Co-Operative Frugality: The Good Life on a Minimum of Money

The “House and Wheels” Example–A Good Life for $5000 per Year [per Man] is Possible

(c) 2012, Davd*

Men who “go our own ways together”, can live well on our own terms. We can choose our work so as to live a life-story that appeals to us—that’s really ours. One example of that was the household of Benedictine monks i wrote about January 3. I mentioned then that i myself found cloistered life with friendly other men, appealing—but believed i would prefer a different main-focus than liturgical ritual. I’ll write more about the kind of cloistered life i’m trying to help start; but first, let’s look at a less-radical way to move from consumerism toward brotherhood—the co-operative.

There can be a tremendous diversity of co-operatives—each group of men, who agree on how they want to live, will be distinctive—but there will be patterns that many of them share. I’m going to use as my example in this post, a pattern of co-operative that would be both home and shared-vehicle for 3-8 men. I chose four for the cost-estimates because so many houses around here have four or more bedrooms—small bedrooms in many cases, but large enough for a bed, a work table, some bookshelves, and clothing storage—and because in most cars, four fit better than five.

Any group size has “positives” and “negatives”: Five is the ideal size for a new group, according to Slater’s research, and there are vans that hold eight or nine men, and there are cost advantages to having a larger house—but not as many available. What matters most is including all the men who naturally group-up, though if there are eight or more, you might think about having two vehicles—and two houses if it’s difficult to find one with enough bedrooms.

Don’t leave anyone out who belongs-in (or add-in someone who isn’t really part of the group) to make an “ideal number.”  The ideal size for your group is the number of men who make the best group, and you can assess that better than a stranger. If in doubt, include at least four and think about two houses and two vehicles if there are more than eight—but if you find a big enough house, with that many bedrooms, a dozen isn’t necessarily too many under one roof, even to start.

A house-and-vehicle co-operative makes a good “starter co-op”—one where men can easily and comfortably get used to co-operatives, and from which they can readily go on to other kinds. It isn’t expensive to enter, relative to what you get, so it’s accessible to many men who’ve just been through “Divorce Theft” or just lost a job and “gone on unemployment” or even Social Assistance. In particular, a house-and-vehicle co-operative is less expensive than having one’s own apartment, eating alone, and renting a car just a day or two per month.

Each of the founders should aim to have $10,000 to bring into the start-up, and more won’t hurt1. If that seems like a large amount, remember that it will buy you a (shared) home, and a shared set of wheels—paid in full—in an area such as where i live. Your annual living expenses will be so low that you do not need to have a full-time—or even half-time—job. If you work more than a day-or-two per week, you’ll be saving up money.

(It is not absolutely required that everyone put up the same amount of money, but rough-equality of contribution, somehow, is a very good principle to follow. Older men might bring in more money and let younger men bring in more muscle and endurance, for instance—just get an understanding among your group, that everyone who actually takes part in the start-up, can support with some enthusiasm.)

Then, pick somewhere that land and houses are low in cost. (I’m not encouraging anyone to “go on welfare”; but if one of you were to wind up on “Social assistance”, your “Welfare cheques” should be money enough to live on and have some left.) Shop around and buy a house—as a co-operative. Get one with more rather than less land attached. Aim to have at least four bedrooms, and five or six is even better. Get 100 or preferably 200 ampere electrical service, a basement or at least a root cellar, a kitchen [or dining room] big enough for ten men to eat or talk around a big table, and wood heat. (If there’s a suitable chimney, a wood heating stove can be bought separately. Be sure the chimney is suitable; some chimneys for gas or oil furnaces—even for pellet stoves—are not—and if you live where stick firewood is available, you won’t want to drive to town to buy pellets, or pay for oil at today’s prices.) If the roof, windows, or foundation is defective, if the top insulation isn’t at least six inches thick (this is Canada), add the cost of “putting it right” to the purchase cost. Adjust these specifications to your local weather conditions.

The best deal is likely to:

  • Need some kind of work right away. For instance, if the roofing is bad but the roof decking is sound, and the slope is not dangerously steep—one or two thousand dollars in roofing material, perhaps less if only the south face needs replacing, plus work you do yourselves, can take several thousand dollars off the purchase price.

  • Have been empty for a while. [not always, but often]

  • Be in a rural area, or a location that mothers of small children would rather not live. If you are finding a house with four or more bedrooms, that size usually has been owned by a family with three or more children. Suppose the primary school is a long way away—you don’t care—nor do you care if the school bus ride to the secondary school takes over an hour each way. If the area has gone industrial or commercial, that means you can do ‘most any kind of work there, lawfully—a quality that repels many Mommies can be good for you.

For my mind, the best deal might be a farmhouse with five or more bedrooms—and at least forty acres of the farm land included. Suddenly you have land for some co-operative farming! You can grow your own food, or 90% of it anyway, and in good years have some left to sell for income. You now own your own house and your own part time jobs. Even five or ten acres will grow a lot of food.

(I’m working on another post about co-operative farming specifically, and it will advocate much more than 40 acres for a co-operative of four or more men—but 40 will more than grow food for four, and probably will feed at least ten.)

I’m not going to tell you about choosing a vehicle, beyond making sure it will seat you all, legally.(When i was the age to learn those things, my “mother” said: “NO greasy-dirty work clothes in my washing machine!” My father—even her father—didn’t dare argue, she had a terrific temper and she could be mean.I was lucky to be allowed to garden.)

With a shared house and car, life will cost more for four men than it costs one man alone, but a lot less per man: Four, five, maybe six or more men, can live co-cooperatively on little or no more money per year than two of you would spend living alone.

You can earn your subsistence in a month or two’s worth of work per year, and spend at least three-fourths of your time having fun, studying, inventing, pursuing your art form be it writing, video, painting, photography, music, gardening, or cooking. You can work longer hours and save up for more land, or a productive business of some kind. Where full-time jobs are scarce, it’s usually possible to work enough hours in a year, at decent wages, to make much more than you need to live in a four-man co-operative.2

You could do men’s-interest work: Writing, speaking, politicking, mentoring boys, and if you have an empty bedroom, giving refuge to men being abused by women who turned out to be not so nice up close. You can set up a men’s BBS for your local calling area. You can have barbecues, coffee afternoons when it rains, and beer-tasting sessions where local men can discover that they’re not alone in being abused by misandric laws and women who exploit them.

You’ll be leaders—by being frugal and brotherly—and as future posts will show, you’ll have a lot further you can go yourselves.


Some Cost-estimates:

These cost-estimates are based on circumstances near where i live, in Northeastern New Brunswick, Canada, during the past six years. I have used figures from my own house [which “came with the land” and has four small bedrooms, with two rooms where someone could sleep “in a pinch”, so it would be just large enough for a small co-operative to use] with the following “adjustments”, mostly increases, applied:

  • Insurance estimates for house and car were increased from $350 and $800 [my
    approximate year 2012 costs, paid in December] to $500 and $1000 respectively;
  • Electricity consumption cost was increased from my less than $500 in 2011, to $600, (Notice that the “New Brunswick Power” utility bills separately for maintaining the connection and for electricity consumed.)

  • Car maintenance cost was estimated at a round figure between the highest i have paid in any year this century and the amount i paid in an average year. If some of the group can do most of the mechanical work, it could be much less than $1000; i have very little skill at maintaining motor vehicles.

  • House maintenance cost was increased from the $600 or so i have spent, on average, for materials; to $1000, simply for the sake of prudence. Hiring trade labour should seldom be necessary among four or five men—or so it seems to me, but my grandfather built his own house, and i’ve built two (with the help of my sons and neighbours).

  • Other costs were rounded-upwards to the next $50 or $100

Taxes and insurance-premiums on an owner-occupied residence are low, especially in rural areas.


Table 1: Housing and Total Living-Cost Estimate, Autumn 2011

Shared House:

Shared Van or Hatchback









[monthly service charge]















Number of men:


Cost per man:



Food [rough estimate, home prepared]


Clothing and Incidentals



Annual Subsistence Cost per Man


Monthly Subsistence Cost per Man


Given the conservative nature of this “budgeting”, a group of four or five do-it-ourselves men might manage to live on less than $4000 per man per year; but given that there will be non-necessities most men will want to buy now and then, and given the merit of saving up for opportunities and risks, my own plan if i weren’t retired, and my advice to others, would be to earn $5K-$10K at least if the work available lets you earn that much at reasonably satisfying tasks. Co-operative ownership gives you the ability to live very cheaply—and thus, to save very quickly when you have the chance to earn good pay on a good job or project.

An estimate is not a guarantee, and maintenance costs in particular will vary from year to year: I’ll repeat my suggestion [in Footnote 1] that the co-operative have a “contingency fund” of $2,000 or more for above-normal house and vehicle expenses. Besides that “contingency fund”, it’s a good idea for each man to have savings not only for unexpected expenses, but also for opportunities. If you’re a guitar player and a great instrument is advertised for sale at a great price, you want to be able to get it, cash. If you’re a photographer and a Hasselblad or a superb Zeiss lens comes available at auction, you want to be able to bid. The group might want to buy a boat to go fishing together, or tools and building materials for a garage.

Doesn’t that make sense, when you think about it? Have your basic housing and wheels paid-for, and some savings to take advantage of bargains and meet unexpected expenses or tide you through a month or two when there’s no decently-paid work available. The pressure that spoiled so many men’s lives in the 20th Century—is gone.

As you get to know one another and build mutual trust, a “pooled contingency fund” for larger emergencies and opportunities, that anyone can draw on with the consent of the rest, might be a further step. (The art of balancing savings against the ravages of inflation, depends on specific circumstances; and so is something each group of men works out among themselves.)  Many men will want to save up to invest; and you don’t have to invest with the same other men who are your house+vehicle partners.  (Many times, though, i predict you will. Going through hard work and success together builds friendship and trust.)

This “posting” is about beginnings and potentials, and there are many ways indeed for a men’s co-operatives to develop. For some men, especially retired men perhaps, a co-operative household such as i’ve sketched here, will be home for life. Some men will save-up to establish a family farm, or a co-operative farm, or some other family or co-operative enterprise (examples below.3) Some might risk the not-so-tender-mercies of the Tax Collectors and start a traditional capitalist business.

Some might even remain members but move out to marry women who have money or whose parents will make them guaranteed heirs to land. (If the marriage should “fail”, the co-op membership will be a 21st Century alternative, much-preferable to “going home to mother4”… which implies that one line of co-op development should be houses organized for single fathers and their children.) As a group develops a history, and accumulates savings, there will be more and more potential uses for the spare bedroom[s]—something to think about for later but not to detail in a start-up post.

(Sex is a dangerous hobby these days, from STDs to false accusations.5 I’m not saying what rules a group of men might want to have about women visiting, but i’ll report that some sensible middle-aged and older men are advising “never let a woman come in the door.” For a cloister, that seems reasonable to me. For a group of single men who aren’t following a faith practice of abstinence, it seems oppressed—but for a while, admitting Feminist oppression might be wiser than ignoring it.)

The greatest virtue of the house-and-vehicle co-operative is its efficiency. Flexibility is an important virtue also. As we’ll see in future posts, “worker co-operatives” (workers owning their business as equals) and cloisters6 both have the same virtues.

You can go your own way, and prosper. Chances are, there are other men who would like to go much the same way as you. Getting together with the right Brothers, and working together on terms and in patterns you choose together, is the best way i know both to succeed, and to enjoy doing it.

References [notes follow]:

Logan, Lorne D. 1975. “Transition in occupational choice: A case study of traditionalism and influence in a Maritime community.” Paper read, Canadian Sociology-Anthropology Association, Learned Societies, Edmonton.

Martin, Davd, 1994 “Forest Homesteading: A Modest Proposal” International Journal of Ecoforestry, Fall issue

Martin,Davd, 1998: “Homestead Land Tenure: An Option for Better Forestry” Ecoforestry 13:2 [September]26-30

Martin,Davd, 2009 “Wild Humans” pp 151-155 in Alan Drengson and Duncan Taylor, editors Wild Foresting: Practicing Nature’s Wisdom. Gabriola, BC: New Society Publishers.

Martin, Davd, 2011. “ Violence and Real Men The Spearheadwebsite,September 24.

Martin, Davd, 2012. “Men Going Their Own Way in Groups: A Success Story”.Everyman website, January 3.

Slater, Philip E., 1958 “Contrasting correlates of group size”. Sociometry 21:129-139



*If you wish to write the author, his webmail address is author01 [at] everyman {dot} ca

1 If you’re “flat broke”, you might be able to work in a remote area, like the Oil Sands of Alberta, dam construction in Labrador, or a pipeline building job, and make $10,000 clear in 2-4 months. The tough part is saving it up instead of spending it on the higher prices for consumer goods that apply in remote areas. Alternatively, you might be able to borrow the money at no interest from a relative or friend, and pay it back in half a year or less by just having an ordinary job near your new home. That’s how cheaply you’ll be able to live.

Larger groups may be able to manage a lower per-man cost—and the estimates in the table are not rock-bottom prices. If a group of four can get a 4-or-more bedroom house, the materials to remedy any serious failings, and a sound car or van, for $30,000, then $8,000 per man would be enough (where the extra $2000 would pay your initial insurance costs and leave a few hundred in savings.) If you start out that close to being out of money, strive to accumulate savings of at least $2000 early on, and keep that level of savings. Borrowing is not cheap: Even if the interest rates are low for a little longer—the service charges will hurt! Lenders are in business to “make money”, and one way or another, they will insist on profit.

2 Lorne Logan, from Nova Scotia, studied men who worked for Michelin vis-a-vis those who worked at traditional fishing, logging, and farming—and found that the men doing traditional work averaged more pay per year, over a few years time; what they lacked was steady income. They couldn’t easily get consumer-credit. The lesson—organize your lives so you don’t borrow, and your work will be more pleasant and better paid! (Logan, 1975)

3 Here are a few rural possibilities, in alphabetical order: Brewery, cannery, fishing boat owned by its crew, flooring shop, flour mill, forest owned* and managed by a co-operative, fuel-pellet manufactury, furniture shop, medical clinic, sawmill, software development company, sugar refinery, winery.

* .. in the sense of permanent tenure; the ability to sell what will be held “forever”, is moot.

4 “Going home to Dad?” you ask? No reason Dad wouldn’t be a member of your co-op from before you married, except if he were one of those whose wife was and still is faithful. Such women do exist; but as many men have attested in the past several years, it’s extremely difficult to forecast which women will resist the temptation of misandric laws and bureaucracies.

5 If you should find some woman who wants some erotic fun, and you invite her back to your place, and she has a good erotic night with you, you should logically have much less to fear from false rape accusations. Those other guys in the other bedrooms would have heard something, if she’d been fighting off rape. They would have seen and heard something, between the front door and the bedroom door, if she’d not been willing. But some horror-stories about false accusations being believed, and prosecuted, might indicate that logic isn’t always respected these days.

6 If monasteries and nunneries, the commonest kinds of cloisters in Canada and the US today, don’t seem to have much flexibility, it’s probably because the men and women who’ve chosen to live in them, have wanted the liturgical, teaching, nursing, and occasionally social-work lives that these cloisters have had for centuries. If you want a different kind of work-calling and like the cloister model, there are many other things, from agricultural and forestry research to publishing novels that portray better ways to organize “society”, which a cloister can also do.

I was first attracted to St. Peter’s Abbey in Saskatchewan, by the publishing and outreach work they did for Prairie farm communities in the 20th Century—not by the liturgical ritual that is now their main life.

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About Davd

Davd Martin (Ph.D., 1966, Sociology) has been a professor, a single parent on a low income from a small commercial herb garden, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. His men's-interest essays and blogs have appeared on "The Spearhead" "A Voice for Men", and "False Rape Society", as well as this site.
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