In 1975, Keith Jarrett, a world-renowned jazz pianist, was scheduled to play a concert at the Koln Concert Hall in Germany. Unfortunately, the piano he was supposed to play was all wrong. It was too small, sounded tinny, out of tune and the pedals tended to stick.
At first, Jarrett refused to play. Who wants to be asked to create something beautiful with a broken instrument? In essence, he had been handed a mess and his first instinct was to refuse to even try. But he was persuaded to do it anyway and ended up putting on the concert of his life.
Jarrett avoided the piano’s upper registers, stuck with the middle notes and played out these deep, loud repetitive riffs that could be heard all the way at the back of the concert hall. He created something that was both sweet and serene yet full of energy. People loved it and continue to love it as it remains the best-selling piano album in all of history.
We can learn something from this example – that we can appreciate the “unexpected advantages” of dealing with a little mess. Tim Harford stated in his Ted Talk that“…[c]ertain kinds of difficulties or obstacles can actually improve our performance.” In other words, problems that are a little more complicated can kickstart our creative process and help us achieve new levels of success.
Take being in debt, if you’ve got more going out than you have coming in, you have yourself one messy problem. The bad news is that it happened, the good new is that now you can get creative about it. I started out with a $50,000 student loan debt, a $10,000 credit debt, and a $10,000 car loan. When I finally figured out I needed to do something about it, there was no stopping me.
Here are 20 ways I got more creative about my messy debt problem.
- I cleaned out and organized my apartment and sold all the movies, books, and random kitchen stuff I wasn’t using anymore.
- I sold my dressy clothes at consignment stores and made money off them.
- I did my laundry at my parents so I didn’t have to go to a laundromat.
- I invigilated IELTS (ESL) exams every second Saturday to make extra money
- I moonlighted as an interviewer/assessor and did home studies for foster care.
- I clipped coupons and bought groceries and goods online at a discount.
- I collected rewards points and ordered Christmas presents for free.
- I mystery shopped on the weekends to pay for my social life and earn extra money.
- I made a million budgets and still found ways to make them better.
- I got roommates, rented basement suites, and sold my house to find pay down debt and find cheaper housing.
- I threw Swap Parties so I could get together with friends and trade clothes with them.
- I shopped the Dollar Store and second-hand shops to save a few bucks.
- I read budget books, investing books, and debt books. Then I read them again.
- I started a personal finance blog so I could share my story, be accountable to my readers, and inspire others to do the same thing.
- I hustled and landed writing contracts to bring in extra cash.
- I took on tutoring work so I could earn more on the side. (Between the tutoring and the writing, I was brought in close to an extra $25,000 that year).
- I started a money club and met with other women so we could talk about our goals, our finances, and our lives.
- I volunteered so I had a free way to spend my time and give back to the community.
- I went to church so I could refocus my life and get back to what was important (things that couldn’t be bought).
- I invited my friends over so we could watch movies and eat popcorn (this is way cheaper than the movie theatre!)
What are you doing to get creative about your debt?
 Tim Harford Ted Talk “How messy problems can inspire creativity.”