The Conserver Lifestyle: Surviving Without a Salary

Who doesn’t want to work less? Most of us would like to devote more time to our loved ones, our hobbies or the causes we’re passionate about. But there’s one thing getting in the way: money.

When I first read about the conserver lifestyle, I was effectively living it already. Even so, it was nice to put a name to it, and I became inspired to take it even further.

What is the conserver lifestyle?

The central idea of the conserver lifestyle is to reduce your expenses to the point where you can cover them with casual income. That means working only when you’re low on cash, then living as cheaply as you can in between to make your earnings last as long as possible. The idea was first introduced by Charles Long in his book ‘How to Survive Without a Salary’.

This lifestyle may not be for everyone; those supporting a family or paying off a mortgage may see it as impossible (though Charles Long seemed to manage it!). Others may not think it’s worth the sacrifices they’d have to make. But I think everyone can take steps to incorporate it into their lives. There’s no need to take it all the way if you don’t want to.

How does the conserver lifestyle work?

A friend and I are hatching a plan to buy a piece of land, put a couple of caravans on it and live off-grid. After the initial expenses, it would be an incredibly cheap way to live! But that dream is a long way off, as neither of us currently earns enough to save anything.

I may be stuck with rent for the time being, but I’m still living the conserver lifestyle to the best of my ability. For me, this means not having a traditional job – instead, I do part-time online work and live as frugally as possible.

For you, it may mean something different; for example, you could minimise your expenses in order to work part-time instead of full-time, giving you the security of a stable income along with extra time for yourself. This doesn’t strictly fit the definition of the conserver lifestyle, but it certainly makes use of the principles.

So how do I follow this lifestyle whilst paying rent? My housemates and I are all on a low budget, so we picked a house based on how cheap the rent was. The wallpaper is peeling, the kitchen is tiny and the decor is straight out of the eighties, but none of that matters. It has little impact on my quality of life, and it’s allowed me to make my money last a lot longer.

There’s a lot you can do when it comes to bills, insurance and the like. I recommend giving yourself a ‘money makeover’, MoneySavingExpert style. The site is so thorough and walks you through countless ways to save on various expenses (note that it’s a UK site). You can also minimise your use of gas, water and electricity – it helps the environment too.

I save a lot by not having a car and walking whenever possible. I also refuse to subscribe to anything; that means no paid entertainment services or gym membership. I don’t see the need – there’s limitless free entertainment online (and offline!), and I keep fit by walking, cycling and doing YouTube yoga videos. My housemates even excuse me from contributing to the licence fee since I never watch TV!

Food is an area where you can make a lot of savings (click here to find out how I do it!). So is clothing, if you buy second-hand and only get what you really need. In fact, that applies to pretty much everything. I use things until they’re completely worn out and always consider whether I truly need something before buying it.

The few bits of technology I have are very old – it seems silly to replace things if they still work. Being on a cheap Pay-As-You-Go plan and using Skype or Facebook where possible means I pay very little for my phone. On my laptop, I use open-source software – I’ve never paid for a program or operating system!

Going out is an expense many people struggle with. I’ve personally never enjoyed going to pubs or clubs, especially as I don’t drink (another great way of saving money, though that isn’t why I do it!). I’m not fussed about eating out either, having grown up in a home where it just wasn’t done. I think it’s best viewed as an occasional treat. When I get together with friends, we usually stay in – we might cook a meal, watch a movie or play a silly game.

Perhaps my most ‘extreme’ quirk is not using toiletries other than toothpaste and soap (really, what more do you need?!). Again, I don’t specifically do this to save money, but it is a fortunate side-effect.

Some people take the conserver lifestyle even further – for instance, they might give up their home Internet connection and use library resources instead. Or they may adopt a completely unconventional lifestyle such as living in a tiny house, camper van, yurt or boat. Visit the YouTube channel Exploring Alternatives for inspiring stories of people who have done this.

Is it worth it?

Some people don’t have the patience for this lifestyle. Not everyone is okay with living on beans and rice, walking three miles to get somewhere or seriously limiting what they buy. Others may fear they would be ostracised if they changed their lifestyles.

For me, it will always be worth it because I have my freedom. If I want to go on long walks every day, spend ages cooking a nice meal from scratch, or hang out with a like-minded friend on a weekday afternoon, then I can. Not that I spend every day doing exactly what I want to do – I work pretty hard – but I have more free time than most.

In fact, I enjoy conserving money; it encourages me to be creative, eat healthily and stay in shape. Living a simple life makes me happy, and finding new ways to save money is fun – and satisfying too, because I know I’ve earned more freedom. It also means I live far more sustainably than I would if I had a typical Western lifestyle.

I think the hardest part is the isolation; if you’re the only one living this way, you may not have anyone to spend your newfound free time with. My friends and boyfriend are usually at work or university during the day, and that means spending a lot of time alone. I’m an introvert, but even I get lonely sometimes.

Depending on your source of income, it can also be a pretty uncertain way to live, and that can be stressful. There are times when I curse my lack of a stable income and wonder whether living this way is foolish. But if I take some time to breathe, meditate or go out in nature, I inevitably calm down and realise I’m going to be fine.

Would you consider living the conserver lifestyle? Perhaps you already do? Leave a comment below!

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. ‘Iā€™m an introvert, but even I get lonely sometimes.’ Sums it up. The things that bring me joy (outdoors, birds, plants, insects, my kids) aren’t exactly what bring others joy. While I’m outside relaxing or taking care of things, they’re out dining, attending concerts, sports games, buying more stuff, etc. I save THOUSANDS of dollars compared to my peers, but it does get people-lonely (never nature-lonely).

    I find it’s owning a house and property that cuts the biggest chunk out of the budget (mortgage, insurance, taxes, upkeep). Oh, to live on the go with few possessions. One day, when the kids move out. šŸ˜€




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