One man's plan to live a year without spending a cent


Tomorrow is 'Buy Nothing Day', a chance to ease the pressure on your conscience - and your wallet - but will anyone pay a blind bit of notice,? asks Fionola Meredith 

IN TODAY'S BRACING economic climate, there's a renewed interest in the austere pleasures of frugality. Buy Nothing Day is tomorrow, and we are all encouraged to take a "global holiday from consumerism" and have a 24-hour break from any kind of shopping. It certainly has an added resonance this year.

But while it's one thing easing your conscience - and your wallet - with one day of anti-capitalist abstention, it's quite another to go without spending any money for a whole year.

That's exactly what Donegal-born Mark Boyle (29) is planning to do. Starting tomorrow, Boyle, now living in Bristol, plans to "put his potatoes where his mouth is" and become the ultimate "freeconomist", living entirely off the land and the waste products of society. Fuelled by unshakeable idealism - and his conviction that money really is the root of all evil, or at least the root cause of the profligate wastefulness of society - Boyle is determined to complete this seemingly impossible experiment.

"It's the disconnection we have with what we consume that is the primary cause of the wasteful culture we live in today," he says. "If we all had to grow our own food, we wouldn't waste one third of it. If we had to clean our own drinking water, we sure as hell wouldn't s**t in it. We've absolutely no respect for the energy that goes into the things we consume and buy today, so we think nothing of throwing them 'away'."

That's why Boyle has decided "to stop being a hypocrite and start living out what I believe". It's going to be tough: his caravan is heated only by a wood-burner made from an old gas bottle and a few bicycle parts, on which he will also cook his foraged or skip-salvaged meals.

What's more, there will be "no pre-payment of bills, no storing up of food, no using the plug socket in the library". Boyle says he will be completely off-grid, using "transitional tools" such as the laptop and phone only in as much as the sun can power them.

Lighting will be provided by his own home-made beeswax candles and a solar panel on the caravan's roof.

For transport, there's his trusty bike, equipped with waterproof panniers and a trailer, which he will be using to scavenge waste and dead wood for the stove. If he needs to journey further afield, he will avail of the Liftshare scheme - a worldwide initiative where members share car journeys - or, failing that, hitchhike.

"My dream is to cycle home to the northwest of Ireland for Christmas," says Boyle. "Only the sea stands in my way." That ambition could prove to be one of his more difficult challenges - unless he comes across a discarded boat in one of his scavenging expeditions.

While Boyle's set-up sounds rather grim and spartan, the man himself is full of irrepressible enthusiasm, and he's refreshingly free of any kind of hectoring eco-piety. "The wood-burner is placed facing my bed, so I can watch the embers glow as I read a book on those cold winter evenings," he says happily. "This is not about sacrifice. It's about appreciating the beautiful simplicity of life."

As the founder of the alternative "Freeconomy" community - a trust-based, money-free online group, where members share tools and skills instead of paying for them - Boyle is already further along the road of self-sufficiency than most of us. But he's realistic enough to know that there will be many tricky moments ahead.

"I've been preparing a lot over the last couple of months, but the challenge will be the things I can't plan for: a broken arm, exhaustion or - the worst case scenario - a family bereavement. I suspect the most difficult thing will be socialising in a world that revolves around money. I'll be living on a day-to-day basis, hand to mouth, which means I'll never really know where my next meal comes from."

Boyle's plans have already come in for some criticism from those who see the experiment as little more than a self-serving and rather grandiose publicity stunt. Is he the ultimate freeconomist - or the ultimate freeloader? And, if the scheme really is a personal journey of self-sufficiency, why not keep it private?

Boyle acknowledges that he is in a privileged position to be able to attempt the experiment in the first place. He says the reason he is going to document it and talk about it is not to inflate his ego.

He may be a steadfastly sunny optimist, but Mark Boyle is no fool. He knows that his year without cash is an infinitesimally small riposte to the excesses of global capitalism.

"This is not a revolution," he says. "We're not going to get a world without money tomorrow. But even if everyone thinks I have completely lost my mind, at least it may have made them question the role money plays in their own lives." In the meantime, Boyle is cranking up the woodburner, battening down the hatches and settling in for a long, cold, cash-free winter.

Surviving 24 hours ihout splashing out

That daily cappuccino-and-croissant habit is costing you thousands: transform last night's leftovers into a healthy breakfast hash instead.

Forget the bus (or the train) and bike it to work.

Join, the online recycling network, and find treasure in other people's trash.

Invite yourself to a friend's house for lunch - good conversation and home-made food are better than a pre-packed sandwich on the hoof.

Replace your gym session with a refreshing run around the park - and don't forget to keep an eye out for wild mushrooms for supper.

Perk up your hair-do with a free trim at a hairdressing training college.

Browse the latest bestsellers at your local library.

Nothing for dinner? Make like a freegan and have a hoke in a supermarket skip for discarded but perfectly edible ready-meals.

Attend a book launch or art opening - you can fill up on tasty canapés, and there's always plenty of free booze.