Book Review: ‘The Moneyless Man’ by Mark Boyle

October 24, 2010 in Book Reviews

For most of us, a life without money is downright unfathomable.  It’s what our lives are all about, whether we admit it or not.  We’re always trying to think of ways to make more money because we know it will make life easier, more comfortable, and ostensibly, happier.

According to former businessman Mark Boyle (who resides near the town of Bristol in the UK), this is no way to live, especially if we are concerned about the future of our environment.  In this capitalist world, we are consuming our finite resources far quicker than is feasible in the long-term.  In our desperation to make more money, we have become ignorant, or worse, indifferent, to the damaging effects of our excess consumption and mass wastage on the world we inhabit.

So Boyle decides to run a little experiment — living without money for an entire year — and it’s chronicled in his book, The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living.  The term ‘freeconomic’ means, essentially, living without money.  People who live (or try to live) this way are part of the ‘freeconomy’.  It’s actually something Boyle has been promoting for some time.

I was reviewing this book for a trade publication, so I had to read it, but even if I didn’t have to, I think I would have been equally fascinated to learn how someone could live without money for a year.  Without the ability to make, receive or spend money, how does one pay for the basic necessities of life, such as food and drink?  What about shelter, if you can’t pay the mortgage or the rent?  And water and electricity and other fees, if you cannot pay any bills?  And don’t let me get started about cooking, toilets, tooth-brushing, showering and cleaning.

I don’t want to give away too much, but the stuff that Boyle does is in the book is not as horrific as some would have imagined.  According to his own rules, he can’t just be a bum, living off welfare, generosity and handouts.  He must be self-sufficient, even though he can accept the occasional ‘freebie’ if it is something he would have accepted ‘normally’ anyway (like if a friend asks him over for dinner).  So for example, he uses Freecycle to get himself a free caravan that the previous owner wants to get rid of.  He goes foraging for wild food, works for grain, and goes ‘skipping’ in supermarket dumpsters (it’s all edible, packaged food thrown out because of legal use-by dates).  He doesn’t bar himself from using products manufactured by the capitalist world, as long as it doesn’t cost him a dime — eg a mobile phone that can only receive calls, or a laptop run on solar power.

The book is written like a memoir with an essay tinge to it, plus there are plenty of practical tips for people who may want to try living in a more environmentall friendly, and money-saving manner.  Even though Boyle is not a mindblowing writer or anything like that, he tells his story with a much-needed sense of self-awareness and humility.  He knows (to some extent) how he must look to most of the civilised world.  He doesn’t proclaim to have all the answers and he tackles the tricky grey areas head on without self-righteousness.  While he is definitely an idealist, there’s still a little bit of a realist in him somewhere.  As a result, the book is refreshing and fascinating, and thankfully not an in-your-face condemnation of the way you live your life.

Of course, you don’t do something like this and not have your fair share of critics.  Just speaking to friends and reading around online, it seems most people start off with a very cynical stance towards Boyle.  Is he just seeking attention?  Is he a delusional hippy who has lot touch with the practical realities of life?  Isn’t he a hypocrite for signing a book deal that will earn him money?  And is this just an experiment or will he continue with it at the end of the 12 months?  (For those wondering, he does address the last two questions, and you may be surprised by the result)

It’s easy to call Boyle a hypocrite (as many of his critics have done), but so what?  That doesn’t make what he says about excess consumption and wastage any less truthful.  Instead of trying to pick holes in his philosophy, perhaps we should start thinking in a more positive, more constructive way.

I wouldn’t call The Moneyless Man a life-changing book.  Most of the stuff that Boyle does and proposes in the book are too extreme for the vast majority of the population.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t take away a little something from his year of freeconomic living and try to make a few changes in our own lives.

3.5 out of 5