If 40 dollars is all you have left on your bank account and you have to wait another five days for your pay cheque you will think twice if you want to spend 20 dollars on a shirt or if you really need another cappucino.
Every single dollar becomes precious especially when you have kids and you want to put some healthy food on the table.
In the last 12 years I’ve lived under financially restricted circumstances. In other words, I was poor. Not in the sense that I had nothing to eat or that I had no roof over my head - this is a severe form of poverty - but I know that I earned less money than the average person and for sure less than 95% of the people I know. To be fair, I should mention that I was not a victim of poverty like some people in third world countries who can’t find a job or can’t buy food because there is none. Instead I chose my circumstances consciously. I knew that if I wanted to have more money again, I could just apply for a normal 9-5 job. But this was not an option for me.
I was 24 when I decided to make joy the first priority in my life, not money. And that meant that I had to pass on a lot of things like going on trips, buying new clothes, getting a new phone etc. Instead of climbing the career ladder I chose to quit my office job and become a dancer. Although this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, it was definitely a big step back financially.
Now, I’m super honest with you. Living with a small budget can be hard. When you’re worried to get sick because you don’t have a health insurance or you know you have no money for meds, that’s not a good feeling. When you don’t know what to buy your friends and family for Christmas because you only have a tiny budget but they have high expectations, that doesn’t feel good either. The look on people’s face when you tell them that you don’t have enough money to buy yourself a new pair of shoes and they feel so sorry for you. I used to hate this look.
A part of me always thought it’s unfair that I felt drawn to the arts, because I assumed that artists are doomed to have a life with less money which is true for a lot of us. But now I see things from a different perspective. I don’t feel unfortunate anymore. I feel blessed to have gone through this path because it actually made me stronger and helped me realize who I really am. All these years this nagging voice inside of my head tried to convince me that making joy and not money the first priority will turn out to be a big mistake in the end. But it wasn’t.
If you’re in a financially restricted situation at the moment and you feel that life treats you unfairly, let me give you a list of 12 invaluable things that I've learned from being poor. There is no amount of money in the world that could make up for the wisdom and joy that I gained from this experience. It’s priceless.
1. I BECAME MORE CREATIVE
When you have a small budget you have to become more creative. You could say that life forces you to your own happiness, because creating is why you’re here and it’s so much fun. So instead of going to a restaurant you have to create your own meal. Instead of buying furniture, you buy used items and give them a new coat of paint. Instead of buying an expensive painting, you’ll make one yourself etc. Over time you will get really good at turning "shit into gold". At the beginning you might see this as a necessity, but soon you will enjoy it and even if you make more money later on, you might rather create things than buying everything.
2. I GOT CLEAR ON WHAT I REALLY WANT
A couple of months ago I had to decide whether to invest 40 dollars in my writing or in a T-shirt. I chose to put it towards my writing practice and in this moment I got aware of how important writing is to me. This was such a beautiful realization.
Imagine you would have 1.000 dollars each month left over to buy yourself whatever you want to have. You go shopping and you put everything into your card that looks beautiful and catches your attention. What do you think: How many of these items will you actually use or wear later on? Unless you're already very conscious, you will buy things that don’t really matter to you. If, on the other hand, you only have 50 dollars a month to spend on an item that you like, you will more likely choose something that you really need or that’s meaningful to you. In one way life forces you to get clear on what brings you the most joy. Try to see your financial situation from a different perspective. It can make you more aware of what’s important to you and what’s not.
3. I LEARNED THE ART OF ENJOYING THE SIMPLE THINGS
Let’s say you could have champagne every single day. Maybe that sounds desirable to you, but in fact, it isn’t. Soon you would get tired of it. You wouldn’t be able to enjoy it anymore. Living with a small budget teaches you the art of enjoying the simple things. It makes you more aware of how precious everything is: a cup of hot tea, warm winter boots, a cake that somebody bakes for you, a full fridge, a beautiful piece of jewelry etc. If you’re already a very conscious being, it doesn’t matter. You can have a lot of money AND be able to enjoy the small things. If not, having less money will teach you the value of small things. And for me that’s what life is all about: To live a simple and joyful life.
4. I BECAME AWARE OF WHERE HAPPINESS REALLY COMES FROM
2006 something beautiful happened to me. I woke up on a sunny spring morning in my beautiful bachelor apartment. I had a safe job that brought in good money, but I was completely depressed. The contrast between my beautiful surroundings and my dark inner state made me realize that nothing outside of myself will ever have the power to make me happy and that happiness is an inside job. Living with a smaller budget can teach us to be content with less and through that experience we realize that feeing joyful is a choice rather than something that is bound to an external condition.
5. I'M MORE FREE
It’s weird, through learning to live with less I appreciate the things that I have even more, but at the same time I’m also less attached to them. If somebody would take away my couch tomorrow, I would be ok with it. If somebody took away the 10 books that I own, it wouldn’t bother me much. More important to me are experiences and relationships.
6. I’M MORE COMPASSIONATE
When I see a person on the street that is bagging for money, I feel more compassionate than I used to. I know that they have even less than me and part of me knows that this experience belongs to their journey. Some months I had so little to live on, I knew that I was only one step away from living on the street myself. This can happen to anybody.
7. I’M LESS AFRAID OF LOSS
When you live with less, you’re trained to let go of expectations, luxeries and pleasures. You know that you can still feel happy and peaceful with very little. This makes you less afraid of loosing or letting go of the stuff you own. I see people getting upset when their car or a window of their house breaks. Often those people have no problem to pay for the repair, but it seems that the more things you own, the more attached you become to your possessions. Living with less can teach you the art of letting go without resentment. And while you’re learning to let go of things outside of yourself, it becomes easier to also let go of opinions, beliefs and thoughts that don’t serve you anymore.
8. I BECAME MORE HEALTHY
Living with a tiny budget can help you to become more healthy. For example, if you can’t afford to go to a restaurant every day, you cook at home with fresh ingredients and you know what you put into your food. It might also force you to eat less meat because good quality meat is expensive, so you will eat less. This will probably be better for your body than consuming it every day only because you have the money to do so.
Moreover, if you know that going to the doctor is an expense that would be hard on your budget, you will take better care of your body. For example I’ve never been so good to my teeth than in the last years, just because I don’t wanna pay for an expensive dentist visit. My teeth are very thankful for that.
9. I FEEL STRONGER
Learning to live with a restricted budget made me stronger. I feel that I get less upset than others when I don’t get what I want. I can differentiate between things that I want and things that I need. When I can’t get what I want I can still feel peaceful and I’m not so easily pulled into a bad mood.
10. I REALIZED HOW POWERFUL I AM
Life almost forced me to believe in my own power. For example, did I realize that I can heal my own body and that I don’t necessarily need to go to the doctor or buy meds when I’m in pain. I’m way more in tune with my body’s natural healing power than ever. I’m pretty sure, I would have never considered trying to heal myself, if I would have been able to afford traditional or even alternative treatments.
11. I’M MORE GRATEFUL
I can’t just go to the shopping mall and buy myself an expensive pair of shoes or a new book etc. But when I occasionally buy myself something or I get a gift, I’m so grateful and appreciative of it. Herein lies the secret of happiness. Having less money can force you to become more grateful for the things you have. And the more grateful you are, the happier you are.
12. I REALIZED THAT I'M NOT POOR
After reading all the above mentioned points, it’s clear that I don’t feel poor. I feel blessed. I have a roof over my head, I have food on the table and a computer to write. I feel strong, empowered, grateful, mostly healthy, less afraid, more free, more happy and creative. Really, what is there to complain about?
I hope, I was able to give you a different perspective on your financial situation, no matter if you have a lot or just a little on your bank account. The last thing I want to do is to romanticize “being poor”, but often we miss the opportunity to embrace the situation that we’re in and to take the best out of it.
The Persian poet Rumi said:
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will you get polished?”
Try to see your financial situation not as something to be irritated about, but something that will make you more conscious of who you really are.