Learning lessons about money from a caveman

I must confess. I was skeptical. Living without money? How is that possible?

More than that, when I first saw the book The Man Who Quit Money at Maria’s Bookshop, I declared: “This guy is some kind of a freak living in a cave, Dumpster-diving. I don’t have time to read about this weirdo.”

Well, as luck would have it, I wandered into Maria’s on a Friday evening and picked up the book again, reconsidered and devoured it in less than a week.

In this well-written, insightful and funny tale, author Mark Sundeen traces the life of Daniel Suelo as Suelo tries to reconcile the teachings of the great spiritual leaders – Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Lao-tzu – and the realities of modern life.

Suelo renounces money and chooses to live in a desert cave in Utah. He learns to live happily outside the conventional economy and finds fulfillment in a life without money.

Sundeen turns this unique Moab character into a modern day Henry David Thoreau with lessons for all of us to consider:

Real wages continue to recede.

In the last 20 years, many of us have seen our income grow, but it’s usually been the result of being part of a two-income family and working more.

And what is this work for – another SUV, a bigger home, more toys?

Money gives us the illusion that it can protect us from our own mortality.

As I considered what it would be like to give up money, the nagging thought of “what if” kept coming to mind. “What if” something “bad” happens?

While I’m not willing to give up money, I did realize that at some point no amount of money will save me from death, and that it’s better for me to live life fully now than to worry about having “enough” for “someday.”

Simplicity increases connection and community.

Consumerism in the pursuit of happiness often results in excessive busyness. The result of this busyness is isolation. The long-term consequences of isolation are well known. Lack of social connections – loneliness – can increase the risk for heart attack, dementia and obesity.

So we can either work more to save money to pay our medical bills or choose to take time to connect with others and build community to stay healthy.

Suelo acknowledges quitting money is not for everyone: “I don’t expect everybody to live in a cave and Dumpster-dive,” he says.

But he does ask people to be conscious of what is enough: “I do implore everybody to take only what they know in their hearts they need and give up excess to those who have less than they need. If this happened, I certainly wouldn’t have to Dumpster-dive.”

His ultimate goal is not to change the world, but to live his beliefs. And isn’t that an enviable goal?

I won’t be joining Suelo in his cave or his favorite Dumpster, but I will continue to thoughtfully consider how much is “enough.”

Durango resident and personal finance coach Matt Kelly owns Momentum: Personal Finance. www.PersonalFinanceCoaching.com.