We’ve all had those months. Your pantry is looking slim. You just received a past due notice on your water bill. Your son tripped and not only ripped a hole in his last pair of good pants but he also ripped the thinning sole off his sneakers. You have $100 in the bank and 12 days until payday. And your savings account? You mean the money you used to pay an unexpected hospital bill? Gone.
We’ve all been there, we’ve all been to the point when the best you can do is just survive.
Surviving is hard work so let’s sit down and have some coffee (or tea) and chat about what we can do to get through that time when there is more month than money.
Step One: BREATHE and forgive. You will get through this, promise. It may not be pretty but you will come out the other side. Make your brain a safe, blame-free zone. Identify where things went wrong but accept that you’re here, now let’s get past this!
Step Two: Evaluate your income and your expenses. Write down every cent you have right now then write down everything you need/want money for between now and the next pay check. Include everything you normally spend money on during the week. When I say write down everything, I mean EVERYTHING. That morning coffee, the snack from the vending machine, the Friday night bottle of Merlot. Write. It. Down.
Step Three: Prioritize the things that need money. Food, you need food. You also need to pay for your transportation to work. Prescription medications. List out everything you NEED to stay alive, keep a roof over your head, and keep your job; these are your priorities during this period of survival.
Step Four: Go through your pantry, freezer, and fridge and plan out as many meals as you can. Think creatively, there is nothing wrong with eating popcorn for lunch once in a while.
Step Five: Reassess your list of priorities. Start at the bottom of your list and work your way up. Think about each expense and how you can reduce it. For example, you need food, but do you need as much food or the type of food you’re used to buying?
Think creatively. Can you use a paid vacation day so you don’t need as much gas in the car? Can you eat pasta just one more time? (I know, I know…I can’t even look at pasta anymore!) Can you buy half of your prescription to get you through, or ask your doctor if they have any samples? Instead of going out with friends why don’t you invite them over for a bring your own dessert party? Can you score a pair of shoes at Goodwill that will last your son until payday, can you patch that hole in his pants?
I don’t generally recommend three things during this time: borrowing money, using a credit card, and postponing payments. Why? Because that’s just extra you have to pay out of your next paycheck, which can land you in the same boat all over again. With that said, however, I’m no stranger to asking the water company for an extra week on my due date and I admit that last month I used my credit card to fill my gas tank. Twice. It happens, the key is to be prepared to make amends once your pay check comes in.
Step Five: Get to work! Make a budget and write down exactly how much to spend for each expense. This part hurts, but you can’t skip it. If you only have $100 and cannot figure out how to get your expenses to that or lower, ask a trusted friend to take a peek and see what they come up with. Then, make those calls to reschedule appointments or work out payment plans. Figure out that meal plan. Check out my $60 Meal Plan and my $50 Emergency Meal Plan for inspiration. Make your morning coffee at home. Just say no to eating a fast food lunch.
Above all else: Learn. Sometimes we can pinpoint an exact event or two that caused financial stress, sometimes it’s an ongoing problem. Reflection isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to money, but it’s an important step in your financial recovery. For now you’re just surviving, but none of us wants that forever. Figure out your spending habits, change some of them, and learn from your mistakes.
Mistakes are a funny thing, after all. We all make them but only those who want better learn from them, and the more painful the mistake the stronger the lesson. You will get through this, you will survive and flourish!