living without money in Malaysia
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Thought Experiment: Can We Live Without Money In Malaysia?

Can we live without money? Or very little money?

A lot of financial advice will say no, you can’t. You *have* to build up your savings. You *have* to save for retirement. Even if you’re barely getting by now. No, your efforts are not enough. Work more, get higher salary, do more more more.

And they’re not wrong… but it is only fair to present an alternative for those who will not earn or save enough money, due to bad luck, systemic inequality and other factors.

The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living

Enter The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living by Mark Boyle. This book completely blew my mind. In the late 2000s, Mark conducted an experiment to live without using or receiving money for a year, with strict rules against freeloading.

Not only he succeeded, but he also ended up happier and healthier.

Disclaimers:

  • At no point in this article that I want to romantise poverty – I’m simply presenting a possible lifestyle choice, a dignified alternative to the stereotypical ‘reliant on handouts’ imagery we are often presented of people who have no money.
  • Nor do I want to minimise the role of luck and privilege, which allowed Mark to live his ideals – notwithstanding his amazing self-determination, he was also a young man with no health complications and had his parents as backup financial support system.

Opting out of modern life

The biggest lesson that I learned from this book is life isn’t expensive… but modern life is.

When they talk about the rising cost of living, they are referring to the modern cost of living, where the costs for the basic essentials – accommodation, transportation and food – are out of reach for many folks, due to excessive profit markups and yes, corruption.

But what if.. what if we opt out of modern life, voluntarily and even driven by altruistic (unselfish) motives? What if we choose this life and at the same time, help to reduce environmental damage caused by consumerism-driven human activities to the best of our ability?

That’s what Mark did.

  • For accommodation, he lived in a trailer at a farm and worked 3 days a week to get access to some necessities.
  • For food, he mainly foraged (nature and urban) and grew his own food.
  • For transportation, he mainly walked, cycled and hitchhiked.

Yes, not all are practical for Malaysians, you need to adapt it to your situation. But it IS possible.

And by living this way, suddenly it’s not ‘giving up’ modern life, but instead, ‘gaining’ the true purpose of life – complete freedom of one’s time.

Instead of working to pay for modern life (the rent, the mortgage, the car payments etc), Mark lives a self-reliant life, surviving (thriving!) in nature.

Around 2019, a decade after his 1 year (plus) experiment, he has since moved out of his trailer and built himself a cabin.

It’s good to know that complete freedom is ALSO possible without a lot of money (like what’s always drilled to us), if you combine with creativity, alternative lifestyle choices, and… community.

Not rich in money, but rich in community

What I really like about this book is Mark constantly reminded he didn’t do it alone. He depended on the community, and they on him. He imposed himself rules against freeloading and hoarding, and emphasised giving and sharing.

Some examples – he:

  • organised freeskilling workshops (people meet up to teach each other skills for free)
  • established relationships with grocers who gave him food and items that they would otherwise throw out (they are required to, by law; the food is shared)
  • built a strong community based on Freeconomy/Moneyless principles
  • lives on the principle of giving, even when he literally has nothing. The more you give without expectation, the more people want to help you back – that’s just how it works.

I don’t know why but this part hits me the hardest. Studies have found that the key happiness factor is relationships. Not money. Relationships.

Fact is.. many of us are relationship-poor in this modern life. I certainly am. I don’t even know my neighbours, and I have lived at my location for more than 5 years now. Money has been my shortcut for getting things I need and want.

It’s convenient, sure, but I can’t pretend to ignore the damaging effects anymore – to the environment and to society.

Forgoing money altogether is probably too extreme for most people

Here is Mark, explaining the reasons he chose to live without money.

But realistically, what Mark did is probably on the extreme side. Most of us will still need at least a little bit of money, at the very least for medical emergencies. I am not telling you to live without money.

BUT. It would be wonderful if we can take his ideas on reducing environmental impact and fostering community bond, both of which reduces consumerism and encourages sharing economy, thus requiring much less money.

Those who want to can take it a step further and opt-out from the standard cookie-cutter ‘modern life’, where each of us is expected to own a house and a car (or two).

What are your thoughts on living without money in Malaysia?

Tell me what you think about this thought experiment. The way things are going now, with wealth inequality widening and people withdrawing from their EPF savings and all, I think it’ll take a miracle for each Malaysian to be financially secure.

I hope, by sharing this, you’ll be more hopeful of the future, especially if you’re not in a good financial situation right now and can’t afford to save for the future (yet).

It’d be great if you do end up with a seven-figure nest egg, but if not, I want you to know it is still possible to live a good life with limited resources by learning the principles behind sustainability (Basically: Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Do without)

At the end of the day, the trick is to build strong relationships and communities. Start with giving without expectations for reciprocation, identify and avoid the opportunists and freeloaders, and go from there.

Bottom line: Invest in health, knowledge, and last but not least, relationships.

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4 Comments

  1. We don’t have to go far. Those kampung people have been living without money for years. Maybe not 0 money but they don’t rely too much on money. Perhaps we can document their way of living for a study.

    1. Hi Charles,

      I purposely didn’t bring up kampung life – I believe that communal living and strong community is not exclusive to kampung/rural area

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