How To Start From Zero


Yesterday one of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache, wrote about what he would do if he woke up broke. (Check out his site, it’s well worth it.) Three years ago, I not only woke up broke, but was 25k in the hole. What would I do if it happened again? Even worse, what if I lost everything, and was dropped into a new city with nothing but the clothes on my back?

For the sake of brevity, I’m going start myself off in a cheap apartment that conveniently has a washer and dryer hookup. I have no cell phone, no car, no bike, and since I am now living in a new city, no friends. I have no computer and no internet access at home. Most importantly, I have no cash and no access to credit. I’m starting from zero.

Goal #1 Get a bike with a trailer

If you are going to be buying and selling goods, you need to be able to move them around, and a bike and trailer is the cheapest way to start. So the first thing I would do is head to the local library. They have free internet access. I would begin emailing 20-30 mountain bike owners and offer to work for the bike they are selling. I would tell them I don’t have a lot of extra cash at the moment, and was just wondering if they had any yard projects or other work that needed to be done. People are skeptical of straight charity, especially when it’s directly asked for. Eventually someone would accept the offer. It might take a lot of emails, but I’m confident I could land a bike within the first day or two at the most.

I would then repeat the process to obtain a trailer for the bike. If I had to, I could always pick up a few smaller items from the free section, resell them, and then use the cash to purchase the trailer. I wouldn’t have a camera, so I would have to ask a neighbor with a smartphone to take a picture of my items and email them to me. I would offer free delivery to help sell the items quicker. I would repeat the process until I had a trailer.

Goal #2 Get a mobile computer (also known also as a smartphone)

With my transportation situation now in place, I would get busy picking up and reselling free items until I had enough cash to buy a cheap smartphone and a one month prepaid phone and data plan. Once this was in place, I could say goodbye to the local library for internet and also could begin listing my phone number in the Craigslist postings.

Goal #3 Obtain the essential tools for repair electric dryers

I would go to Home Depot and purchase a $5 all-in-one screwdriver. This incredible little tool also serves as a 1/4 and 5/16 inch hex set and would be sufficient for 95% of dryer repairs. If there was a surplus of funds, I would buy little scraper/all in one tool and a pair of needle nose pliers. I would also buy the cheapest, lightest hand truck I could find. Dryer’s only weigh 100 pounds, but a hand truck would be extremely helpful with moving them around. Some sort of vacuum would be nice as well for cleaning the dryers out.

Goal #4  Start acquiring appliances

This is where I would jump headfirst back into buying,fixing and selling appliances. With a bike, trailer, hand truck, phone and a couple of tools, I would be in business. For replacement dryer parts, I would either use one machine as a part machine or I would find the local parts supplier to buy replacement parts. Eventually I would start ordering parts from online to save money.

Very quickly I would be back to a healthy income, especially if I saved up for a week or two and purchased a small truck. It would be a lot of work at first, but you have to be willing to work hard and hustle if you want to dig yourself out of a financial hole.

Future Objections

What if I don’t know how to fix appliances?

Then learn. Watch youtube video’s at the library or at home on the smartphone after you get it. Check out an appliance repair book from the library, I’m sure they have one. You could also find another niche. There are hundreds of micro-businesses that could be started on Craigslist. You can add value by simply picking up items that people want to get rid of and getting them into the hands of someone else for a little profit. Just find a way to help people! If you can find a way to help people solve a problem, you will make money.

Obstacles are going to come. Maybe they’ve already come. How will you respond? How have you responded? I’d love to hear your stories and questions!


  1. Okay, Ryan. I’ll bite: The bike and trailer. How does that work? I’m thinking utility trailer. You’re thinking???

  2. Fun, fun, thought study! Love it!

    Instead of a utility trailer, what if you just got a dolly with a strap and drug that around behind your bike. Most of the bike trailers on C-list run about $60 and I think you can get a nice hand truck at Harbour Freight for about $80… just a thought.

    I think here is an important time to remember that if you need to make money fast, start with a SERVICE. It’s easy to sell your time, and more profitable to sell products. But if you are on rock bottom,services may put money in your pocket faster.

    In high school, I found a lawn mower sitting on the curb for trash. Took it home, sprayed out the carburetor, and bought a new spark plug for it. Then I drug it around behind my bike from house to house, looking for work. By the end of that summer, my brother and I had enough clients that we were making almost $500 per week for 2-3 days of work.

    • A hand truck with the air filled tires could work! That would be even cheaper on the short term. I think it might take a bit longer to get from point a-b, but is still might be the quicker way to get going. I’ve also wondered if you could convert a jogging stroller into an appliance mover, and just run the thing over to someone’s house!

      I think your right about selling a service, or your time as the quickest and easiest way to start. That’s a cool story about your lawn service! Thanks for sharing

  3. There is a movie called Craigslist Joe were this guy made a documentary of him going 30 days on craigslist with nothing but a computer and a phone with no contacts. He basically hitchhiked around the country with the rideshare section and slept on peoples couches or floor. I was kinda disappointed with the movie because I was hoping he would buy sell and trade. I think it would be interesting for you with your craigslist money making skills to do the same thing, and see what you could do.

  4. This is more or less how I got started selling phones and electronics. I had $200, so I bought a Barnes & Noble Nook Color on Craigslist. The next day Barnes & Noble dropped their price for a brand new Nook from $250 to $200, so suddenly, I couldn’t sell my used Nook for a profit anymore. I ended up taking a $50 loss on my first deal, but then bought a $100 iPhone with what I had left, made a profit, rinsed and repeated, and now I’ve got substantial revolving capital.

    You truly can start with next to nothing.

  5. Remember how “kind of” easy it would be to start completely over keeps me humble, I love hearing stories like this or reading hypothetical posts like this.

  6. I recently lost my job and was researching creative ways to earn some income and somehow stumbled accross this page. Immediately after reading this I logged onto my local Craigslist free section and BOOM! I instantly became CEO of my own furniture business! I’ve always heard furniture had incredibly high markup… and since I would be getting my items for free I thought it just might work. And it did! Even though everything is used, I was able to flip two sofas and an entertainment center for a profit of $220… on my first day! Luckily I own a truck so pick up and “free delivery ” were a breeze! It took me about 2.5 hours start to finish. I now plan on putting in 12 hours of work tomorrow and see what that gets me. Wow! How exciting. Thank you for posting this article. Pretty sure it just changed my life in a very positive way!

    • How do you avoid people trying to haggle or changing their mind after you have made the time and expense of delivery to them?

      • Don’t allow them the option of haggling. When they start talking about a lower price just start shaking your head that you don’t negotiate after the fact. It’s a very, very rare person that will try such a technique. You have to be confident in your price and service, and willing to walk away if they don’t pay full price, even if you end up wasting your time and gas. You can never reward people that pull sleazy techniques like that. Hope that helps!


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