For 5 years, Jo has not earned or spent any money. This is how she does it.

What Jo misses most about earning money, is being able to give coins to people busking in the street.

She doesn’t even have 20 cents to her name. But if she did, she sure would give it to the girl with her guitar, busking in the streets of her local town of Lismore, in northeastern New South Wales.

For five years now, Jo has not earned or spent a single cent. She refuses to participate in our cash economy.

“I don’t have any money that I use. I don’t have a bank account. I don’t get paid for anything,” she tells Mamamia.

Instead, the 51-year-old lives a “great life of giving and receiving and sharing”.

money free life
Jo has not earned or spent any money in five years. Image: Supplied/Jo Low Impact.

In 2014, Jo quit her job working as a community development worker at her local neighbourhood centre.

"I decided I wanted to change the way I lived, and reduce my impacts on the planet. I'd been becoming more aware of all of the negative impacts that I was having whenever I bought something," she said.

Her unique and joyful journey towards anti-materialism started when she began to educate herself on the damage caused by the production of the goods she was purchasing, including the conditions of workers in developing countries and the impact on ecosystems.

"I learnt too much. And I couldn't switch off anymore."

So, Jo decided to pursue a moneyless existence, and spent 10 months planning exactly how that would work. The first two necessities to sort were, of course, food and shelter.

She visited a couple of her friends who lived nearby, to tell them about her experiment.

Jo recalls asking them: "You have three young boys to look after and a massive property with veggie gardens. Do you need a hand? Can I come and live here and help you guys out?


"They just immediately jumped at the chance," she remembers. And for the next three and a half years, Jo lived in different people's backyards, offering her services such as housework and childcare, in exchange for shelter.

As for food, Jo grows all of her own food in vegetable gardens, and has chickens so she can eat eggs. She includes rice and oats in her diet as well.

"I said to people who wanted to buy me gifts for my birthday or for Christmas, 'Could you please get me a five kilo bag of rice or a five kilo bag of oats?'" Jo laughs.

"I also asked people for old tea bags that they didn't want, that were in the back of their cupboards that were gathering dust."

Jo even asked her friends if they could give her their 'empty' toothpaste tubes.

"I was able to extract the tiniest bit of toothpaste. You really only need a tiny bit of toothpaste," she adds.

So what about toilet paper? She uses serviettes, given to her by friends and families, who collect the serviettes that come with takeaway coffees and meals from cafes and restaurants.

Essentially, anything you can think of, Jo has an answer for how she survives either with or without it.

"One of the things I love about living without money is that you get to be really creative and adventurous about how you meet your needs. It's really good for me," she said.


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At the end of 2016, Jo's friend, Sharon, lost her husband suddenly.


"I was the only person who had time to be there 24/7. So I just moved in and looked after her and her kids for the first few months."

Sharon decided Jo living with her worked well, and after she bought a new house, she invited Jo to live with her permanently. In fact, Jo's 24-year-old daughter, Amy, lives with them now too, along with her husband, and their one-year-old daughter.

"I cook and clean and do all the stuff around the house, and grow food and flowers. Sharon goes to work and she comes home and she gets to have a clean house and clean clothes and food cooked for her."

But Jo tries to bring food to the home as well, if she can, by volunteering at their local community garden. She also occasionally asks her friends on Facebook if she can have any food they are throwing out.

For a phone, Jo uses Sharon's landline, but clarifies that people only call her, so that it is no extra cost to Sharon.

As for internet, she does occasionally use Sharon's Wi-Fi, but adds that this too is at no extra cost to Sharon, because she pays a flat rate each month.

"Since I've been living here, we've managed to decrease Sharon's food bill and electricity bill considerably. And so while I am relying more on resources that she's paying for, I'm at the same time actually saving her money."

money free life
Jo and Sharon. Image: Supplied/Jo Low Impact.

Jo says, though, that the biggest challenge of her moneyless existence has been her own self-talk.

"When I started living without money, in my mind I was second guessing myself. I felt guilty, because it felt like I was on holiday and everyone else around me was so busy. I was telling myself, 'You're just bludging off other people.'

"I talked to people about it, and they would say, 'Well, you're not bludging, you're actually just contributing in a different way."


In April, Jo marked five years of living completely cashless.

Whilst she admits this lifestyle may not not realistic for everyone, she says there are parts of her eco-friendly life that can be easily implemented by anyone.

"Reuse, reduce, repurpose," she says.

"We never buy anything new unless we really have to. We always try and access second hand. We go online a lot and trade and swap and share with people in our community."

Now that Jo has succeeded at her experiment to live a moneyless existence, she has a new project, Montague House 2023, where Sharon and Jo aim to live a fossil fuel free life by 2023. It is named after Sharon's late husband.

money free life
Jo (left) and Sharon (right). Image: Supplied/Jo Low Impact.

"This is a regular suburban household. And we want to experiment how possible it is for a regular suburban household to get off fossil fuels, because we believe that we all need to get off fossil fuels to save humanity," she said.

"We probably won't have Internet in our household anymore, because the Internet uses fossil fuels.

"We're pretty sure we won't get to 100 per cent. But that is our aim, to try to be as close to 100 per cent fossil fuel free as possible by 2023."

Indeed, it's an ambitious goal. But so too was her idea – back in 2014 – to live a life exempt of money.

"Life since then has become a lot more about sharing and cooperating and a lot less stressful."

You can follow Jo's experience on her blog, Jo Low Impact. You can also follow her journey to live a fossil fuel free life by 2023 here. 

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