Last time we talked about the broken Hollywood dream, the 10-year Principal, and the simple Four Rules we’d focus on. Before we get any further, I thought I’d take a note from the recent deluge of “origin” stories popular with the studios and share the humble beginnings of my own cash$ story:
I’m from New York (Upstate, not City) and by the time I was 10-years-old, I vaguely understood the notion that the family business that supported us had imploded and financially, we were in a bad spot. There were a lot of hand-me-down clothes and leftover containers holding three scoops of rice and a chicken wing. On long, hot car rides, if we wanted to stop for a bottle of water, we were told to drink our spit. I remember on one trip to Boston, we crept into a buffet for dinner, and my brother bee-lined for the pizza area while my father did a price check. When he found out that soft drinks weren’t included in the per person price, he decided to leave, and my brother had to return the slice on his plate back to the gray metal tray beneath the warming light.
That day I decided I’d never put my family in that position, and that I’d never be a slave to debt.
When I was 14, I worked at a Chinese take-out restaurant. I made $20 a day. In the summer, I waited tables, 4 days a week, at $100 a day. They were 12-hour shifts, in a hot kitchen and no one my age to talk to, but I made more money than my friends making minimum wage at the mall. So I sucked it up. My last summer before college, I was practically in tears at the end of every shift but managed to hit my goal and bank $4,000.
I chose a State school over an Ivy, deciding that a name wasn’t worth the $80,000 price tag difference. By third year, I juggled four jobs to cover my room and board. I also started hacking away at my student loans.
After college and some traveling, I moved back home to help relaunch the family business. I made a significant payment on my student loans, then took the rest of my savings — everything I made in high school and college — and invested it all in the business.
It took two years for the business to take off. At that point, it would have been pretty cushy to hang around: the money was coming in, I could have stayed with my parents until I had enough saved for a down payment on a very nice apartment or a house. I could have splurged on a brand new car, and started buying different toys.
La La Land
Instead, I decided to move to Los Angeles. Two friends and I packed up my used car and drove west. Our meals consisted of peanut butter sandwiches and apples. We stayed with friends and camped out along the way, keeping costs down to the minimum. When we arrived in Los Angeles, we rented a two-bedroom apartment between three people to continue to keep our overhead low.
That’s been a major theme of this whole story: minimal overhead, every step of the way. By not throwing cash$ at things I don’t need, I’ve kept myself unexposed to financial risks. I avoided situations like exorbitant rent, an out-of-control lifestyle, and bad drinking habits. My first job in Los Angeles was waiting tables, which I did at a restaurant down the street to minimize commuting costs. The aggregate effect of these decisions allowed me to take risks that otherwise I couldn’t afford, e.g., pay down a huge chunk of my student loan, invest all my money into the family business, and move to Los Angeles with no contacts and no prospects.
Since then, I’ve moved out of the two-bedroom apartment. I live with my significant other in a nicer (but still modest) place. We both work at stable jobs, though still at an assistant level salary ($30K or less). With such little income (compared to some friends, who are on track to break $100K salaries at Big Four accounting firms or as surgeons), at times it feels like we’ve still a long way to go.
However, we have zero consumer debt. We have no student loans. There are two cars in our garage, completely paid off. The cash flow may be a small stream at this moment, but that’s okay because we’ve limited our exposure. Even as we accept the risk of a smaller income, we have peace of mind and freedom to explore other revenue opportunities, and reach financial independence.
Our goal is to reach financial independence in 10 years. A glance at our spending habits tells me that there are still plenty of areas to improve on, but optimization isn’t the major challenge we’ll face. The major challenge is living in Los Angeles, working in entertainment, surrounded by bad habits. It’ll take the right combination of motivation to best these habits. .
For example, not wanting to look back after a 20 year career and wonder, “where’d all my money go?”
And certainly never asking my family to leave a restaurant because we couldn’t afford to eat there.
Photo Credit: Thomas Leuthard