Finance

I Was Making $13,500 A Year! How Being Broke In New York City Humbled Me

Once upon a time I was broke as hell. Not just broke, but broke as hell. Broke is when you have more month left than money. Broke as hell is when you continuously have more week left than money.


My brokest point came after I was laid off from my job at an S&P 500 listed company in 2011. I decided it was time to “give back” and joined Americorp. As a result I was earning $13,500 annually and living in New York City. This wasn’t the only time in my life I was broke before I decided to change my relationship with money, “broke” was a familiar situation.

By 2015 I had turned my situation around and was making nearly $80,000 a year. I got comfortable with my new income, took a couple of bucket list trips and launched my own company. But I will never forget the days I claimed I was “fasting” so that I didn’t have to explain not having lunch because the truth was, I couldn’t afford it.

As the saying goes, "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger," and there is a bright side to my days of penny pinching.

[Tweet ""What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.""]

I learned valuable lessons when I was broke that I will carry with me throughout my life, and that I believe will help anyone who's in a financial struggle.

Humility Goes A Long Way 

I drove a Lexus in college and it's safe to say that I was feeling myself, not exactly Kanye status, but I had a very healthy sense of self. Fast forward to 2011 when my vehicle had been towed for unpaid tickets and I didn’t even have enough money for train fare to get to work. It was a much-deserved slice of humble pie.

Through my experience I began to understand what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck. While I wasn’t exactly sitting in the front seat of the struggle bus, I began to understand what it felt like to question whether or not you’d be able to make ends meet. As a result I started judging others less. I became thankful for the opportunities I had been afforded, and realized that nothing in this world is given and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

You have to learn how to legally hustle

Have you ever felt a job was below you? Right after college I refused to take jobs that didn’t require a college degree--that is until student loan reps started calling. During times of crying broke, I did jobs that I would have previously never given a second glance, and I created income streams using my skills. I sold cars, wrote term papers for college students, learned to bartend, and I even became a photo booth operator at events and private parties. There’s something empowering about learning that you have “hustle” in you and that you can make cute ass lemon drop cookies when life throws you lemon peels.

[Tweet "Being broke forced me to strengthen my “opportunity radar” so that I could effectively capitalize on opportunities."]

There is a difference between friends and associates

In 2011 my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t have a legitimate savings account; I barely had a bank account. A few months prior my best friend had lost her job and was owed back pay by unemployment. As soon as she received her back pay she purchased me a plane ticket home and see my grandfather. He passed less than a month later.

I not only learned who my friends were because of their generosity, but also because of their desire to actually be around me when we weren’t having fun or spending our coins in a club. Mother Oprah said it best, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” There are several people who opted not to ride the bus with me and I am beyond grateful that I learned what their intentions were early on.

Maximize and value resources

When you don’t have money to do traditional twenty-something things, let alone paying your rent, an evolved version of first world “fight or flight” begins to occur. For me flight was returning home to North Carolina, and I wasn’t about to let New York City get the best of me. While I didn’t become a freegan (although I knew plenty of people who were), I got creative with my life.

A friend and I did a “dining out fast.” We committed to only dining out if someone else was picking up the bill. I cut my drinking bill down to zero. If I was going out, it was to open bar events. I started shopping at thrift stores and participating in clothing swaps. I effectively utilized my resources to make my money stretch. To this day I cut corners where it makes sense. For example, I haven’t had cable in five years and I’ve gotten really good at doing my own manicures.

One of the beautiful things about struggle is that you never know how strong and capable you are until you are challenged.

[Tweet "You never know how strong and capable you are until you are challenged."]

That’s when you learn what you are really made of. Being broke changed my heart and life for the better. Now, would I ever want to be that broke again? Meeeehhh. Not by choice. I think I’ve had enough of being broke for a lifetime.

What are some lessons you learned (or are learning) when you were broke?

Tonya Rapley is a nationally recognized millennial money expert and was deemed the "New Face of Wealth Building" by Black Enterprise magazine. She is a Certified Financial Educator and founder of MyFabFinance, where she is on a mission to help women break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck. 

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