How To Make Money and Be Happy About It Too
You can outgrow your scarcity mindset even if you are not too well off (yet)
Ever since I first set foot at my very first workplace my hidden agenda was to reach financial safety. Of course, I cared about learning, growing and getting better at my job. Of course, I wanted to become good and then the best — which I did. Of course, I wanted to have more responsibility, I wanted validation and even admiration, I wanted to be promoted. But deep down, it was about making enough money, so I never have to face poverty again.
I was born to an upper-middle-class family in Eastern Europe in the eighties where wealth was literally an unknown concept. Under the influence of the Soviet Union, socialism was good to us, if you worked you could make ends meet. My parents worked. Hard. They were good and disciplined. They made enough to buy the necessary. We even had a car — we had to wait years to get one, but we were lucky to be able to afford it. We weren’t wealthy but our level was upper-middle-class already.
When in 1989 the Russian finally left our country, when they took their troops from the barracks and their puppets from our government things started to change. Capitalism arrived with its promises and dreams.
And while lots of people made good use of the newfound freedom of goods and opportunities our family suffered. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone but people didn’t know anything about it. Small businesses opened and went bankrupt. Some emerged, some were heading downwards.
My mum ventured into a business that was doomed from the get-go. And instead of making money it was just taking up all her time and energy, and it never contributed to our family income. My dad stayed at his job and took extra shifts, but he was just as terrible with money as my mum. We just never had any. We had some around payday, but it trickled away in no time. They were perpetuating our poverty with loans and useless impulse shopping to make them feel better.
I never had nice things. I never had pocket money. We had barely enough for my school expenses. I went to a posh high school with wealthy students who went on skiing trips and excursions abroad to learn the language. I never did.
I started to make money when I was 16. I took summer jobs, tutored kids to Math and English, I distributed newspapers. It was just enough to buy me breakfast when my mum couldn’t. Throughout the years of college, having two separate majors I worked full time at a telemarketing company. 8 hours a day, sometimes 12-hour shifts during the weekend. I was sick and tired of not being able to ask for money to buy myself a coffee when we went out with friends.
Financial security was something I always had to ensure for myself. When I was married, my then-husband came from a more wealthy family, yet his attitude towards money made me wary and I never gave up my financial independence. My next long relationship was with a guy who had no stable income and it left me in charge of financing us mostly.
I came from nothing, no help from the family, I only inherited debt, and it was always up to me to manage it.
Now that I am a single mum, whatever I do affects us as a family. My responsibility is bigger than ever and I am trying to live up to this.
When last year I left my well-paying job it wasn’t my kind of decision. I have never been out of work, not even for a month in between two jobs. But this time, I left because it was killing me. It wasn’t tolerable anymore, it was terrible and soul-crushing. I knew if I stayed I would have risked a nervous breakdown.
I didn’t even have the time for the nervous breakdown I deserved.
I started freelancing and I started networking and I enjoyed every second of it. The freedom, the paychecks, the choice of saying no.
Then I started writing, and soon enough after a few months, the money I made with it stopped to be pocket money. It is starting to become a significant income stream. Not enough to make a living off it, but enough to shut my doubt down.
The average salary in my country is the equivalent of $700. I passed that a couple of months ago. And likely I will get double this amount with this month.
My ultimate dream would be to make a living off things I like to do. Writing, teaching, holding training sessions. I am working to achieve it, carefully orchestrating my moves to get more of projects I like.
But money demons never sleep.
No matter how well I am doing, no matter how much I make from 3–5 different sources, depending on the month — every now and then it hits me that this is not sustainable.
I am scared that one of my clients will disappear. I’m scared they want to change the conditions resulting in more work and less money, I am scared that they finally will realise I am but a fraud (hello imposter syndrome).
And while I am saving money and making money, I don’t feel I am rolling in money. And I need to slow down and make reasonable decisions about what I can and should do. You would say that money and figures should be reasonable enough — but for me, money is laced with triggering emotions of fear.
So, here is a list of conscious things I am doing to ease my mind and keep a good attitude towards money:
1. Start saving, no matter how small the amount of it, keep piling it up
It’s a much-repeated sentence from money experts. No matter how small the amount is, start it. If you start with $30 a month, it’s exactly $30 more than zero. But the best of it is that in a short time it starts to give you confidence that you can do it. Most people don’t save because they think that it won’t change a thing. Lots don’t start it because they think they can’t and they will spend it anyway.
Psychologically it feels great to see how small amounts are adding up, how they start to make a difference. I, for example never touched my medium earnings from my very first month when I made $53. It sits there on my account, untouched, piling up. $53 is not a lot. the second months $243 wasn’t too much either. But after 7 months I am at $4700 and THAT makes a huge difference. Touching it would have been easy, it is easy to spend $50 or $250… but I would rather watch this grow and reach some further milestones.
2. Be very aware of setting your own pricing and don’t sell yourself short
One serious mistake by freelancers is when they are setting their initial pricing wrong and they never change — being afraid of losing clients. I am not talking about Fiverr where you need to work your way up to better-paying jobs, I am talking about any classic client where you are given a task and you need to name a price for it.
The only important thing about pricing yourself correctly is that it should be worth it for you, for some reason. If you are okay to work for $5 an hour because this client will later bring you more jobs with higher pay, go for it. But if you already know at the beginning that working your ass off for this little will make you miserable — don’t take it unless you really have to.
Know your worth and dare to ask to be paid for it. Keep in mind that no one is going to keep your interests in mind unless you do.
3. Always have multiple income streams
I learnt it the hard way when I jumped out of my comfortable job — for it was abusive — that relying on one single source of income is the biggest risk ever. No matter how safe you are, how well paid you are, how appreciated you are in your job or by your client — things change and tables can turn. Look at the recent changes of Medium: it changed practically overnight, and there are some who make more of it, and some who make significantly less. It looks different now than it looked a month ago. And you can never know how it will look in another year.
Diversify, diversify, diversify. It cannot be repeated enough times.
4. Aim to increase your income
Not by a lot, but by a little. Just try to increase by 5% or 10% a month — without changing your lifestyle. See how it makes you feel because it feels pretty damn good to make a little more every month. Tweak your income streams, network more, advertise more, raise your prices. Strategise and think it over. Keeping your income levels is great, but it’s even better to increase them.
5. Pay attention to petty expenses, spend on bigger things
I believe that having a good attitude towards money doesn’t mean that you need to save all the time. The contrary! It means that you can afford whatever you really want to pay for.
There are so many tiny, imperceptible expenses we make that add up to be a lot. I gave up drinking Starbucks coffee — even though I was really hooked on it. I used to drink one every day, spending at least $5 on it. That’s $150 a month! For $150 I can get a cheap flight ticket — and that is something I believe worth spending on. I am pretty happy with my homemade cup of coffee with an occasional treat.
Cut down on really tiny and unimportant expenses and see how much you can spend on things that really make a difference.
6. Pay forward whenever you can
The worst mindset you can have is the scarcity mindset — that is in the simplest terms, the belief that there will never be enough — whether it’s money, food, emotions or something else entirely — and as a result, your actions and thought stem from a place of lack. Instead of believing that you have enough, and there is plenty to go around, you cling to everything you have out of fear of coming up short. Mind you, I don’t advocate for visualising money to get it, I believe in working for it and seeing the opportunities — but I also believe that not clinging to it too much helps.
My way to convince myself that I have enough is that I am giving it away as often as I can. I am the one who is paying other writes’ ko-fis, supporting them on Patreon, lending them money or just giving it to them if they are in need. I don’t have millions (hey, I’m just a single mum from Eastern Europe), but giving away $50 will mean the world of difference to them, and it also helps me worry less.
I donate to charity and I have no problems helping out friends even without them asking. It might seem I am the poor loser who you can ask money for, but this keeps me nicely in balance with my emotions towards money. If I can give, I must have enough, right? And I CAN give.
7. Build a passive income stream
The problem with the gig economy is that you need to be actively working — day and night, all year long. It gives you more freedom than a 9 to 5 job, but you can say goodbye to your weekends and summer holidays — if you don’t set very strict rules for you and your clients.
But what you really need, so that you don’t burn out and lose motivation, is to set up some passive income streams — ebook royalties, online courses, paid newsletters.
This way you can sit back a bit and relax.
My upbringing set me up for being overly conscious about money, but I am trying to grow in a direction where I am not living with a scarcity mindset. I am overcoming my money-related fears — one by one.
And you can too — your money mindset doesn’t have to be linked to your actual financial situation.