Yi Xiang

A Young Writer in Search of His Voice

What It Feels Like to Live with Little Income For a Year

Starting around this time last year, I didn’t have a stable income. My job disappeared, and I tried various ways to make money online. I generally made less than $100 a month, which is very little even in China. My savings gradually disappear and in the last month, I have to spend only 178 Yuan (about $30).

I live in my family’s house so I don’t need to pay the rent. When my family come visiting, I also don’t need to worry about food. So it’s nothing like real poverty. But if you are in your 20s with some friends to give you couches to crash on, your life after quitting your job might just be like mine.

You’ll Be Worried About Money Constantly

I don’t really feel anything about money, to me it’s just a number. I tend to not get too excited or too anxious for money. Still, without a stable income, I find myself worried about money almost daily.

Going out for a drink? What if it costs too much? Hanging out with friends? Are we going to movies? How much are the tickets? Want to date someone? No I don’t think I can afford that.

Not having a stable income forces your mind to focus on the future. You have to, or you might starve next month. In reality, that rarely happens. You’ll usually be oaky. But worrying is not a rational decision. Even if you know that you can rely on your friends, or you can find a job at any time, or you still have some savings, you’ll still be worried. It’s an emotion, you don’t control it.

There are ways to deal with these worries. You can tell yourself that you’ll be okay, you can be mindful when you start planning about the future, you can also get drunk.

But there is no way to get rid of it.

You’ll Find Out If Money Can Motivate You

Maybe not. For me, it’s a no. During this whole year, there is only one time that I took up jobs I hate for money, and it lasted only a month.

It’s pretty frustrating. Often I would try to convince myself how I need money and how I should do this or that. Then I would play games all day.

I finally gave up and realized that I should do something unexciting yet enjoyable and makes money. I started looking for jobs about building websites. I got one, I enjoy it,  and I don’t need to argue with myself about how I should do it.

I learned that I won’t do something I hate for money. It makes sense, otherwise I would just find a regular job.

I don’t know what you’ll find out. Maybe you’ll learn that you hate being broke and will rather get a regular job, maybe you’ll learn that you are an artist that has to create your art, whatever the cost.

People Will Doubt You

Let’s be honest, nobody believes you will make it. They see you broke today, they assume that you’ll stay broke forever.

Some good friends won’t, some strangers won’t. Still some people would yell at you to “get a job”. I got that from my family and ex-girlfriend, and I am certain that you will get it from someone close too.

You will feel lonely, and that feeling is right. Even with people supporting you, you won’t feel any better. You’ll realize that ultimately you’re alone in this battle, you alone is facing your demons and nobody could do that for you. Whatever encouraging words they may say, you still have to face your problems yourself and you can’t borrow anyone’s willpower.

You’ll Learn How Ridiculously Luxury Modern Life Is

You can get fat while “being broke”. It’s ridiculous, I know. But it’s true. It’s also very likely that you could afford to smoke.

Seriously, the worst case scenario for you is not sleeping in the streets, it’s living with your parents, or girlfriend, or whatever. Survival is never a problem.

You’ll Learn to Live with Less

Since you feel you are short on money, you can’t just buy whatever you want. But I wonder if this will teach you a lesson.

For me, it really made me think about whether I need to spend that much money. The months that I spent $30 didn’t feel that different from the months that I spent $300.

On the other hand, it sucks to have to live with less. Money problem forces me to get only I you need, like food and water. To hesitate on buying any that I want, even if just a book, feels terrible.

The Challenge Is Mental

You know how the average person spends all of his monthly income and constantly complains about not having enough money? Strip the feeling of security that comes with a stable income, and you got a situation similar to what we’re discussing here.

Money problem is unlikely to kill you. But the mental struggle is unbearable. Or maybe I should say emotional struggle.

Maybe it’s just like what everybody says, money buys you freedom. Money problem makes me think that I can’t socialize, meet people, have a drink, travel around the world, do something that I love because they either cost too much money or too much time. It’s like there’s someone constantly telling me that I can’t do anything I love. It’s a voice in my head that I cannot silence.

There’s also the doubt of whether I would make it, of what if I fail. It’s an irrational fear that you could never get rid of until your money problem is gone for a while. I have already started making serious, livable money, but the fear is still with me, sometimes I feel my income will disappear tomorrow and all this is just unreal. Guess it would take some time for me to accept the new reality. For now, I still have to live with the feeling that tomorrow I may sleep on streets. It’s like a trauma and it sucks.

I don’t ever want to go through this again, and I’m not really sure if the reward is worth the trouble. This one year gives me constant stress which in turn drives me to try things that I would never have tried, including freelancing and writing English, starting this blog, and asking for more money than I ever would for a freelance job. I hope these changes would have a long-term impact on my life and those fears were just temporary. But I really have no fucking clue.