Extreme personal finance: Daniel Suelo, the man without money
Previously in my semi-regular Extreme Personal Finance series, I've highlighted:
- A couple who paid off their $220,000 mortgage in three years
- People who live on ,000 a year
- Don Schrader, the man who lives on $10 a day
- Rina Kelley, the reporter who lived for one month as a freegan
Yesterday, my friend Castle sent me the story of a man who makes these other folks look like spendthrifts.
The Man Without Money
Writing for Details magazine, Christopher Ketcham profiles Daniel Suelo, the man who lives without money. From the article:
Nine years ago, in the autumn of 2000, Suelo decided to stop using money. He just quit it, like a bad drug habit. His dwelling, hidden high in a canyon lined with waterfalls, is an hour by foot from the desert town of Moab, Utah, where people who know him are of two minds: He's either a latter-day prophet or an irredeemable hobo.
Suelo lives in a small cave. Much like those in the freegan movement, he generally consumes wasted food from restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Suelo supplements his diet by foraging for plants, mushrooms — and fresh roadkill.
How did Suelo come to adopt this lifestyle? Ketcham's article describes the two years he spent in Peace Corps, posted to a remote Ecuadorean village:
The tribe had been getting richer for a decade, and during the two years he was there he watched as the villagers began to adopt the economics of modernity. They sold the food from their fields — quinoa, potatoes, corn, lentils — for cash, which they used to purchase things they didn't need, as Suelo describes it.
They bought soda and white flour and refined sugar and noodles and big bags of MSG to flavor the starchy meals. They bought TVs. The more they spent, says Suelo, the more their health declined. He could measure the deterioration on his charts. “It looked,” he says, “like money was impoverishing them.”
This experience (and many others) led Suelo to Buddhism and asceticism. It led him to give up money.
There's a lot more to Seulo's life than can be summarized in Ketcham's short profile for Details magazine. Fortunately, you can learn more about a life without money from Suelo himself. Suelo uses the Moab Public Library to maintain a blog called Zero Currency, which he updates about once a month. His post last Tuesday included a brief response to the Details article. Suelo writes:
…My life is not really the life of an ascetic. Chris [the author of the magazine article] told me “this life seems hard”. I told him yes, but I also said that my life is easier than it ever was when I had money, and that it's easier than most anybody's life I know.
Really, though, Suelo's blog is less remarkable than his primary website, which is called Living Without Money. It's here that he answers all of the questions people have about his lifestyle. (Check out the list of frequently asked questions in the left sidebar, or read through his enormous one-page FAQ.)
Reading Suelo's writing is like peeking into the mind of a genius — or a madman.
Back to the Basics
When she sent me Ketcham's article yesterday, Castle wrote:
A good friend once said she didn't think I value money enough and I've thought about that a lot. I have always been uncomfortable with the concept of money and consumerism seems foreign me. I know, I know, I am poisoned by it, too. I've always felt a strong urge to go back to basics and I mean REALLY basic. This guy in this article has done what I've only vaguely dreamed of. Please read it and tell me what you think of his choices.
As long-time readers know, I too feel a pull “back to the basics”. I'm very much a part of our consumer culture, but I pine for an idealized vision of simple living. (I'm under no illusions that it's as easy and care-free as I'd like it to be.)
But Suelo takes it to an extreme. I couldn't live that way. I don't want to live that way. I'm all in favor of simplicity, but I believe there's a balance to be achieved. I don't mind living in the world of money; I just want to build a life where money and consumerism aren't my primary focus.
What's more, I don't believe this is a lifestyle that can be adopted en masse. (And Suelo's response to this particular point is unsatisfying.) If everybody chose to life without money, nobody could live without money. But the truth is, 99.99% of the population has no desire to live this way. And because of this, people like Suelo (and others I've profiled in my Extreme Personal Finance series) can do what they do. I wouldn't call them freeloaders (as some have done); instead, I'd argue they're exploiting holes in our consumerist culture.
To that end, I think what they're doing is great. Their lifestyle isn't for me, and their vision of an ideal world isn't for me, but reality of what they're doing in this world is fascinating, and much more interesting to me than, say, the life of Donald Trump.
For further discussions of Suelo's choices, check out:
- Reddit: Modern-day caveman lives on zero dollars a day
- Huffington Post: The man who survives without money
- Guardian UK: Free spirit or freeloader?
Finally, Google Video has a low-resolution 15-minute film about Suelo called Moneyless in Moab.
Could you live a life without money? Does the idea appeal to you in any way? Do you find stories like Suelo's inspiring? Repugnant? Or something in between?