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How to Live on Nothing

Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 11:02 AM  posted by Mark

Since the collapse of the sub-prime market a year and a half ago, hand-wringing has become our nation’s most popular parlor game. The rules are simple: just watch the news and worry.

It’s still unclear if the government bailout of the banks, the economic stimulus package and the Fed‘s manipulation of interest rates have saved us from a worldwide collapse or merely forestalled an even worse downturn to come, and an extraordinary number of recent books, by eminent economists and armchair egomaniacs alike, have not settled the matter. What should we do when our nation’s economic prospects are uncertain and everything seems beyond our personal control?

Joan Ranson Shortney’s How to Live on Nothing offers hundreds of time-saving, cost-saving answers that bring economics back down to a personal scale. This guide, written in 1968, when “going green” went by the name “getting back to nature,” contains practical advice on everything from making healthy meals cheap, customizing vintage clothing, taking great vacations even when you’re broke and choosing doctors that make sense to your health and your budget. Because the book’s prices are in 1968 figures, the exact costs of furnishing your house on the cheap have to be recalculated, but the method of doing so is clever, sensible and still completely relevant (as are almost all of its tips and tidbits).

Most of the book’s charm comes from its gentle tone. As a time capsule from 1968, its analog attitudes contrast starkly with today’s digital disquiet, and it’s great fun to see how our approach to everyday living has changed in the last forty years and how it remains the same.

The great service of How to Live on Nothing, even beyond its countless nuggets of money-saving wisdom, is how matter-of-factly it humanizes the economy, giving you a sense of personal control—there are many things you can do right now to improve your life while saving cash—and Shortney advocates a philosophy that places time above money and family and friends above everything. As the Whole Earth Catalog said in its 1968 review, How to Live on Nothing could just as aptly be called Living for Something, and it reminds us that saving our sanity is as valuable as saving money, and the things we really care about retain their value even when the stock market doesn’t.

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3 Responses to “How to Live on Nothing”

  1. Raquelle says:

    I had high hopes for In CHEAP We Trust. I guess I kind of wanted it to be like How To Live on Nothing in contemporary terms but also provide cultural and social history behind it. Not so much. At least for the first couple of chapters I read.

    I’m always nervous about reading nonfiction books from the past. I read a dating book from the 1960s that I thought had been updated and was a bit horrified to find out that it wasn’t and only had some bubbles that poked fun of things they had written about years earlier. Hmph.

  2. Raquelle says:

    Hey how do I change my avatar on this thing? I have a nice picture of me in a cloche hat!

  3. Jody says:

    Great choice and as always, great review.


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