The nice thing about money problems is that they can be solved with money. Not every problem can. I've had all sorts of problems that I wished I could buy my way out of. Usually they have been emotional problems, such as any heartbreak suffered by my friends. Sometimes they have been mysterious health problems. I've come to a place in my life where money problems are the best problems! Even better, money problems can usually be solved without money. That's because money is simply a form of energy transfer, a symbol, and the same energy can be transferred in other ways.
We're limited in our imaginations. We tend to think that certain things have certain defined costs. We put problems into specific categories, not realizing that we can come at them from more oblique angles. Often, we don't really know how much something might cost. We just assume that we can't afford it. What helps is to start thinking of as many possible alternative options for the problem as possible, including eliminating it, such as by canceling a service or downsizing. Another strategy is to think of as many ways to come up with the projected dollar amount as possible.
As an example, recently I needed a ride to the airport at 4:20 AM. Good luck negotiating that with a friend! I took a Lyft. It cost about $25. Incidentally, I had just made about $33 by trading in books at the used bookstore. It never would have occurred to me that "I can pay for a cab ride with used books," but essentially, that's what I did.
As another example, I've shared about my Fairy Jar, where I put all the coins I've found on the sidewalk in the past ten years. There is about $56 in there right now. Most people would not think, "I can pay my electric bill with pennies I found in the street," but personally, I could. Once, anyway. Of course, the other reason that's true is that I work to keep my power bill as low as possible. An argument can be made that this IS solving a problem with money, but the point is that I didn't technically "earn" those pennies. They're more like a natural resource. They're also something readily available that almost nobody notices or bothers to utilize.
When I was a student, I wanted a paid membership to a club, and I "could not afford" it. It was $50 a year. I made a deal with another club member that she would pay my membership, and I would work it off by cleaning her house a certain number of times. This was a nice deal for both of us, partly because it was the easiest way for us to find time in our busy schedules to hang out with each other. I know another young student who is in the same situation with a different club. I'm trying to find a way to tell him: He doesn't need $70, he needs ten people who will pay him $7 to do something. Or seven people who will pay him $10. Or two people who will pay him $35. Surely there's something he can do to earn money in those increments? Tutoring, pet sitting, grocery delivery, copy editing, yard work, juggling at a child's birthday party? Taking dares and making a video of himself going downtown in a chicken suit or hopping on one foot a thousand times? I don't know, surprise me. I know I have $7 from my penny jar. Maybe it has your name on it.
I've started over from zero a few times in my life. I know how it's done. Maybe one day I'll do it again as a thought exercise. There are several ways to trade for free rent, including care-taking, nannying, and house-sitting. Get a reputation for reliability and cleanliness, and you may find yourself staying in some very high-end homes. If I was hungry and couldn't afford food, I'd have arrangements by the end of the day. I'll cook dinner for you and wash the dishes afterward if I can eat with you. I'll even pack you a lunch for tomorrow. Throw in dessert and I'll make your breakfast too. I'm a pretty darn good cook, and it wouldn't be long before I had people quarreling over who gets me on Saturday. As long as you avoid wearing out your welcome, the majority of people are 1. Quite kind and 2. Quite tired of cooking and cleaning for themselves.
My husband and I like to keep a lot of young people in our life. Young people laugh three times as much as middle-aged people. They keep us informed about what's relevant in pop culture, and that includes a lot of hilarious memes and videos. They introduce us to new music and keep us current on slang. Also, they're all perpetually broke and looking for ways to earn more money. We help them out when we can with networking, job references, and advice. Mostly they just need cash. We're always looking for pet sitters, and it means a lot that we can trust our fluff-babies with familiar faces. If you sing to them and tell them bedtime stories, you're getting a bonus. What we do with our careful cultivation of mentoring relationships is to create something that money can't buy. That's trust. We can pay for certain services, but we can't pay for the love. Not everyone will plant a smooch on a parrot beak. If you will, you're in the club.
When I was a broke student, I made money through several different side hustles. These were simple skills I had; what I did might not work for someone else, but then that person might have skills I didn't. I had a work-study job. I had a quarter-time job off campus. I took notes for a disabled student. I did transcriptions for grad students. I did mending and tailoring. I cleaned houses, sometimes getting tipped with extra groceries as well. I dealt in a small way in consignment clothing and used books. There may well be other things I did that have faded from memory, but the point is, I was always looking for ways to contribute a skill and turn it into whatever I could. Cash, meals, rides (since I didn't have a car). I would have gladly bartered for other services, such as bike repair or a haircut. People take for granted anything that comes easily to them, even though many of these are marketable skills.
Of course, some people don't really have any skills, and this is not limited to the very young. If you don't have a resume that will get you a decent job, can't drive, can't cook, can't repair things, can't hold up to manual labor, don't know anything about gardening, and don't have any artistic ability, hey, guess what? You're me at age 18. Ahh, but there are people in my acquaintance who are older than me who fit most or all of that description. Skills can be learned. They're not genetic. If you don't have any money, learn how to do something that will earn money, and then get up and start doing it. It's much, much easier to work and earn money (or its equivalents) than it is to not work and be poor.
What are some problems I've solved without money? I traded my labor for use of a garden plot. I borrowed an expensive art history textbook for a term (and returned it in excellent condition). I learned to use the reserve library at my school so I wouldn't have to buy all my other textbooks. I was able to borrow a bike trailer for a weekend because the owner thought my planned use of it was funny. I made a home for my parrot, who is adopted, and I'm quite positive I'm giving her the best second home she could have had. I got a jar of imported curry powder as a gift for a recipe I shared. I traded a case of canning jars for some homemade fig jam, and I got a sack of plums in exchange for a jar of the plum jam. (Never pay retail for fruit spreads!). I got a watermelon for helping someone carry something. I've traded my organizing services for a bolt of fabric and a pasta maker, among other things. The easiest things to arrange are temporary lodging, transportation, meals, resume editing, introductions, recipes, and advice. What other problems are there, really?
There are two steps to solving problems without money. The first is to define the problem and the desired outcome. The second is to think of every possible way to reach the desired outcome. It's true that most petty, persistent problems go away after a certain income level, so never rule out the possibility of figuring out a way to earn more money. Also, avoid isolation. Ask other people about the problem. Chances are very high that they can either help you solve the problem or connect you with someone who can. Your need is someone else's opportunity. Whether you think so or not, you have a skill that can contribute to someone else's lifestyle upgrade. Improve the existence of others around you by making your skills available. The big question is, what would you do with yourself if you didn't have any problems at all?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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