Derek Sivers

How I got rich on the other hand


I don’t usually talk about money, but a friend asked me what it was like to get rich, and he wanted to know specifics, so I told him my story.

I had a day job in midtown Manhattan paying $20K per year — about minimum wage. On weekends I would earn $150 per day performing circus shows for kids, though I’d spend about $50 in bus fare to get to the gigs. I was sharing a three-bedroom apartment with two other roommates in Queens, so our rent was $333 per month each. I made peanut butter sandwiches for three meals a day, and at night maybe some eggs. I never ate out, and never took a taxi. My cost of living was about $1000/month, and I was earning $1800/month. I did this for two years, and saved up $12,000. I was 22 years old.

Once I had $12,000 I could quit my job and become a full-time musician. I knew I could get a few gigs per month to pay my cost of living. So I was free. I quit my job a month later, and never had a job again.

When I finished telling my friend this story, he asked for more. I said no, that was it. He said, “No, what about when you sold your company?”

I said no, that didn’t make a big difference in my life. That was just more money in the bank. The difference happened when I was 22.

It’s not how much you have. It’s the difference between what you have and what you spend. If you have more than you spend, you’re rich. If you spend more than you have, you’re not. If you live cheaply, it’s easy to be free.

Magicians wave one hand around to get your attention, while the other hand does the trick. To be smart, watch the other hand.