Food Stamps to $75,000 in Seven Days

(This is a guest post from my boy, Nate St. Pierre, who shares a secret with us that I only found out myself just a few weeks ago. Treat him well! :))

On August 15th, I was living in Wisconsin, using food stamps to pay for my meals, and renting a house I’d only lived in for about six weeks. Seven days later I signed a $75,000/year contract and was packing my bags for a move to Los Angeles. Life changes pretty quickly when you have no defined plans…

I’ve been running my “change the world” philanthropy projects since the summer of 2009, which I began while I was working for a company in Milwaukee. By early 2010, these projects consumed all of my available free time, plus I had a bunch of side deals being discussed for ways to earn an income through related work . . . so I quit my day job. I’ve been working for myself ever since, right up until the day I decided to upend my current life.

One thing I’ve learned during the last couple of years (and I think J$ can attest to this) is the fact that things rarely work out the way you think they’re going to, especially when it comes to possible income-generating projects. At the time I quit my job, I had no fewer than seven big-name organizations talking with me about using my ItStartsWith.Us system to mobilize and engage their members. And by “big-name”, I mean exactly that – the two biggest were Google and the U.S. Government.

Every single deal I had in the works fell through for one reason or another over the next few months. It’s the downside of working with such large bureaucracies – they have so many levels of approval and oversight that no one person (unless you get to the very top) has much real authority to get things done. Many new ideas, especially those that are innovative and relatively untested, get talked about for a long time before ultimately getting shelved.

This was obviously a blow to my finances, as I was now running a couple of philanthropic projects with no steady source of income other than the occasional speaking or consulting job. In a very ironic twist of fate, it turns out that I don’t really enjoy doing the very things that people in my position (including many of my friends) usually do to earn a living, namely: speaking, consulting, and writing books.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2011 and I’m still in the same boat, with an added philanthropy project in the form of Love Drop. Now I have three charity projects, none of which pay me anything (unless you count hugs?), and all of which take my time to run. With Love Drop we always had possible side deals in the works, especially from L.A. folks who wanted to turn it into a reality series to compete with Extreme Home Makeover. But as we’ve continued to learn, even though they get talked about a lot, things like that don’t usually tend to work out.

Because I rarely accepted speaking engagements or took on consulting projects, and I was spending around 15 hours a day running my various projects, I found myself with only modest expenses, but desperately low income. I know that most of you financial folks will think this a ridiculous situation to find yourself in, and you’re absolutely right. I had so many irons in the fire, from so many different projects, that I thought one of them was bound to come through and get me on the right track. But all that ended up happening was that I became more successful at building and leading charitable endeavors . . . which was great for getting critical acclaim, but not so great for getting paid. And every time I found myself short at the end of the month, I borrowed some money (collective groan from the audience).

And so there I was, in summertime of this year, looking to most of the world like I was doing very well, but realistically poor enough to qualify for food stamps from the state of Wisconsin. In late June I took them up on their generous offer and started using my state-issued card at the grocery store. Needless to say, it did not feel good. This was a big wake-up call for me, and it was at that point I realized that I really needed to do something about my situation.  I started poking around Milwaukee, looking for work I could do . . . a “real” job, since I’d learned that I didn’t like doing the things one “should” do in my position.

On Monday morning, August 15th, I saw a note come across the Facebook feed for a Community Managers group I’m a member of. A tech startup in Santa Monica needed help from someone with that expertise. L.A. has recently been a city on my radar, so I emailed the girl and asked her to tell me more. She replied instantly, excited that I had responded. She told me that she was a member (!!) of all my philanthropy projects and was honored that I was interested in the job. Shortly thereafter I was on a Skype call with the founder of the company. We talked for an hour, and towards the end he asked if he could fly me out to L.A. on Thursday to interview. I went out there and met with the team on Thursday and Friday, and they offered me the job over the weekend. That Monday, seven days later, I accepted the offer and made plans to move.

You’ll be interested to know that J$ and I had already booked flights to do Love Drop #8 in Wichita, Kansas that upcoming weekend, but I called and asked if he would be up for flying into Milwaukee instead, helping me load up the U-Haul, and then driving with me all the way to L.A., stopping in Kansas along the way to do the Drop. At first he was skeptical, but when I told him that he’d have to do all the end-of-month Love Drop work on his own, since I’d be on the road, he changed his mind and came with. :) (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is true, but you also knocked some sense into me NOT to pass on a once in a lifetime cross-country trip! Which I of course blogged about ;))

And there you have it, folks. Food stamps to $75,000 in seven days. I actually started working for the company while on the road, unpaid. I’ve been liberal with my time working for them, because they’ve been generous in allowing me time off in order to continue my important work with Love Drop. Everything is negotiable – always remember that.

Here are the three biggest things I’ve learned from this little adventure:

  1. Always keep track of your finances, and make plans to fix things that are going wrong before they become a big problem. I failed in this, and have a lot of debt to pay back as a result.
  2. Continually build. You never know what your small hobby or project could turn into a year or two down the road. I got a great “real” job based solely on the community management experience I gained by working on unpaid philanthropy projects.
  3. Follow your heart, even if you don’t know where it’s going. If there’s something that’s on your heart or mind to do, but you don’t feel you have the time, talent or money to accomplish, please don’t let that stop you. Figure out a way to start small and work consistently. Over time you’ll progress further than you think, and you never know what kind of life adventures you’ll have as a result.

I hope you can look at this example and realize that you never know what’s going to happen in this life, but you can almost always take away something positive from the unexpected twists and turns. If you have any questions or anything you’d like to discuss, let’s chat in the comments. You know if I don’t, J$ will punch me in the face when I see him on our next Drop. ;)

PS: Yes, I still have massive debt which I am now working towards clearing. To the tune of $50,000, ugh. But yeah, sometimes a valuable experience comes at a great cost (especially when you’re not paying attention).

Guest post by Nate St. Pierre, a guy who builds projects that change the world. You can also find him on Twitter @NateStPierre.

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  1. CrystalH November 4, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    That post almost made me cry Nate! I (briefly) met you at FINCON. I just said a quick hello and hurried away because you are pretty intimidating in person :) But I really liked your point #3. Back when I was in college and working full time, I still made time for my passions. And people used to ask me how I had the time and energy to so such things and I said, because I love it and it actually doesn’t even feel like work. My feet and body somehow know that I’m doing something that I love and they carry me thru it! You totally should start one of those blogs where people can donate to help you pay off your debts. Because you put others first and I guarantee we Love Drop followers would LOVE to donate to YOU (and J$). You guys deserve waaay more than just hugs for all that you do!

  2. Kat November 4, 2011 at 9:09 AM

    Wow, I looked at the list of projects and I am really impressed. I am starting out small and managing one learning center for kids in a poor community. I can only do this on Sundays and the effort takes around 10 hours a week. I am just lucky hubby earns enough for us. But I know how consuming helping others can be and even now, I see my income decreasing already.

    Glad to know you got yourself a job. It would be hard to continue giving if you have nothing yourself.

  3. Kim - Mommycosm November 4, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    Wow! Thank you for sharing this. You give SO much of yourself to your philanthropy projects and are making a huge difference in people’s lives. Know that no one expects you to do it all at your own expense. Take care of yourself so that you can continue to help others. I do believe that karma will bring great things back to you. Glad you are on the right track now.

  4. Trinnie November 4, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    WOW….I, too, teared up at this story (surprise, surprise, right, Nate?!?). Nate, you’re such an inspiration. I’ve been a member of ItStartsWith.Us and of course, Love Drop and I’m floored at how much you and J give of yourselves. The points that you gave, especially #3: I wish I was brave enough to act on my passions and break away from the comfort of a steady job. I’m lucky that I love my job and would never choose to leave it, but I know even if I didn’t love my job, I still would be scared to break away from that comfort.

    (Excited to see you and J in a few weeks!)

  5. cashflowmantra November 4, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    Thanks for sharing. Continue your good works.

  6. Evan November 4, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    I wasn’t familiar with any of your work until you started partnering up with J on LoveDrop…I still don’t see why that can’t become full time for you (creating a non-profit and you get a salary to boot).

    Regardless good luck with the new gig!

  7. Sam November 4, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    Awesome Nate! Why not hit up J for money given he’s your partner and you know what his net worth is and how much he makes? :)

    Enjoy LA and the new job!


  8. Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog November 4, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m curious as to why you didnt try to build in a small salary for yourself from each of your projects, but that was your choice. I’m glad that everything worked out for you.!

  9. Elise Adams November 4, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    This is SUCH an encouraging story…thanks so much for sharing. We are in a similar situation–although coming from life-long poverty we’ve got a bunch of junk-in-our-mental-trunk to ditch in order to move forward. Your experience confirms what I’ve come to believe over this past year, however. Doing the leg work doesn’t have a ton of cash involved but the wave will come along eventually if we’re diligent.

    My hubby is doing the tradition route–pre-nursing school and CNA nights to keep us in house-n-home while I’m working my butt off every other second building an online business ( blogging and teaching others how I’ve come out of homelessness and an addicted/abusive lifestyle. We couldn’t have imagined the blessings we’re already living-out so I’m excited to ride the waves as we continue to progress.

    Thanks for sharing!!!

  10. Chris C November 4, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    Nate, I have been quietly following your personal blog (and side projects) with extreme interest to learn more about the man behind all of this amazing-ness. You are a huge inspiration to me personally (I am still trying to figure out how to direct this inspiration into something tangible).

    I am glad to hear that life is finally taking care of you!

  11. Nate St. Pierre November 4, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    @CrystalH – Dang, I didn’t mean to make anybody cry! And why am I intimidating in real life? I don’t try to be… :-/ You’re right about having the passion for something, though – it doesn’t even feel like work most of the time. Or, as I put it, it does feel like work, but it feels like *valuable* work. You’re sweet about the debt payoff donation suggestion, but I don’t think that’s something I would ever do.

    @Kat – Managing the learning center = awesome! I love it when people give of the time and skills they have. Yes, it takes a toll, but in the end it’s always worth it, especially when kids are involved, I think.

    @Kim – Good to see you here, Miss. I love what I do with the philanthropy projects, because I get to meet amazing people like you. And go shopping for household appliances, haha…

    @Trinnie – No surprise there, and yes, see you soon! Breaking away from the job is ALWAYS scary, I think, no matter who you are or what your situation is (unless you won the lottery or something). Just ask J$!

    @cashflowmantra – Will do, man. Good lookin’ out.

    @Evan – I think it would be possible, but pretty difficult, to set up all my stuff as an official non-profit from which I earned a livable salary. But even if I could, I’ve never been sure that that’s the direction I would want to go.

    @Sam – Hahaha, good suggestion, but I never like borrowing or taking from friends. Not that I’ve never done it, mind you, but I don’t like it. ;)

    @slug – Thanks, man!

    @Jeff – Kind of answered above, and also as I mentioned in the article, I had a lot of income potential from the systems and processes I was building, so that I didn’t have to generate income from the philanthropy projects themselves.

    @Elise – Yep, that wave usually does come, but there’s a LOT of work that goes into getting into position for it. Thanks for sharing your project, too – good luck with it!

    @Chris – Amazing-ness, hmm? Well, thanks. Like you, I often have moments where I feel incredibly inspired, but have to think long and hard about how to turn them into something tangible (or even if I should).

  12. Miriam November 4, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    This is incredible!! Best of luck to you!

  13. retirebyforty November 4, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    Thanks for sharing your inspirational story. It’s great that you landed on your feet. Have fun in LA and enjoy having some income! :)

  14. Mistress Susan November 4, 2011 at 1:15 PM

    Nate, what I picked up most about your article is we never know the lives people are living. For instance, J$ said that he didn’t know the situation that you were in and he knows you. Be thankful that you have J$ because I am doing all that I do solo because I haven’t found a partner who would be on the same page as me.

    It is scary flying solo, but I push through anyway. Elise, I looked at your site today and the headline about cannot afford to get the flu really resonated with me. I am my own back up; that is why I cannot afford to get sick. I live an organic lifestyle; however, it is still scary to know that if I got sick, I would have no income.

  15. LB November 4, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    Wow Nate, so happy for you! Not because of the money, although dang that’s some bank, but because all of the awesome projects you have going on. All from the heart even. It’s good to see you doing well now, but isn’t it weird how most stories are only told after the worst part is over. I wish there were more people willing to tell the their stories as the shit is hitting the fan. Maybe it would make us all a little bit nicer to each other.

    I have been trying to live by my motto which is Live Life not just survive. I feel my whole life has been just survive and live for other people. In the short time of adopting this I have learned what what I truly want to go for and even more little things I would love to do on the side. So I totally have to agree with you and the fact that you said follow your heart, even though you don’t know where it will take you. :)

  16. Nate St. Pierre November 4, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    @Miriam – Thanks!

    @retirebyforty – Yeah, definitely nice to have some income! Not out of the woods yet, but getting there…

    @Mistress Susan – I’m *very* thankful for J$, seriously. I tell people all the time that he’s the best business partner I’ve ever had. It’s awesome to know that someone’s on the same page as you are, and has your back all the time. Not to mention will do what he says he’s going to do. Trust is huge.

    @LB – I like your motto; I think most people could benefit from its use. You’re right, most stories are told after the worst is over, and even then perhaps not fully. I did think about sharing my story while living it, but every time I did, I couldn’t help thinking that it would come across as if I were complaining/asking for help from people because I was going broke doing philanthropy. The fact is that building/running those projects is a choice I made regardless of my financial situation, and I shouldn’t let them become compromised by any negative view of me that could have come about by sharing everything (if that makes sense).

  17. Dr Dean November 4, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    I enjoyed talking with you in the parking lot of Phil’s Friends in Chicago….You should’ve let me know, I could of lent you a few bucks….(just kidding!)

    Sounds like things have worked out but a road trip with J$ makes me tired just thinking about it!
    Best of luck to you!

  18. Hunter @ Financially Consumed November 4, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    Great story Nate, I’m very happy for you and wish you continued success.

    Your lessons learned are excellent, build and follow your heart. Thanks mate.

  19. bethh November 4, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    I’m happy things have worked out for you (or are headed the right direction!) but I also really appreciate seeing a story of following your passion NOT working out as smoothly as lots of bloggers make it look! thanks for the cold hard truth, and congratulations on getting a great job lined up.

  20. eemusings November 4, 2011 at 5:49 PM

    Love love love. So inspiring!

    I don’t enjoy any of those things, either. Nor do I enjoy the hustle. It’s why I may well never work for myself, as unexciting as that sounds in today’s lifestyle design location independent crazed world.

  21. Ashley @ Money Talks November 4, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    Great story. It’s not surprising really since you were always contributing, active, and learning skills even though you weren’t actually making money. Congrats on your new job!!

  22. Lauryn Doll November 4, 2011 at 8:19 PM


    I love this post.
    I was sidetracked due to a client project I was working on (12.5 hours straight)… but I loved this… I loved it!

    Congratulations on falling flat on your back, and still following your heart as you continue to reach past the sky and somewhere past Mars for your goals.

    I haven’t been in such dire situations, but I’ve experienced close enough ones. Following your heart to the fullest is the way to go these days, and I have no problem telling everyone that, especially when we have such an untrustworthy “traditional” alternative to look after.

    I wish you all the best.

  23. Ms. S November 4, 2011 at 8:30 PM

    Great, GREAT post!!!! That is all.

    One more, GREAT. Ok that’s it. Thank you.

  24. Crystal November 4, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    Just wow. Life is weird, isn’t it? Things really can change overnight. I am so happy for you and honored to support Love Drop!

  25. Sarah K November 4, 2011 at 11:24 PM

    We all love you and support the journey you have had over the last year! It was just about a year ago I met you at @ajbombers with the meet-me peeps. Crazy things can happen in a year. Gains, losses, new people, new experiences and new appreciation/gratitude. :) Hope you visit us back in the midwest soon

  26. Nate St. Pierre November 5, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    @Dr Dean – Haha, thanks man! And yeah, I’ve had my fill of road trips with J$ this year . . . though I gotta tell ya that we love doing ’em!

    @Hunter – Appreciate it, man!

    @bethh – Yeah, it’s not always peaches and gravy when you try to do your own thing . . . but there’s always something good you can take away from the experience.

    @eemusings – You know, there are plenty of days that I don’t enjoy the hustle either, and it’s hard work, but when it’s all said and done I always feel like I need to be doing something . . .

    @Ashley – Thanks, girl!

    @Lauryn – Thanks so much, Lauryn – I appreciate it. 12.5 hours straight, yuck! My head starts hurting after 9, usually. :-/

    @Ms. S – Okay, thank you too, haha

    @Crystal – And thank you for supporting Love Drop as well, you know we couldn’t do any of the things we do without you guys!

    @Sarah – Was it only a year ago? Feels like longer. I could use a Bombers burger right about now, too. Stuffed ‘shroom, mmmm… :)

  27. kody @ Financial Money Tips November 6, 2011 at 1:31 AM

    I love reading articles like this because they remind me how life is a non stop learning process.

    I appreciate you telling the world about the things you have learned in your adventure. Therefore, i really enjoyed the following.

    Always keep track of your finances – This seems like common sense but how many times do us Americans loose track? I see it all time. Including my own parents. its very sad but true.

    Continually build – In my opinion this is the most important thing you learned. Why? Because if you don’t consistently build (no matter what it is in life) , you won’t make progress. Therefore, if you don’t make progress you’ll obviously fail. Plain and simple.

    Follow your heart, even if you don’t know where its going – This is very true. Following your heart is VERY important. This will not only help you make a run for money, but it will help money make a run for you as well.

  28. Sense November 7, 2011 at 4:13 AM

    Great story!

    It’s hard to take care of others to the best of your ability when you can’t care of yourself. I very much admire people like yourself that are that self-less, but then again I worry about them because they are the ones that continually put themselves last. You can do more good when you aren’t worried about where your next meal comes from or how you’ll pay your bills.

    It’s hard to say that sometimes, though, because if you hadn’t gone through what you did, you probably wouldn’t be where you are right now. Good to hear you are back on track and working on the debt. You know you have a huge network of people that would be more than willing to help you out if you ever needed it again, right? :) I love that debt donation idea for you, too. You deserve a little karma kick-back, even though you probably would try to give it away again once you got it. Haha!

  29. Nate St. Pierre November 7, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    @kody – Life-long learning is right. Sometimes I tell myself (somewhat trying to convince myself, ha) that there is no failure as long as you learn along the way. So you now have only two options: succeed . . . or learn.

    @Sense – So many people have told me this – that you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first. And after many years, I’m finally learning. :)

  30. Sandy @ yesiamcheap November 7, 2011 at 8:27 PM

    I’m with Crystal. There is a quiet intensity with you that can be intimidating at first. But this story…very inspirational. I’m constantly harping about poverty and escaping poverty on my blog. With so many people now below the poverty line EVERYONE knows someone that is poor. They just don’t know it because these people struggle quietly. Thanks for persevering.

  31. J. Money November 8, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    Thanks again, Nate, for allowing me to spread your story around! Looks like everyone appreciated it just as I did when you first told me a little while ago :) You’re awesome and you know I TOTALLY have your back no matter what. I hope you know we’re more than business partners.

  32. Nate St. Pierre November 8, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    @J. Money – Dude, you’re just sayin’ that because we had to share that bed in Austin for like 10 days… ;)

    But seriously, I’m proud to be your friend, man. We got this.

  33. J. Money November 8, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    So I guess “What happens in Austin, STAYS IN AUSTIN???” went out the window? Boy… see if I ever spoon you again…