Money doesn’t buy happiness—but it surely buys things that can make you happy or it can cause you quite a lot of headache.
The role of money in our modern society is changing in an increasing pace. Our economic model has created huge wealth gaps and tremendous environmental degradation. It also leaves many of people tethered to unfulfilling jobs just so they can afford to live without much time left to experience life. Especially with the pandemic, lost jobs, increasing food and fuel prices and more and more people awakening to the reality of the failures of capitalism, it is necessary to rethink or believes about money and monetary systems. Money is not a physical substance, but merely a belief in the head. Money is credit, and credit literally means belief (credibility).
When I was younger, I was fascinated by the character of Christopher McCandless, a.k.a Alexander Supertramp, who inspired both the movie and the book called Into the Wild. Chris sought an increasingly nomadic lifestyle, traveled across North America and eventually hitchhiked to Alaska in April 1992. There, he entered the Alaskan bush with minimal supplies, hoping to live simply off the land. One of my all-time favorite scenes is when Chris burns all of his money. It always felt so rebellious and freeing, yet if you said to that younger version of me that one day I will consider actually living a similar life, I am sure I’d have burst out in laughter. Yet here I am, 31 years old, considering—not burning all my money but—going completely money-free.
After reading Into the Wild, I got inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond.
The first time I really considered going money-free was on my pilgrimage on the El Camino where I realized how little I need to be happy. In fact the less I owned, the happier I was. Once I got my tent too, I felt like I could go anywhere. I had my shelter and I needed way less food than I thought I did. A very simple but balanced diet actually made me satisfied.
Later on, I met people who walked their whole Camino with as little money as 200 euros. Or nothing at all, in case of a Belgian guy I met, who was living “donativo” or by donations. Some stayed at pilgrim hostels as work exchange, doing a small amount of work for a bed and food. Once thing I learned about all of them is that they felt more alive and happier than ever before. As they also often describe, their lives are more rich, creative and intentional. They develop stronger and deeper relationships with those around them and live in synergy. Of course, it doesn’t mean all sort of problems magically disappeared from their life once they ditched money. By directing their focus to more meaningful things, they are able to live mindfully and work more calmly through issues as they arise.
After meeting all these people, I was amazed that they could lead their lives in such ways I never really thought about before. I was inspired but never really considered it for myself, until I met a girl called Emma. She was living in her van that’s fully packed with objects, trying to come out at the end of each month with a little more money. Every day she asked me: How can we make more money?
First I followed her flow of thoughts and tried to brainstorm with her but after a few days, I found it a waste of time. In the end, she had everything covered: fuel, food, new clothes, dog food, dining out… I couldn’t understand why she still needed more money when she had everything? So I gave up.
Back then, I stayed at a hostel for free in exchange for some help in the kitchen, where we worked for donations. I had a roof above my head and food in my belly twice a day. I had some clothes to cover my body even if it was cold. I didn’t lack anything, then why was I sitting in a crowded van with somebody who only thinks of money? It felt insane.
Then, I traveled home and the reality of our world hit me. I felt more insane then ever before with all my belongings, the price of my rent, how much I had to work for my little salary and the prices in the supermarkets. I knew this was not the right way of living for me, so I searched for other ways.
Since arriving in Scotland, this idea of moneyless life occurred to me again. I already live doing work-exchange with my boyfriend, working for a few hours a day in a garden in exchange for food and accommodation. Yet it seems on the weekends or when we think about moving in the future, the question of money comes up quite a lot and seems to cause a few headaches. So we spend more and more time researching ways of how living life without it could be possible.
One of my great inspirations is Daniel Suelo, who more than a decade ago, took his life savings and literally threw them away. “Sick of the rat race,” he quit his job, tossed the $30 in cash he owned inside a phone booth, and turned his back on it ever since. His idea for this life came during a trip to Alaska with only $50 in his pocket, but it really manifested after an encounter with the Dalai Lama who “recommended that everybody go back to where they were planted, instead of trying to find greener grass on the other side of the fence.”
As we are looking for a new way of living, especially ones that are more close to nature and living with intention and love, we joined few communities and met many people on our journey. I was lucky to encounter some amazing souls who moved to the country side, completely off-grid, and now live off what the land provides for them, raising their children in abundance and love. The more people we meet who live like this, the more we go with this kind of lifestyle, too—getting back to our roots.
So how is it even possible to transition to moneyless life?
We accumulate unnecessary possessions, which end up owning us. We put a price tag on everything and de-value those which show a smaller price, without knowing the real worth of it. Yet it is still possible to have all your needs met while not being part of the monetary world. Many cultures did not use money and still lived in a much quieter, more sustainable and peaceful environment.
Minimalism has been on the rise for years and so has gift economy, which basically takes us back to the good old days. Simply put, it’s a moneyless way of exchange in which items are given without expectation of receiving anything back. Though participating in the gift economy isn’t limited to those completely forgoing money. These economies have been modeled throughout history for us by Indigenous cultures.
Many people (us too) merely rely on the kindness of other people, while offering their services in return for necessities, like food, clothes or shelter. Giving up your career or sharing a house might sound way too radical at first, but if you’d like to give it a go, try by exchanging small things to start out with. What you’ll need most of all is a great shift of mindset.
When you start to live without money, you also start to see the value in things others (even you before) would discard. For example, you can may turn oversized restaurant napkins into tissues.
A big key to go moneyless is to grow your own food, if you have a garden but you can even start to experiment in your window sill. I used to regrow my veggies in my windows in jars, mainly carrot tops, green onions, lettuce and other kind of greens and sprouting beans, lentils, etc.
There’s so much to learn from our grandparents’ way of life as well. Someone referred to it as nanna technology, which is a cute name to cover how our grannies used to live—repairing, reusing, repurposing everything instead of throwing it away and buying new stuff. Your torn shirt can be made unique by sewing up a colorful patch from another torn piece of clothing which can’t be used anymore. Socks can be sewn and worn t-shirts can be used as cleaning rags.
Many countries have now useful systems, which allows people to sign up for free food from supermarkets, which would be tossed away as they are on their due date. It doesn’t mean the food is bad or must be thrown out, simply the expiration date is passed and can’t be kept on the shelves of the store—but they are still perfectly edible. Look for these apps, websites in your country to get some goodies for yourself too.
There are plenty of ways to make your life moneyless in every area. You can forage food for yourself and find many free events around you where you can be social.
While entirely cashless life doesn’t feel in reach for me in the close future, I’m pretty sure one day I’ll arrive to it (and hopefully we all will). But until then I recommend you to try this lifestyle out and see for yourself how it impacts your life—because I’m 100% positive you’ll benefit from it in many ways. There is vastly more to live for than monetary, material or superficial gain. I believe we will be an enlightened global society.
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!
Photo: Christine Roy via Unsplash