I lived for a year and a half in the town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a tourist town with a booming economy in the Summer, but much quieter the rest of the year. With very little available during the Winter I drove a taxi cab for a couple of months, but as soon as I saved some money I quit and coasted for a couple of weeks, living frugally and looking for a new job. I found work in the early Spring in a deli. I started work right around the first of the month and at the start of a new week. Careful to plan for everything, I paid my rent and bought all the groceries I would need to get me through to payday. After getting what was on my list I l left the grocery store with the last of my money 27 cents in change.
I can still remember that change, it was one quarter and two pennies. I spent that week pulling them out of my pocket and looking at them. It freaked me out at first, and I wondered who I could borrow some money from, just so that I would "have it". Thinking some more I realized that I already had everything that I needed for the week; rent was paid, groceries bought and the fridge was stocked. I decided not to ask anyone for money, but just to live without spending money for a couple of days.
Having no money was not new to me, but as I was living on my own at this time and not receiving any other income except what I earned I was keenly aware that not only did I have but 27 cents in my pocket I had only 27 cents to my name. That was a strange realization. Not so much that my net worth was so small, but that it was specific. Even saying "I've got nothing" would have been more vague, because people often say that when they actually have something, but very little. I knew exactly what I had.
I didn't go out with friends that week, which wasn't hard to do. I did run into some people that I knew out having coffee and I sat with them, but ordered nothing. At one point one of my friends came out with a cup of coffee for me and I started to say something about owing them and they said, "don't worry about it", but it seemed more out of convenience than a perception that I was hard up. In the end I didn't hide in my room, but saw the people I normally saw and did (most of) the things that I normally did. My life didn't stop and I didn't have to hide because I had no money. I continued to live almost exactly as I had done as before.
Living without money was something of a revelation to me. I didn't feel like I was living poorly, as I had a nice place to live and food to eat. To consciously live without money was to be mindful of what living really is. It also made me realize to what extent the idea of 'living' and 'consuming' are connected in our culture. I assumed something about me would cease to exist because I was not spending money, or did not have money ready to spend.
I later told people I knew about spending a week with 27 cents and they universally said, "why didn't you tell me, I would have loaned you some money!". They missed the point though, I knew I could borrow money from others, but the question was, could I live without it?