How One Man in British Columbia Lives Happily on Almost $0 a Day

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Wealthsimple is a whole new kind of investing service. This is the latest installment of our recurring series “Money Diaries,” where we ask interesting people to open up about the role money has played in their lives.

It’s not as if one day I just gave away all my stuff. My wife and I were living in Vancouver with two kids and a bunch of crap because you can’t have nice stuff when you have kids. I worked at IKEA. It was just a warehouse job, but it paid pretty well back then. This was in the late ’90s. We were married for 13 years. When we got divorced, I moved into an apartment and got a nice stereo and a bed. Good, functional stuff. I was upset about the divorce, and I missed my kids, and I hated my job. Having nice stuff made up for it, a little.

There was never a single time when I regretted giving something away. I ended up giving away more and more until I was sleeping on a futon.

Not long after we broke up, I was robbed. My stereo was stolen, and my bike. That was probably a turning point. I moved into a smaller apartment a few blocks from my kids. It was a hard time, but it came with a lot of freedom. I thought a lot about how I wanted to live the rest of my life. I quit my job and started working at a bookstore. That was a huge pay cut. I sold my car and used that money to take my kids on a trip to England, where I’m from. I bought another bike and used that to get to work. All my money went to rent and child support, and whatever was left I used for food.

I had some basic furniture for a while, stuff made out of driftwood and logs. Gradually I started getting rid of things. Clothes, that nice bed. I realized there was never a single time when I regretted giving something away. I ended up giving away more and more until I was sleeping on a futon in an otherwise-empty apartment.

I’m 55 now. My kids are grown up and living in Montreal. I live on an island off the coast of Vancouver—one of the Southern Gulf Islands. I own a few pairs of socks, a few pairs of underwear. Some disposable razors, a toothbrush and floss, shampoo and conditioner because I like to stay clean. That’s about it. Oh, and books. About 15 of them. It all goes in a backpack and a bag. If I have more stuff than that, I give something away.

There’s a massive sense of community on this island. The population is 1,000; everyone knows everyone. You can bump along the bottom pretty easily and still pay the bills. I’m unemployed now, but I take care of people’s houses and pets when they’re out of town. Sometimes I don’t get paid; they just stock the fridge and feed me. I’ve lived in six or seven places on the island. I like to see different things, different faces. It’s important to me that I can pack up and move whenever I want.

I spend about $200 a month on rent, and about the same on food. My medical insurance is $40 a month. It should be even lower, but when I asked about it, they said I had to show that I spend more money than I make. I said, “What sane person would spend like that?” But we live in a credit economy, I guess. I don’t really save money; I just try to have enough to get by.

I do like laptops because I like the Internet. When I’m around a laptop, I spend a lot of time on it. All I do is read about politics. I have very strong political views. Very much to the left. I studied international politics at university, and I’m transfixed by what’s happening in America right now. Trump reminds me of Reagan. How has a socialist like Bernie Sanders gotten so far? I can go down a rabbit hole with the Internet, which is why I don’t have a laptop.

I’m not some kind of deeply spiritual person. But working for money day after day—it’s hard to see the point. Being reachable by anyone at any time is my idea of hell, which is why I’ll never have a mobile phone. People have tried to give me cars, but I just don’t want to have to think about things like batteries and maintenance. It feels like a waste of time.

That’s what my lifestyle is about, really: If you can manage it, it’s a lot easier to not have money, not have things.

I wish I could say I did more with my time. I take a lot of walks in the forest and on the beach. I read. I volunteer at a food program for elderly and poor, like a soup kitchen. And I’m on the recycling committee. On my deathbed, I’d like to say I made the world a better place. I’m not sure if I’m there yet.

As told to Amanda Shapiro exclusively for Wealthsimple. We make smart investing simple and affordable.

Wealthsimple uses technology and smart, friendly humans to help you grow and manage your money. Invest, save, trade, and even do your taxes in a better, simpler way.

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