© 2019 by EMM | Rochester, New York 14607

  • Elissa May Murphy

How To Be Poor & Happy

Updated: Jul 25, 2019

Good Morning, Wegmans! Here's all of my money.

Oh, so that's what you call a savings account...

What's a retirement plan?

You mean a one-bedroom apartment in Rochester for $1,200 each month is feasible?


Over the last few years, Alex and I have been fortunate enough to have paved through the Rochester music industry. Our schedules have turned into a never-ending spiral of performances, teaching opportunities, freelance writing, composing for multiple media platforms, and so much more!

We have gone from scraping by month after month to living busy but comfortably! We are incredibly grateful to be enjoying our lives as freelance artists!

We are rich!

We are rich in the sense of having the lifestyle, career and family we have always aspired to have, despite not making too much money from our endeavors (at this time... there's still hope haha). All in all, we are poor but we are happy. There, I said it!

Wondering how we keep positive and on top of it all?

Keep glossing through to view the different ways we choose to be happy in a sea of brokeness.

1. Never Stop Learning

Toward the beginning of the school year, I had attended a faculty orientation where I am presently a long-term substitute teacher. Trying to continue to keep open minded (I don't know everything, and I am still a learner), I became compelled by the school's newly appointed Assistant Principle. In assurance with my philosophies, he explained it best in that us- as teachers - never stop learning.

If I'm a music educator and land a job, do I then stop practicing my instruments? Of course not!

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2. Use What You Have

The resources you currently possess can help for you to grow your reputation in your primary focus. From the beginning, I knew I had my woodwind instruments, I had my laptop, and I had WiFi at the homestead. All it took was some online research to gain my first private student, which has since escalated to now having a studio of eleven & counting! Alex has done the same thing and now has several private students while attending grad school, composing, and teaching. We are so blessed!

3. If You Can't Use It, Mend It or Sell It

SOLD! Trust me when I say: I've done it all, people.

Let's reiterate how broke I am! Don't get me wrong: we are living in what I like to call "The Art of Getting By." Before this, however, I had dealt with some serious struggles with no work on several occasions.

What did this mean for my monthly budgeting?

A crisp twenty dollar bill selling clothes here, a couple hundred bucks from selling gold and jewels that were not of sentimental value there. What may seem like the pettiest thing has saved us tons on our grocery bill: five-cent bottle returns.

Bet your bottom dollar we saved (and still save) every bottle that can get put towards the groceries! We do spend a little more on groceries by supporting locally at the grocery store, but we save on produce that we purchase from the public market. In knowing that we are investing in our community, we are returned with great quality products over the name-brand, unhealthy items on the market's shelves.

Our final way: garage sales! Ever summer, Alex & I bring things we wish to sell over to his parents' neighborhood. Last summer, we had sold over a hundred dollars worth of items! Most of which were priced super low because the point is just to attempt at de-cluttering the apartment. The year prior, we had sold about $250 worth of miscellaneous items. Whatever doesn't sell gets compiled in the Durr's vehicle and gets shipped off to Goodwill.

4. If You Don't Have It, Borrow It

Rather than investing a bunch of money for something you may only use a handful of times, try looking into renting or borrowing the item!

This, in turn, may save you on money and time! It's a win win. As silly of an example as it is, we borrowed these large grocery bags from a hotel clerk while walking in the pouring rain around Pittsburgh. All we had to do is speak up and they accommodated our hilarious, random request with no judgement. Our clothes were saved while walking through the torrential downpour on the way to the Arctic Monkeys concert.

5. Buy Little, But Buy Good

When investing in things like wardrobe, I think of the end of my collegiate days. My former Advisor, Kickie Britt always insisted that dressing the part be mandatory within our respective fields; and I couldn't agree more! You never know who you're going to meet and where, so always look polished. We've experienced this firsthand with Alex's band: as they continue to gain more recognition, we have learned that we can't just go out to the grocery store in our sweats anymore because you just never know who you will run into...

So while you're out buying that pro-dress, choose wisely and invest in quality over quantity. Furthermore, it is highly important to invest in timeless pieces that will last you for extended periods of time. Longevity of your wardrobe increases, and to much surprise, you will be saving money in the long run!

6. Being Nice & Neat: $0

If there is anything I have learned since moving in with Alex, we have a lot of stuff.

Trust me: when I say it's all necessary stuff. Because it's so much, however, it takes quite a bit of time to really clean up our space. We are snowed in this weekend and took about ten hours working on de-cluttering the house yesterday. Between both of us working, you'd probably expect that we would get it all done... Wrong!

When there aren't clothes needing a proper home, we are on the floor picking up wisps of cat hair (I swear, we just vacuumed). When both of those are under control, there are stacks of sheet music everywhere that need sorting.

The freelance lifestyle is a tireless lifestyle, but with a little bit of guidance and five minutes here / five minutes there, you will end the night with a clean space that allows you to feel great, re-energized, and inspired to tackle on the next big project (in the home or in the studio).

7. Growth Mindset

The following example was sent over in a mass email to all Faculty & Staff from our high school's principal. We apply this growth mindset when we are interacting with a student. Although I am a firm believer that there are no stupid questions, I can see why we need this concept of the growth mindset throughout our daily workings, no matter who we are or what we do.

Instead of panicking that bills are due during a slow month of freelance work, ask yourself, "What must change in order to live comfortably?"

Although it may be easier said than done, this concept goes hand in hand with our first point: continuing to learn about spending vices and how to budget can only help for you to live happily during the months where you don't know how much you make monthly until the month is over.

How do you keep happy while working paycheck to paycheck?

Let us know in the comments below!

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