Jo Nemeth of Koonorigan in the kitchen that helps her to lead a moneyless existence. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star
Jo Nemeth of Koonorigan in the kitchen that helps her to lead a moneyless existence. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star Cathy Adams

Woman lives with no money and discovers the good life

HER unconventional lifestyle choice sees her scavenging old bits of soap, used cafe serviettes for toilet paper, and refusing to eat her own chocolate - all in the name of environmental care.

Eight months ago local woman Jo Nemeth quit her job as a community development worker in Casino and started living a virtually money-free existence.

She set up camp on a friend's Koonorigan property, learned how to build a fuel efficient rocket stove with 16 bricks, spent her days veggie gardening and cooking, and started taking baths with a single kettle of hot water under the stars.

Koonorigan's Jo Nemeth quit her job, closed her bank accounts and went moneyless
Koonorigan's Jo Nemeth quit her job, closed her bank accounts and went moneyless Luke Mortimer

Reason for living penniless

The reasoning behind going penniless was her belief that spending money running her former life was damaging the environment.

"I felt I was just chasing my tail constantly which didn't give me time to think about anything," Ms Nemeth said.

"A lot of people find in themselves in that situation, and it's not their fault, it's just the way things are setup in the world."

"We're so busy paying to have a roof over our heads that we don't have time to stop and think about these things."

Her new life became about questioning every consumption decision with the intensity of a police interrogator - or eco warrior.

Instead of working to live, she's became part scavenger, part environmental seer, and part anarchist.

"The point of the experiment was not the moneyless thing, the point was to live low impact," Ms Nemeth explained. "I took money out of the equation so I could reduce my impact."

That means not buying anything - not even toilet paper.

The challenge

That challenge inspired her to rely on a friend's cafe which had a ready supply of barely used coffee napkins.

And to stay clean, she scavenged bits of soap from friends who would have otherwise chucked out their tiny scraps. She now has a lifetime supply.

She also worked out she could pay $10 to maintain a mobile phone number to receive calls without using the phone. Friends now know they have to call her.

Healthcare costs are a more profound obstacle - she's had one visit to the dentist for which she paid with an existing credit, and for a doctor's check up she relied on taxpayer-funded bulk billing.

Jo Nemeth of Koonorigan in the vegetable patch that helps her to lead a moneyless existence. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star
Jo Nemeth of Koonorigan in the vegetable patch that helps her to lead a moneyless existence. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star Cathy Adams

A typical day

A typical day revolves around working in the organic vegetable garden to help maintain her food source and about one to two hours cooking - as it takes 30 minutes for her stove to boil a full kettle.

The rest of the day is spent reading books, catching up with friends, and hitch-hiking into town.

"I'd never hitched before in Australia," Ms Nemeth said. "I was a bit nervous."

"(But) people are fantastic along Nimbin Rd. I get to meet really cool people and get a snapshot of their life in 15 minutes," she said.

"Sometimes I can get between point A and point B just as fast as if I had a car."

The rule of consumption

For other consumption decisions it's a fine line between what she will do and won't.

"The rule goes like this: I don't want to use resources which are produced solely for my benefit," she said.

"For example hitch hiking, someone is already using that fuel. It's okay if I sponge a lift because I'm not adding to the burden of the planet. I'm not producing new resources for me."

On the whole, she says she is getting "much fitter and healthier" from the experiment and is happy to do it "indefinitely".

"I'm doing so much work in the garden and my diet has changed I don't have all the junk I had before," she said.

"I'm feeling so much better."

People regularly ask Ms Nemeth 'what if everyone did what you are doing?'.

"If everyone did I think it would collapse the system," she said, "and it's debatable whether that's a good thing or a bad thing."

"Personally I would like people to start looking at their impact and what they need to be comfortable and what is needless.

"There's very few needs that we have; there's a lot of wants that are driving us, and those wants are potentially impacting the planet and potentially making it unliveable in the future, which is pretty serious."



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