Go For Broke: Create Like You Have No Money

Issue 46: How less can create more

Before I start, I want to get ahead of how some might respond. "David, I'm broke AF right now. I don't need to work like I'm broke."

This is about the mentality, not the reality of being broke. Being broke is not fun, and I've been there before. The focus here is about how being over-resourced can stunt creativity, resulting in a lower quality outcome. When you're broke, you maximize everything and make a dollar out of 15 cents.

I had little money when studying art in college. A few dollars was the difference between a nice tube of titanium white paint or having to resort to cheap burnt umber, resulting in primarily working with underpaintings before investing in nice paint all prima style. Being resource-constrained helped me build new skills and expanded my creativity. The cost of pre-built canvases was expensive. Instead of ordering pre-built canvases so high, I’d go to the local hardware store and buy my own lumber. Using the woodshop in the art studio, I learned to build my own wood frames to stretch canvas on them. In addition to saving money, I now could build custom-size canvases, broadening my creative scope of what is possible.

Abundant resources can slow you down

In Jonathan Field's article, "Can Abundance Kill Creativity?" he reflects on an interview with film director Adam McKay. The filmmaker known for comedies such as Anchorman talked about how reducing the $80m film budget to $50m forced them to innovate.

"Doing it for $50 million was exhausting but fun. I hate to give Paramount credit, but they probably gave us the perfect budget. Money can kill comedy. It made us get scrappy, it made us get clever…. All the making do is what the good shit comes out of.”

When you have abundant resources, you become more complacent. A broke person has no choice and has to build momentum based on what they have.

Creating like you are broke builds capital

Upon matriculation from college, the transition from the real world wasn't easier. Working in the real world felt like an infinite loop of going to work at an administrative desk job, getting paid only to pay the rent and bills. This frustration forced me to spend my extracurricular time learning new skills and wanting a better life for myself. With these new skills, I started freelancing and it pivoted me into UX Design. You never know what may have happened in an alternate timeline, but I believe that being broke was the forcing function that springboarded me into something else.

Being broke fostered a Do It Yourself (DIY) mentality. Instead of buying WordPress themes from ThemeForest for website ideas, I created them from scratch so I could save $20-50.

Creating like you are broke results in higher output

I am in awe of the scrappiness of early-stage startup founders. Smaller funding forces these wonderful entrepreneurs to maximize every resource they have to get things done. Meanwhile, other founders are out there flailing in the abundance they raised. Instead of focusing on the idea or product, they're attending events and spending their runway.

When you get to that financial comfort zone for you, I hope you keep the broke mentality in your work for the highest value of creative work. Constraints force creativity, and being broke is the ultimate constraint. Build that capital for yourself, but don’t forget the importance of being broke and scrappy.

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