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Tom Hodgkinson
Tom Hodgkinson. Photo by Chris Floyd
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Starting a business has never been so liberating...

Tom Hodgkinson

25 August 2010

Find the hidden entrepreneur in you to free yourself from slavery to corporate and state authority, says Tom Hodgkinson

It may not sound terribly idle at first sight, but one of the best ways to free yourself from slavery to corporation or state bureaucracy is to start your own business. Indeed, it is the only real way: the idler is an entrepreneur. But to run your own business, you need to put in a certain amount of disciplined toil, and I’m afraid this is unavoidable.

However, the amount of disciplined toil that you need to put in need not be onerous. In fact, there is a new breed of spirited American dropout who are retiring early. Very early: at the age of 30 or before. Through a combination of rigorous cost-cutting—no car, no phone, no television—and ingenuity, they are managing to live very well on just a few hours work each week. So rather than whingeing about government cuts, this is a very good time to grab the reins of your life and reinvent yourself as a dynamic 21st century idler, with a dream in your heart and time on your hands.

Eco-friendly poverty

Take Jacob Lund Fisker. This 34-year-old former academic retired at 30 and now works only half an hour each day, doing a little copy editing. He now has ample time to pursue his hobbies and interests, the main one of which is sailing. He says that part of the motivation for the way he runs his life is ecological: he now lives a more sustainable life because he does not use up resources. Poverty is of course profoundly eco-friendly. His technique was to save three quarters of his income for five years, from the days when he was employed, and invest it to give himself a small private income.

His website is appealing titled earlyretirementextreme.com, and is packed with excellent money-saving tips. One simple example is to buy a push-along lawn mower. He says that frugality is an art that is gradually acquired, and I know from my own life that this is very true. The strange thing about being frugal is that you start to become rich.

Better quality

When I earned lots of money, I was always in debt and worried about money. Now that I earn less, I have savings and, what’s more, I buy better quality things. One example is my made-to-measure suit: this cost £750 and I would never have dreamt of spending that sort of money on a suit when I was rich. Now that I am poor, however, it seemed worthwhile. The point here is: stop buying rubbish like cars and TVs. And instead only buy very, very good quality items, which you will buy very, very occasionally. In the case of my suit, perhaps only once in a lifetime.

Another US website and part of the early retirement movement is the Retire Early Home Page. Again, we are told to stop spending, start saving, and to invest our money wisely. A mentor for this movement is Tinmothy Ferris, author of The Four Hour Workweek, another book that I would recommend to freedom-seekers.

Maximise income

What these websites and books have in common, is that to follow their advice, you will need to be very sensible about money, and that simply means maximizing income and minimizing spending. You should also really learn how to keep your own books, and in fact this skill was routinely taught in schools until the 19th century.

It’s true that both the Ferris and the Lusker approach depends on putting your money into the capitalist beast. If this makes you uncomfortable, then you could take a much simpler and safer approach to saving, and that is to buy gold and silver coins. Gold has risen in value around 30% over the last twelve months. As currencies around the world are devalued, gold keeps its spending power, hence the illusion of its rocketing price.

In Cambodia and Jakarta, the ordinary people are taking their money out of the banks and converting it into gold dirhams and silver dinars, the ancient Islamic currency. Converting your bank money into coins is a good idea for two reasons: firstly, the interest you gain is vastly greater, and secondly, you can use them as everyday currency. If I owe my tailor £125, I can simply pay him with a gold dirham.

A nation of shop keepers does not look like such a bad idea after all.

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