Want to Break Free From the Matrix?

Nicole Paulus
12 min readJan 31, 2023

Here Are The Tips I’ve Used to Get By On Less & Simultaneously Live a More Colorful Existence

Lately, I have been reflecting on wealth, success, and what it means to be truly happy. As you probably already know, just because you have wealth and success, doesn’t automatically ensure that you will be happy. Deep down, many of us know that, yet we still get up every day and plug ourselves into the matrix.

We spend the majority of our time working jobs that provide just enough money for us to pay our rent, food, and entertainment.

If we are fortunate to have a job that allows us to sock money away, it’s likely we don’t maximize this opportunity. Instead, we do a little “retail therapy” after work to decompress from the day. “Treat yo-self” becomes the mantra we adopt when we are overworked and unable to access the inherent joy we all deserve.

If we get a raise, instead of stashing it away or investing in our future selves, we incrementally upgrade our lifestyle. First, we start by ordering the avocado toast or overpriced latte because, “YOLO, that’s why!” Then we might take a lease out on a nicer car, and before you know it we are moving to a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood because “well, we deserve it, look how hard we’ve worked!”

I’m guilty of all of the above, yet something just never felt great about riding that capitalist escalator. Some fundamental aspects of my human experience always failed to feel fully nurtured. For as long as I can remember, I‘ve been fed up with the matrix: slaving away for a paycheck and then coming home to numb myself with escapism behaviors until I have to get up and do it all over again? Um, no thank you.

That’s why I have spent the last few years building my life in such a way that I have to depend less and less on the soulless captialist structure. And in this article, I am going to share what I have come up with thus far. I’ll be including different behaviors and philosophies that I have adopted which have contributed to me gaining more freedom in my life.

Why do I care to share? Because let me be perfectly frank, I want more people to play with! Sure I have lots of leisure time, but the people I love and adore most are often too stressed to the bone or have time commitments that don’t allow for the spontaneity of life to flow through them. And so my hope is to inspire others to adopt these habits so that they too can unplug from the matrix and let loose — even just for a little while every week :)

Let’s talk about wealth, baby, let’s talk about you and me.

In order for a single person in the US to be considered “poor”, they must earn $13,590 or below. In Germany, anyone who makes less than €1,148 in net income a month is labeled as such.

While I don’t fall into the poverty category, I do earn much less than those around me.

One friend back home in the US, for example, was recently commenting on how much their partner was earning with a new job.

“65,000? But that’s good money, dude!” I exclaimed.
“No, not really, not in this economy” he replied.
“But I’ve never earned that much in my life!!” I declared emphatically.
“How much do you earn, if you don’t mind me asking?”, he casually countered.
“Less than 30,000 per year. 35k during a good year. It’s not a lot, but I make it work somehow.”
Both of us paused.
“Wow, you do make it work, impressive.”

He was sincere.

From the outside, you would never guess I earned that little.

Why? Not because I carried a Gucci bag — but because I am constantly traveling, I have a VERY flexible work schedule and oh, I don’t lack for nothin’!

Let me explain…

🥬 I still spend money, I just spend it on things I value most. That means I buy high-quality, nutritious, and sustainable food (organic, baby).

✈️ I travel the world (in the last year alone I hiked a mountain in Crete, explored an Italian coastal city, drank the most delicious coffee in Mexico City, took a road trip through California, hugged my bff in Colorado, played zookeeper with my niece and nephews in LA, spent some time admiring my beloved saguaros in the Tucson desert, sat in a Sedona vortex, and watched Frasier in a client’s fancy condo overlooking the space needle in Seattle.)

🧘 I am constantly investing in experiences that promote self-growth, healing, physical or mental health — and pure unadulterated joy.

⏳ Oh and here’s the big one- I only work “part-time”. I freelance and only work between 4–5 hours per day, 4 days a week so I have time to nurture relationships, work out, and practice my hobbies.

Sounds great, right? It is pretty great! But before taking this journey toward freedom, I highly recommend figuring out what you truly value and what makes you happy. Personally, I value time more than money. The freedom to plan my days, weeks, and years is absolutely priceless.

But that might not be the case for you. That’s why you’ll need to figure out your own personal values.

If you’ve been feeling like the “grind” is just not for you for a while. If you have been daydreaming or fantasizing about retiring early. If you have been frustrated with hustle culture or just overall not satisfied with climbing the career ladder, you aren’t crazy.

Let me repeat, you are NOT crazy.

And there is a way to do things differently. I know because I chose that path. And while it isn’t always “easy” I would reckon that it’s a lot more fun.

Not sure if you’re ready to exit the matrix? See if the following statements resonate with you.

  1. I get annoyed when I have to spend time searching for something.

Because I have more time than money I can take my time hunting for the perfect item, flight, or experience. But, I don’t mind. Why? Because the hunt brings me a lot of joy!! If it doesn’t for you, you might not be ready to spread your wings.

2. I am someone who has to have WHAT I want, exactly WHEN I want it.

Sometimes, oftentimes, there will be delayed gratification. But the good news is that you’ll be leaving space for tiny miracles to be delivered to you — something that is probably even GREATER than what you initially planned for. But if you can’t fathom the uncertainty, you might want to jump back on that capitalist escalator.

3. I’d rather have more money than time.

Having more time than money doesn’t make you “less wealthy”. It has the potential to enrich your life in the most beautiful way possible. But if you are still focused on the numbers in your bank account, you may not be ready for lift-off.

4. I would be embarrassed to leave a restaurant if the average meal price was out of my budget. What if my friends called me cheap? GASP!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I’ve definitely been called cheap a time or two. But I still have no shame leaving a restaurant if the average meal price is more than my budget. I will ALWAYS prioritize spending money on things I value over feeling pressured to keep up with the Joneses.

5. I have to work hard in order to have an amazing life.

Contrary to popular belief, breaking your back or putting in hours of hard work isn’t the ONLY path towards achieving your wealth desires. In fact, it will likely lead to burnout, physical or mental strain, and relationship breakdowns. Instead, try changing your perspective on what wealth/success means to you. I know that I can feel wealthy despite how much is in my bank account. And you can too.

If you read those statements, however, and were shaking your head NO emphatically — CONGRATS!, this lifestyle just might work for you! It doesn’t work for everyone and that’s perfectly ok, that doesn’t make you superior in any way. What it does make you is courageous. It’s courageous to take this path because it’s by no means the norm. It’s considered risky, naive, and reckless. But that’s ok. As you walk this path, those accusations will sting less and less. And you’ll have plenty of time to write a revenge letter to your biggest enemies whilst overlooking the Costa Rican jungle from your hut’s wooden balcony.

Just kidding, I don’t want you to be fueled by vengeance.

I want you to be fueled by JOY every single day. I want the sun on your face to light the fire in your heart. I want you to be the best absolute version of yourself and experience all that you are meant to experience whilst living in this human body. That’s why I’ve compiled the following tips for more freedom…

My Tips On How to Get By On Less & Simultaneously Live a More Colorful Existence

  1. On food — I eat healthy but simple food. This is WAY more enjoyable to me than indulging in fancy restaurants. I would MUCH rather buy a piece of organic meat and yummy vegetables and cook a delicious meal at home than spend twice or three times that amount “being served” a meal that is highly likely not sustainable or good for my gut.
  2. On cheap flights. Because I don’t have to travel during the normal “holiday” days I can fly off-season, for much cheaper. Just flying a few days before or after a major holiday can save hundreds of dollars. I also put ALL of my expenditures on my Southwest Credit Card. That way whenever I am in the US, I usually fly for free (plus the $5 booking fee.) I can’t recommend taking out a lot of lines of credit with Airlines, because it may impact your credit score overall, but I am guilty of signing up for a few in the past in order to access those 50,000-mile bonuses. Proceed with caution.
  3. On cheap travel accommodation.

Housesitting. I house sit/pet sit in exchange for accommodation (and snuggling a cute critter) using the site TrustedHousesitters.com. Occasionally, I will also watch friends’ houses while they’re away.

Volunteering while traveling in exchange for accommodations. I’ve never actually done this but have always been curious. Here are a few sites I’ve heard about: Workaway & Wwoof.

Staying with family or friends — yes, I realize this is “cheating” a bit because you are essentially relying on accommodations paid for by those still plugged into the matrix, but hey, it works :)

Ask for a discount on Airbnb. Write to the owner and ask if they can make you a special offer. No guarantees, but it has worked for me before!

Go places that are considerably cheaper like Nepal or Nicaragua.

4. On buying clothes and other stuff. I shop at thrift stores, flea markets, and vintage apps. Or in Berlin, especially, I often find things for free on the street or in neighborhood groups on Facebook. When I buy stuff I try to buy quality stuff that lasts (secondhand preferably) vs new and cheap. But that being said, don’t underestimate those discount stores such as The Dollar Tree. Especially for craft items, or organizational items, these places can help you save a lot of money.

5. On grocery shopping. I buy organic whenever possible, especially when buying the following items. This is one of my values and is simply non-negotiable. In fact, most of my money goes to food. But that being said, I don’t just buy organic stuff willy-nilly. I pay attention to sales, join loyalty member groups when available, and head to discount grocery stores like Aldi or Grocery Outlet versus more high-end stores. I also HIGHLY recommend making a list and sticking to it. You’ll be surprised at how much less your grocery bill is. And how much less your food waste is. Oh and NEVER shop hungry.

6. On nonessentials. I propose a work/trade in exchange for services I deem “nonessential” such as massages, courses, and workshops. My most recent nonessential item is for a movement facilitator training in Slovenia in July. I will do a work/trade for part of the cost, and then pay the rest with money. This works especially well if you have a skill such as graphic design, marketing or website design. But there are plenty of options for those with other skills. Book a consultation for a free brainstorming session!

7. On reading books. I use the free library app called Libby for audiobooks and e-books. All you have to do is pay a 10 Eur yearly fee in Germany, and then you get access to the app. There are others that are available in the US as well. Head to your local library and ask them for details!

8. On eating out. In the USA especially, portions are HUUUUGE. If you eat the whole plate, you usually leave the restaurant feeling way too stuffed. Instead, bring your own Tupperware and as soon as the food comes out divide that meal in two and set it aside. If you are still hungry when you get home (it’s likely you won’t be) grab a piece of fruit or a healthy snack. If you’re still hungry 30 minutes later, then go ahead and eat the rest of your meal. Spending $20 on dinner is a lot but if you can take the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, it’s not so bad!

9. On eating out while traveling. When I eat out while traveling, and don’t have a kitchen at the place I am staying, I try to go where locals go. The working class. The taco trucks and the mom-and-pop places are away from tourist destinations. Search Yelp and filter one $ sign + high rating to # of reviews ratio or better — ask a local!

10. On snacking. Always bring your own snacks, wherever you are going. Again, I have more time than money so it’s easy for me to pack snacks and even light meals if I know I am going to be out and about all day, or during travel days. Don’t depend on the airport to deliver high-quality, nutritious food at a cheap rate, for example. Plan accordingly and your gut (and wallet) will thank you! This is especially true if you have certain allergies or food insensitivities.

11. On hydrating. I drink a LOT of water. Invest in a reusable water bottle and refill that puppy everywhere. Oh, and don’t order drinks at a restaurant. They are the most marked-up items on the menu and are often just empty calories and sugar. If you’re in the US, you are lucky that water is free, so just drink that. If you want some flavor to ask for a lemon. Boom, vitamin C water! If I am in a country that doesn’t provide free water at a restaurant, I will usually have my water bottle in my bag and if I get thirsty during the meal, will drink it on the sly (or even head to the bathroom so as not to cause a scene). I know this sounds crazy but if I ate out 3 times per week and ordered a $4 beverage every time, that would be over $600 bucks a year!! That’s a PLANE TICKET, PEOPLE!

12. On fitness and meditation. You probably already know, but there is a HUGE array of options on Youtube. My favorite at the moment is Yoga With Kassandra and Refeel Yoga. Another option is hopping on a relative’s Peloton membership. They are allowed to add up to 10 friends and then you have access to all of their classes via the App (again — this might be considered cheating, but one thing you’ll have to learn about this lifestyle is not to have any shame about the choices you’re making as long as you aren’t hurting anyone in the process.) I also LOVE walking and biking. Again, because I have more time in my day, I can plan to commute on foot which is a built-in fitness program. Oh and for meditation, check out Insight Timer. They have loads of free meditations.

So there you have it. Sure, I might only make 30k a year (a far cry from being “wealthy”) but I certainly don’t feel poor.

  • I have ZERO debt — no mortgage, car payment, credit card debt or student loan debt dragging me down.
    I get to “slow” travel the world.
  • I nourish my body with healthy foods and move it regularly.
  • I don’t have to “go to” work and when I do work, I don’t work that much (4–5 hours a day max). That means I have a lot of time to develop my hobbies and invest in my relationships. If I have an appointment or want to take a few days off I have the flexibility to switch my working hours around.

Instead of breaking my back to buy the things I think I need, I spend most of my money on experiences that I suspect will bring me joy. Any joy you might get from purchasing a new toy whether it be a snazzy pair of boots or a kitchen gadget will likely be short-lived. A dopamine hit, that’s it. Instead, spend money on things you value and experiences that will nourish your need for connection and joy.