How to Live on Practically Nothing

How to Live on Practically Nothing

Living on practically nothing is achievable and depending on the attitude with which you approach it, living without much can be a liberating rather than a depriving experience. For those who are forced to downsize severely, for those who travel often for work or life, and for those who just want less to be their more no matter how much they already have, this article will show you ways in which you can achieve a lifestyle of sufficiency with practically nothing.


  1. Get the right mindset. Living on practically nothing successfullyinvolves having the right mindset – resent doing it, and you’ll end up blowing what little cash you do have on treats to cheer yourself up for “missing out on so much”. Embrace it, and you’ll be doing what many millionaires have known for decades – economizing as a way of living happily, fruitfully, and without shame. Millionaire thinking, as researched by Thomas J Stanley and William Danko, shows that living well below your financial means, investing smartly (such as buying reliable rather than flashy, expensive things), and staying financially independent (rather than showing off the wealth you do have) is the way to remain grounded and secure throughout your life.
    • See living on practically nothing as an opportunity, or even an adventure. Even if you don’t end up liking it, the chances are that you can use this time to accumulate wealth that can see you living more easily in the future.
    • Cultivate simplicity as a way of being.
    • Wealth is a state of mind – “true wealth is the feeling of having enough—whether that’s money, fulfillment, family, or love—and being grateful for all you have.”
    • Take responsibility for your downshifting. Even if the situation is thrust upon you rather than being by choice, it’ll be far easier on you and those around you if you pursue your downshifting without complaining and actively look for ways to improve your living circumstances rather than waiting to be “bailed out”.
  2. Find your home. It is possible to live somewhere that isn’t an encumbrance on your life and that is either low cost, free, or in some cases even comes with a small stipend. Look for housesitting opportunities to begin with. These vary from seasonal (beach houses, ski cabins, or homes where the residents are going away for a few weeks, months, or even years and need the house cared for), to permanent positions where you are essentially a “caretaker” of such places as hostels, retirement homes, lighthouses, organic farms, ranches, motels, campgrounds, etc. There are also opportunities to care for the second, third, and fourth houses of the wealthy when they’re not residing in them. Living on practically nothing doesn’t necessarily mean living without responsibilities if you’re looking for a comfortable and fairly extended length of stay in a place, and obviously if you want to be a caretaker you’ll need an established track record, possibly training in hospitality, and good references but do persevere as this can be an incredibly good way to live cheaply.
    • If you get a role as a caretaker, expect to do such tasks as taking tourists around, caring for animals and gardens, property maintenance, ensuring security measures are in place, cleaning pools, etc. Note that this is one role where “reverse age discrimination” is rife, as property owners want mature and reliable people over a certain age.
    • If you choose to live in your own home (either rented or mortgaged), choose a home of modest means over a large home. There is less to maintain, less to clean, and less space to fill up with stuff.
    • Consider not staying “home”. Get out and see the world. Whatever your age, you can help others in your own country or overseas. If you’re willing to join up to volunteer organizations in such areas as health, reconstruction, conservation, sanitation, providing food and shelter, etc., you’ll find a steady stream of free accommodation and food in return for your volunteering. In most cases it’s not likely that you’ll get paid much, if anything at all, but the reward of free shelter, food, and doing good for humanity can be worth far more than a wage. If you have children, this option is harder to accommodate but some families still give it a go by checking out in advance that there is good schooling and decent living standards available; an experience like this can shape kids dramatically for the better, so don’t dismiss it outright.
    • One other, fairly drastic, change is to move to a country where your savings go a really long way. Search online for expatriate resources for global relocation; there are enough people doing this to warrant a small industry catering to them!
    • Finally, but not unrealistically for some, consider living completely “off-the-grid” by living in the wild, off your wits, somewhere with plenty of natural resources. Do a lot of research on how to make this work and have cash reserves to help tide you over when things go wrong.
  3. Sort your stuff. If you’ve got too much stuff already, do a declutter. If you’re forced to downsize due to a job loss or because you’re moving, this can be a time of great resentment, so be careful about your emotional state. Try to see this as a great opportunity to rediscover the things that do matter and to rid yourself of anything that weighs you down. For those of you making a choice to live on practically nothing, this exercise probably won’t be so emotionally challenging, as it’s likely you’ve already been saying your mental goodbyes to too many possessions and now all you need to do is act and shift it all out. If you don’t have any stuff, then you’re ready to skip this step and move to the next one.
    • See what you can sell rather than throwing it away. If you don’t have the time or fortitude to sell it online, try an auction house. An easier way to sell online than listing individual items is to bulk sell – while you’ll get less than if you took the time to sell items individually, you will at least recoup a decent amount for your unwanted or crowded possessions.
    • Take all items you no longer want to your local item collection charity or give them to a friend who does not share your situation. Or perhaps just leave them in a place that you know you can come back to, or leave them by the side of the road with a sign marked, “Free” / “Take at Will.”
  4. Follow a budget and be frugal. If you’re already following a budget, check that it’s working for you. If not, set aside the sense that a budget is a confining way to live. Following a budget is actually a very liberating way to live – it provides parameters, it helps to keep you in check when you feel reckless, and it can even help you to rein in bad habits such as spending to soothe yourself, buying take out instead of cooking a healthy meal, or letting someone else weed your veggie patch when the workout would do you good (and save you gym fees). And it’s great to be able to blame the budget when you don’t want to go out with those tiresome socialites ever again – “Aw, we’d love to, but the budget won’t stretch to that sorry!”
  5. Give up your car. There is plenty of public transportation available to get you to your destination and it’s cheaper to take the occasional taxi for emergencies than it is to own and maintain a car. Try walking and cycling as much as possible (you’ll keep fit) and get all the timetables for your local train, bus, subway, or ferries so that you know when to catch your ride.
  6. Choose your spouse wisely. Breaking up households is costly and there is a noted tendency even for many millionaires to be part of unbroken, long-term relationships. Unless you’re a confirmed single-for-life, if you don’t want to be arguing about spending habits and living on practically nothing, be sure he or she is the one before popping the question or moving in together. Choose a sensible and thrift-conscious partner from the start; things to look for in your life partner include:
    • Loves to budget and has a good sense of money. Doesn’t throw money around recklessly or expect you to either.
    • Offers to split the bill because he or she knows it’s the fair thing to do.
    • Loves your sense of wanting to housesit or rent to save money and thinks that living on practically nothing is a joyful way to celebrate life.
    • Loves you, loves life, loves people, and animals. Not possessions.
  7. Keep yourself well clothed. Whatever your financial status, presenting well to the world still matters and these days, looking good is an inexpensive option. Thrift stores are great resources for affordable, quality clothes. Long gone are the days when visiting a thrift store was looked down on; now it’s considered hip and with a bit of savvy sorting, you can find yourself some great threads for little cost.
  8. Find ways to make more money or to trade your skills. If you don’t have or don’t want to have a job, be on the lookout for ways in which you can raise more cash by working for yourself. Or, trade your skills with others whose skills you need, bartering your way to get what you need rather than spending actual cash.
    • Grow vegetables and sell them at the local farmer’s market.
    • Make soap, cosmetics, jewelery, etc., and sell these at a local craft market.
    • Offer your pruning, mowing, tutoring, cleaning, car-washing services to locals at decent prices.
    • Look for items in thrift stores that you can flip online. Some people are so good at doing this that they make a living out of selling secondhand goods online.
  9. Eat seasonally. Seasonal food will always be cheaper than food flown or shipped in from elsewhere because there is more of it available and it doesn’t incur such high transportation costs. As an added bonus, it’s also fresher.
    • Visit farmer’s markets and supermarkets nearer closing time. You’ll be able to find more bargains and even throwaway items when the sellers need to move their produce on. In supermarkets, check out the bakery, meat, and fruit and vegetable areas for nightly bargains. Many fresh pre-packaged products such as salads-to-go will be cheaper in the nights to make way for the next day’s fresh produce.
    • Grow your own if you have a permanent place for at least a season. Even using a community garden can be a great way to get fresh, cheap food and to meet new friends.
  10. Don’t shop for groceries every week. Instead, only go shopping when your groceries have run right down to bare minimum. Replenish perishables such as milk and bread as needed but try to cope by eating down everything already in your cupboard, fridge, and home.
    • Another way to do this is to not go shopping one week a month. During that week, you have to live off whatever is in your kitchen. Many people find this is a very creative time; add your new recipes to a blog!
    • Use coupons and discounts to reduce food costs.
    • Drink tap water. Water is the healthiest drink and the cheapest. Put a filter on your tap if you’re worried about contaminants; it’s a health investment even on a frugal budget.
  11. Travel for free or next-to-nothing. There are many options for free or cheap travel but naturally, most come some responsibilities. Some of the things to consider include moving yachts around the world for absentee owners, delivering packages by hand as a courier on international flights, traveling as part of the crew on container ships (hard work!), tourist volunteer (hiking trails, tours of historic buildings or ruins, etc.), driving vehicles from one location to another location, volunteer farm serving, exchange trips with groups such as the Rotary Club, and so on.
    • Try couch surfing. This provides an opportunity to stay with people for free anywhere in the world through an online network. Be sure to follow all the safety protocols in place and look for people who have a lot of good referrals, to be on the safe side. While the idea is to meet friends you’ve not yet met, always be cautious when meeting with strangers.
    • Consider Sister City exchanges if your city offers these opportunities.
    • Home swapping can be a good choice if you own or rent a permanent base. There are plenty of opportunities available online; just be sure to do all necessary checks to ensure you’re not inviting a house destroyer into your home!
  12. Stand at the edge of the world, leap into your dreams and plunge freely into your new living-on-practically-nothing life. Just remember, living on practically nothing requires effort, as with most good things in life, so don’t equate it with doing nothing!
    • Whatever your age and reason for downshifting, treat it as an opportunity to create balance in your life, and to connect to family, friends, your spirituality, health, and community.


  • Even if you do have a long-term place to stay, it may come in handy later to have all your belongings in luggage, ready to go.
  • If you have an RV (not really something for a person living on next-to-nothing though), you can obtain work as you travel through Workampers. The seasonal work will pay minimum wage to help out at festivals, fairs, entertainment events, etc.
  • Spend time reading on living on nothing. There are plenty of books and online resources suggesting myriad ways to live on practically nothing. Many of them are focused on financial freedom and independence from the consumer lifestyle. The more you read about other people’s experiences, the pitfalls and the suggestions, the better you’ll be able to tailor your personal preferences and situation. Check out books in your local library or go online and have a look for such searches as “living on practically nothing”, “financial independence”, “frugal living”, “thrifty living”, “living for free”, etc.
  • Look for free and low cost entertainment. There are so many possibilities that even working out what to do is an exercise in itself. Consider such things as free concerts, walking in the city or on local trails, riding your bike, visiting the museum or library, attending free sales and similar training events where they offer free refreshments and learning, ferry rides, local train trips to parts of the city you’ve never visited, open days or local resident days that offer discounted entries to places, sports such as running, swimming, tennis, etc. (you can find gear in the thrift store), helping out in a community garden, making recycled crafts, listening to bands practicing or watching performers rehearsing (for example, the Cirque du Soleil has practice sessions children can watch free of charge in Montreal), etc. Think laterally and turn ordinary events into entertaining ones.


  • Be careful about being taken advantage of when seeking to do things for free or next-to-nothing in return for free accommodation and food. For example, caretakers have reported being treated as servants expected to do everything rather than to do a reasonable amount of work in return for the free lifestyle. Be careful and be prepared to leave if the situation you’re in is disadvantaging you; there are plenty other good opportunities available.
  • Working for free and living freely doesn’t come with health insurance most of the time. Keep your health needs in mind; stay healthy by eating well and exercising frequently but don’t put all of your eggs in one basket; make sure that you also have health care options sorted if something goes wrong.

Things You’ll Need

  • Internet access
  • Local library
  • Resources to help you downsize or declutter

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