because he earned less than the required amount to file. Somehow, he convinced my mother, and later, us kids to join him in taking this voluntary vow of poverty.
To succeed, we needed to eliminate a majority of the expenses that most people have:
House and land. We traded house-sitting and land-sitting in exchange for a place to stay. Eventually, we bought a house under a contract for deed, and we now rent out part of the home to cover all its expenses, such as the monthly payment, taxes, and insurance, while I exchange work for some repairs.
Food. We grew a lot of our own food wherever we were land-sitting, bought in bulk, and ate at the bottom of the food chain, with almost no meat or dairy in our diets. We also worked for farmers in exchange for bulk food.
Vehicle. We traveled by horse-drawn wagon, and we had a truck for work that brought in enough money to cover the truck’s expenses.
Electricity. We lived completely off-grid by going very low-tech and, later, using solar power.
Health. We took care of ourselves, with good food and plenty of exercise, as a preventative for health impacts that might require expensive health care.
Telephone. We only used a phone for work that brought in enough money to cover the phone’s expenses.
Trash. For years, we produced so little trash that our neighbors would let us share their service for the few small bags we made each month. Now, my renters pay enough to cover trash pickup.
Internet. I grew up before the internet. Now, my renters or my company pays enough to cover this convenience.
Almost all of our homesteading costs, from animals to seeds to hay, were made through labor exchange, as most farmers needed work help more than they needed money. Quality laborers are hard to find.
We bartered with our neighbor, who had all the equipment we needed to hay our fields. Since we had nine horses, we needed a lot of hay to make it through winter. Our neighbors helped us put up the hay as long as we provided a majority of the labor and they got to take home a percentage of the hay baled. Most years, we put up plenty extra to be able to sell or trade some of the excess hay.
Mutually Beneficial Bartering
Have you ever bartered or haggled for something you need? It’s a common and fun country pastime, where the goal isn’t to outsmart the other person, but rather to make it so both sides feel they got a good deal. If you “outsmart” the other person, they may later realize they got a sour deal and decide they don’t want to work with you again. Bartering needs to lead to a mutually beneficial transaction so both of you can be friends and continue to do deals in the future. It’s a way of thinking long-term.
Photo by Aur Beck
My favorite haggle was when I was in Mexico for more than three months, and I went to a farmer’s market. I didn’t speak much Spanish, but after 20 minutes of animated gesturing, a vendor enjoyed our haggling session so much he gave me all the vegetables I had picked out. Then, we started haggling again, as I wanted to give him money, and he was trying to explain that he’d had so much fun that he couldn’t take my money. In the end, I had to just leave some money on the table and run away laughing.
Another common barter I’ll do is talk to a farmer during their busy season and offer to take their “seconds” (or less-than-perfect) tomatoes for a trade or work exchange. I don’t care what the tomatoes look like, because I’ll cook them down in my solar cooker into sauce to can. After years of this, I have farmers call me to pick up bushels of tomatoes before they throw them out. The disadvantage is that the tomatoes need to be cut up, cooked, and canned right away. These farmers like my offer, as they hate throwing away their hard-won produce.
My dad, who inspired this way of life, regularly bartered with even large items, such as horses and cars. The precedent he set lives on through me, and I hope my examples of this lifestyle encourage you to step outside your comfort zone in the money economy and figure out ways to live that don’t require much, or any, cash.
Photo by Aur Beck
Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for more than 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Find him on the LivingOffGridReally Facebook page.