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5 Lessons I Learned from Going Broke

Photo by Tristan Duplichain Photography
There are people who are so poor, the only thing they have is money. ~Unknown

Three years ago I quit my job as a brand manager to become a freelance writer. I spent half of the first year travelling.

For the next two years I survived on the small income I made from my fledging freelance writing business, supplemented by savings. It’s been a struggle and things did not take off the way I would have hoped. This year money finally ran out.

It’s been a strange experience – having no money (except the little I make with writing and doing house-sitting on the side). Oddly enough, I’m not as freaked out as I thought I would be.

I will admit that it is not easy. I would like to make enough money to cover my monthly expenses. Right now, I barely keep my head above water.

However, I am strangely calm about it. I do have moments where I become frustrated and feel drained by the constant financial battle. Then I give myself a pep talk and carry on.

I know that I need to make certain decisions as to how to go forward with my life. The choice between continuing to pursue freelancing, finding additional ways to supplement my income or, and this is my least favorite option, going back into the traditional workforce.

In the meantime, while I mull that over, as with everything in life, there are lessons to be taken away from every situation. I have come to the conclusion that this experience, which is seemingly a bad one, is also a good one. Having little or no money tests your character and provides some big lessons and awakenings.

Here are some of mine:

1. We Can Get By on So Much Less

When I left my job, I drastically trimmed the fat and cut down on expenses. I now need so much less money to live on than I did during my old life. The more stuff you acquire, the more money you need to pay for it and maintain it.

2. Something Always Comes Up

Just when I wonder how I’m going to get through another month, somehow something always comes along to help me get by. This has taught me to live by faith.

Trust that it will work out, and if you believe in a higher power, that He will look after you. I am constantly amazed by how this happens. It’s quite inspiring.

3. You Find Out Who Your Real Friends Are

I have been fortunate to have friends who are consistent and true. They know I am cash-strapped, but they haven’t pulled a runner. They’re still my friends, and they’re still there for me. To have friends like that is one of life’s richest blessings.

Some of them have even helped me along the way (without me ever asking for any help) by paying me to babysit, sending writing or editing work my way, paying for a nice dinner or treating me to something nice while out shopping.

I even had a friend offer me an all-expenses paid month-long trip overseas! That blew me away. Who does that?

However, in a world full of shallow people, there are many who will ditch you in your time of need. No money — no friends!

These are fair-weather friends – there when times are good. But when dark clouds appear, they’re nowhere to be found.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, be thankful. Everyone you know (including family) got dumped into a sieve, shaken around and the true ones remained behind.

The superficial ones fell through and out of your life. And that’s a good thing. Now you know you are surrounded by quality people — the ones worth having in your life.

4. Accept What Others Give

My greatest lesson throughout this period has been to learn to accept what others offer. This has been the hardest thing because as a single, independent woman I have made my own way in this world and never asked anyone for help, even during difficult times.

Call it pride or independence or both. When someone pays for me, I feel uncomfortable. I am inclined to refuse.

I’ve learnt to swallow my pride and accept. By refusing a gift, financial assistance or help, you not only deny yourself the much-needed help or lovely gift, but you deny the giver the joy that comes from the act of giving and are shunning the love and concern that they are showing you.

5. Life Goes On

Going through a bad financial patch can be devastating – loss of a job, loss of income, loss of your home, loss of possessions, the struggle to put food on the table and pay your bills is not easy. Unfortunately, life does not stop because you have no money.

There are people who lost everything and ended up moving in with relatives, or to a homeless shelter, or worst case scenario — lived in their car. The sun still rose, the day still went by and life just carried on.

It’s tough and unpleasant, make no mistake.

To get by, perhaps they received help from family, lived off welfare assistance or unemployment or survived on only one meal a day. But life went on, one way or another. Eventually they got a job, found a new apartment and got back on their feet.

Parting Words

There’s no shame in landing on hard times. It can happen to anyone. The thing to remember is that money is fluid. It’s here today and gone tomorrow.

Similarly, it can be gone today but there tomorrow. The wheel turns. Even the most devastating financial loss can be turned around because money is something you can always acquire again.

When we hit the skids financially, it may seem like the bottom of our world has dropped out, but it’s important to remember that this too shall pass. It’s a dip in the roller coaster of life and like any roller coaster will go back up again.

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About the author

Deevra Norling is a freelance writer for hire who assists clients with press releases, articles, website copy, blog articles and copywriting. She has covered topics such as CRM, health and wellness, career advice and entrepreneurship, travel writing, personal development, and freelance writing. Born in South Africa, but with a love for traveling, she more aptly considers herself a "citizen of the world" who grabs any opportunity to explore this fascinating world! She currently writes for Career Addict and is a Huffington Post blogger. Visit her website at or connect with her on Twitter @DeevraNorling.

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17 thoughts on 5 Lessons I Learned from Going Broke

  1. Deevra, every word of this rings true for me (except I’m not broke yet and hope/plan to avoid that); I’ve learned all the same lessons. Like you, I am doing freelance editing/proofreading (after a 20-yr career in publishing) and house/pet-sitting… as well as seeing the results of The Friendship Sieve. I also struggle accepting help but have become MUCH better at that. Wish I had a friend like yours who offered that trip overseas — wow!

    During my certification in Positive Psychology I learned that money only buys happiness to a certain point (studies show), beyond which there’s no effect. I’m trying to focus on what really matters for happiness and well-being, more than some of the messages/values of our surrounding culture. Everything becomes clearer when you’re stripped down, I think.

    Thanks for your post!

    • Hi Tracy – fellow freelancer and pet-sitter! :) Thank you for your great comment.

      Money certainly does make life easier, and we all need it. But ultimately it doesn’t change who we are at our core or bring true happiness. It brings a burst of elation for a short period, and then we go right back to the way we were.

      Yes, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought someone would be so generous to sponsor a trip overseas. And it was an amazing month! Very lucky and blessed.

  2. Kaycee

    I’ve been there, too. I also wanted to figure out how to be on the other side of this, I wanted to be the one to help others as needs came up. I finally was able to take this class called Financial Peace University [www(dot)fpu(dot)com] that taught me how to live and give with my money; that’s baby step #7: “build wealth and give.” I’m working on baby step #3 right now and really appreciating the financial security changes happening in my life.

    Thank you for writing this, it’s true! we really can get through life on very little, and also good tidings on the big decisions you’ll be making about your next steps. You got this, girl! ??

    • Thanks Kaycee for your wishes! I am trusting that everything will work out the way it is meant to.

      Financial security is definitely a priority for me as well. I believe one day I will reach that goal. I think what’s important is to develop a healthy relationship with money and not pursue it for the wrong reasons.

      Wishing you all the best with your financial goals and enlightenment. :)

  3. Kaycee

    Hm, those question marks were originally an Emoji heart. Whoopsie.

  4. So well said, Deevra! This reminded me of the true meaning of prosperity: Having what you need when you need it. Love your lessons learned!

  5. Ahsoka

    As the previous commentor stated: Everything becomes clearer when you’re stripped down. Sometimes that can be very scary. I am going through some thing similar to your story. I am practically living payment to payment. I have no money to plan ahead and I am very scared. I go to casting/auditions and I am completely uncertain if I will get work or be able to pay my bills. Life is scary for me. I live day to day. While everyone else is on holiday, I am at home afraid, stressed, and depressed. This is the price you pay for following your dreams.

    • Ahsoka, I hope that things turn around for you soon. You are following a dream and many who went down that road before were at the exact spot you are at before they a breakthrough came! In the meantime, perhaps a part-time job or another source of income to help you keep head above water.

      For instance, I house and pet-sit to bring in a little extra income, and oddly enough, that little sideline business has really taken off this year. I have been booked up on house-sitting from May to the end of October. It won’t make me rich, but it does help me get by.

  6. David

    I am an actor.. I go thru phases of being broke. Right now, really bad. I made a business error and a gig fell thru, I spent everything ( which wasn’t much to be a part of this particular gig, and it fell thru….granted there were some huge non-financial pluses along the way… anyway… ) Now I am sweating everything. Anxiety dreams waking me up etc… but… yes.. faith and knowing it won’t last forever. But it’s hard to pay rent on a future plan. Hang in … There are much worse things than not having cash and getting a creditor wake up call.

    • David – you are in the same boat as Ahsoka. It is a tough place to be. I understand the anxiety and panic. Mistakes happen and plans fall through. I do hope something comes along to lift you out of this situation. One of my favourite sayings is “This too shall pass”. Hang in there!

  7. Augustus

    Deevra, I appreciate you for sharing your struggles. When everything is going well, everyone is your friend. Now, during your hard times this is when your real friends come out. They are the ones that you want to keep. Kind of like the loyal fans of a sports team, they will stick with teams through all the highs and lows, not just the championships.

    • Ahsoka and David, I understand that fear and struggle — we all need to hang in there! Will be worth it once we get to the other side. Augusta, it’s pretty revealing (I’d say shocking) to learn about fair-weather friends, don’t you think? The list of my true friends has become quite short, but I’ve always preferred quality over quantity, and now I know the cream of the crop. Jessica, I enjoy your blog, too. I try to feed my brain (and soul) with inspirational messages/reminders because the journey is pretty hard, and it’s nice to be among others who “get it.” Thanks, all!

  8. Deevra, I had to leave a comment because, as a coach helping people do work they love, I often run into people in your situation – people who can’t bear the thought of going back to the 9-5 but who are struggling to make their businesses work. There are ways to make it work, and I think that businesses built on what you really love (heart based business) really takes a different approach. Don’t give up, and keep focused on the business side of your work as much as the work itself!! xoxo.

    • Jessica, thank you for your comment. I think one hits a point where you either lose hope or lose faith in yourself and give up. At the end of the day, the bills need to be paid. On the other hand, so many people who reached big success also faced that situation at one point but persevered until one day – it all fell into place. Yep – I have some thinking to do.

  9. Scarlett Lin

    Deevra, I think I need to say something too after reading your post. As a freshman in the job market, I am struggling very hard in this circle like many do and I should say I work hard because I am afraid to face the fact of breaking out while I am not broke out right now. And sometimes I am very stressed that I will be very poor one day with no food to eat, no place to live in, no money to spend and no time to learn something! When I read your passage, the second point beat my heart strongly that things will come up naturally and life will go on too. It made me feel better and more positive about my future. I have ever thought once that I would like to work as a freelancer one day writing something I want to share: my feelings, my inspirations and my knowledge about this world or other things etc. But my life budget made me step back. Now, from your passage, a lot of inspirations came to my mind, and I am very excited to write those words to you. Thank you very much!

    • Hi Scarlett. One of my biggest fears has also been having no money and being out on the street. Fortunately, I could move in with my parents which helped me a lot. Without that I would have found it very difficult to take the decision I did.

      For new opportunities to come along one has to put yourself on a new path. Of course, things don’t just ‘come up’. One has to lay the groundwork and plant the seeds to have something in the pipeline that will yield results later. Sometimes it doesn’t happen immediately but when you least expect it. People are afraid to make a big change in their lives for all the fears you mention. However, one must remember, that every path has opportunities on it – there can never be nothing to be found on a path. It’s all about finding the courage to step out on a new path… and then be amazed at how your life changes and the new opportunities that come along that never would have if you had stayed on the old path.

  10. Truly inspirational. Well done Deevra.

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