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Cash-free living: how to survive and thrive without money

Christine Ottery

31st August, 2010

Pounds and pence are important to some but not vital for anyone. From skinny dipping to dustbin dining, there are many ways to live without paying for it. Here are some top tips

Most people can't imaging living without cash in their pocket or credit on their card, but that's exactly what Mark ‘Moneyless Man' Boyle did for a whole year. His venture came to an end in November 2009, but he continues to live the ‘freegan' lifestyle, which means eating for free, and he now wants to set up a ‘freeconomy community', allowing people to trade services and skills without monetary exchange.

For the vast majority of us, however, the first thing that has to change before embarking on a cash-free life is our mental framework.

'Primarily, you need to reconnect with the issues in the world and relearn why it's important that we change things, learn a sense of care for the earth,' says Boyle, 'You're not going to go through the inconvenience of moneylessness without a real passion for change and environmental issues.'

Boyle thinks environmentalists need to set an example to the public about radically changing their lives.

'Environmentalism is in fantasy land at the moment - it speaks the speak but is not living it. The time is over to stop supporting industrialisation,' he says, using the example of environmentalists who rail against BP but continue to buy products derived from oil.

Below, the Moneyless Man shares some of his tips on living freestyle:

Have a social life for free
Go moneyless. 'There are no end of people who will want to come round and stay to get away from the city if you live in the country,' says Boyle. Failing that, start a weekly skill-sharing group, with book-swaps and clothes-swaps.

Party for free
'I think the key requirement is a sense of adventure. In every aspect of life we're always weighing up comfort and adventure - we've gone too far into comfort,' says Boyle. In the summer, moneyless living is easier: you can go camping, go foraging, go out into the wild, into the forest, have campfires, make your own cider with nothing but fermented apples... Get Richard Mabey's booklet Food for Free and eat from the hedgerows. Bring a guitar or a drum and sleep under the stars. Skinny dip.

Travel for free
There are a few key points to remember when hitch-hiking. Obviously look respectable: people won't pick up someone who is dirty and smelly. Location is the main thing: you can stand at a bad point for two hours, so position yourself where cars can pull in safely. Look friendly: have a good attitude; smile. Most people who pick up hitchers want a conversation - they're on a long journey; they're bored.

Put on events for free
Boyle staged two large events promoting the freegan way of life to mark the beginning and end of his year without money. He managed to blag a smoothie-maker rental, which usually costs £200 a day, and a pedal-powered stage for music, normally £250, for free - and much more besides. 'The whole thing was goodwill. I learned that when people feel inspired by something, they are more than happy to help out. I started off saying, "I don't want any payment for this, I'm doing it for the love".'

Fixing things for free
Check out the Freeconomy project online to hook up with skillsharers who can teach you what you want to know. If you need your bike fixed, for example, search ‘bike' and the website will suggest bicycle mechanics and others. Contact the person and they can come round to show you how to fix your problem; you can then update your own skill base on the website. Boyle says: 'You meet people in your local community, something that builds resilience, which is vital to face future challenges. There is no exchange, no credit system. Freeconomy living is perfect for sharing skills, tools, resources and knowledge.'

Free living/free labour
'I volunteered for a local farm and got a caravan for free off Freecycle to put there, but I don't promote caravan living,' says Boyle. He thinks the way forward is to build low-impact dwellings such as Earthships, which are designed according to permaculture principles, using the waste of industrialised society. Boyle reckons you can build an Earthship for as little as £6,000 out of old car tyres, beer bottles and, of course, earth, so while they are not exactly free, they are very cheap in terms of modern house prices. You can also get free labour if you tell people you want to build one. 'People really want to help out if somebody is building an Earthship, as people want to learn how to build one themselves - there's never any shortage of help.'

Eat for free
There are four legs to your food table, says Boyle: foraging; growing your own (there's no way 60 million people can forage); bartering, especially in winter; and waste food. 'Eating out of trash bins is not a model of sustainable living, but when food is grown in South Africa or New Zealand, for it to end up in a bin in Bristol or London is an insult to the environment and the farmer. I'm a big believer in getting food out of bins and into bellies.'

Fertilise your vegetables for free
'Use human manure. The compost toilet is a symbol of sanity.' Boyle assures me it is safe, but you need to know what you're doing - so check out this free online manual on using human manure. For discretion, Boyle suggests growing comfrey besides toilets raised on stilts. Comfrey is great for compost, too.

Bathe for free
Wood-burning showers or solar showers are an option. You can grow your own soapwort. You can find a lake, river or sea. 'It's not always comfortable but it's more adventurous,' says Boyle. He thinks the same companies that sell face wash also sell moisturiser to make more money from us. 'Your skin is an ecosystem and you're stripping away all of the oils to replace them with another product. Pharma companies make a lot of cash out of making us feel ugly and then selling us the products that make us feel good and attractive again.'

Health for free
'I'm very pre-emptive about my health. I'm a vegan, I eat completely organic food, complely fresh. I keep myself really happy and I don't get colds or the flu.' Moneyless living is about treating root causes rather than fixes.

The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living by Mark Boyle is published by Oneworld Publications.

Read more from Mark Boyle on Guardian.co.uk

Christine Ottery is a freelance journalist

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