Living Below the Line: Days 3 & 4 Sustaining and living with less

Writer Laura Sesana and her husband have one more day of the Live Below the Line Challenge

WASHINGTON, MAY 11, 2012 – The challenge has begun to take a toll on us.  Our food supply is dwindling, but should last us one more day.  We are down to 3 eggs, a few slices of bread, 2 American sandwich “slices,” and one cup of lentils.  

The constant hunger, lack of variety, and lack of anything sweet- shopping mistake number 28- has made me start to think about self-sustainability. 

If you really had little or no money, could you even survive, much less thrive?  After my experience, my immediate answer would be no, but in fact there are many people who live without money or with little money who are very happy with their choice. 

The Extremes

I found a number of people who had taken up a no-money lifestyle.  The first person I came across was Heidemarie Schwermer, a 69-year old German woman who has lived without money for the past 16 years.  Schwermer is the subject of a 52-minute documentary film by Line Halvorsen, Living Without Money, released in 2010.  A former teacher and psychotherapist with two grown daughters, Schwermer admits that her drastic change in lifestyle was not warmly received by many of her family and friends.  At first. 

Schwermer’s journey started in 1994 after she divorced and opened a small swap shop (Tauschring) where people could exchange goods and services for goods and services that they needed.  The shop did not use money in any way, only barter.  Two years later, she quit her job, got rid of all of her possessions excluding what she could fit into a small suitcase and backpack, and set off to live without money for one year.  

She loved the experience so much that she has continued to live this way for the last 16 years.  She has written three books on her adventures and philosophy.

Schwermer does housework, gardening, and physical therapy sessions for various members of the Tauschring in exchange for food, a place to stay, and anything else she needs. 

She has an emergency fund of € 200 and does not have health insurance.  “Money distracts us from what’s important,” says Schwermer , “The way things are today, it just doesn’t work.” 

Mark Boyle, stopped using money in 2008.  Like Schwermer, what was initially a 12-month experiment has turned into a way of life.  Boyle lives in a camper he got on Freecycle and volunteers at an organic farm. 

He grows all his food, makes his own laundry detergent by boiling nuts, and uses cuttlefish bones mixed with fennel seeds for toothpaste. 

Daniel Suleo is the subject of the book, The Man Who Quit Money.  Suelo, who studied anthropology at the University of Colorado, says he always felt uneasy living with and working for money.  According to Suelo, the need for acquisition finally made him clinically depressed. 

In the fall of 2000, Suelo decided to go without money or “conscious barter.” He does not use government programs like food stamps, welfare of Medicare.  He lives in a cave near Moab, Utah on public lands and house sits for people in the winter.  Suelo tries to live off nature, eating grasshoppers, raccoons, squirrels, and drinking juniper tea.  He has eaten road kill and gone dumpster diving when he needed to.  He has chronicled his experiences on his website Moneyless World, since 2006. 

However, these three people and the many others who “go without currency” made a conscious choice to do so.  They are all college graduates and live in countries with strong social support systems.  They had the opportunity to grow up with adequate nutrition, education, and healthcare.  They also could change their minds at any time.

Many critics claim these people are not helping anybody by making the moneyless choice.    For the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty, this is not an experiment or a choice.   Some of their detractors argue that people who advocate living without money live off of people who do have money. 

It can be argued that these experiences and “lifestyles” have nothing to do with a five-year old going to bed hungry every night.  Their lifestyle is kind of what I did this week- on steroids.  Like me, at any moment these people can stop, get a job, and live above the poverty line.  Their book deals alone should give them a comfortable income. 

Sustainable Living

Some comments to earlier posts discussed how many people try to spend as little money on food and energy as possible.  From buying locally to growing a few herbs and veggies in pots on our decks to installing a solar panel, we can all do something little that may go a long way.

Even though “sustainable living” is a term mostly used to describe a lifestyle that focuses on reducing one’s own carbon footprint and strain on natural resources, sustainable living can also mean spending a lot less money on food, energy, and transportation costs while being kinder to our environment and helping our local economies.  

Buying locally grown fruits and vegetables and locally raised meats is a good way to start.  Buying local goes hand in hand with buying seasonally.  Small local farms tend to use more sustainable growing methods than do large industrial farms or feedlots.  Purchasing your fresh produce and meats from local farms reduces the carbon offsets used to transport these foods over long distances and supports local economies.  Outside of the trendy farmer’s markets, their prices are very competitive.  Two great resources for finding farms in your area, buying milk shares, or participating in a vegetable co-op can be found at Eat Wild Virginia and Eat Wild Maryland.   

Urban farming is something we tried last year on a very small scale.  We grew tomatoes and peppers on our deck and were very successful.  We used four self-watering vegetable planters that we got at our local hardware store.  I grew the tomatoes from seeds that I sowed in the winter on my windowsill.  We didn’t weigh our crop, but it was big and beautiful.  There are also some cool carrot planters that retail for $9.99 for 2 planters and fit in any small outdoor space.  We also grow our own herbs every year.   

For people who are hesitant about growing something in a confined space, there are tons of very inexpensive, simple options for apartment-dwellers with a very small outdoor area.  If you absolutely have no space, there are plots available in DC’s many community gardens that are available to rent for a yearly fee of around $30.  There is almost nothing that won’t grow in DC during the summer with some determination and the right tools.  There is even a guy in Georgetown who raises honeybees and occasionally sells his product at the farmer’s market.  DC Honeybees will help you get started with a hive on your roof, deck, or yard. 

Transportation is another huge expense that all of us could make an effort to reduce.  DC has a pretty comprehensive public transportation system that we could all ride a little more and use our cars a little less. 

Riding a bicycle in a city like DC is the best, and if you’ve been riding for a while you might say its the only, way to get around.  Let me just preface this by saying that I had not been on a bike in 20 years.  My husband first brought up the idea when we were dating and I was initially steadfastly against it.  It took him two years, but I finally got a bike and got on the road.   I was hesitant at first, as every new rider should be, but now my bike has become my favorite mode of transportation, even in the winter.  I have had my bike for 14 months now and I hate to admit it but at this point I’d rather give up my car than my bike.

I could write about how much I love my bike and how DC is the best city for biking for pages and pages, but that is a story for a future piece.  Let me just say that I fill up my gas tank once a month, if that.  I used to fill up about three times as much.  I have saved over $1200 in gas alone (not including hundreds in parking, parking tickets, etc.) in the year that I’ve had my bike. 

Solar panels are easy to install and tax deductible if used in solar-electric systems, solar water heating systems, and fuel cells.  You can also get tax deductions for small wind-energy systems and geothermal heat pumps.

And then there’s…luxury 

While researching living without money, I came across an article that I found intriguing.  The article claimed that there are many ways that people can live on little or no income, without living off the government or in squalor. 

The author’s suggested that you could actually live in luxury.

For shelter, for example, he suggests house sitting for people over the summer. 

On the off season, the author recommends you take a caretaking position at a resort or volunteer to take care of a rich person’s vacation home.  For a free travel, the author suggests you drive a car cross-country for someone relocating. 

Air currier jobs to Europe and Asia include a round-trip ticket to deliver a package.  Even though that sounds a bit scary- it could work, right? 

Finally, he suggests that if you are in a foreign country and you are fluent in the language, you can volunteer to translate a menu at a restaurant for food or translate hotel signs in exchange for a free place to stay.  

While it all sounds a bit strange, it also sounds like it can kind of be done.

There are many ways that we can help fight poverty in our area.  But if donating and volunteering isn’t your thing, there’s a lot you can do to change yourself and promote change in others.  There are also small changes in attitude and in the way we do things that can have a cumulative impact on global hunger and poverty. 

Small actions like installing a solar water heater on your roof or buying your milk from a local farm can make a difference if everyone gets involved. 


Support Laura in her quest to raise $1,000 for UNICEF as they take the Live Below the Line Challenge. Visit to make a donation. 

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.


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