“If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy.” ~Proverb
Ever been in a bad money situation?
Life might have been cushy before, but all of a sudden you find yourself having to carefully watch your spending. You start worrying about how to make ends meet.
You’re unable to afford the luxuries you’ve grown accustomed to—the ones you used to take for granted, like a Starbucks coffee or a meal at a restaurant.
I found myself in such a situation not too long ago.
I used to have a well-paid corporate job that allowed me to spend my time shopping, partying, and going on weekend trips with friends. It was a comfortable life, yet I couldn’t shake the lack of fulfillment I felt.
Every so often I thought about my big dream—the one I hadn’t realized yet. You know the dream that scares you to the core, makes your palms sweat, and your heart beat faster? Yep, that’s the one.
Finally, I made the decision to be brave and take action. For me, that meant moving to New York City and starting a business. Luckily my sister had a similar vision, and our paths crossed perfectly.
My plan was to live for a few months off my savings. I didn’t know much about my sister’s financial situation, but let’s just say that working six months for free in New York doesn’t leave you with much.
She had tried to tell me that she was struggling financially. I told her not to worry—that we were in this together and we’d work it out. When we met up in New York City, however, her bank account contained exactly $1. I knew it was bad, but not that bad.
So there we were, in one of the most expensive cities on earth, with no place to stay, no job, no long-term visa, and only my savings to live on.
This experience pushed me way out of my familiar boundaries. I had to lower the bar on my comfort zone as well as my dignity—which I realized when I had to ask an ex-Tinder date if my sister and I could crash in his apartment for a few nights.
But my New York City adventure also taught me lots of valuable lessons. I learned to look past the difficulties of having little money to the positive aspects of it (and there are plenty, I promise). This is what I learned.
1. You connect with people.
When you lack money, you become more dependent on others. Some see this as a painful experience, but it can actually help you strengthen your connections.
Allowing others to be there in moments of difficulty isn’t always easy (hello, pride). But by sharing your vulnerability, you give others permission to do the same. When you allow others to be there for you, you open up to deeper connections.
Also, believe it or not, allowing someone else do us a favor actually leads them to like us more as a result. This is called the Benjamin Franklin Effect. Basically, we justify the favor we did for someone by telling ourselves that we did it because we like the person.
2. You realize your fears were overblown.
Not having enough money can be a great fear for many people. Our minds tend to imagine everything that can go wrong, and build up our negative expectations.
My mind went crazy when I realized what we were dealing with financially. It told me that I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent, so I’d end up on the street. That I’d lose all my friends now that I couldn’t afford to go out, and that I was at risk of starvation and potential death.
None of my fears came true. The point is that reality is rarely as bad as we imagine it will be. Most of the scenarios we make up exist in one place only: our imagination.
3. You tap into your inner strength.
When things around you are uncertain and unstable, you can’t hang on to anything or anyone else but yourself. Others can help, but when life isn’t easy, you simply have to tap into your inner strength.
Needing external things and people to be a certain way in order for you to feel strong is a recipe for disappointment. They are out of your control. You are the only thing you can control in this world; it’s the only place from which you can draw true and lasting strength.
4. You become more grateful.
When you can no longer afford the small things you used to take for granted, you become more grateful for the moments when you can afford them.
Drinking a coffee you take for granted and drinking one you sincerely appreciate are two very different experiences. In the end, happiness isn’t derived from what we are able to buy, but from the gratitude and appreciation we are able to cultivate from our experiences.
5. You realize you already live in abundance.
Sometimes we need to experience what we think is lack in order for the abundance to appear. The abundance is there—we just need to tune into it.
Just think about it. The sun rises every morning; birds keep on singing and food keeps on growing on our planet. We have roads to walk on, parks to spend time in and people around us to have interesting conversations with.
Having little money can make you appreciate what you still have in life, even the little things you never used to think much about.
6. You spend less time doubting.
I used to spend a considerable amount of time every day comparing and second-guessing all the options available to me. What to eat for lunch, where to go on a night out, what bag to buy, and so on.
Don’t get me wrong, having options is good—but too many can be overwhelming. Less money means fewer options. This leaves little room for doubt or dwelling on the alternatives. You simply have to accept the options available to you, and as you get on with your life, you realize they’re just fine.
7. You become more creative.
Constraints make you creative. When you are faced with limitations you’re required to find new ways of making things work. You start looking outside the box for alternative solutions.
For my sister and me, that meant becoming creative with our accommodations. Paying rent was simply not an option (unless we wanted to spend all of our money on that and come back home broke). So instead of living in our own place, we spent our time housesitting, babysitting, and dogsitting for people just to keep a roof over our heads.
8. You make the most of your time.
When a situation is unsustainable, a sense of urgency arises. Something needs to happen for the current condition to improve. Suddenly, every hour counts.
My New York City experience made me realize that I need to make the most of my time and stop wasting it on things that don’t bring real value. That means no more days in which all I’m doing is waiting for those days to pass.
9. You realize the importance of choice.
Money makes us comfortable. When we are comfortable, it’s easier to not make proactive choices. Choosing means excluding something; therefore, choosing not to choose becomes the easy way out.
When you’re not numbed by the comfort of money, life gets very real. Every choice you make (or don’t make) either moves you in the direction of what you want or not. The importance of choice becomes more evident.
Keep Looking on the Bright Side
Let’s be honest. Staying upbeat when you have little money isn’t easy. Reminders of your financial situation are constantly there, in the cup of coffee you buy, the unexpected bill you receive, or the craving you have for that unaffordable vacation.
Seeing the bright side of a difficult situation isn’t a quality you either have or don’t have—it’s a choice you make and a skill you can develop. You can learn to make the choice to not let your happiness depend on external things, such as money.
You deserve to feel good no matter the status of your bank account. To help you stay cheerful, keep reminding yourself of these nine things. Make a choice right now to proactively focus on what is good in your life.
While you work on improving your financial situation, I encourage you to take advantage of the positive aspects of having little money—connect with people, tap into your most creative self, and make the best of the time you have by not over-thinking your options.
And always remember this. It doesn’t matter where you are today, as long as you know where you’re going.
Piggy bank in the sun image via Shutterstock