"How to Live on Nothing," a Review

by Katy on August 5, 2009 · 15 comments

We recently enjoyed the privilege of hosting Christopher, an old college chum and his family for a couple of nights. They were wonderful house guests bringing both engaging conversation and an armload of delicious looking home canned goods from their garden.

On the last evening, Christopher suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to give me one last hostess gift, which was an old dog eared paperback of Joan Ranson Shorney’s 1968 classic How to Live on Nothing.

How to Live on NothingI expected this book, which features a super hippy-dippy looking family on the cover to provide some laugh aloud material, but the information between the outdated covers proved to have  classic, never go out of style advice.

Quotes include:

“This is not to advocate thrift for thrift’s sake, nor is it the sentimentalization  of undernourishment as a source of inspiration. It is the advocacy of a method of lowering the high cost of living so that you can clear the path for what you really want — namely the good life.

“When you use something ordinarily thrown away you can be extra proud –proud that that you’ve avoided spending money you cannot spare and proud that you’ve done the national economy a service by cutting down on our national vice — waste.”

” ‘Save on luxuries,’ said a wise man to me once, ‘and you’ll find that luxuries become necessities. To save money, you must save on what you consider necessities.’ “

Most of the book is specific advice on how to fix household belongings, make things last longer, and avoid living expensively. And yes, there is certainly a fair amount of laughably outdated tips such as what to do with empty typewriter ribbon boxes, (decal them and use for paperclips, snaps, thumbtacks, etc.) But most of this book is pretty much timeless.

Did this book teach me anything new? Not really, but it was still an entertaining read. And free entertainment is certainly a big part of a life aimed toward living on nothing.

Do you like to read old books and have one to recommend? Please share your sources in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela August 5, 2009 at 2:55 pm

It all makes sense now! When I was little I wanted to be a hippie when I grew up. I didn’t realize they were part of the times.

But I may have gotten my wish in a way.


AJ in AZ August 5, 2009 at 5:04 pm

I have always loved the books “Voluntary Simplicity”, by Duane Elgin, and “Small is Beautiful”, by Schumacher.


A. Marie August 5, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Without a doubt, Dolly Freed’s “Possum Living,” a 1970s underground classic. For those out there who may also be Dolly fans, she turned up recently on YouTube in a characteristically tongue-in-cheek video made by her brother, so I was relieved to see that she’s still with us.


Sam Jones August 5, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Katy I too have that book and reading your post has inspired me to dig it out and reread it. You’re right it’s timeless in many ways. Saving money and the earth’s resources, never goes out of style.


Cheryl August 6, 2009 at 4:35 am

I remember reading “The No Fad Good Food $5 a Week Cookbook: Cooking With Natural Basic Foods” by Caroline Ackerman ‘way back in the 70’s and it made a huge impression on me. I still have the book.


Cheryl August 6, 2009 at 4:38 am

I forgot to mention the other book that really changed my life:
How to Survive Without a Salary: Learning how to live the conserver lifestyle by Charles Long. I see it’s still in print.


Jinger August 6, 2009 at 5:46 am

Living the Good Life…Helen and Scott Nearing and We Took to the Woods by Louise Rich…classics from the 40’s and 50’s. Delightful reads! Also, a new children’s book Wabi Sabi…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca2Ly4Vpb5Y

I love the idea of Wabi Sabi.


Angela August 6, 2009 at 10:36 am

Oh, thanks for all the great book recommendations everyone!


Emily August 6, 2009 at 12:29 pm

“How to Live on Nothing” is not in the MultCo Library catalog. Bummer! But I did put “How to Survive Without a Salary” on hold. Thanks for the tips!


Sandy August 6, 2009 at 4:01 pm

My fave cookbook that I use and wrote about in my blog seems to be right out of the seventies. It is called Low Cost Cooking by Better Homes and Gardens. There is a chart as to which fruits and vegetables are in season. It also explains how to buy and cook inexpensive cuts of meat and prepare it yourself to save money. There are many varied, easy recipes which use simple ingredients. Sometimes I even add to the ingredient lists because they can be quite spartan. It is nice to know that if you have to, you can make a cheap nutritious meal. I have learned a lot of common sense frugality from this book and I highly reccommend it.


penelope August 6, 2009 at 5:18 pm

i cant stand people who say they hate reading. the key to enjoying reading is to find a book that interest you.for example if you like fashion read something about fashion, if you like sports read something about sports. you’ll soon change that i hate reading to i enjoying reading


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