Understanding The Man Who Quit Money

Right around the time I started reading The Man Who Quit Money, I was obsessed with buying shoes. I had just gotten a new job, and I needed a shoe that was both stylish and comfortable, versatile enough that I could walk through the city quickly without giving me blisters, but cute enough so that I felt in step with the other professional women carrying paper cups of coffee and sleek leather tote bags. (Don’t even let me get into my collection of handbags.)

I never found that shoe. Rather, I found many shoes: shoes I liked until I wore them once; shoes I bought and then felt guilty about and took back; shoes that were comfortable but looked like Jesus sandals; shoes that were chic, but hurt my feet if I wore them for more than two blocks.

I knew it wasn’t pure coincidence that at the same time I was reading a biography of a man who gave up his attachment to money, I was feeling more attached to mine. I live in a culture that, on street corners and bus stops, gas stations, magazines and computer screens, persuades me to believe that fulfillment comes from buying things.

Mark Sundeen talks about this phenomenon early on in The Man Who Quit Money. When Daniel Suelo, the subject of the biography, shows Sundeen and his friends a large garden full of squash and melons someone left behind to rot, Sundeen describes his own gluttonous behavior; he and his friends eat and hoard as much of the fruit and vegetables as they can. Suelo, on the other hand, takes only what he needs—one ripe fruit—and bicycles away, leaving them in the midst of their frenzy.

How much do we give up when we let ourselves be dominated by consumption?

According to Suelo, quite a lot. That’s why he left his remaining thirty dollars in a phone booth 12 years ago and since then, has lived by his own philosophy: “Use only what is freely given or discarded & what is already present & already running.”

To some, Suelo’s way of life will seem naïve and impractical. “Money makes the world go round,” they might say. And yet how many times have we caught ourselves discarding something that only hours, weeks or months before had seemed absolutely vital to our existence? How frequently do we find ourselves getting caught up in the illusion that more money will make us happier, only to find that when we have more money, we either feel exactly the same or worse? Oftentimes, more money makes us more anxious; so much of our mental energy becomes consumed with worry about losing the possessions and services we’ve grown accustomed to.

These questions about money should strike us on both personal and societal levels, especially as election season nears and we are forced to consider our values as a country. Beliefs about money coincide with how we operate in the world, how we interact with friends and associates, and even how we parent. When it comes to future generations, do we unwittingly assume that money and prestige are the solutions to life’s biggest struggles, rather than confidence of character and behaving with integrity?

In this installment of the Friends Journal book club, I hope we’ll share reactions, personal stories, and questions about the role of money, as well as what we hope to achieve both individually and as a society based on the insights of Daniel Suelo’s story.

Please, comment, share, or “like” this post to get more people involved in the conversation! And don’t forget to subscribe to comments so you don’t miss a word.


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6 thoughts on “Understanding The Man Who Quit Money

  1. Four and a half years ago, my husband and I some what unknowingly started a multi-faceted journey of simplicity. We found ourselves living the American dream. We both earned degrees from private universities, we both had good paying jobs, we owned two cars, bought our first home and were getting ready to have our first child. But something was missing. Though God had financially provided for us in amazing ways (we had no debt, except our recently purchased home), our lives were numb. A leap of faith had us uprooting our lives, downsizing our amount of possessions and taking a huge pay decrease to work with college students. Then God threw us an unexpected opportunity to work with urban youth and for me to become a stay-at-home mom, another decrease in our income. We were never more spiritually alive than at this moment in our lives. Was it just a coincidence? We don’t believe so. There is no such joy as letting go that in which you have false hope [money, possessions, etc.] and trusting that which can truly sustain you [God,relationships, justice,etc]. And now a recent job loss has my husband and I switching parenting roles. Unfortunately, having been out of the job market for several years and the recent economic climate has not helped me land a great paying job. Four years later, and we’re living on a fourth of our income but our lives feel full, abundant, lovely, exciting and full of possibilities. So much so that we have recently decided that when my temporary job is over at the end of the year, I won’t look for a replacement. Instead we’re taking the opportunity to take a payless practicum in Kisumu, Kenya with New Life Homes for my husband to complete his Masters degree and myself and our daughter will go along as volunteers. So in a matter of four and a half years we will not be relying on a job to provide for us but solely on our Father in heaven to do that. And once again, we are now more spiritually alive than every before. It’s amazing how when we had money, our possibilities seemed so few but without the attachment of money and material possessions, our possibilities are endless and we have the freedom to grasp them with both hands.

  2. I have thought much about Daniel’s approach to life. In the early 80’s I met a young man who was giving away his meager possessions in order to be totally free of the energy dragging down his spirit, as he put it. I have often wondered what happened to him in subsequent years. As he travelled from one rainbow gathering to the next, staying with “radical fairies,” he had to rely on others who did participate in the mainstream economy in various ways and to varying degrees. Even hitch hiking across the country as he did required others who paid for gas & vehicles. Staying with friends who owned farms- someone paid for land & paid taxes, possibly interest on a mortgage. And seeking healthcare at “free clinics”- someone paid for the medication & medical supplies, whether purchased cheap after their “expiration date” or donated by a faith community. Another friend who lived extremely simply, but not as radically, I later learned had a VA disability pension. He had always let the rest of us assume he practically “lived on air.” A person could make the argument that Daniel serves as an example, not one that most (or even many ) will emulate, but a reminder of what is possible. Daniel’s story has certainly made me more mindful & aware of how I spend my own money. I am in no way criticizing any of these paths, just pondering & considering.

  3. I have no problem with extreme voluntary austerity and frugality. But what does Suelo do with his time? Does he work? I believe work is an important part of our spirituality, even if it is volunteer work. A question arises: Does he pay into Social Security? How does he expect to live when he’s old and cannot help himself?

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