Designing Our Alternative Household Economy

We live on less than £6,000 a year. With this we pay our council tax, water rates and telephone/broadband charges. We live the rest of our lives outside the monetary system and here we tell you how.

We quit our well paid corporate jobs in 2008 to find a better way of life. In 2010 we sold everything, except the contents of our backpacks, and set off to travel in order to find our true purpose in life and embrace a new economy of our own making. This is our story of discovery and richly rewarding experiences which delivered us into a new life paradigm. 

I could write an article about how to save money and even have a happier life as a result, but many websites and books already cover this ground. Instead I want to concentrate on how to ditch the monetary economy and adopt a life of abundance and happiness by living in an alternative economy. If you are curious about how to enhance your lifestyle and live for less then here are our top tips.

Recognise the monetary economy, then let it go 

Yolande and I are officially below the poverty line because we earn less than £12,832 per annum. According to Peter Townsend, author of Poverty in the United Kingdom, we are ‘excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities’. We intentionally don’t live by ordinary patterns and actively choose different customs and activities. This is what releases us from the monetary economy and propels us into the alternative.

The monetary economy has evolved to support the needs of money and business. It has a strong hold on us all and has us believe that we need to follow its laws of supply and demand, of producer and consumer, of market need and fulfilment. It is so ingrained in the fabric of everyday life that we often cannot see it for what it is: “I must have that new device because it’s so cool, or my friends all have one.” We become obsessed with being different by being the same. It’s a myth, and we have a choice to recognise it, to let it go and to search for an alternative. It’s hard to accept that almost everything we are taught in life is driven by this economic model and it’s even harder to build a new world view, but doing this is an interesting and rewarding journey of discovery.

A balanced economy is important

Mr Mickawber, a fictional character in David Copperfield, once said, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six pence, result misery.” 

When I spent more than I earned I felt under pressure to constrain parts of my life to bring about savings. Now that I have a surplus of money and time I feel a sense of freedom and expansion of my horizons. I can make many choices about how I will use my excess. 

The point is, it doesn’t matter what your level of income is if your expenditure matches it. When I left my corporate job I had a balanced economy of sorts but at the six figure level, now I have a balance at less than £3,000, and I am actually happier. The less I live on the more I end up learning about how to make things or how to get what I need from nature. It’s fun!

Re-value your worth (and hourly rate) 

We have a small (three bedroom) B&B cum self sufficiency education centre in rural Herefordshire and we let our rooms for pretty much the lowest price in the area but offer the highest quality of stay, using the most comfortable beds, real down and feather pillows and duvets and sparkling clean rooms and bathrooms. We find that many people prefer to go elsewhere because our B&B “cannot be that good if the price is so low”! The point is, however, that we live in a different economic paradigm where our needs for a satisfying and happy life are so low that we don’t need a large income to support it. We like having guests who want to embrace our lifestyle and feel at home in an alternative home economy. So whilst the living wage is £7.85 per hour we don’t think about an hourly rate but instead value things by how much we need to live and to enjoy life. So working for no monetary gain is liberating and we get a real kick out of it.

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Less is more 

When we travelled the world in 2010 we progressively reduced our costs. We started out on proper tourist buses but progressed to rickety old buses, We stayed in recommended hotels but then moved to the cheapest places, first eating in restaurants, then switching to street food. As we travelled at lower cost we found that we were thrust into the river of real local life. We started to experience things the way the local people did and therefore we got a sense of how their lives are, and experienced their hospitality and character. Now when we travel, we always look for the cheapest option and are richly rewarded by the best times of our lives, rubbing shoulders with locals on buses and being helped by people who also share our alternate economy. Had we spent money like tourists we would have missed this experience and would have been unable to travel for so long or so far. 

Whilst travelling in Myanmar in 2015, we met a couple of young girls who were also backpacking and one of them had a small day-pack sized bag and in which she carried everything she needed. It was an inspiration. We also travelled with backpacks but we found that about half of the contents were not being used. Now we have just travelled in India for 10 weeks in hot as well as cold climates with 45 litre backpacks weighing just 7kg! We realised we were carrying stuff ‘just in case’ when actually if we forgot something we could actually buy it locally. The less you own the less maintenance is needed to look after it.

Find it locally

We have a saying that if we cannot walk to get what we need then it’s not local and we should think very carefully about whether we need it. Obviously the majority of our food comes from our garden but we also trade surplus food on the Dean Forest Food Hub and use the income to get something we need from another local supplier. We get all of our inputs for our garden locally and often trade vegetables for horse muck or strawberries for eggs.

Eat seasonally

Apples are seasonal fruits and yet any day of any year in any place in the Western world it is possible to buy an apple! This premis is also true for potatoes, broccoli, peas and many of our foods. Basically all because of the invention of oil and aeroplanes to fly stuff around the world and also because of the monetary economy! The benefit of buying seasonally is that we nourish ourselves with the foods we were evolved to eat and don’t spend a fortune on inflated supermarket produce because eating seasonally and locally shortens the supply line.

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Make it yourself 

One of the best ways to cut costs and enrich your life is to learn how to make things from raw materials. It enhances skills and a sense of connection with basic life and it allows for creativity to flourish. We make everything from scratch including our own bread, teas, spice mixes, cider, preserves, shampoo, toothpaste, liquid soap etc. It’s great fun finding out how, and rewarding to see the finished product and of course we choose all the good things that go in. YouTube is a great resource and I used it to learn how to lay a hedge and repair a dry stone wall. The result drew glowing comments from local hedge layers, which made me feel very good.

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Scavenge/forage

As much as possible we take advantage of nature’s bounty in the woods and hedgerows around our house. In spring, we gather wild garlic and nettles and make the tastiest and most nutritious soup. In summer, we harvest fruits like wild strawberries and cherries from a local wood. In autumn, we pick wild fruits like blackberries and damsons. We also visit neighbours and offer to pick their apples so we can make apple juice and naturally fermented cider.

We collect our own wood for our log fire which is our only source of heat for the house. We have solar panels on our roof which generate more electricity than we consume, so basically we don’t spend any money on energy for our house.

Recycle everything including other peoples’ junk

We are big into recycling, but first of all we try to eliminate the need in the first place. It’s about ‘the less we own the lighter we feel’. Too much stuff weighs us down and needs storage space and cleaning. We make a lot of use of pallets for furniture and garden structures and the waste wood is great for kindling for the fire. Our scavenging includes checking out the contents of local skips and recyclable items left for the council. We found a pressure washer in one skip, and from the contents of my father’s loft, which had remained untouched for decades, I found the materials to make a solar dryer for drying herbs and fruits. Neighbours who know our way of life and values often donate their ‘rubbish’ instead of taking it to the refuse centre. Items have included a wok, old plant pots, seeds and even a rotavator! It’s amazing when we hold an intention how often things just turn up at our doorstep. 

So think minimal, engage in learning new skills, make use of nature’s solutions and your own time and skills and source locally and seasonally to live a balanced, happy life in an alternative economy.

If you are inspired by this article and our lifestyle then check out our website and get in touch to have a ‘Taste of Self Sufficiency’: www.tasteofselfsufficiency.co.uk

Andrew De La Haye and Yolande Watson gave up their corporate careers in 2008 to explore and follow a more sustainable life. After much research and searching they found their spot on Howle Hill, near Ross-on-Wye. Andrew has spent many years in forest restoration and is a volun­teer with the Woodland Trust. Yolande founded the Hedgehog Festival in Ross-on-Wye which celebrates the con­nec­tion between the town and this delightful but endangered animal. Both have a passion for living life fully but with a light impact on the Earth. Together they run their own eco-learning centre and B&B.

Useful links

Check out their previous article in PM91: Open Source Permaculture

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