Getting by without money in Spain

By Philip Brewer on 27 April 2009 6 comments
Photo: vittis m.

The money economy is one of the givens of modern life. For the ordinary person with bills to pay, getting by without money is almost inconceivable. Even someone who tries hard to escape the money economy is faced with taxes, utility bills, and the like. Personally, though, I find the lure of non-money economies seductive. That's why I've been very interested in this Spanish site whose name means "without money."

After I wrote my post Frugality Goes International on the Turkish frugality site, I looked around for other foreign frugality sites. The next one I found was It's different from Wise Bread. Although they are interested in frugality too, their key interest seems to be a bit beyond that--as implied by the name of their site.

I recently interviewed Juan Manuel Sánchez, one of two bloggers for the site, about their site's mission and any tips they might have that might apply outside Spain. Here's what he had to say.

1) The focus of your site seems to be on doing things with no money, rather than simply doing things with less money.  Why is that important?  Do you think an incremental approach is useful, or is "no money" an all-or-nothing proposition?

An incremental approach could be more useful, although it depends on individual needs. I mean... we have users who simply want to save some money (like families who need to adjust budgets), but there're also visitors very committed to the "no money" idea.

We're very focused on the "no money" philosophy, because we don't believe in capitalism (and making money is the main purpose in this system)...but we assume the reality we live in... and money rules people's lives. So... some of our proposals are thoughts on how to do things with less money, but we're not specialized in this area (moreover, there're many sites working in this way).

2) I've written in the past about economies that aren't based on money (gift economies, command economies, barter economies, etc.).  Do any of these match the sort of economic system that you're interested in?  Can you describe, or give a name to, the sort of economic system that matches your vision?

Barter economy, no doubt. In Spanish, we call it "trueque", and it matches perfectly the economic system we're interested in. But we think that it shouldn't be just an anti-crisis product... it should be more than it. "Making money" activity would disappear, and the world would be more concerned in human being's real needs. Anyway, "trueque" is becoming very popular...above all, in the internet... the number of "trueque" sites is growing and growing... very probably because of the crisis (I'm afraid it could be just a new fashion in the net... I hope to be wrong).

3)How do your ideas mesh with Spanish traditions?  Does what you're trying to do amount to a return to old traditional values where you live, or is it something new?

To be honest, we haven't taken into account any Spanish traditional value...we live in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona (unfortunately, we've grown with McDonald's, Burger King, Hollywood movies, etc. etc.) and we haven't known these traditions. What we're trying to do is not really new... you could find many similar experiences throughout the world. But, maybe (at least in Spain), we're the first ones trying to organize and promote all these ideas in the net... in the way we do...

4) Where you are, which of life's needs are toughest to manage with no money?  Housing?  Food?  Clothing?

Very easy to answer: housing. During the last years, Spain has suffered a terrible "real state" bubble. Prices have grown enormously, producing very bad consequences for young people. Moreover, in Spain, buying a property is an old tradition... so, imagine how frustrated are these persons willing to buy a house (but not able to afford the purchase). But there's a way to react to this problem (becoming more popular) : "okupación"...which means entering an empty building and transforming it into a social centre (and a place to live in... with no money).

5) How much does "do it yourself" figure into your ideas of getting by with no money?

How much? I'd say, a lot. "Do it yourself" helps a lot, although it requires having some skills that some people don't have. It requires a lot of discipline, as well... but you know... if you're not very skilled, you can call somebody able to help you, in exchange of something (another service or product). ¡¡Trueque again!!

6) Do you have a favorite idea or two from your blog that might have broad application internationally?

For travelers: Couchsurfing and Hospitalityclub. I think these social networks are being very successful... internationally.

For language learners: all these sites (social networks again) that contact people to exchange languages using skype and similar services. Thanks to all these websites, you don't need to travel to China to learn Chinese... just "bring" a Chinese speaker to your home and talk with him or her.

Thanks Juan!

Anybody else out there interested not just in living frugally, but in taking a shot at getting by without money?  It's something I'm interested in.

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Guest's picture

Very interesting post. Amazing the things you can learn by looking to others . . .

DIY is one of my favorite non-money approaches. More people should consider it.

Guest's picture
Potted Plant

Enjoyable post for the most part, but okupación= occupation= squatting. Using someone else's property without permission is the same thing as using someone's car, computer, financial resources, etc. without permission. Voluntarily removing yourself from a money economy is a noble thing, but that doesn't give you the right to steal. It's better (and more honest) to postpone dropping out of a cash society, save, pool resources with other like-minded people, and buy a communal space. Just taking what you want and/or need because you choose not to participate in the economy is wrong.

Guest's picture

Unlike America, Spain has a social safety net - universal healthcare access etc. If you live without money over there, you would be taking advantage of the people who work and pay taxes that pays for your healthcare. Living without money would only be fair if you didn't use any of the common resources that are paid for with taxes.

There are definitely horrible excesses with capitalism, but if everyone tried to live sin dinero, there would be nothing to fund medical advances and other things that benefit society. It would be like living in the middle ages again. Removing yourself from the money economy really only works if most everybody else stays in so I don't really see anything to feel smug about.

Guest's picture

Yeah, I agree with tfan. Health care is a social issue. Someone has to pick up the pieces and it's really not honorable to force others to cover that if you're able to yourself. I love the sentiment of living off the grid, but it's really not fair in our current situation.

Philip Brewer's picture


I think that's a good point, although I think it's worth dividing the idea of practicality from the idea of fairness.

A lot of modern frugality is only possible because there are so many unfrugal people around us.  When others are buying loads of stuff that they don't need, they inevitably end up having to get rid of the previous loads of stuff they didn't need--simply to make room.  That means that there's lots of useful stuff available cheap or free.  A lot of it will be stuff you don't need, but mixed in there is the occasional necessary item.

If everyone lived a more frugal life, there'd be a lot less of that cheap and free stuff around.

As far as fairness goes, though, I'm inclined to disagree.  Even among the people trying to get by without money, most of them have some contact with the money economy--so they're paying sales taxes and all those fees tacked onto their utility bills.  If they drive they're paying fuel taxes and registration fees.  And even if they don't, they're still paying them indirectly when they chip in for gas when a friend gives them a ride or when they travel on public transit.  If they have any earned income at all they're paying social security taxes and the like.

But even those few people who actually succeed in avoiding the money economy altogether are still contributing.  How else are you getting by through barter and sharing and doing for yourself except by contributing things others need?  Even if everyone lived this way, it could work--with people taking care of friends and neighbors (and doctors bartering their services just like everyone else).

Guest's picture

spain is not the best place to try and live for free. the country has many immigrants from north africa and they only choose to stay there because it is better than their own countries.

I would not advise anyone to go to spain without money to survive on!