How to be Happy with No Money

piggy bankI’m broke.

Really broke.

Most entrepreneurs don’t like to admit when they’re broke. It’s honestly difficult for me to admit it publicly. We don’t want it to be perceived as a representation of our success, capabilities or confidence.

But here I am, I’m bootstrapping a startup and I am broke. I have about 3 months of rent left in my bank account and already one maxed out credit card. I don’t have an income.

In order to make my money last as long as possible while we work on Feast, I’ve adapted my lifestyle in order to stay frugal.

I cook every meal, every day. I ride my bike everywhere instead of taking public transit. I pass on more fun experiences like concerts, day trips and nights out. I started growing my own food though I haven’t reached harvest yet so not too much saved. I haven’t bought new clothes other than a couple things from the thrift store in over a year. I buy all my furniture from salvation army or craigslist.

I pretty much only spend money on food, rent and Feast with the occasional experience.

And I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

There are a number of reasons that I’m in a really good place right now mentally, emotionally and physically. Not all of them are because I’m broke, but I realized many of them are related.

You’ll never be more focused

Having limited funds and a short timeline does wonders for your focus.

There’s no bullshit right now. Zero.

With Feast, we have absolute clarity about what we’re doing and why. Since starting the company I don’t think we’ve ever felt this sure of ourselves. We’re building a product that we absolutely believe in and focusing on solving a fundamental problem that people truly need and are willing to pay for.

We used to be distracted by a lot of things because we had the luxury of time. With time, it’s easy to spread your focus out over things that aren’t that important.

Focus is something I’ve always struggled with on a personal level as well. I imagine most people have struggled with it. The pressure of not having money makes it a lot easier to keep your head in the game. Your life depends on it.

Experiences become richer

Now when I do go out for dinner, drinks or an event it feels special. When I had disposable income, I did fun stuff several times a week. I’d eat out with friends constantly. I’d go to multiple happy hours.

I would say yes to as many experiences as possible. When you go out for dinner 4 times a week it becomes the norm and you no longer appreciate it.

But when it becomes something you do once every 4 weeks it truly becomes an experience.

You find joy in simpler routines

Since I don’t go out as much, I have more time to myself and I’ve experimented with new routines to improve my life without spending any money.

I grow my garden, I wake up earlier every day, I run in the mornings, I read more, I write every day. These are the types of things that we sacrifice in order to go out drinking, to go to events, to go to concerts and other gatherings.

I’m in the best shape of my life because of the routines I’ve built, not the gym membership I bought or the expensive equipment I wear.

You can’t buy mental, emotional or physical health. When we have money, sometimes we try to anyway. We pay for experiences and social events that are meant to make us happy.

Without money, you’re forced to realize that true happiness comes from how you manage yourself on a daily basis, not what experiences you can check off your list.

It’s important to know your best worst case scenario

Whenever I feel afraid or stressed about my financial situation, I remember to think about my best worst case scenario. And yes, it scares me when I don’t address it properly.

When you really think about it though, when you get specific, you realize that if everything crashes and burns, you’ll be alright. It actually won’t be nearly as bad as the irrational fear of failure makes it out to be. In fact, it might be pretty damn good.

In America we put so much stock in financial stability that we perceive running out of money to be the end of days. It’s probably not.

Obviously there are unique situations to take into account here. I’m fortunate in that I have an amazing support system of friends and family who would never let me sleep on the street. Others may not have the luxuries I have. Even still, if you’re motivated enough to give a startup everything you’ve got then you shouldn’t have a problem finding new opportunities if it fails.

Relying on a founder support system

My family and friends have been an amazing support system. Also hugely helpful is my founder network.

The reason this is so important is because you realize that you’re not the only one struggling.

The startup world is built on the foundation of a certain perception, of looking like you’re successful, of exuding confidence…and that’s all great. But it doesn’t send an honest message to other founders who are struggling through every day. It doesn’t let them in on the real state of things, which they might be able to relate to.

Well let this post be a reminder for those of you who think you’re alone in your struggles. You’re not. And if you’re an entrepreneur, look out for other entrepreneurs. When they ask you how it’s going, you don’t always have to put on that fake smile and lie through your teeth. Look them in the eye and tell them the truth. You might really help them by being honest.

Work with meaning

Thing is, none of that would matter if I didn’t feel that the work I’m doing was meaningful.

Even if I do run out of money, I won’t stop working on Feast. It’s something I believe in too strongly. If we fail, I’d feel genuinely satisfied having worked on something meaningful, that I truly believed in. What better way could you possibly spend your time?

If you’re working on something for any other reason that it’s a problem you truly want to see solved in the world, it will be really hard to make it through the tough times. Doesn’t matter what investors, advisors or anyone else tell you to work on.

Work on what you believe in. Otherwise it’s not worth the sacrifice.

Have you bootstrapped your startup? Have you ever been broke? I’d love to hear your stories. Please share them in the comments.

Photo Credit: LiuTao via Compfight cc

9 comments
Scott
Scott

Just given up 10 years as a Primary School Teacher in England to run a franchise selling books.  Haemorrhaging money like you can't believe.  Have employed my mother to work for me and have 3 other staff.  It's a real challenge and sometimes I consider going back to teaching-not likely with so much pressure on processing kids through the primary level academic conveyor belt where school league tables are king.  Such a shame that teaching isn't really about teaching anymore.  Lets see how selling discount books to schools, hospitals and nurseries goes.  Have never been this broke though.  Keep doing the breathing exercises and smile.

Ming Zheng
Ming Zheng

What a great post!  I am broke and really broke and I am miserable, but I haven't given up yet as an entrepreneur. Hope to live up to your standards Mr. Spinks!

adolf
adolf

You speak from my heart. 30+years of hard work was wiped out for me about 5 years ago and I'm still struggling to rebuild BUT like you stated in your awesome article I also started doing things more conscious and with more passion-no joke but I also started a garden with my wife and it saves lots of money and tastes better. Going out? no we don't. Eating out? No we don't-my wife and I we're both passionate cooks. Credit card-fuck it, I have Visa Checking Card-accepted anywhere in the world and so on.

With the extra time on hand during the past years, I have learned so much new stuff in my profession (creative) learned new tools expanded my skill set. Just a matter of time before I start striking back stronger than ever. 

Looking back I don't regret anything, because: I rather try and fail than failing to try! Your article was an awesome read. Keep it up!! Peace

mckra1g
mckra1g

The cliche about doing what I do even if I didn't get paid isn't a cliche, because I've lived it for three years. I have no idea how I made it this far, honestly. There has been more than one night that I meditated on the Indy Jones Holy Grail Bridge, saying out loud to my bedroom, "Show me the bridge. I'm not seeing the bridge." And damned if that bridge didn't show up within the next day or two. 

We really do find out that there's more to us than we think. Each time we push through a fear barrier, there's a sweet reprieve ~ a chance to catch our breath and then back into the breach. It's f*cking terrifying. And exhilarating. And I would never ever have "a real job" ever again. 

I thank God for my inner sanctum "Crazy Margaret Mead People." They are those who have answered texts in the middle of the night: [ME: I'm not crazy and this will all work out.] THEM: You're not crazy and this will all work out. 

Thanks for saying what a lot feel. 

mphnyc
mphnyc

Good stuff. Lots here I can relate to. I was broke for almost ten years. If and when you make money from Feast, what you do with that money will taste a whole lot sweeter. If you fail, at least it is your failure - and that's worth a lot, too. It's also good to know what it's like to have some money -- then to have very little money. You learn how adaptable you are and what makes you happiest. When you make it, you'll be much better prepared to properly enjoy the hefty bank account.

talvinder
talvinder

Bud, being broke is beautiful. The hunger and desire to work harder while being meaningful is at its peak. I have been broke for 90% of my life and have been hungry yet happy.

We are #500strong forever. We are gonna kick some serious ass!

thuymuoi
thuymuoi

Hey David, 

I just want to let you know that you're at the best time of your entrepreneur career (ever, I mean it)! The time like these make us think a lot harder, work more efficient, we don't have you joke around. Period. 

GreenGar has been bootstrapped ourselves in the last 5 years. We went through everything that any entrepreneurs possibly face, and yes, we had our hard-time as well. Founders will have to do everything we can instead of hiring people, some can't stand it and just take a leave! It's hard, but end of the day! I found out that the biggest reason is never about the money but rather people have any beliefs in the products and the company's missions and directions anymore. 

When you find the meaning of your works, your suffering, your effort, the rest is history! Keep fighting, and you're never alone on this road! 

We're #500STRONG & we're family (forever)! 

All the best, 

Thuy