When You Have No More Money, What Do You Do?

Tuesday my One Thing was this (click here to get One Thing sent to your email for free, each workday):

Today! Figure out how much money you have (bank accounts, under
mattresses, etc.), and how long it will last you (what are your expenses).

When I got laid off I sat down with my wife and someone else and wrote
out our budget, and figured out how many months we could survive. We
were fortunate to get help from our church and our families, and I
know this is is the exception not the rule. How long can you last, if
your income stops today?

… and I got the following question from R.B.:

Great advice.  I have yet to see, however, advice about what to do after you’ve already done this planning, and you have gone through all of your savings, etc., yet still do not have money coming in.  What then?  That’s where I am right now.

Before I give my ideas, let me just say, it’s really, really, really easy for this to happen to YOU.  Think you won’t be in a job search long?  Think you have enough savings to last, or your employer will give you a cushy severance?  THINK AGAIN.  I see this happening all around me, even in my safe little town with pretty houses and smiling people.

I wish I had all the right answers for you, R.B., but I’m just going to share what I know, and hope my readers can chime in with their own experiences and solutions.  The order is important:

First, eliminate. After we made our budget, the “someone else” was looking at each line item to see what we could trim or eliminate.  We were already living pretty lean, so there wasn’t anything we figured to trim.  HOWEVER, we definitely could have trimmed our grocery expenses (going to the beans/rice diet).  Trent Hamm is an expert at trimming personal expenses, and blogs at The Simple Dollar.  Go read his blog and see how he trims corners everywhere.  It’s become a challenging game to him, and reading his ideas is almost invigorating.  If you have cable, satellite, other other non-essential things, figure out how to get rid of them.

Second, family.  It is very hard, embarrassing and humbling to go to family for help, and some of you just can’t.  But when you are in a serious hardship, a family can pull together… immediate and extended.  Sometimes all you need is an extra $50, or $200, or more for a few months.  You may be surprised at how willingly your family, including aunts and uncles and cousins and beyond, will jump in and help you.  I hear about this all the time… and you’ll have your turn to help them (or their kids).  I’m always surprised when I hear about families helping, simply because I used to be selfish and tight with my money, and judged the person in need.

Third, government.  Call up the state welfare office and make an appointment to see what help they can offer.  Examples of financial help can include unemployment insurance payments ($1k/month is not much, but if it’s the only $1k/month you get, it can be a lifesaver!), food stamps, utility help, etc.  Another thing, and this helps give you peace of mind, is getting the appropriate health insurance for you and/or any dependents.  I hated collecting unemployment, and felt like the state employees were very scrutinizing and judgmental, and thought we were scamming them, but hey, I had kids to feed.

Third-and-a-half, your 401k.  My wife and I didn’t qualify for medical coverage because we had over $5k in assets, which includes our 401k.  Only politicians could come up with some lame idea like that.  On the one hand we’re supposed to build a 401k so we don’t depend on the government in our old age… on the other hand, if we have over $5k then we don’t get any emergency medical coverage.  Scary stuff.  Hopefully you have been putting money into a 401k.  I was cautioned to NOT draw from the 401k, because of the 10% penalty (if you take out $1,000, you HAVE TO pay $100 in taxes, no matter what).  But if that’s all you got, you got to do it.

Fourth, your church.  Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone, as some don’t go to or have a church.  But if you have a church, or can bring yourself to walk in the church doors and talk to a leader, you might get some help.  I’ve blogged about religion’s role in a job search before.  Aside from any help you might get from church leadership (which might be help with food, or paying bills, etc.), you might find congregation members rally around you to help you in this time of need.

Fifth, friends.  Just letting certain friends know your situation can help.  We had friends who started giving us food, inviting us to eat with them, etc.  Your friends should care about you, and want to help you.  You don’t want to mooch, and they don’t want to be taken advantage of.  Be gracious, but be honest with yourself and with them.

That’s all I got… any other ideas on how to survive with zero income?

16 thoughts on “When You Have No More Money, What Do You Do?”

  1. Listening to my grandparent’s stories of how they survived the Depression in Oklahoma, I learned a couple of things that could be applied today:
    1. Barter. If you know someone who has a great garden, but not enough time, offer to weed, pick apples, squash, etc., in exchange for some of the produce. Offer to run errands for busy working parents (you can combine them with your own), in exchange for gas money or an hourly fee. Offer your hairdresser a homecooked meal delivered to her home in exchange for a haircut. Be creative….people really need the gift of time, so anything you can do to give it back to them will be worth a lot.
    2. Sell your stuff. Clean out the basement. Go through your unused or unwanted items to sell on e-Bay, or have a garage sale. Get neighbors to join in…the more sales in a neighborhood, the more traffic you will get. Go in together to put a cheap ad in the local newspaper. Don’t forget the gold and silver jewelry…it’s fetching a pretty penny these days. Check out seller online to find a reputable place.

    Hope this is of some help.

  2. Most of us live from pay check to pay check. That is unfortunate. We need to plan for a rainy day. we need to get on a plan to pay off our mortgage as fast as possible without over extending our selves. We need to Pay off the credit cards. Some people use thier credit cards all month and when the payment comes due they pay the entire card off ,thus useing the banks money interest free. We must buy only the things we need. Save up for major purchases. And never buy anything unless we have the money. (if possible) Also If we can have a littl net work marketing business on the side That could come in Handy. Sorry, this is preventive action. But I think you got that other subject covered.

  3. What do you do? Sell stuff on eBay, get a part-time job and hang on by your fingernails. That’s what I did until landing at a new gig. You’ll be surprised at all the stuff you don’t need and other people will buy.

  4. Take odd little jobs. When I was in this situation some years ago, I did all sorts of little jobs: translation by the page, technical writing for owner’s manuals, compiling survey response data, tutoring, research and lit reviews for graduate students, etc. It kept us afloat until I could get a real job. Sometimes these services were traded or paid “in kind”, such as when someone fixed our car in exchange for me writing some technical specs for his little company’s new product.

  5. The best tip for living on a shoestring is to find new ways to earn some quick money.

    Obviously, sell off anything you don’t really need on ebay, then find small local jobs such as babysitting or cleaning while you hunt for that elusive career.

  6. Perhaps become you own venture capitalist and sell a share of a current or future offering?

    It’s tricky but if you’re an honest person, you probably can get a few people to “invest” in you.


  7. Jason, this is a topic near to my heart. One thing you said really jumped out at me, “t’s really, really, really easy for this to happen to YOU.” If you have never been here it’s so easy to judge others, it can and does happen to people who did not make bad financial decisions, are not lazy or stupid and did nothing to deserve it. Retail and hourly jobs can help get you through a pinch, snagajob.com has lots of listings. A job with tips is a bonus and can provide immediate cash daily. If you have a skill, consider freelancing, check out Elance, Guru and other sites to offer your services. Check out sologigs.com for temp and contract jobs. A 3 month assignment can be a godsend when you have $0 income.

  8. The writer doesn’t give much detail, so this is vague and quite creative. I hope the best for this person and agree that you can’t judge.

    The first thing is to get income! I don’t know if it’s possible to build an online business from a library – such as blogging – or even if you have the desire or want to learn. But the nice thing is the income is passive – while you sleep. However, it takes a lot to learn. I’d find a mentor. I know this is crazy but someone like Rick Butts has time and money and expertise. Could you ask him to mentor you – he could take it on as a challenge.

    If you truly have no income you’ve got to dumpster dive, fish, hunt, volunteer at events where you’ll get fed (go to weddings!), learn how to hunt for food (during college we found fruit trees and berries on campus to eat and we knew what wild garlic and other edible foods looked like). Right now farmers are plowing under their fields – even though there is plenty of food left. Look for nonprofits in your community.

    If you don’t have things to sell on eBay maybe you could find older folks who have things that you could photograph and sell on eBay for them for a percentage of the sale. I did this for someone who didn’t have time to sell his laptop. It takes skill but there are people who can help. Put up cards on bulletin boards asking for tutoring.

    Money follows value – there are always ways to generate value. Provide value for others so you can contribute. That builds your sense of self which can help you in other areas.

    Another place to find jobs or post what you offer is on Craigslist. It’s a vibrant community – perhaps you can find more help and answers there.

    Hope some of this helps,

  9. Most communities have one or more food banks. In my experience they are privately run by volunteers, sometimes churches but not always. Often you don’t need to fill out forms but just go there and ask, or show up at the weekly time and place, in order to receive one or more bags of groceries. The groceries will vary in quality and usability, but they can be very, very helpful, especially when you have kids. By the way, sometimes you don’t even need to be out of work, but only out of money — we were helped once when my then-husband was freelancing regularly but his client was delaying payment.


  11. Kevin’s suggestion of “work today, pay today” agencies is a good one. Agencies like ManPower and Volt seem to always have temporary work. It’s not glamorous, and tends to be tasks like setting up chairs for a convention, unloading trucks, etc. But, you only need a phone number and a way to show up to work to get paid. I worked at these agencies between high school and college…paid better than a minimum wage fast-food job, and left you enough flexibility to continue your job search.

  12. I am grateful everyday for what I have – I hope that I never know what it truly feels like to go without. I honestly don’t know exactly what I would do in that situation but have had some scary times.

    In my case, shortly after my second child was born my husband got RIF’d from his great corporate job. I was forced back to work to help ends meet – fast went my “stay-at-home” mom status. He was really surprised and grateful when he saw my do what I could to help out with our finances – I didn’t want him to shoulder the sole responsibility of making ends meet but to focus on his career search.
    When times are tough, you do whatever it takes (w/in reason) to keep your family fed and a roof over their heads. I enlisted the help of my friends for moral support and my mom became a free babysitter, but we made it through a bad time. If I had to sell everything on ebay, consignment shops, flea markets, etc. to make it, I would. If I had to take a job that I didn’t care for just to make it, I would. I applaud those folks out there that are doing what it takes to make ends meet while they look for their dream job.

    I hope I never know what it’s truly like to lose everything and be down to your last penny – or with no pennies. The reality is, it could happen to me. Therefore, today I am grateful.

  13. When I first started my business I also looked at the newspaper classifieds. I would contact them and pitch them on using my services to meet their immediate needs until they hired and trained an employee. I knew they had a need and I could offer to do the same thing as a contractor – saving them benefits, training time and only paying for actual work done. If you are unemployed you can do the same thing, you could end up with a gig or two for a few months that pays well and allows you to keep searching for work. Who knows, you could also end up working yourself into a permanent position.

  14. This is very interesting because I am in a very tight financial situation right now. I have had quadbypass 2003 and stents put in my heart August 2007 and October 2007 I had a mini-stroke then April 2008 I had more stents put in my heart and again October 2008. Bottom line, because of my health, I can not make the same money I need to cover for my bills/expenses. I exhausted all my savings and liquid assets.

    No one talked about bankruptcy here but that is where my situation have brought me, I had to file bankruptcy because I am having difficulty making that extra income that would help me cover for my expenses. Because of my health situation, I get tired and fatigued easily. It is very disappointing. It is very true that bad things, whether financial or otherwise happens and can happen to any individual.

    The only thing I can share is, downsize, live simple and go back to basics. America is a nice place because people here do help people in need.

    This might sound lame to some but what keeps me going is I believe God is always helping me. If he can take care of the animals in the wild, he sure can take care of me. This thinking might not get that money in the pocket but it sure gives comfort. Oh… and don’t lose faith in God, we only need so much to survive anyway.

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