Tuesday 3 April 2012

What is the value of money?

Lots of free foraged foodAs my full time job has just finished it is quite a pertinent time for me to be introducing a week about living without money. Whilst I don't live completely without money I do try and live a life that requires as little money as possible, partially because I disagree with western societies obsession with money for it's own sake, but also because in many ways a low carbon, oil free lifestyle is inherently low money too. So many Transition initiatives are enabling life without or with less money whether they explicitly aim to or not and my involvement with Transition has greatly helped me need less money.

I am not actually against money, it makes exchanging goods and services an awful lot easier than relying on a barter system. As this would mean that if you want a half dozen eggs from someone then you need something that both of you deem of equal worth that the other person actually wants. This works sometimes, but often it doesn't. Money (whether Sterling or whatever is accepted as money by both parties) adds an intermediate step so that indirect exchanges can work. This is why Local Exchange Trading systems and Time Banks still use an alternative currency, even if that currency is time.

There is an alternative approach, which is often called a gift economy. This requires everyone to give what they have 'surplus' without worrying about keeping a count of whether everyone is giving the same amount. This already happens a lot within communities, families and other informal networks and websites, such as Freegle/Freecycle and Freeconomy are taking it to a larger scale. This is an approach I very much support and it is great for building communities. However, I just still cannot see how society could work entirely based on this system. A small amount of money is still useful.

Homemade alcohol and preservesAt the Permaculture Scotland conference last weekend I went to an interesting workshop on money, where they explained the history of money. Apparently one of the original rationales behind it was to reduce piracy, because if a pirate stole an 'I owe you' note then you could 'cancel' it, where as if they stole the two tonnes of tin that you were shipping abroad it was gone. In light of this it is interesting to reflect on the amount of money theft that occurs in modern society now!

This also highlights what I personally feel is our biggest issue, that we actually see value in money, where as the value is actually in the goods and services. To work money requires an exchange value, but it is not the source of value. It's value stems from what you can exchange it for. It is from losing sight of this and starting to collect money for its own sake that problems have arisen.

Living without money
So how do you actually go about living without money, or at least with very little of it? Essentially it comes down to consuming less, sharing more and doing more yourself. Firstly you need to break the consumption mindset, do you really need it? What does it contribute to your life and happiness? Really it takes very little to meet our basic needs and keep us happy, we have just been brain washed into believing that money buys happiness.

members of the resource sharing database
Secondly rather than everyone having their own individual tools and resources, many things can easily be shared, including services. This is where the community built up by Transition Initiatives comes into its own. In Transition Norwich my neighbourhood group set up a resource sharing database with everything from DIY tools, to baking tins and tents to blankets. This suddenly considerably reduced the number of things that I actually needed to own. And so many things can be shared from houses to cars, baths to childcare.

My final living without money suggestion is to do more yourself. Don't spend money on it, make it or learn to do it yourself. This has the bonus of being great fun and much more exciting. But it does have the caveat that it takes more time, which causes problems when you have a full time job as I have discovered this year. Ideally you work less hours and have more time for self sufficiency, that's my plan anyway.

a low income dwellingThis suggestion can involve anything from forgaing, growing your own food, cooking your food from scratch, making your own preserves/cheese/bread/alcohol etc, repairing things yourself rather than replacing them, cycling and walking, chopping your own firewood, the list is endless. They are mostly things that fall firmly under the banner of reskilling, an area that many transition initiatives are active in. I have learnt so many things from and together with other transitioners.

Personally my biggest expenditure is still on accomodation and bills and apart from living in a shared flat this is the one area in which I haven't managed to find a moneyless solution that I am happy with. Suggestions welcome! Kerry Lane

Photos: the harvest from an afternoons foraging, some of my handmade alcohol and preserves, members of Transition circle West who set up the resource sharing database and maybe I should make myself a hobbit house! (Simon Dale)

Original article is from the introduction to Living Without Money Week on the Social Reporting Project


  1. When talking to the people at Occupy Norwich about money (and particularly when it came to local currencies), the issue of our biggest payments still requiring sterling was a big and highly discussed topic. Its something I've been thinking about a lot, but haven't really found any solution to yet, but I think its only a matter of time and attitude!

  2. I've made a zine with lots of ideas for living without money, it's at: http://storiesofcreativeecology.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/how-to-have-an-amazingly-adventurous-life-for-zero-dollars-a-day/

  3. Cutting oneself off from the economy is likely to cause extreme material hardship. Instead we need to be moving collectively into a new economy that puts people over profit, and values local production.
    A new economy needs to be built on a new money system. Transition Pounds aren't good for this.