Money Is No Excuse: How to Bootstrap Your Life – The Agile Way (Like Startups Do)

In Bootstrapping, On a Budget by Leave a Comment

Share this Post

The MoSCoW Technique

What’s the number one reason we postpone our goals & aspirations to “someday” (which usually never arrives)?

Care to take a guess?

That’s right. MONEY (or lack of it).

Whether it’s that trip we’ve been putting off for years or the business we always wanted to start ( or anything else you’ve been putting off) – it tends to be same excuse we use every time. That very same excuse we use to rationalize almost everything in our lives, and accept the bitter truth of “I just can’t afford it”.


You don’t need to be a multi-millionaire to travel, or to start your business, or to (fill in blank).

Sure, some things cost more than a piece of gum, but that doesn’t mean you have to start earning 6 figures to go on the trip you’ve been talking about for years.

All you need is a little determination, and bootstrapping.

Free Template:

Get the FREE MoSCoW Analysis Template & Start Saving Money

Free Bonus: Download the Free MoSCoW Expenses Analysis Template to help you bootstrap your life and make your travel goals possible

The First Step: Cutting the Bullshit

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. —Richard P. Feynman
“I can’t afford it” is usually code for “I’m too lazy to figure it out”. We use money as a quick getaway to rationalize our unwillingness to sacrifice the trivial to go after the important.

It’s time we start tackling those awful excuses we got used to telling ourselves (and heard from others).

Telling ourselves the truth is always the first step to reach any goal. Let’s take travel as our obvious example, and get a few excuses out of the way:

  • No, you don’t need to be a millionaire to travel
  • No, you don’t need to start working extra shifts to save up for travel (although it can help)
  • No, you don’t need to work for decades to save up for a freakin’ 3 month trip to South America
  • No, you don’t need to quit your day job and leave everything behind

These are all No’s. Isn’t there a Yes somewhere?

Sure, I’ll give you one. It’s the only one you’ll need, and it’s the one thing most people aren’t willing to do to.

  • Yes, you have to be willing to make some sacrifices 

What kind of sacrifices? Let’s start by rephrasing a simple question:

Bad: “How much more money do i need to make to reach my goal?”

Good“What kind of expenses can i cut to reach my goal?”

There’s a simple word for it. It’s called bootstrapping.

Bootstrapping – It’s All About the Money

Travel Bootstrap

The term bootstrapping gets thrown a lot in the business world, especially when describing a startup’s hustle in the early days.

From a startup’s point of view, bootstrapping means running a business with very little or no money, reducing expenses to a bare minimum & utilising the startup’s limited resources to grow the business. 

It requires the entrepreneurs to be uber-focused on their most important goals, and get rid of the irrelevant or the lesser important tasks that are not producing sufficient ROI (this concept is also known as eliminating waste in The Lean Startup).

Taking a bootstrapped approach when starting a business is an alternative approach to going out and raising capital money from investors from the very beginning of the business.

The truth is that in most startups (at least in it’s early days), taking the bootstrapped approach is considerably better than raising money you don’t necessarily need right from the start.

Bootstrap Your Life: Prioritize Effectively

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

You’d be surprised how many business methods, techniques & concepts you can apply to your personal life, and vice versa. But no technique is worth anything if you lose sight of the reason you’re doing it in the first place. Know your why first, then focus on the how.

Once you know your why and become clear on your priorities – the process of bootstrapping your life & giving up on things becomes a lot easier.

Boostrapping your life helps you restrain yourself from pissing away money you can easily put in your travel piggy bank. It helps you make better money-management decisions and control your finances in a much deeper level. It becomes very similar to managing a business – you do everything in your power to make your business reach it’s goals. To do this you must prioritize effectively.

To start practicing this discipline you have to start protecting your budget like a hawk, and only take out your credit card for absolutely critical expenses – preferably investments. The sooner you’ll start thinking about your travel goals as business goals, the better.

Adopting a bootstrapped approach can help you go after almost any goal that you initially thought was out of reach. This includes travel.

There are a lot of  bootstrapping techniques you can apply to reach your travel goals. Let’s take one simple, yet very effective technique you can start applying immediately to reach your travel goals .

Bootstrapping in Practice: Introducing – The MoSCoW Technique

Moscow is a beautiful city (make sure you dress up warm in the winter). But it’s also a great money saving technique.

Wait, what?

Besides being Russia’s capital, The MoSCoW technique is also a widely adopted project management methodology & prioritization technique used commonly in startups. It is often used in agile software development and business analysis.

MoSCoW stands for Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, Won’t Have.

MoSCoW Technique

  • Must Have – The most vital things you can’t live without.
  • Should Have – Things you consider as important, but not vital. Things that you can afford to cut back in terms of costs & quantity, or postpone to a later time.
  • Could Have – These are the “nice-to-haves” – The things you should keep only if you have some extra cash lying around.
  • Won’t Have – Things that provide little to no value, that you can give afford to give up on.

In agile software development, the key takeaway of the MoSCoW technique is this: you should prioritize your money & efforts based on the customer’s actual needs. For this to work you need to figure out what the customer really needs and what he considers important. Anything else is considered a waste (either time, money or both). Neither sides end up benefiting from it.

Well then, how does this apply to our travel money-saving plans? Who is the customer in this scenario?

Lucky for you, your customer is – YOU.

And lucky you – you know what you consider important, or what things you can allow yourself to give up on.

If you don’t – then it’s your lucky day!

You’re about to find out…

Note: The good thing about this technique is that it can be applied to almost anything in your lives: what project to work on next, what features to include in your new app, what to get for dinner, and of course – save money for travel.

Applying the MoSCoW Prioritization Technique

MoSCoW Technique - Expenses Analysis

  1. First, download the MoSCoW – Expenses Analysis Template and fill in your list of expenses. You can download an example here.

    Write down a list of ALL your expenses in a spreadsheet. That includes your daily coffee, restaurant expenses, clothing…


    Be as specific as possible.

    Note: The template was designed according to my own types of expenses. Even though the template does have a generic structure, chances are you have different types of expenses that were not listed in the template, so feel free to modify it according to your needs.

    Pro Tip: Instead of writing groceries, deconstruct it to the actual groceries you are buying. You can definitely cut back on the Cheetos!

  2. Categorise each expense on the list according to the MoSCoW technique. (The template has a drop down with the 4 MoSCoW options already built-in for you)

    Don’t worry about monetary savings yet, right now we’re simply clarifying the importance of each expense – cutting costs comes later.

    A few things you should consider when categorising:

    • The Must Haves should be the ABSOLUTE musts you can’t give afford to touch, and shouldn’t touch. The Must Haves should be the selected few. Use them sparingly.

      Pro Tip: To categorise properly, ask yourself:  “Can i completely give up on this expense?”
      If you’re completely honest with yourself, you know what expenses you simply can’t give up on, or what expenses are not yielding you any real benefits.

    • Your Should Haves are the things you consider important, but not vital. The goal with Should Have items is to try to postpone them, or reduce their costs (or both).
    • The Could Haves are your luxuries – the things that you don’t really need, but are nice to have when you have some extra cash lying around.
    • Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to prioritize something. This entire process is based on assumptions. The whole idea is to test a certain hypothesis (i.e guessing), test it, and apply the necessary changes. (Some Lean Startup 101 for you guys)
  3. a) Go over the Should Haves and the Could Haves, and list possible alternatives (if there are any) for each expense type.

    For example: Instead of drinking my daily coffee at Starbucks, i can choose to drink coffee at home. Or instead of driving my car to work, i can ride my bike, which will allow me to get rid of my car and have an extra 20 minute workout in the morning.

    b) Try rationalizing your alternatives to yourself by finding their benefits over your current habits. This will help convince your sub-conscious that this change is actually a good one.

    In our Starbucks example – besides saving money, i also get to save 5-10 minutes of waiting in lines (plus actually the time it takes me to get to Starbucks).

    That’s an extra 2 hours per month!


    Our goal is to replace existing spending habits with cheaper & better alternatives, or postpone current non-vital expenses to a later time.

  4. Calculate the Total Monthly Expense for each expense type.
    • Use your credit card statements from the past 3 months to find your money spending patterns. Don’t look for perfection, look for an accurate estimation.
    • Categorise your expenses. No point of listing tomatoes and cucumbers as 2 separate expenses. Categorise them under 1 listing of Vegetables.
    • Include one-time expenses as well in a separate Misc listing.Again, our goal is not to be 100% precise. If i only had a one-time expense 2 months ago, divide it by 3 to get the average one-time expenses per month for the last 3 months.

      For example: if I’m used to buying a Mocha Caffe for $4.65 at Starbucks, 3 times a week, my Total Monthly Expense for Mocha Caffe will be:

      4.65 X 3 cups p/w X 4 = $55.8

      That’s $56 dollars i spend every month just on coffee at Starbucks! Definitely a luxury I can afford to cut back or modify (i.e, a Could Have).

  5. Now it’s time to start cutting costs.

    Fill in the Target Monthly Expense based on the priorities you assigned each of your expenses.

    Do this according to your own circumstances. You know yourself better than anyone else.
    Not everyone can afford to move back with their parents for a few months, or get rid of their car. And you don’t have to.

    Be aggressive, but be reasonable.

    Follow these guidelines when estimating your new Target Monthly Expense:

    • Focus on the most costly expenses on the list. This is the 80/20 rule put into practice: identify the 20% of expense types that result in 80% of your total monthly expenses.
    • Start with the Won’t Haves. These should be usually cut to $0. If it wasn’t, you probably haven’t categorised it properly.
    • For the Could Haves, our goal is reduce or postpone it as much as possible. If i’m used to 3 cups of coffee in Starbucks, i can choose to replace it with home-made coffee, and perhaps reduce my Starbucks treat to once a week.Again, the goal here is to test your assumptions. Modify on the go when you get some quantifiable results.
    • Your goal with Should Haves is to try cheaper alternatives, that don’t result in a unbearable sacrifice.

      For example: If you’re job requires you to drive a lot – selling your car is probably not a viable option. You could however try minimising costs by checking to see if physical meetings can be moved to a web/phone meeting, work from home at least once a week, replace your personal vehicle with a rental etc’.

      Think creative and don’t limit yourself.

    • The Must Haves are usually the things we can’t afford to sacrifice. But it doesn’t mean you can’t try and reduce the costs, share the costs or find another money-saving solution.

      For example: If you’re paying rent, and moving back home with your parents for a few months is out of the question, why not reduce costs by finding a roommate for a few months?

Once you have your list all filled in, your learning period starts.

Pro Tip 1: Make sure you set a learning period long enough so you can collect actual data, and short enough to actually make revisions before you travel.

Pro Tip 2: Even though this post focuses on your pre-travel period and discusses how to save money for your travel, your MoSCoW List can certainly be used during your travel as well, and i strongly recommend you do so. You will notice that most of your list can be applied to your travel journey as well.

Final Words 

The MoSCoW technique has been widely adopted for a reason – it works. Bootstrapping techniques such as this one are very useful tools to have in your toolbox.

No one said that these kind of techniques are exclusive to the business world. They can definitely be used to make the required changes in your life to reach your personal goals. And what greater goal than travel is there to start applying the MoSCoW technique?

Use it wisely my friend.

Now It’s Your Turn

  1. If you haven’t already, Download the MoSCoW Expenses  Analysis Template
  2. Fill in the MoSCoW template according to the instructions above. The template calculates your total monthly expenses automatically, and colors each MoSCoW priority with a unique color so you can easily identify the important ones, and trim the unnecessary fat.
    Use the MoSCoW Expenses Analysis example as your reference.
  3. Optional (but recommended): Print 3 copies of your MoSCoW list
    Hang one copy next to your bed, one on your refrigerator, and carry one with you in your pocket at all times (you can save it on your phone instead).
    Note: The purpose of this is to carry a constant reminder with you at all times. With your MoSCoW list spotted everywhere, you will start to think twice before you buy another unnecessary pair of shoes.
  4. Schedule your next MoSCoW revisions in your calendar

    It’s important you realise that once you fill your first draft of your list, you are starting a validation period. You’re testing whether the assumptions you made when you filled the list makes sense.

    Your new budget is built from assumptions – what things you can allow yourself to give up on, what kind of expenses you can replace with cheaper ones etc’. Your goal is to validate them.

    This is what the upcoming period is for – validating your assumptions, correcting them or replacing them as needed. This is similar to the MVP and hypothesis-testing notion from The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

    Depending on your travel date, i recommend the following schedules:

    • If you plan on traveling at least 3 months from now: Set a recurring monthly event in your calendar to review your MoSCoW list.
    • If you plan on traveling less than 3 months from now: Set a recurring event every 2 weeks in your calendar to review your MoSCoW list.
  5. Share your thoughts. I would love to hear in the comments how the MoSCoW technique has helped you reach your travel goals.

Share this Post

Leave a Comment