Stupid ways to make money, Vol. 1

I’ve already talked about how my deeply-rooted scarcity mindset leads me to make decisions that are at odds with my long term goals of starting a business and creating a lifestyle entirely of my choosing.

One good example of how this manifests itself in my life is the weird things I will do to make an extra buck. After all, an extra $200 can buy me a few priceless days of freedom, right?

A few months ago I discovered the not-so-lucrative technique of opening new checking accounts at banks which are offering sign-up promotions. Generally, they range from $100 – $300 and require some kind of direct deposit to both get the bonus, and avoid monthly fees. Websites like NerdWallet and Doctor Of Credit will periodically publish lists of current offers and which are the easiest to get.

So far this year, I’ve made $900 in cash bonuses though these promotions, by signing up for new checking accounts from four different banks. Not bad, right?

Well, if you consider the amount of thought and effort that has gone into it, it becomes a lot less attractive. Each bank has different terms for the offer, so I had to do my homework and make sure I knew exactly what I was signing up for and didn’t accidentally pay fees that would negate the value of the bonus. Filling out the account applications took some time as well. I also had to micromanage my direct deposits, adding and adjusting the value of the deposit flowing to each bank from my biweekly paycheck to ensure the requirements of each offer were met.

On top of this, the worst part is yet to come—closing the accounts. Most of them require you to keep the account open for six months to avoid early closure fees, so in a few months I’ll have to start closing them so I’m not stuck with an account I don’t want to use. One of them requires a notarized letter, but there is no address provided to send the letter to. Some of them don’t have any instructions about how to close the account, so I’ll probably have to wage war with customer support to do it.

Was it worth it? I don’t know. It has been a tedious process, for sure.

But to relate this back to my initial point, these choices were driven by my scarcity mindset. I looked at these offers and thought “free money!” and there was no reason not to do it. Whether it was worth my time and effort seemed irrelevant.

Suppose I’ve spent 20 hours over the past few months orchestrating this thing. What could I have done for my business ideas in that time? The scarcity mindset will answer:

Maybe a lot! But… maybe nothing. It might have ended up a total waste of time. You just don’t know. On the other hand, look at what you got from those bank account bonuses: $900 in cash! That’s a sure thing, in your pocket right now. Isn’t that worth way more than the uncertain and dubious outcome of spending time on your crazy business ideas?

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My scarcity mindset leads to self-sabotage

Taking stock of where I am right now is important, because it sets a good baseline to see if I’ve made progress when I look back. So one of the topics I’d like to cover early on in this blog is the mindsets and beliefs that are buried underneath much of my behavior. It is these hidden parts of my psychology that lead me to take actions that are actually at odds with my stated goals.

One mindset which is particularly corrosive is a scarcity mindset. A scarcity mindset is, fundamentally, a fear of not having enough. I imagine that it was pretty common among my grandparents’ generation, who lived through the Great Depression. Mindsets are most often acquired as children from our parents, and I’m pretty sure I developed this one through my mother who acquired it from her mother.

Common “symptoms” of a scarcity mindset include hoarding, being overly price-sensitive, and working all the time even though you dislike your job.

So how is my scarcity mindset sabotaging my goals to start a business? I didn’t actually realize this until I was having a conversation with a good friend the other day, and in the middle of explaining my inability to make progress, he just blurted out “Scarcity mindset!” Here is the discussion led to that outburst:

Right now I have a job that pays quite well: consulting. However, there are more than a few aspects of the job that I strongly dislike, and it certainly isn’t flexible enough to ever allow me the kind of lifestyle that I seek.

Looking back through my life, I’ve actually never had a job that I truly enjoyed. Jobs have always been a distraction that I just had to put up with so I could make enough money to pay for the costs of life. With this attitude, then money becomes freedom. Having more money means I can stop working earlier.

However, this leads to a more dangerous conclusion, which is that spending money delays my freedom. So, I get uptight when I think about the cost of a vacation because in the back of my mind, there is a voice chiding me, “Oh, you wanna drop four grand to take your family to Europe? Have fun being a slave for another six months to earn that.”

In the context of building a business, this means I hesitate to spend money on things like courses and coaching that can actually help me make my dream a reality.

Why? Well, let’s be honest, there are a lot of people who buy these courses but never actually start a business. What if I’m one of those people? Then I just blew all that money and now I have to work more to make up lost ground.

Once you factor time into the equation then the opportunity cost really becomes apparent. Say I’ve spent 200 hours on my business and it goes nowhere and I give up. How much does an Uber driver make? $20 per hour? I could have simply started driving my car around in that same time and made enough to buy a couple months of my freedom.

I know these are bullshit arguments. I know they are based upon assumptions that I have never bothered to test, and that are rooted in a scarcity mindset that I unknowingly acquired through my upbringing.

The problem is deep in my gut, I still believe them. I still have a creeping fear that I will try to start a business and it will be a total waste of time and money no matter what I do. That fear doesn’t go away simply by reading some articles by Ramit Sethi and telling all my friends that “I’m really going to do it this time!”

How do I move beyond that fear? How do I break the grip of this corrosive mindset on my behavior? That… is a topic for another day.

I don’t have an online business

There are an abundance of websites out there catering to people who want to “break free from the 9-to-5,” “live and work from anywhere,” and “build recurring passive income.” Most of these websites center around the story of an unwitting young protagonist, trapped in the miserable grind of a demeaning desk job, who takes a huge risk and wins big by building a business online. And now, he’s going to show you exactly how he did it so you can live a life you’ve only dreamed of.

This is not one of those websites. I don’t have an online business, and I have no idea how to build one.

I do have an MBA which left me with about $70k in student loans, but fortunately that same MBA landed me a consulting job that pays quite well. So, I can probably pay off the rest of the loan in a year or so. On the flip side, I don’t enjoy this job at all. So there’s that.

I also have a wife who doesn’t work–well, technically, she has a temporary job working from home as a Google Ads rater for $15/hr but it’s only part-time. We have a son who will turn 2 in June, and tentative plans to maybe try for another child within a year. So I’ve got some people to support with my income.

I’m just a dude with some pretty typical circumstances at the ripe old age of 32.

And yet… I am absolutely mesmerized by the idea of running my own business, especially an online business. Some of the internet hawkers have caught my attention, and I have even spent some money on courses to help me build an online business. I’ve done some of the work, and made some progress, but have more or less stalled out.

In other words, I’ve followed the same trajectory as probably 90% of the people who buy these courses.

I’m not giving up yet though. I recently came across Sean Ogle’s website, which at first glance follows the standard script for a website selling “lifestyle design.” I did sign up for his list though, just to see what kind of advice was offered, and the first major task was to start a blog. Not a blog with the goal of selling something, but just a blog, to write whatever the hell I wanted to write about.

So, I am going to write this blog about my haphazard and sometimes comical attempts to start an online business. I’m not writing for an audience and I’m not writing to sell something. I’m just writing because I find it therapeutic and because there is a remote possibility that someone else might find some value in the stories I have to tell.

Welcome to my blog.