Know Where the Dumpsters With Free Food Are

Learn to live cheaply. Learn to live like an animal. One thing we had going for us is we all spent a lot of time in grad school, and long periods of grad school teach you how to live well on a low budget. That’s good training for becoming entrepreneurs. It’s easier to have a high-risk tolerance when you know where the dumpsters with free food are.

That’s David Holthouse’s advice to entrepreneurs in this Fortune interview. Holthouse recently won the MacArthur genius grant.

One weird thing I’ve noticed in college is how some people are obsessed with "staying classy". Is not this college? Aren’t you supposed to wear torn sweatpants and drink cheap beer? Aren’t you supposed to figure out what frugality means?

If you have a silver spoon jammed up your ass, and thus skip the frugal, cheap living part of being 18, 19, 20 years-old, you probably won’t internalize the mindset that Holthouse talks about above, and you probably won’t be a very good entrepreneur as an adult.

(hat tip to Matt Huebert)

9 Responses to Know Where the Dumpsters With Free Food Are

  1. Chris says:

    That IS what college is about, however many students still get caught up in rampant consumerism and wind up in debt.

    Trust me, I knew this before I watched “Maxed Out” and it talked about college students getting into debt from credit card offers with free t-shirts.

    Furthermore, I’m the treasurer of my fraternity and frequently see people who are behind on their dues payments making idiotic purchases. Most recently a kid told me he was going to buy “Blue Alize” because Biggie talks about it in all his rap songs. It’s like $25/750ml – hardly stuff college kids should be drinking who can’t afford their fraternity dues, much less their tuition. I’ve also seen kids overspend their alloted budgets and then say how they should have listened to me and the handful of other people saying they’re not spending wisely.

    Frugality has nearly disappeared in many respects, and it’s painful to watch.

  2. Toli G. says:

    This is a money observation (pun intended). Many colleagues, recent college graduates, would have to go through a total reprogramming in order to become entrepreneurial. It’s never too late to become entrepreneurially-minded, but I believe that in order to take out the proverbial silver spoon out its best to go cold-turkey and redefine the priorities.

    Many entrepreneurs I admire have gone through a period of time where they not only understood fugality, but they KNEW it in their bones. Others never quite starved, but this sense of abundance they had as children carried on over in reasonable ways; that’s why you never really see the bona fide value givers of the world spending big on lattes or cars.

    If you focus just on surviving on a lavish lifestyle week after week, any value you could have given the world will be obliterated. After all, all we really NEED to survive is sugared water fed to us intravenously. Everything else is what we WANT.

  3. Sean S says:

    Hi Ben,

    Off topic, but thought you might find this interesting (figuring you to be someone who has accomplished much at a young age.)

    An 18 year old who recently passed the California Bar Exam:

    link to latimes.com

  4. “silver spoon jammed up your ass”- haha!!

    Totally agree about the frugal stage (even though mine has gone on a bit too long). Great post.

  5. Krishna says:

    Spoilt by choices, humans tend to indulge; forgetting the basics. What makes us so smug?

    Frugality when not adopted naturally, morphs into poverty and descends on you when you least expect it. That’s when it’s so hard to connect, if you had never known what it is like being broke. There is certainly no nobility in poverty, and it’s certainly not worth dramatizing or romanticizing. The learnings come much later, after you manage to shed penury (if at all) and wind up looking like an out-pummeled amateur boxer. Yet while in the trenches, it kinda’ completely sucks. The thought that crosses your mind is not the balmy “it will soon pass”, it most likely is the existential “how to get the morsel”. Very few will have the residual strength to outwit that destitution.

    Go ahead and order the $400 crab. But be a Stephen Schwarzman first.

  6. Timen says:

    This is a bad generalization, Ben.

    I did well for myself in college, and if I am saving money/investing (i.e. not spending more than I earn), I think it is perfectly okay to eat at decent places and wear quality clothing.

    It all depends on what you do with your money. Yes, I agree that if you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t be drinking 25$ whatever drink that the rapper says you should drink. But saying you should live like a homeless person is really strewed-up. You should learn to earn money and manage it well. THAT is what makes you innovative and entrepreneurial.

    All that said, your point might be focusing on US college kids. Yeah, I’ve heard the general US population has an issue with consumerism. Isn’t that why there is such a large trade-deficit?

  7. Good post, Ben. Let me just say that frugality is fun when it’s chosen, not default. College students who become big spenders as if to propel themselves into a higher social class are not only stupid, but counterproductive.

  8. Shefaly says:

    Ben:

    “If you have a silver spoon jammed up your ass, and thus skip the frugal, cheap living part of being 18, 19, 20 years-old…”

    Anyone on budget can do poor; smart negotiators – which good entrepreneurs must be – can be on budget and yet do style.

    Isn’t the first condition of getting money looking like you do not need it? Another lesson many entrepreneurs learn. If you are needy and desperate, you negotiate badly.

    And by your logic, does it mean that every student, who can live a decent life because of a good scholarship, is really missing out? And it is the scholarship’s fault?

    You write interesting stuff but sometimes I think your privileged upbringing is quite egregiously evident.

    Real poverty is no fun, not even in college. Poverty distracts people from their real purpose; poverty causes distress and adverse health outcomes; poverty may be good for the soul (arguable) but it is not good for the body; and if ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ applies, one cannot do very well in college, if worrying about poverty.

    Thanks.

  9. Good post, Ben. One of the things I’ve learned about low-money times is that they force me to think, rather than spend, my way out of trouble.

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