Country Living Series

Monday, November 4, 2013

A different answer to the economic downturn

A few weeks ago I read an article entitled Living on $5,000 a year, on purpose: Meet America's 'intentional poor.' It discussed those individuals who saw fit to withdraw from the consumer culture and live on very little money.

The idea of paring down to virtually nothing has, I confess, always fascinated me, even as I handle the day-to-day commitments endemic with a farmstead.


The article quoted Dan Price, who wrote a book entitled Radical Simplicity, which I purchased a few years ago. His ideas are indeed radical, but I can't argue with some of his logic. To quote the article: "I like being able to do what want to do. I don't believe in houses or mortgages. Who in their right mind would spend their lifetime paying for a building they never get to spend time in because they are always working?"

While this is sound logic, I can't agree with one aspect of Mr. Price's lifestyle choice: to live apart from the woman with whom he sired two children, because he couldn't hack civilization. Not good.

But judgment aside, this new crop of "intentionally poor" seem just as idealistic as the intentionally-poor hippies two generations before them. Like the hippies, participants in this movement look for other means to define themselves besides a career or a fancy house or an expensive car.

Yet many can't make it on their own; most are involved in mooching to some degree off others. "We saw how mortgage companies screwed people," says a young fellow who calls himself Banjo. "The economy is a joke. We travel all over, and people help us out." Banjo also admits that he can return to his childhood bedroom. (In other words, his parents help him out.)

I dunno, somehow it seems intellectually dishonest to bolster one's "intentionally poor" lifestyle by mooching. At least Dan Price earns his money, rather than sponging off others.

The distinction between the "intentionally poor" and the truly poor is, clearly, one of choice. "[N]o matter how bad the job market is," notes the article, "there are clear distinctions between those who have the privilege to opt for poverty and those who are poor through no choice of their own.

I suppose there's something to admire about those who decide to live with so little. Even their sponging is, presumably, mooched from volunteers. (My admiration ends when their decision to take public assistance begins.)

Whatever your views on this intentional poverty, one thing is fairly clear: if/when this country experiences a REAL nasty unpleasant downturn, these people will at least have the street-smarts to survive.

31 comments:

  1. The link to the article wasn't working for me, but I think I read that article on a major news site a few weeks back or at least a similar story. While some of the intentional poor have the street smarts to survive, many couldn't do it on there own. Where I live, the largest town near me is a train hub and so there are a fair number of "hobos" I guess you can call them that ride the rails. They are all proud of the lives they live, but they really are moochers. Many are drug addicts and often steal when they come into town and then go to pawn shops and sell stuff to feed their drug habit. They also hit up all the food banks and thrift stores that give out food, and stock up until they get to the next town. They also panhandle by grocery stores looking for a handout. I know the store I worked for recently had to chase off a lot of these people every day because they would often run over to cars and scare people. So with many people like this they wouldn't survive if the world got bad off because they would all be withdrawing from their drugs. I do however respect those who live off the land and are self sufficient, but sadly those are far and few between nowadays.

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  2. Last year, my 1099 was $9400. This year, it will be zero. I have not worked apart from my suburban homestead for 14 months, subsisting on selling material goods as a way to pay my seriously trimmed down five bills, gardening in my 20 raised beds, and selling the occasional jar of jam. My two largest bills, apart from a modest mortgage, are water for the garden and electricity. Both are less than $75. I have almost made it a game, seeing how much I can save. I barter food, do laundry by hand, use craigs list and freecycle extensively, and four years ago cut down a number of trees on my lot for firewood. I have an extensive pantry (2500 jars of food, for example). I love this life very much and wouldn't trade it for anything. I hope to start teaching frugal living skills in the local community.

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    1. in WA state, barter in a business is a taxable income.
      best to be mum about trade/barter income no matter size. It is the way to go. If it is under the table top do not brag about your good fortune

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  3. ....have the street smarts to survive. HUMMM Will they? Even though the mooch from the volunteers now the questions is WILL there be volunteers THEN? It is doubtful, or at least not for long.

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  4. I agree with you that people "helping them out" is the same as mooching, & since they are mooching off others, they are not really "living" on less than $5,000/year, they are just "paying" less than $5,000 /year. I don't see how they can have any self-respect when they are not even supporting themselves. I'm not so sure they will have the street smarts to survive in a real downturn, when the "help" doesn't come thru.

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  5. There are of course other ways to do it with little initial input. A small parcel of land, a shack and some solar panels then build from there working part time if you must. You just have to choose your geographic area wisely.

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  6. But what do these ' intentionally' poor people give back to society? Nothing. They just take. Anon @ 6:50 PM is doing it the right way. A hard life? Yes, but barters for items needed. That means something good is produced by Anon that is wanted by others. Those old hippies from the 60's grew up (?) to be today's politicians - handouts for everyone.
    .

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  7. I kind of fit in that poor category except for the mooching part, now if someone throws out something good I will take it but mooching goes against my whole style. I want to live like the early settlers who helped each other but wouldn't beg for anything. I don't have street sense but instead I will call it dirt sense as there is a definite learning curve on growing food efficiently and not wasting a lot of time and energy. I grew up gardening but when you count on growing for food it is a whole new game and the first thing I would suggest is to build a palisade around the garden to keep everything out.

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    1. Palisade!! Now there ya go!

      I absolutely concur!

      Just Me

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  8. Patrice -
    You are right. Sounds like the same old hippie and Helen & Scott Nearing stuff - but dumbed down.

    For those who may be interested,
    "Possum Living:How to Live Well Without a Job and with (Almost) No Money," written by Dolly Freed in the 1970's when she was 18 and a high school drop out , is the classic living poor survival manual.
    It's a must read.

    Dolly Freed (pen name) believe it or not went on to become a rocket scientist - no kidding. As a mature and responsible adult she has since recanted some of her possum philosophy Give her a Google sometime.
    Everything written about the subject since then pales in comparison.

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    1. I'm gonna take you up on that. On my way to the library right now.

      Just Me

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  9. Many, many folks who ask for food from our church pantry drive new(er) SUVs, smell of tobacco, and are covered with tattoos. Oh, and a good many waddle to the door. I am cynical, but because our Lord told us to feed the poor, and I don't know their particular circumstances, and because a wise man once told me that I don't have to make sure if everyone is telling the truth, I agree to continue to help.
    I'm not as hard-hearted as I sound here; however, I do question how many people are truly needy, and how many just take advantage of churches and big-hearted people.
    Jeff in OK

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    1. Sadly many people are like that, including most of my husband's relatives. Almost every member of his extended family has listings of every food bank in the area and the times they are open and hit up every single one every week, they also apply for free food boxes/clothes at various church thrift stores that do that. Most of them smoke, drink, and spend their free time playing their brand new video games and occasionally go out 4-wheeling, fishing, or camping and they gloat about it everyone, it sickens me. All of these people are perfectly capable of getting jobs, they just decided that the free money is better. My husband asked his aunt one time how they afforded all the candy, ice cream, and pop in their house, and she just laughed and said that we can blow our SNAP benefits on that because we end up with way more food than we could ever eat from the food banks! I helped out at a local church food bank and was sickened by all the people taking the food that I knew didn't need it, but that is the way it goes nowadays, those moochers take away from the food that those people who truly need it should be getting, since most food banks run out of food after an hour and the moochers are waiting in line for several hours to ensure they get their food. It's sad.

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    2. As I read the above comment, and this reply, about what you have witnessed, the word "gluttony" comes to mind to describe the actions of those selfish people who would abuse your compassion and mercy.

      Too bad more people don't realize gluttony is a deadly sin for reason.

      I'm trying hard not to be judgmental.....

      Just Me

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  10. Interesting article!
    I don't know why anyone would intentionally be poor and not be able to care for one self. To me that is very different than choosing to live a simplified life without focusing on material possessions.

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  11. Being a parasite (mooching off the goodwill of others, or worse, living off government largess) is NOT the same as being self sufficient outside of the dollar based mainstream economy. Only a healthy organism (society) can support parasites. Too many parasites and the organism either eliminates them or dies. If the supporting organism dies, so must the parasites.

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  12. Yes, many will have the street-smarts to survive. The will be called 'looters'.

    I'll do my best to help their innocent children, but the fathers-in-name-only will NOT be welcome.
    Montana Guy

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    1. But don't limit it to the father-in-name-only. Plenty of mother-to-collect-a-check are out there too. Those that sound like parrots....my support check, my support check...while they do nothing support themselves or their children. I had to explain that to someone once. Yes, the father is paying to support him child. But that support is for the child, not you. What are you doing to support the child and then yourself.

      Its offensive as a woman, please don't give them a free ticket. Plenty of women work full-time and have children. Its not like they were "made pregnant" by force.

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  13. One issue I have is that the definition of poor is too wide. If one's charity allows the recipient to use their own funds for items and activities that I can not afford, they are not poor and should not be in line for charity. I see from comments above that is what is happening.
    Last month I delivered a backseat worth of groceries to our local foodbank. We often have snow storms that leave people stranded to this small community for several days. I was excited to learn that the food stayed here. I was very dismayed to find out that the person in charge was attempting to feed everyones kids over the weekends and summers. The parents were using their new discretionary income to go to the bar and buy cigarettes, both items he knew about, but said the kids shouldn't pay the price for the bad choices of the parents. I remember a time when not feeding your kids so you could go to the bar would get your kids removed from your worthless home.
    Last week my son was quite moved by a tall, well built and well fed, clean cut man standing across the street from the grocery store, at a stop light with his sign saying he was unemployed and needed $$$. I watched him pull into the parking lot and walk over there, just as I have watched him do previously. His car is newer than my truck. He's a cash only guy. He's fully employed pan handling. If you aren't paying taxes, just how much money does it take to live on?
    This article really stuck a nerve with me. The truly poor aren't parked out front with their new F350 and 6 horse living quarter horse trailer, wishing the doctor would hurry up so they could get to the next high school rodeo while the receptionist is trying to validate the medicaid benefits of the wannabe rodeo queen.
    Some day, there will be a reckoning. I pray for humility for myself and that I can be charitable to those TRULY in need.
    sidetracksusie

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    1. Drives me crazy too....all the do gooders helping all the poor children and have no minimum standards for the parents. The difference is "we all" would do whatever it takes FIRST, "they all" show up at the pantry first.

      Alert! Pay for View TV is not a necessity!!

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  14. Patrice, I'm a disabled vet so I'm on the dole but I have worked really hard to get my living expenses as low as possible. My home mortgage is my biggest cost now but I could get by on about $12 grand a year. I have to say the government scared the crap out of me when they threatened to cut off all SS and VA benefits. I get no other benefits from the government but my disability check and VA hospital for medical.
    I believe it is "divine intervention" I think I found a home business I can do even with my disability. I don't how much longer the economy can keep going but if I could pay off the house early I could live on about $6-8 grand a year with no problem. It takes a lot of effort, time and going without the "normal" stuff. But overall I am having great time learning new skills and becoming more self reliant.

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    1. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don't consider vet benefits "the dole." Military veterans did their time, they served their country, often becoming mentally and/or physically wounded in the process. Benefits are (or should be) part of the package deal.

      - Patrice

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    2. myadventuresinselfreliance, first of all, Thank You for your service. I agree with Patrice, I do not consider your benefits to be part of the "dole". You earned them. I don't mind the fact that my taxes pay for your benefits, you defended my freedom for that. Good luck with your venture with the home business! And I applaud your attempting to cut down your trying to live lean. I doubt that anyone here considers you to be one taking advantage of the system.

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    3. Patrice, While I agree as paid my taxes and sacrificed blood, bone and body. The DC rascals could cut me off at any time it's politically viable. It doesn't matter about fair or that they lied. They will drop us on the "dole" if it will get them votes. One reason I'm so excited about this home business. It has the potential to supply the dollars I need to survive. I doubt I will get rich but I don't need a lot of money to get by day to day.
      Provideing a great product...
      Doing it out of my home that works though I'm disabled and pays my monthly living expenses...
      Sticking my finger in the eye of the PTBs....Priceless!

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    4. You're not on any dole-you paid for what you're getting, and then some.

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  15. We accepted food from the local church at holiday time when our kids had moved back in with us w/a new baby. We used what we needed and shared it w/other kids who weren't living with us. Yes, I was working, but the new additions to household were unplanned. I wasn't as well stocked as I am now. Since then, I donate regularly to our local pantry. IDK how many in our small town are actually taking advantage of the pantry, but I do know the need has increased exponentialy the past couple of years. I also know we have a lot of folks on assistance. Again, IDK how many are there because of choice. I try not to judge. But I was on assistance many yrs ago as a single mother, I used the system to get a college degree and have been paying it back as a taxpayer since. I also try to pay it forward due to that experience. If these "intentionally poor" are on assistance and or "mooching" they are missing the point of trying to live frugally. I've often thought about being able to live without 'working for the man' and intend to read the Dolly Freed book recommended by Granny Miller. I would love to be totally self sufficient like the second Anon speaks of. If you end up doing a blog or website, I'd love to take a look at it!

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    1. But that's the difference. No one minds giving someone a hand up. You have used services with discretion from time to time and quit when you could make things work on your own. There are those who hang on the apron indefinitely....no likes giving a handout to those who don't help themselves.

      And a disclaimer.....I never lump those who are elderly or disabled etc into that category. We are called to assist them, as well as those who find themselves temporarily on the short-end of the money. And we could truly assist these folks more, if we held the "users" more accountable.



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  16. Dear Myadventuresinselfreliance: First off, thank you for your service. I'm truly sorry if it caused your disability, but still tearfully grateful.

    The lobby of every VA Hospital should bear the words of George Washington when he said (I can't remember the exact words right now) "We can't expect future generations to serve as soldiers if they do not see that past generations of soldiers are taken care of."

    I'm with Mrs. Lewis on this...you're so totally NOT "on the dole."

    God Speed.

    Just Me

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  17. Just Me, It was an honor to serve and overall I had a great job that I loved and worked with great people. I'm not whining or looking for sympathy. I do get a little miffed when they try and use people like me to guilt the middle class into paying higher taxes. I paid my taxes both as a civilian and in the military and my disability should be covered and it isn't because congress can never let money go unspent if they need votes.
    Right, wrong or indifferent we all need to deal with reality. I hate the PTBs can hold me hostage via my disability check trusting that average Americans will do the right thing though Congress and the president won't. I refuse to be a hostage and what I'm trying may not work, I will find something to knock that gun pointed at my head out of their hands and hopes the better nature of average Americans will collapse and give in to the PTBs demands.

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  18. An uncle of mine lived for years in a similar fashion, with the exception it was Pay As You Go-he paid his rent on a small cabin by keeping up the property for the owner (and keeping partyers/dope growers/and the like off it). He made a living by doing odd jobs, running a small stall at a flea market, and selling scrap metal(most of that from cleanup jobs). Other than the upkeep of his van, he had no bills. The cabin, a tiny two room hunting cabin, had no power other than the van's added-on auxiliary battery and water came from a well/rain barrel.
    The life suited him-he had what he wanted and needed,and didn't sponge or mooch off anyone-sort of the opposite-many times, he didn't charge for the jobs he did, if he felt the person couldn't afford it (if they were in a genuine financial jam, and just didn't drink/drug/smoke their way out of money). He was ahppy with that life.

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  19. Over the years, many people have made the decision to become a miser. There is a big difference between those who must, and those who want to live that way. Hetty Green died in 1916 a millionaire, but lived in poverty. Money is a funny thing. It can work with you or against you. It is the wrong focus to *constantly* talk about it, whether it is not having enough or bragging how much one has. I have seen both and neither are pretty. For clarification, those who are broke may complain all they want if they are working at their problem (no TMIs please), but braggarts are never in good taste I have better things to talk about. If that is the only thing a person can talk about, they have forgotten, or have never known that , "The love of money is the root of all evil." Money isn't evil. It is the love of it.

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