The year of being broke

2016 has been a year of tough choices. I must admit that at the bottom of it all, the way my society has been built has weaved a safe net for me to venture into the risky. That said, I definitely believe that I can do much better with the choices I’ve made.

Being broke is a very humbling experience — I don’t think any other experience can beat that.

How I became “broke”

It started off slightly more than a year back when I left my full time job to work on my startup. To make ends meet I started teaching freelance but that continued eating into my savings, because I didn’t want too many projects eating away at my time and attention from my business. After splitting the earnings from selling the business, a bad fallout ensued with the new management, which I took awhile to recover from.

My chapter overlapped with D’s, who also left his job earlier this year, and couldn’t find suitable employment. My meagre freelance remuneration sustained both of us.

Throughout this period of time though, I’ve been blessed with teaching projects and little design projects. It was barely enough, but it fed us.

I was earning less than $1000 every month, but fortunately we have a roof over our heads.

Some lessons I’ve learnt:

1. Truly important people

When you are at your lowest, the people who raise you up, and cheer you on, are the ones that I am very grateful for. People who wouldn’t have made the same decisions, but who accepts the unconventional ones I’ve made. They don’t indulge me in my bad decisions though, and they ensure that I know it.

The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. 
— Proverbs 22:9 (NIV)

These people I’ve learnt to trust, when I’m the most vulnerable. People who, repeatedly reiterated their presence and gently offered help whenever I needed. It reflected more of their character than who I was.

2. Need vs Want

The benefit of being “broke” is that you automatically filter out what’s an indulgence and what’s a necessity. A straightforward example would be choosing between cooking for meals (~$2 each) to eating out (upwards of $3 each).

But it also helped create a very stringent filter on who I want/can spend my time with. Friends who don’t mind joining me at the gym, inevitably becomes people I spend a bit more time with. People who meet me at coffeeshops for cheap coffee and toast, instead of Starbucks. It also reflected how this group of friends are accommodating, and valued spending time with me over comfort.

3. Purpose vs Money

Throughout the year I was struggling with taking up projects that I really dislike for the money, and working on things that hardly paid. Ultimately I found myself to be a person driven by meaning, and though I could nudge myself into doing tasks that I do not enjoy, it exhausted more of my being even if it paid well.

I always thought I was someone who wanted to become rich. And I was entertaining going back to the finance industry (that I was trained in), just because of the very comfortable salary I could potentially draw.

I ended up taking up a role that didn’t make me much, long hours too, but I enjoyed it so much that it recharged me. Needless to say, I’m now part of a nurturing and supportive team, in which I’m thriving in.

4. Trusting on God

I don’t think there can be a more crucial point than this. All these months I was slogging to rely on my own ability to make ends meet, when I should’ve learnt to rely on His providence.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
 — Philippians 4:6

When my bank account sank to <$10, and there was no way I could even survive the week, somehow I would be blessed by money. From payment from delayed projects, to blessings from people, it’s mindblowing how timely God always is.

Surrendering is not my forte, I do have an inclination towards being in almost total control. To lift it all to God and trust in Him entirely, is a conscious effort I have to commit to. Through this, I’ve learnt to uphold an optimism in my heart that have became a torch I bear.

5. Humility and Gratitude

Being poor has put me in people’s shoes, and see things in a different light. It’s almost as if I was forced off a pedestal that I had subconsciously built for myself over the years. The sacrifices that others put themselves through in order to make ends meet, or to just simply to buy a gift, I don’t think I could’ve empathized any better than now.

Humility is also learning not to take God for granted. I found myself in a state of complacency, of not worrying and somewhat expecting God to provide just as He always did. I don’t think God spared the rod in putting me in my place.

All that is in addition to the very little that we have, is a blessing. With this heightened awareness of what we didn’t/couldn’t have, but now possess, we are filled with gratitude and thankfulness. And from this full pot, we crave to give.

— —

Many times, though we have little, D and I have been supportive financially of the people around us. We’ve found ourselves in situations when we were embarrassed by how little we could give, and prayed that the recipient could fully understand the love and hope we have given in our little gift.

This short verse I hold close to my heart:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.”
— Mark 12:41–44

It definitely seems like this period of drought might be ending soon. D and I have been looking forward to financially free days. We’re still holding out for what God has in store for us. And when we do break out of this, I hope we will always remember the lessons we’ve learnt, and hold close to our hearts the angels who’ve blessed us along the way.

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