How many times have we heard ourselves say this: “Times are tough. Our community has problems but not the money to fix them. We’re going to have to put everything on hold and try to maintain the status quo until our finances improve.”

This is a mindset that blocks innovation and hampers our ability to find solutions. It is a lie we tell ourselves. It is a trap we set for ourselves.

Money should always be the last step in finding solutions and capitalizing on opportunities. In fact, we should approach every challenge and opportunity as if there is no money available. When money is accessible, we often try to buy our way out of problems. Money removes our need to be creative and collaborative. As a result, when the dollars disappear the money-dependent solutions also disappear and the problems return. A moneyless mindset forces us to use creativity and collaboration to find results that are enduring and sustainable because they do not rely solely on dollars.

For instance, many communities are trying to address homelessness. Often the solution is to build more subsidized housing. However, when the money is reduced or cut completely due to budget restraints (as it inevitably is), the homeless problem reappears often worse than before because the root cause remains. Monetary announcements make us feel better, convincing us the problem will be solved, even though the source of the problem is rarely addressed. We think money will provide solutions but that mindset all too often ends up giving us a mere respite until the dollars run out. 

Here’s an example of what a moneyless mindset looks like. One small community wanted to create a large permanent amphitheatre downtown. Civic leaders thought the new development would be ideal to entice people to the core, create more activity downtown, and support local businesses on main street. But money was tight and they couldn’t afford a six-figure expenditure on a downtown amphitheatre. Who can? However, that didn’t stop them from finding a Plan B. They have continued to work on ways to draw people downtown for arts and cultural events without the new outdoor theatre. They are exploring ways to use downtown space and existing infrastructure. One such creative source is https://www.matthewmazzotta.com/

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address challenges or capitalize on new opportunities, but money usually distracts us from being creative and innovative in our methods. Our team at 13 Ways is always working to develop unique strategies for communities of any size to transform their downtowns, increase housing options, and improve social spaces — to mention just a few possibilities. And we do it in ways that excite the public and get results without huge investments. Often, the first step is to examine how to use existing infrastructure as much as possible. Interestingly, being forced to make better use of resources often means pulling various parts of the community together, which in itself is the best way to strengthen the community. 

Our fiscal challenges are not a weakness but rather an opportunity to say to the public: “We have to do things differently. Having no money doesn’t mean we do nothing; it simply means we can’t all do our own thing. We have to share and work together more than ever.”

A key to success is how we take the first steps. American philosopher William James aptly summed it up: “It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.” 

Real, sustainable change only happens when times are tough. We must not squander the opportunity that comes with having an empty wallet. We must take advantage of the challenge to be creative and collaborative. We must change our mindset to avoid the traps we set for ourselves.

Lack of money is not the problem. This is the truth we should be telling ourselves.