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The Bright Side of Having Little Money: 9 Reasons to Stay Upbeat

Piggy Bank in the Sun

“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

About Maria Stenvinkel

Maria Stenvinkel is on a mission to help people get a career they truly love. Download her free worksheet Get a Clue to Your Calling With These 10 Powerful Questions.

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  • Being helpless in one aspect can be an instrument to strengthening the others.

    Money can be blinding. It’s easier to say it than when you’re already “inadvertently” in pursuit of it. It can consume, and sometimes nothing can stop you from taking that road to financial convenience.

    Being upbeat does make you get down on your knees, so to speak. It reminds you that you may be missing waaay more important things in life than simply going for the money.

    Beautiful post. No one can really tell how they’d behave with money until they have it. But it’s great to be reminded that life is more than money, always.

    Thank you.

  • Thank you Ethan!

    I completely agree with what you’re saying (I’ve read your comment several times). Money can indeed blind us. We just need to remind ourselves that money simply is a vehicle for things and experiences. It should never control where we’re heading.

    Have an amazing day!

    Maria

  • Ann Davis

    Maria, That was a powerful story. Asking an ex- for a favor is humbling.

  • Thank you Ann! Well, this was an ex Tinder date (we only met once) so it wasn’t so bad 😉

  • This was wonderful timing for me to read! Three years ago I lost a well paying job and decided to freelance – which I’ve been doing with relative success, but sometimes it’s lean. Lately has been one of those times where keeping upbeat is really hard. Your writing helped get me back on track. Thank you.

  • Great article! I’m always into learning new ways to stay upbeat in tough times, and I like being reminded that money isn’t the true source of happiness. I really resonated with your words today 🙂
    Happy summer!
    xx Lane

  • Elaine Scaife

    I love this article Maria. Having just been through a similar experience myself, I can testify that it really is true. I can completely identify with all of those fears you had: “I’ll end up homeless, lose all my friends, starve to death”, and none of those things happened! What did happen was that my friends were more than willing to help, and those friendships are now stronger. Not only did friends help, but the Universe came to the rescue in the most unexpected and miraculous ways. Ways that brought me to tears, and reminded me that I am being loved and protected by a higher power. Sometimes it’s the tough and scarey times that remind us how amazing life can be!

  • Hey Maria, powerful story that reminded me of my own story when I left my wife and a comfortable life, to go find my own pot of gold. I ended up with no money to buy food or to pay for accommodation and I had to park my car and sleep next to the police. I experienced many humbling experiences when people that I never expected to ask for help took out the little they had and gave it to me. Like you said, it gives you a sense of urgency. You try to make every moment count, because you don’t have someone or something to fall back on.

  • Nicki Lee

    This really resonates with me. We can accomplish a lot more than we think we can. You turned a challenging situation into something positive!

  • Talya Price

    I am going through something similar. Money is such an issue in my life right now,and I wish it wasn’t. It’s driving me crazy. I feel like I cannot live without it, and when I do not have enough I never have enough. And a part of me feels like I will be struggling with money for the rest of my life because I have been given a bad deck of cards.

  • Helen McCarthy

    Wow Maria, what an experience! Kudos for finding the bright side.

  • Nice nice.

    While I do indeed LOVE having money – making it, spending it, spreading it around etc – there’s been plenty of times when I’ve been hovering near “zero” on my bank balance.

    It can produce anxiety at first.

    But you know what it gives you, if you pay attention?

    The ability to be resourceful like a BOSS, even when your back is against the wall.

    After all, being resourceful is something to be proud of. 😉

  • Hi Mike,

    Great point! Lacking money teaches us to be resourceful like never before. The great thing about difficult experiences is that we’ll always keep them with us 🙂

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Thanks Helen and thanks for making a comment 🙂

  • Hi Talya,

    Thanks for commenting! Money can indeed make our minds go crazy. The thing I experienced was that I could use this experience to separate myself from my thoughts (our thoughts really do control our life experience). I call my mind “the monkey” when it’s out of control because it helps me look at it from an external point of view. I know it’s easier to say than do, but try to relax into the situation. Tell yourself relieving thoughts such as “Everything is OK”, “It doesn’t matter where I am as long as I know where I’m going”. If we can focus our thoughts so that we don’t hold an inner resistance to a situation (resistance = negative emotions), things will start shifting – that’s universal law.

    Maria

  • Hi Nicki,

    Thanks for commenting! Yes, you are so right. When we start shifting focus, we can indeed see that every difficult situation is in fact a blessing in disguise 🙂

  • Hi Jimmy,

    Wow, thanks for sharing your story! That’s incredible. I noticed the same, that people that didn’t have a lot usually gave more. I think they can better relate to the situation. I hope that you’re doing well today and you’re a very brave man for having made that decision!

    Maria

  • So recognisable! I always like to think of my worst case scenario which is never having to live under a bridge as we always fear but rather sleep on my brothers’ couch while I work in the restaurant of a friend to get to India where I can teach in a kindergarten and work on my online business…and that’s a pretty decent scenario! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Hi Elaine,

    Thanks a lot for your kind words!

    I loved what you wrote and I agree with everything. Universe is indeed always there – but somehow it’s easy to forget at times. Then in the moments when we are reminded it’s almost like, “Oooh, that’s right. I’m not in this alone. Puuuh”.

    Have an amazing day! Maria

  • Hi Lane!

    Thanks a lot for your very kind words. Yes, and what you wrote that “money isn’t the true source of happiness” is such a relieving thought. Money is just a means, that’s all 🙂

    Have an amazing summer too Lane!
    Maria

  • Hi Leslie,

    I’m so happy to hear that! You’re very courageous for having made this decision and we’ll always win in life if we stay true to ourselves 🙂

    Have an amazing day!
    Maria

  • Hi Linda,

    Thanks for your comment! Hahaha, I LOVE your worst case scenario 🙂 I actually starting doing the same, making up more “real” worst case scenarios. Mine is kind of similar: I go back to live with my parents in Sweden, work in a cafe and then go to a cheaper country in South America, learn Spanish fluently and work on my online business. Have an incredible day! Maria

  • Christina

    Unexpected blessings can come when our backs are against the wall. Maria, thank you for writing this post as it blessed me. I left my nonprofit job in 2011 and my finances took a major hit as people around me questioned my sanity. Looking at the opportunity in these situations is the way to move forward positively. I will keep your 9 lessons in mind the next time I am tempted to look back.

  • Mark Tong

    Hey Maria such a lovely post! Sometimes lack of money doesn’t matter – I
    spent my 18th birthday in a foreign country in sub zero temperatures
    sleeping rough with the homeless outside a railway station with only the
    clothes I had on ( which didn’t include a warm coat!) But at midnight
    without a word the soldiers opened the doors of the first class heated
    waiting room and let us all stay all night. They did this without
    explanation every night I was there. And a fellow traveller bought me a
    coke with the last of his money which we shared. It was one of the best
    birthday’s ever.

  • Hi Mark,

    Thanks for commenting. Wow… I got goosebumps from your story (and very curious as well!). It’s amazing when people we don’t know show true compassion. We care about each other and that’s what matters.

  • Hi Christina,

    Thank you for your very sweet words! I can so relate to what you wrote about people questioning your sanity when you act in an unconventional way. Difficult situations can really help set the focus right in several aspects in life (as long as we persist on looking at the positive). Have an amazing evening! Maria

  • lv2terp

    Great post, and wonderful perspectives to consider when finances are tight! Thanks for sharing your insight! 🙂

  • Hi,

    Thanks a lot! Have an amazing day 🙂

  • Thanks for this Maria. Your No. 3 on tapping into your inner strength is such a vital quality to cultivate, in my opinion.

  • Malene Palaje

    Having no money or the lack of it could make you worry especially if you were’nt used to that experience but eventually it would make you more creative in earning it. You will be opted to be responsible or take on responsibilty earlier on. In these situations you’ll know the people who truly cares and would stand by you. You would dream bigger or aspire more. Aside from it makes you appreciate the things you already have that you might have taken for granted, your perspective change you become optimistic and hopeful. These were the lessons I got from our family’s experience from the early demise of my father. Leaving 6 children to a wife (Mom) who’s just in her late thirties. My mom no longer works and we only rely on my dad’s govt pension. Life was really hard then but it was the some reason why we strived more, dream bigger and rise from it. You learn to value the people who has helped you even on the smallest act. I have kept friends since highschool until now, they stood and remained even if the only thing I could offer is friendship. This also fuelled our desire to help and bless other people. Part of my being so positive about life is the thought that we were able to pass through that stage and together, we can overcome all other challenges that might come our way. Our faith and bond came stronger and we know we always have each other. And above all we are working on our way towards achieving financial independence so that we could help more people and inspire others that they too can become better out of it

  • Jay

    What a sunny perspective on an issue that most take to be deadly serious. Cool post!

  • Thanks a lot Jay! 🙂

  • Hi Linda,

    I love this quote! I totally agree. Strong is what happens when you run out of weak. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Hi Malene,

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story! What a beautiful bond your family seem to have created from this experience. It’s true that what shines most bright in difficult moments, such as when lacking money, are the relationships you have.

    Have an amazing evening!
    Maria

  • Beth WRight

    I would also add that having very little money helps us to grow our TRUST in the Universe to provide whatever we need exactly when we need it. That relationship with the Divine and knowing we are truly supported at all times is the most valuable relationship we can cultivate.

  • Beth, I couldn’t agree more. Things come to you in the most magical ways when we grow our trust in the Universe 🙂

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  • I couldn’t agree more. I was very young when I came to the realization that money doesn’t buy happiness. In fact at about age 10 I declared that I never wanted to be rich because it made people do horrible things. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ as they say. Although I have had short lived times of financial abundance, most of my life I have had only moderate means at best. Regardless of my situation I have always spent what I do have on experiences rather than things. I no longer say that I don’t want to be rich as there is so much I would like to do in my lifetime, but I don’t covet it either. Having tasted both sides I can honestly say that although I had some great times when I had money, it’s truly the times when I had very little that I felt the most appreciation and experienced the most growth in myself. I am now in my 40’s and have recently taken a huge leap to follow a lifelong dream and although it means that I have less money than ever I am also the happiest I’ve ever been.

  • Belle

    This really spoke to me. I was in tears about my financial situation. This helped me feel better as I work to find a sustainable way to make ends meet for this summer and beyond. Thank you, Maria – this made my day 🙂

  • Thank you Belle for your beautiful comment! I’m happy I could make your day a little bit better 🙂 I wish you an amazing summer! Maria

  • Sarah, thanks for commenting and sharing your story! Having experienced, like you have, both sides when it comes to money really do give some perspective on what matters and what truly makes us happy. I’m very happy to hear that you’ve made the decision to follow that dream of yours (high five!). It takes courage to pursue a dream when you know it also means less money. I wish you the very best on your new adventure 🙂 Cheers! Maria

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  • Hi Maria.

    Excellent words here and congratulations for sharing your (very interesting) experience! I’m sure there are many out there who could share stories like this, but how many had such an insightful ending?

    If I could add an Item 10 (which follows on from #5) and that’s the fact that your realise what’s truly important to you in this moment. I find it amazing how money has skewed our hierarchy of importance and meaning when it comes to our day to day. So many people will think their day is “over” if they miss out on their morning latte, can’t connect to Netflix, and don’t happen to be fortunate enough to be the first ones standing in line, ready to donate $1,000 for the latest iPhone release. How is any of this truly important?

    What your post has eluded to is that happiness can be found without all the stuff, and without money. Sure, it comes down to attitude first and foremost, closely followed by an understanding of your beliefs and what you truly value most. Many of us will claim that money is highest of all, but why do we really want it? To buy our own house? That would mean we are seeking security. To go on vacation? Perhaps what we really value is fun and adventure…

    Money is indeed a vehicle, however it is not a generator of happiness or good fortune. There is a “bright side” as you call it, in any situation of we choose to see it. Can’t? Try taking a deep breath, closing your eyes, then opening them, looking without prejudice or expectation. What’s happening in the moment, and what’s really important to you.

    Find that, and use it to fuel your endeavours without concern for money. It will come once you start pursuing your cause and giving back to the world.

    I look forward to reading more of your work!

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  • Hi Jason,

    Thanks a lot for your very kind words and your insightful comment. I really liked what you said about realizing what’s truly important in this moment. A few days ago I went to a restaurant here (I’m in Spain at the moment) and saw 3 families having dinner. It looked like they were on vacation. In all families, one of the parents was always on the phone. It was always there as a distraction from them spending valuable time together. It really comes down to knowing what’s important, and sometimes that becomes most clear once we get put in a different and more challenging situation. It can set our focus right.

    I also liked this part: “Many of us will claim that money is highest of all, but why do we really want it? To buy our own house? That would mean we are seeking security. To go on vacation? Perhaps what we really value is fun and adventure…”

    I have this written down as a reminder on my computer: “What I’m looking for is not out there, it’s in me”. When we need external things to fill an empty void inside of us, we will never feel satisfied. So when our lack of what we need comes up again, we want something more and bigger. Like you said, we need to ask ourselves WHY we really want something.

    I really enjoyed reading your comment – thanks for taking the time!

    I wish you an amazing summer,

    Maria

  • Thanks Maria. I continually learn (and am reminded) of the power in asking ‘why’ in all that I do.

    Amazing summer wishes to you too!

    Jason

  • Shanker

    Hi Maria,

    Great Article, and is well written too. I appreciate both your points and the way they were cast in words. Great comments on it too. I enjoyed the double treat, wow!

    I couldn’t agree more on your points. Though I was well supported during my moneyless situations, I could understand your position and feelings. Yet, I felt scared and ashamed all the time even though no one said or did anything bad to me.

    I don’t agree Money alone creates problems. An Alcoholic, an Arrogant Scholar or a Speedster on Road are equally blind too. It’s true that anything in excess/deficient can blind us if we are crazy about it. So, the problem is within us, and Money is just one of the tools for it. My belief is that most of us are valuing ourself and others only in terms of Money, Power, Education, etc. More means demi god, and less means lesser humans. True, these factors are essential up to a point but we can not refuse to live/give the basic respect to someone who doesn’t have it.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi Shanker,

    Thanks for commenting! People make very insightful comments here, I really enjoy reading them too 🙂

    You’re making a very valid point about the fact that the problem lies within us. This is the place we should go to first, before we start looking at what’s externally.

    Thanks again and have an amazing day!
    Maria

  • Same here, I used to ask “what” in everything I did, now I ask “why” 🙂

    Cheers!
    Maria

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  • I’m 58, and reflecting on my life, I’ve observed that the times I’ve felt the most content and fulfilled corresponded with the times I was poorest. Being poor surely isn’t fun, but on the other hand, the more money you have, the more complex life gets. For me, complexity is antithetical to happiness. A constant theme throughout my life has been reconciling 1) having enough money to feel secure, now and in my ‘senior years,’ with 2) maintaining simplicity.

  • Peter Pottinger

    Its called white privilege honey … you truly don’t realize how blessed you are until you have nothing. Something billions, literally billions of people in this world live with every day.

  • Amazing. Yes, it’s incredible how much we value money as human beings to give us our status and make us feel safe. I’m glad that you made it through this experience and that you came out on the better side! Thanks for sharing your journey!

  • Thank you so much Steven!

  • It’s indeed a privilege and yes you are right that it’s often not until we have nothing that we realize how blessed we are.

    Maria

  • Thanks for commenting Kurt! Yes, I guess that’s the key: having enough money yet maintaining simplicity. Great insight. Maria

  • Yes, I see your point. Thanks for commenting Peter.

    Maria