That's what would have happened to his career were it not for National Lottery funding, which Derby's Olympic marvel calls a 'lifeline' at a 'crucial time'.
Peaty's dad is a supermarket caretaker and his mum a nursery manager, a family just about managing but unable to fund the astronomical cost of a life in elite swimming.
Famously, a local appliance cover company stepped in to fund their trip to Rio to watch Adam break a world record and win 100m breaststroke gold in 2016.
His performances were rewarded with National Lottery funding from 2012 to 2016 and it's not a stretch to say it was make-or-break for Peaty.
"Financially, it was tough for us," said the 25-year-old.
"There was always food on the plate because my mum and dad worked so hard. But there were no privileges, no new gear, all that kind of stuff. That was hard to come by.
"I was different to other athletes in the sport and other families, who just didn't have to think about the money side of things.
"I haven't had it all put on a plate to me and that gives you resilience and teaches you humility.
"My family couldn't afford the impact of me being a sportsperson, so getting the funding was a lifeline.
"Also, money aside, it's just someone believing in you and putting their faith in your ability to perform. I wanted to do well and prove I was a good investment."
Peaty's private income now exceeds £65,000 and means he is no longer eligible for the Athlete Performance Award, solely funded by The National Lottery.
But the boost he got as an emerging teenager training at Derby Swimming Club helped him become one of the world's most dominant Olympic athletes.
He owns the fastest 10 split times in history for 100m and as well as being the only man to have ever gone under 58 seconds in the event, his 'Project 56' yielded 56.88 last year.
When you're that far ahead of the opposition, the battlefield moves from the pool to the mind and Peaty is a passionate advocate of sports psychology.
He attends UK Sport Performance Mindset Days three or four times a year and feels mentality is the single biggest difference between success and failure.
"I've invested in understanding my psychology since I was 15," added Peaty, a contributor to the 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won since National Lottery funding started in 1997.
"I think it's the difference between going from second to first at an Olympics. It's that fundamental.
"I see people who train hour after hour, and they're really fast, but there's something in their mind that holds them back on the big day.
"If you turn up to an Olympic final, you can have broken a world record the previous day but if your mindset isn't right, you might as well not bother.
"We have a saying 'anytime, anywhere'. If you told me I was racing next week in London, I'd perform and that's all about mindset."
Peaty's dreams of defending his Olympic title in the 100m have been put on hold for a year due to COVID-19.
The eight-time World Championship gold medallist says the prospect of a rearranged Olympics in Tokyo next year can be a beacon of hope for the country and the world.
"This is a very tough time for so many people," said Peaty.
"An Olympics next year will show we've come through this and as athletes, it's going to be a great moment of celebration to show nothing's impossible."
No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise around £30 million each week for good causes. Discover the positive impact playing The National Lottery has at #TNLAthletes #TracktoTokyo