Voluntary Poverty: The class

James Park, 68, says he stopped working at age 27 and has lived cheaply ever since. Really cheaply. He says he hasn’t owed a car since 1968 and spent only $7,907 to live in 2007 and $6,598 in 2008.

I can’t verify those numbers and I’m in the process of asking him more questions. Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for minnecon.smallicon.gifBut since this blog is largely about Minnesotans sharing their economy stories, I wanted to know more about someone who advocates life at the low end of consumption.

It’s not an idle thought in this economy. MPR a few weeks ago hosted a discussion with “No Impact Man” Colin Beavan, a guy who tried to live a year in New York City with zero environmental impact. Voluntarily or not, most of us are doing with less or without in this recession.

Park, a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, teaches a free class on “voluntary poverty” through the Twin Cities Experimental College. Despite the catchy name, he says it’s more about simplifying (the course title used to be about surviving on Social Security income, his revenue source). He writes:

The EXCO class on voluntary poverty grew out of my own life-style choices: Since I have been able to live well on almost no money, I think others can learn from some of my methods. The audience for this class is basically the people in their 20s and 30s.

People who have attended this kind of seminar in the past have shared some interesting ideas for how to earn income and how to save money on everything.

The seminar does not have a specific agenda. People just share whatever comes to mind from their own experiences.

Park says he’ no expert on all aspects of living cheaply. “But I think that we can all share some useful tips for earning money and spending it more wisely.” Here’s his essay on using only $20-$25 worth of electricity a month.

Saving and spending have been major topics on this blog. I’ve speculated that in this recession we’re seeing permanent shifts toward saving and away from spending. We’ll see. There was a recent boost in consumer spending, though much of that was due to the the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program.

Says Park:

Whether people will return to their old patterns of spending once their income returns to previous levels is hard to predict.

I think there might be some people who are ready to down-size permanently. And others will decide never to join the main economy.

Park isn’t quite sure when the next “Voluntary Poverty” class will start. That will happen when enough people sign up. An existential philosopher, he adds that his most popular classes are on “authenticity and love.”

Regarding the “poverty” class, he says,

The next time it is offered, it will probably be on a week-day afternoon. This is a good time for people who have no jobs to go to.


Are you trying to live dramatically differently in this economy? Are you reversing your spending and saving? Got any tips? Drop me a line or post below or click here.

Check out the map below to read what others in our network are saying about spending and saving, then share your own story.

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