How to get by with as little money as possible

Originally published on (site no longer exists)

One of the most common questions we get is: “But how do I survive without a job? You have plenty of philosophy, inspiring quotes and theory on this site, and I know that my attitude is important, but I’d also like to hear stories from others about how they’ve done it and see a list of practical ideas I can use in figuring out a way for me to free myself from wage slavery.”

So, by popular demand, here are many ideas for living a job-free life yet meeting your needs for food, shelter, etc. These are culled from a brainstorm session that took place on our e-mail discussion list and from suggestions sent to us by supporters all over the world, though the names of the contributors have been deleted. It should be noted that these are all ideas, not necessarily recommendations. It is up to you to make your own choices; we provide this list in the hopes that it will stimulate thought about alternatives to the traditional nine-to-five grind.


For the most part, when someone asks me [how I did it and how they might life live a job-free life] (and they do), I try to find out first just where they are in their life. In other words, what style of living are they used to and just how basically they are willing to live. However, since I can’t get that info from the person asking in this case, I’ll just venture one suggestion. Something that I have done in the past.

When I went out to live in California in my early twenties, I shared (sharing cuts down on the cost of living expenses) a small, relatively inexpensive, mostly unfurnished apartment with a friend. The only furniture we had was a mattress for the bedroom floor (where I slept), a convertible couch in the living room (where she slept), a coffee table (which we ate off) and one chair. Oh yes, we had a two burner hot plate but one burner didn’t work. We did not have a refrigerator, which didn’t matter much because we didn’t have much money for food to put in it. I signed up with the only temp agency that I knew of at the time (it was my first experience with temp agencies). I made minimum wage but still managed to save 50% of my net income (that’s really basic living) and, therefore, was able to not work 50% of the time.

Some people might think that working for temp agencies is like still having a job but it is so different, as least from my point of view, and affords one so much more freedom and flexibility and, most importantly “control”, that it is as different as day and night. However, it may not be the way to go for someone who is inflexible, insecure or afraid of meeting new people/new challenges on a weekly, sometimes even daily, basis. One thing it isn’t is ‘boring’.


I don’t really think that people asking this question is such a strange thing. It’s prefectly natural to not be able to think for yourself or see any alternatives for living when you have been trained to live and think inside the box all your life the way the majority of us have been.

Here are a few of my suggestions:

**I always suggest to people I talk to about this to get a copy of Charles Long’s book “How to Survive without a Salary”. He’s got some really excellent suggestions in it on how to (as the title says) live without a salary.

**Another great book is by Larry Roth, entitled “Simple Living”. The book is a collection of essays by other simple livers/alternative types, who offer a plethora of GREAT examples of how to beat the system. I got it at the library, but for me, it’s a keeper so I’m probably gonna buy it….used of course.

**Naturally, there is the barter thing (our community has a great barter system set-up). You can also do it just between two people.

**What about joining a food co-op? I am a working member at our local co-op, and I get such a great discount on my groceries!

**What about other co-op ideas: babysitting, book exchanges, tool trades, lawn care, cooking, etc. These can be set up between friends, neighbors, family members….the possibilities are endless.

**Perhaps you have a material product that you can trade with others: horse manure (for local garderners – compost), crafts, jars of jam, books, antiques, baby clothes…

**One of our local churches here in town, has a yearly “give away.” It’s just like a garage sale only everything is free. It is community wide. It has been a tremendous success and everyone does their part and people are so well behaved! Perhaps someone could rally such an event in your community, giving people a chance to clean out stuff plus get some things you need like linens, coats, furniture, etc.

**Learn to cut your own hair

**Don’t have pets – but if you love animals and gotta be around them, hire yourself out to do some pet sitting or dog walking on the side. Maybe some elderly folks would appreciate having someone walk their dog for them if they can’t get out to do it themselves.

**Consider taking up dumpster diving

**Use the library – save on buying books and also a great source for movies and videos and CD’s. You never need visit a theater or video rental store again!

**Learn plant identification and foraging – get your salad the hunter/gatherer way.

**For living arrangements, consider “caretaking” or “house sitting.”

**Take a part time or full time job only for a six month commitment (or whatever time limit you decide) just long enough to earn enough to sock away and live off. This can be invested or what have you. Frugally manage this and live doing what you really love for as long as you can. When you feel the need for some more cash you can take another part time job, temporarily.

**Consider working part time for a charity or relief organization. I have done this and at least it was satisfying in that I knew the work being done was for a good reason!

**Reconsider everything about our culture and American/western lifestyle choices that you have always been taught and believed. Do you really have to have all the things that our culture says are “normal” for civilized people to have in this day and age?

**If you do a craft and there are craft/swap meets in your area, for a minimal fee you can rent a table and make some extra cash that way. I have done this with my little greeting card making hobby. It’s fun and you meet fun people this way!

**Live near a college? Hire yourself to type term papers.

**There are companies that PAY you to read books and scripts. I looked into this once, but it was years ago. I never did it, and now I’ve lost the info. Maybe someone out there knows more about it.

**There are those “home party” companies like Tupperware and Discovery Toys. I have never done these but know a few ladies who did and really seemed to enjoy it. There seemed to be some freedom there.

**Seasonal work – Xmas tree – wreath making, etc.

**Live without a car – work and live near all your needs so you can walk or take a bus or ride a bike.

**Consider sharing a car. There are some people doing this now. There are also some communities forming “car co-ops.” I think Portland, OR has one.

**Do you have a skill or knowlege you could teach? Through our Parks and Rec. Dept. here, one can rent a room at the community center for a minimal charge, then teach a class or classes and charge per person.

**If you live near the Seattle or San Francisco area, and you have a skill or specialized knowlege to impart, I suggest you contact the good folks at Discover U. They are an “off campus, alternative adult education place” (I guess that’s how I would describe them) offering classes on everything like yoga, cooking, soap making, career planning, computer, etc. Perhaps you could teach a few classes through them.

**Become a “Mystery Shopper.” That’s where you contract yourself out to pretend to be shopping at a store/business when really what you’re doing is spying on the sales help, etc. You then report back to the owner as to the quality of service you received. Personally, I hate this idea ( I was mystery shopped once and passed with flying colors, but it really pissed me off. I felt violated and deceived and I was mad at my boss for having done it to me.) Anyway, it’s just an idea. It’s one of those jobs where you have a lot of freedom.

**Form a community – friends, family, neighbors, however works for you. People living in community (and I’m not talking communes necessarily) can share the load and burden of life much easier. Sharing meals, babysitting, rents, maintenance, etc. is lessened when done by all.

My suggestions stem from my personal philosophy which is that the key to this is wanting and needing less so that you need less income. I would suggest to anyone who questions me regarding this that it takes time to learn to live this way. It’s a complete lifestyle change (depending upon how ingrained in the “9-5 till you’re 65” mentality they were) and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes resourcefulness and creativity. It takes thought. It takes doing some research and getting out into the community to find out what all is out there. So patience is highly recommended.


The idea of quitting my job scared me because it’s a SUDDEN cut-off of income. And most alternative sources of income don’t suddenly CUT IN, but trickle in slowly after a “start-up” period of preparation. In other words, the big fear was cash flow.

The only way I solved this was by saving up enough money to live without a job for several months. All the people I know who have managed to escape wage-slavery did so with the aid of cash funds (whether savings, inheritance or financial support from another person, etc).

And while it’s true that you could adopt a minimum-expense lifestyle, transforming your life in such a way will probably take planning, time and effort – and most people with full-time jobs have so little time/energy for such an undertaking. It’s a Catch-22, and I find it very difficult to provide an answer (if I found it easy, I’d probably have no interest in CLAWS).

Which is why my main focus is currently on Social Credit/Citizens Income. With the survival-panic aspect to society gone at last, we could start to see true freedom and opportunity, rather than hollow slogans disguising economic slavery.


Here are a few things I’ve done over the years to keep me free of nine-to-five grind wage slavery. I’m always trying new things; I’m not too attached to any one way. I figure just being creative and looking for opportunities when they come up will provide a wealth of ideas.

The biggest obstacle to freedom from wage slavery for me has been psychological, frankly. Although I was raised in a comfortably middle-class family, and never lacked for food or shelter or clothing, I was inculcated with an enormous sense of anxiety by my family about money. “We can’t afford that” was a common utterance, and over the years this took its toll. No matter how much I had, I always worried that it would run out and I’d be living on the street. I’ve had to work toward “unlearning” all the anxious attitudes I harbored. It wasn’t until I got a foot in the door with this psychological task that I felt prepared to take on figuring out a practical plan to free me from a life of wage slavery. But once I did, I tried many things. Here are just a few:

* I did phone sex from home for awhile – flexible hours, you don’t have to leave the house, or invest in fancy work wardrobes. Of course, it does take a certain kind of personality to do this well, and women seem to make more income this way than men do. Some folks also do similar work from home for those telephone “psychic” lines, I hear.

* One summer, I sold over half my music collection. I made $1000 this way, selling the used CDs at $5-$8, and this turned out to be enough to support me for several months.

* For years I lived with a partner who supported me in exchange for me doing all the cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, etc., for both of us. We drew up an explicit “official” agreement that felt fair to both of us about what was expected, and spelled everything out. Fortunately, my partner enjoyed his job (as a computer game programmer) and didn’t at all feel like a wage slave himself. I, on the other hand, had burned out through many years of waitressing and administrative work, and was tired of being paid $7 an hour to endure incredible amounts of stress and kiss the boss’s ass. Plus, I wanted to write and self-publish a book! So my partner and I made a deal – everything was above board, no deception, no “marry for money” plan, or anything like that.

* I sold my car, which I had received as a gift upon graduation from college; this eliminated insurance, gas, repair, parking and loan costs, not to mention the time taken up sitting in traffic. This lessened the stress and frustration in my life greatly. I use light rail and the city bus for transportation now. The benefit of this is that I don’t have to drive (I hate driving–I have something of a “car phobia”), and I get to read library books on the way to my destination! Can’t beat it.

* I paid off my credit card debt with savings from earlier jobs to free me from interest costs, then cut up the credit card and never got into consumer debt again. How did I reform my spending habits? Well, for one, I always make a point of staying away from stores and shopping malls except when necessary. I often shop online, and even then I do everything I can to keep myself away from the temptation of impulse buys. I ask “do I REALLY need that”? several times before buying anything. I figure, if I don’t SEE it, I won’t be tempted to conclude I need it. If I wear a pair of jeans out, I’ll buy another-but only as a replacement and generally only when the need arises “organically”.

* I invested money in stocks, Treasury bonds, and mutual funds; then lived off the interest.

So far, my approach has involved taking steps, one by one, to cut expenses, live more simply, and thereby reduce my dependence on job income. More recently, though, I have become convinced that the only LONG-TERM way out of the nine-to-five grind for me involves building my own SMALL, low-maintenance, low-cost house in a rural area, learning to live off the power grid (using solar electricity), growing much of my own food, and relying on the power of intentional community for meeting one another’s needs. I don’t think this has to mean “primitive” living; modern appliances and so forth are certainly compatible with such a lifestyle. It does, however, mean paying attention to sustainability issues, and being more frugal and conservation-minded.

Since I’m a writer, I hope to make a modest income, even after I move to a more rural area, by selling my essays and articles; this will, I hope, provide enough cash to take care of property taxes and so forth. I won’t have a mortgage payment or rent, since I will build and live in my own home. As far as health insurance: I live in Oregon, the only state in the USA which has a decent health insurance plan for the low-income folks, so I’m fortunate in that I qualify for it (my income is below the federal poverty line). I intend to KEEP my income below the federal poverty line, too; this is not only a way to avoid working more than necessary, it’s a way to avoid paying income taxes.


See “Confessions of a Bottom Feeder” for a long list of similar suggestions for artists, hippies, and other counterculture types who don’t want “normal” jobs. The essay is written in a charmingly irreverent, anti-yuppie tone. Many of the suggestions made here are quite radical and won’t appeal to everyone. As always, I suggest that you simply take what ideas you find useful and leave the rest

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