“If it weren’t for the money, I’d change career paths/start a company/quit this job I hate/do something fulfilling, exciting, meaningful…”
I’ve had variations of this conversation with so many people my age. Soooo many. For those friends, and for anyone else out there who has similar thoughts, I want to share a bit of my story.
While it’s smart to have a solid financial plan before jumping into something risky, life doesn’t always come perfectly packaged. When I started Honey & Twine, I was married and had my husband’s salary to fall back on. Pretty perfect package. But not long after starting the company, that package began to unravel. I decided I had to separate myself from my husband and the life we had been building. The reasons were complex and varied, and I won’t get into all the details right now, but one of the factors was that I felt like I hadn’t ever been an adult standing on my own two feet. I felt like he had always taken care of our financial matters. I needed to know that I could fend for myself in the world. I needed to see what I was made of.
So I moved out. I relinquished ownership of our house and didn’t take a penny from our joint accounts. I decided to rely only on my personal savings account. The timing could not have been worse though. My company was still in its infancy, so my partner and I hadn’t even learned how to pay ourselves yet. For the first couple months, I just watched my savings drain. It was scary. But after a couple months, Honey & Twine’s finances were stable enough to allow me to start paying myself.
$1,000 a month.
That’s what I paid myself for the next year. Those of you familiar with the Bay Area know that life here is pricey, so I had to do a couple things in order to make it work. One, I had to be humble. I’ve never wanted to take money from my family. I always hoped or expected to be in the position to help rather than hinder. But since my job allowed me the freedom to travel, I still wanted to see them, so I let my dad pay for flights home. And when I got really scared about things, I’d let my sisters help with things too, though I tried not to rely on anyone else’s money. Having such a supportive and inspiring family pulled me through in many ways. One of my sisters said something that really stuck:
“Human beings are amazing. We always figure out how to survive, and you will too. You'll do what you have to."
A bell rang in my head and I knew I would survive. I knew I had to hustle. I took up tutoring and editing on the side, and that ended up covering my rent. The thousand a month from my company paid for bills, food, and anything else I could afford. I prioritized my physical and emotional health, so I continued to pay for health insurance and therapy (therapy is the shit. I will dedicate a whole post to it sometime).
Aside from working harder, there were other lifestyle changes too of course. I became semi-vegetarian (meat's expensive yo!) and cooked most of my meals. I basically stopped shopping and rarely got professional haircuts (thanks roomie for helping maintain my sideshave in the bathroom that year!). But this is all stuff I hear from other entrepreneurs who’ve started their own companies too. Maybe I couldn't afford to be as pretty as some other girls, but it was nothing to cry about (I had lots of other cool things to cry about :D). In return for making these sacrifices, I got to build a brand from scratch in which I could take pride.
Honey & Twine is entering its third year now, and out of all of your friends, I might be the least stressed about finances. Not because I make more than anyone else, but because I now know how little I can survive on. And that, in a strange way, is hugely empowering.
Even when I got to the point where I could pay myself more than $1,000 a month, I didn't right away, because I started to almost like the challenge of living simply. It made those rare lattes so much more delicious, made me grateful for every little treat. I’m so much more comfortable than a year ago, when even getting that coffee would be a big financial decision for me. Though I’m by no means rolling in money, I might as well be compared to that first tough year on my own!
My dad sent me a Suze Orman quote recently: The purpose of money is to allow you to feel secure. She's got crazy eyes, but she's also got a very good point. The purpose of money isn't to buy designer bags or stockpile endless amounts. It's just to feel secure, whatever that might mean to you. And I realize it's a very subjective thing. I have friends who make six figures and feel like they don’t have the financial freedom to pursue their dreams. Freedom is as much in the mind as it is in the bank though. Don't let the fear of not having money hold you back from doing something meaningful.
If you really believe in what you're doing, you'll do what you have to, and you'll survive. And eventually, you will thrive.