Exploring Extreme Frugality

This web site was created to update and elaborate on the ideas and methods presented in my book Zero Cost Living: Exploring Extreme Frugality. I am James R. Delcamp: writer, author, book publisher, researcher, and  inventor/designer of ideas, systems, and technologies suitable for living Zero Cost.
My book is available from Amazon or directly from me by email to jrdel@att.net.

Topics in the book include:
  • Foraging (for food, materials, equipment)
  • Edible flowers
  • Wild food
  • Survival shelter
  • Living homeless
  • Soap from weeds
  • Living in a car
  • Seasonal migration
  • Seasteading
  • $500 houses
  • Old houses
  • Homesteading
  • Greenhouses
  • Healthy diets
  • Solar farm
  • Solar house
  • Old cars
  • Homebuilt car
  • Cabinscooter
  • Bike city
  • Co-housing
  • History of thrift
  • Philosophy

 Here is an illustration from my book:

It is a cross section through a room of a house that could be heated by heat generated from the human body alone. The human body at rest generates about 500 Btu (British thermal units) of energy per hour or 12,000 Btu per day.

It is enough to keep a well insulated space - if it is not too large - warm as long as the outside temperature is not too low.

The temperature of the space outside the body heated space is kept from getting too low by tapping the heat of the ground averaging 50 F at a depth of 6 feet - at 40 degrees north latitude (the upper midwestern United States).
An assembly of attached body heated spaces with shared larger spaces could create a house of 1000 square feet or more heated entirely by the body heat of the inhabitants - as illustrated in my book. (4 people in one room, for example would provide 500 x 4 = 2,000 Btu of energy to heat the space).

The 'body heated space' is an example of the ideas - systems -  technologies I favor: They allow folks to live in ease and comfort while spending little or no money once the system is in place.  And, I favor systems that can be created low cost, cheap, even free.  I disdain eco-palaces that are self-sufficient and environmentally friendly but way too expensive for most folks.  If you are rich, by all means build an eco-palace.  That would be far better than the usual mansions - obscene attempts at causing envy - meant to display wealth - that the overwhelming majority of wealthy folks build.  I don't have any respect for wealthy folks who have too much money for their brains or hearts (or morality).


Here is a quote from B. Traven, author of the book Treasure of the Sierra Madre, made into the famous movie starring Humphrey Bogart:

"Experience has taught me that traveling educates only those who can be educated just as well by roaming around their own country."

The quote continues:
" By walking thirty miles anywhere in one's home region the man who is open-minded will see more and learn more than a thousand others will by running around the world. A trip to a Central American Jungle to watch how Natives behave near a bridge won't make you see either the jungle or the bridge or the Natives if you believe that the civilization you were born into is the only one that counts. Go and look around with the idea that everything you learned in school and college is wrong."  (page 173)

This quote is from his book "A Bridge in the Jungle" (made into a much less well known movie).  A Bridge in the Jungle reveals how an utterly impoverished community could be, nevertheless, rich in culture.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre was about how money changed men.  When the three prospectors were poor, they were the best of buddies.  When they became rich, Bogart became suspicious, miserly, and selfish until it cost him his life.

These in shorthand are some of the messages of B. Traven.

Thoreau wrote:  "Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul". 

Wealth is overrated.  Better to achieve freedom, and to get it folks must free themselves from all of the shackles money and wealth can cast on them, whether due to their own wealth, or the wealth of others.  The money of banks, corporations, and the wealthy is used to put chains made of consumer goods, and service industry jobs, and gasoline, and all of the stuff we need to buy or do in the "free market" on as many folks as possible.  

And, better to achieve real economic security (to go with freedom) through the development of knowledge, skills, systems and technology that permit folks to take care of themselves and their communities, rather than rely on volatile investments in stocks, bonds, pensions, I.R.A.'s, 401k's, bank savings, insurance schemes, or any of the host of  business mechanisms that provide fortunes for economic predators, but no security at all for the middle class they prey on.


Through many years of insecure job and incomes, of saving money, or trying to save it, it gradually became obvious to me that it might be possible to set up a lifestyle that is comfortable and secure in which I need to spend little or no money.  Most, maybe all of the elements needed to create a zero cost lifestyle are lying out there waiting to be put together.  Modern, especially new evolving technologies such as solar energy use, battery development, hydroponic farming, the internet, etc. make it more possible every day. (I think the use of the internet to create Zero Cost Living alternatives has barely been tapped.  For example; free phone service through the net should be possible - may be possible now.  Goodbye AT&T).

Has anyone lived zero cost?  I have for short periods of a few months.  Currently I am not living zero cost but I am using and experimenting with techniques that could be put together into a zero cost lifestyle.

Why do this?  The economy, global, national, local has become increasingly volatile and unpredictable, especially for folks who are not "in the know", who are not "insiders" who are not well off or well connected and do not have good prospects of becoming well off (for whatever reasons).  How can anyone possibly be economically secure in this economy who is not well off?  Through Zero Cost Living it may be possible. 

Zero Cost Living aims, ultimately, to recreate the economy of the early 19th century self-sufficient American farmer, but in a modern setting with modern technology and in an urban, suburban, or small town setting.  (My book argues that rural areas or wilderness are not the best settings to attempt Zero Cost Living for most folks).

Our situation today is very like the European peasantry and laborers before they emigrated to America.  They lived as very insecure underlings under hosts of overlords.  Attempts at reform and revolution there failed - as in the French revolution which degenerated into dictatorship, constant war, and final defeat; or the Russian revolution with the same fate.
Because we of the middle income or "working" classes cannot count on anything anymore, but only increasing insecurity and stress, we need a way out.  The 19th century European underclasses faced a similar dilemma.  Emigrating to America they got out from under the thumbs of their various overlords whether landlords, nobility, capitalists, businessmen, etc. They did not want, did not create and fought against the imposition of new overlords in America. They founded and thrived in self-sufficient farms, originally in wilderness, later in thriving communities.  (I do not advocate total self sufficiency, but do advocate setting up systems that cut living costs.  Also I believe we need to work hard to create co-operative, not forced, economic organizations that can co-ordinate economic activities without the volatility of the so called "free market' or the coercion of "command" economies).

The 18th and 19th century peasantry were able to escape their overlords by emigrating to America and many other 'new' lands across the world.  Now, that option is not open (at least until ocean or maybe space colonization - see chapter 4 in my book on seasteading!)  However, what is open, wide open is use of existing and newly created technology to achieve the equivalent of getting out from under landlords, corporations, government, etc.  The internet is the core invention, allowing all of us to quickly find and put to use new and old knowledge to reach a secure, independent, low cost - even zero cost lifestyle.

  • Get a free open source computer operating system:  look up 'Linux'.
  • Get a free word processing software:  look up 'AbiWord' or 'OpenOffice'.
  • Find or set up free (or almost free) phone and wireless internet service in your commuity: look up the company called 'Meraki'.  
  • Search for the best cities to live car free: look up 'Curitiba, Brazil', or 'Ann Arbor, Michigan'.
  • Find the best and cheapest heating system to build and run: look up 'rocket stoves'.
  • Build your own car cheap:  look up 'locost' or 'rat rod'. 
  • Study how to drive with maximum efficiency, and build your own electric car:  Look up 'ecomodder' or 'bangernomics'.
  • Build an super efficient low cost house of natural and recycled materials that keeps you cool in the desert, and warm in cold climates: look up 'straw bales homes', or 'earthships', or 'solar homes', or 'cob house', or 'owner built house'. Of course I have a host of my own ideas described in my book and this web site such as the 'body heated space'.
  • Get free land, a homesite, or even a home.  Web search these terms and you will find real offers.  (Small towns on the great plains who are losing residents and schools are anxious to get more people).
  • And on and on.
I am working on a new book called "Solar Farm on a Half Acre or Less" where I will go into more detail and add new discoveries to achieve zero cost living.  The half acre farm is intended to be a prototype for the modern equivalent of the 19th-century self-sufficient farm that once let Americans live with freedom, independence, security, not much government, and almost no overlords whether bankers, landlords, state churches, wealthy upper classes, big businesses, etc.

An interesting problem: What is the smallest area needed to set up a solar farm?  This is important because a smaller lot means the initial price can be less, building costs can be less,  property taxes can be lower; and more compact communities are possible that can use walking, bikes, and mass transit more.  I discuss it in my book and on this web site but much more research and design details are needed. The Farralones Institute in San Fransisco did some interesting work in the 1970s.  But a new effort using new ideas is needed.  Build Solar Farms and communities that let us kiss-off the host of forces in the modern world that try to reduces us to docile consumers, employees, tenants, tax-payers, and debtors and live with freedom and security.

Update June 2014
The ruling class and the corporations they own have undertaken an unrelenting assault on the middle class.  When they invest, and more jobs are created, these new jobs are at lower wages.  And holders of existing jobs seldom realize pay increases. The internet is full of stories of the experiences of the middle class: pay cuts, layoffs, outsourcing, offshoring, insourcing: temporary foreign workers brought to the U.S. and taking your job at lower pay. (And with bitter irony, training your lower cost replacement, often a H 1 B employee -holding a temporary - 6 year work permit in America),  often without benefits, and subject to deportation if s/he dares complain about anything.  Halfway to slavery. And these new or replacement lower paying jobs have no security either.  Soon enough one H 1 B worker will be replaced by another cheaper one, and the ever downward cycle will continue until working for nothing, living without money becomes a stark reality.  And the 'new' jobs middle class workers get after being laid off are often, usually in fact, at lower pay, with fewer or no benefits, and frequently they are jobs not using their skills, training, and abilities. Another-words, they become underemployed.
One would hope the middle class could resist, can stop their decline, win back their losses in security and income, and (hopefully) win new gains in income, even see people entering the middle class from among the working poor, and from among welfare recipients. 

But no easy solutions present themselves.  Government would have to change, and actually represent the interests of the middle class. Middle class workers would have to join or form organizations (unions?), that are strong enough to stick up for them, and have real power to fight back. These organizations must not be like the toothless facades that unions have become, weakened by the indifference, even hostility of their own members, stripped of power and authority by laws that emasculate them, attacked by for-profit companies who specialize in breaking unions, helpless to stop outsourcing or insourcing or pay cuts or layoffs.   How likely is it that forces that actually help the middle class become powerful and effective any time soon?   
Maybe things will change someday. Now, the only security for the middle class in this mess is creation of a secure homestead that is low or no cost to own and maintain - a ZCL homestead.