In December of 2011, my board members and I voted to close the non-profit organization I had founded 11 years prior, due to financial difficulties and the terrible fundraising climate. We closed our doors with only 21 days notice.
Though we had a super successful 11-year run, it was incredibly sad and stressful to close. There I found myself, like so many of my fellow Americans, collecting unemployment, with only a few thousand dollars in my savings account. Not only did I feel like I was barely keeping my head above water, I had absolutely no clue as to how I was going to make money. I knew starting something and working for myself was the route I wanted to take, but I had zero money to invest in any kind of business; I would need whatever little savings I had to supplement my unemployment compensation and cover my monthly expenses.
If you find yourself wanting to start a business or non-profit with few resources, whether you just left a job, are collecting unemployment or disability or just barely making ends meet, here are some practical tips that can help you bring in a little extra income and help you gain financial momentum to move forward in your journey.
Sell the Jewelry You Don’t Wear or Need
I am NOT a jewelry wearer, but I have bought a few things here and there in my lifetime. On the rare occasion that I do wear jewelry, I usually lose part of it – an earring, a ring or a pendant. I remembered my mom saying something to me about how the price of gold had skyrocketed in the past couple of years. I had never sold anything, but was curious about whether I could get any money for the remaining pieces I had from jewelry sets - backs of earrings from my high school days, a broken gold chain, a black pearl necklace and earrings I had bought on a trip to Hawaii but never wore.
I ended up taking a little sack of miscellaneous pieces to two jewelry shops to see if they would buy them. The backs of the earrings (because they were gold) were worth money. The jeweler also bought the pearls. I walked away with over $1,000 just from getting rid of mismatched pieces of jewelry and jewelry I never wore.
The key strategy here was selling items with gold in them, as the current market value of gold has gone up so significantly. Don’t underestimate the little pieces of jewelry that are lying around your house. Take them to any gold buyer and expect to get 80% of the market price of gold.
Selling things of value can be applied to anything that is taking up unnecessary space in your home or drawers. Think about what you own that could be of value – do you REALLY need it? How is it serving you to keep it? Is it worth money? Is it something you could give up now and buy again later on in order to earn money to invest in your future today?
During my months on unemployment, I also ruptured my Achilles tendon. (It’s a long story.) So not only was I unemployed, I was unable to drive (I know - LOSING). My parents had to come from out of state to tend to me for a month because I couldn’t do much on my own. And so began my mom’s cleaning frenzy.
Not only did I get lectured on how much “stuff” I had in my closets; every day I woke up, I’d find my mom had tackled a new cabinet in the kitchen. She would pile things up and ask piercing questions like, “Do you NEED this?” I’d nod my head, and sometimes defend my favorite frying pan with all my zeal. Then she got my Dad in on it. He eventually gave me a lecture on how I needed to get rid of everything in my closet. I was annoyed, but I decided I needed to reframe quickly. So I looked at the experience as an opportunity to create space for the old to go out and the new to come in.
I got rid of all the clothes I hadn’t worn in the past 1-2 years. Luckily, living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am surrounded by all sorts of cool consignment shops. I took my clothes to one shop and earned almost $90 just from that trip. That’s $90 more than I had before the cleaning frenzy!
I’m a firm believer in making physical space for new ideas and dreams to manifest. And have you ever heard the saying, “we are burdened by our possessions?” It couldn’t be more true. Cleaning up and consigning left me with the space I needed to create, craft and build from a clear space. Clothes are not the only things you can consign. Think about old furniture, household items, rugs, antiques, etc. What’s taking up space in your closet?
Sometimes, You Just Gotta Dip into Stocks or Mutual Funds
I know, I KNOW. This is like the anti-financial planner advice. But as an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to spend money to buy some time to make money. No risk, no reward. I remember listening to the founder of 3 Twins Ice Cream (my all-time favorite maker of chocolate ice cream in the Bay Area) tell his story about having no money when he wanted to start his ice cream company. He liquidated his retirement and took a loan from his family to start. He took a huge risk; everything was on the line for him. The ice cream is now in every major grocery store that I frequent.
During my time of transition, I also took a leap a lot of people told me not to take. I don’t have much of a retirement savings from having worked in non-profit for most of my career, but I do have some mutual funds. I made the decision to liquidate two funds to keep me afloat a little longer while I figured out what direction I wanted to take. I am so fortunate that I had some liquid investments, and while I still kept a few untouched, I felt I really needed to sell off the others for some extra money. I knew I could make the money back, and that taking the money out of my mutual funds and putting it into current investments would inevitably help me with my future more than having that money sit and grow interest. Money is energy, and sometimes having energy at your disposal NOW is way more valuable than keeping it for retirement.
Negotiate and Downsize ALL Your Bills on Fixed Expenses
Think you got a good deal on your fixed expenses like your cell phone plan, landline or car insurance? It is amazing how much you can negotiate with respect to your bills. This is how I downsized some of my expenses:
- I got rid of my landline – I didn’t really need it. I could use Skype to call somewhere if my cell didn’t work. Why pay for another line?
- I adjusted my cell phone bill and text plan. I downsized the plan, and by talking with customer service and letting them know I was thinking about leaving for another carrier with better prices, they gave me an extra 5,000 anytime minutes.
- I called my auto insurance company and made sure I received all possible discounts.
I put all of my fixed expenses into a grid and tackled them one at a time, figuring out any possibility of lowering my bills. This is an exercise I have most budding entrepreneurs do, so they can really get empowered to know what their monthly expenses are, and where they can cut, if necessary.
Ask yourself questions like:
Do I really need those extra cable channels?
Is it essential to have 1 GB of data on my cell phone vs. 2?
Also, consider these other cost-saving ideas:
- Use a pay-as-you-go plan on your cell phone, instead of locking yourself into monthly payments.
- WhatsApp is an application you can download onto your smartphone to send and receive texts anywhere in the world. Are you still paying for a monthly unlimited text plan? It’s time to change that!
Yes, this seems counterintuitive, but it’s not. One of the quickest ways to attract work and money your way is to give your services away. This builds relationships and trust and gives you an opportunity to help others. It also gives you an opportunity to really understand a business, a project or a challenge so you know better how you can be of service if you’re volunteering in an industry in which you want to work in the future.
In fact, when I started coaching, I would freely give of my time with absolutely no agenda in mind; I loved to practice my skills and witness transformative moments in the lives of the people I talked with. And slowly, the very friends I had coached for fun started recommending me to their friends, and there are always opportunities that come from these types of referrals. Putting yourself out there will lead to you being known, building relationships and perhaps taking on a project for money.
The key is to get out there and start doing work and helping. You manifest opportunity by acting as if you live in the opportunities you want to have, and at the very least, you are helping other people.
Budget, Budget, Budget!
Budgeting was something I really learned to do when I took a traveling sabbatical from my non-profit organization. My income was limited during this time, and I had to be really conscious about my spending. Toward the end of my travels, I defaulted to surviving on ramen noodles and eggs as my daily diet. I continued on the budgeting after I got home. I separated my fixed expenses from my variable expenses in an Excel grid. I kept track of every single cent that went out the door. It’s tedious at first, but it’s totally empowering. Then with my variable expenses, I had the opportunity to assign how much I WANTED to spend each month. My variable expense categories included groceries, eating out, wellness and any other categories that were meaningful to me. IT IS ESSENTIAL FOR ALL EMERGING ENTREPRENEURS TO GET A HOLD ON THEIR EXPENSES. Know where you want to go, but also know where you are. Looking after your money carefully will empower you in the long run.
Have you ever been in my shoes? Are you in my shoes right now? What are some of the secret strategies, tools and resources you used to stay afloat? I’d love to hear your practical advice from the trenches. How do you make ends meet?