Something has happened and you have no money. Or very little money.
It could be retrenchment from a Casual job when you live week to week. Maybe as mentioned in my post here, your Welfare payment has been suspended and you have some time to wait, be it hours or weeks until it's reinstated. Maybe it's something as sad and catastrophic as a marriage breakdown, or unexpected bereavement. Believe it or not, it could even be a technological glitch, or simply that you've lost your wallet. Those things have all happened to me at one time or another.
What to do?
First of all, don't panic. There are several ways of handling this situation, and none of them include the word 'panic'. Okay, some of them are worth crying and ranting over. I'll give you that. But keep the panic in check. If you start panicking and getting hysterical in that chest hitching, unable-to-speak-coherently sort of way, it's going to be difficult to find a way out. That stuff has a way of taking hold and not letting go, okay? So breathe deeply. Grab a cuppa or a quiet seat somewhere, and lets have a think.
Now, I'm going to outline two scenarios. One where you've genuinely found yourself without money for more than a day, and perhaps for an extended period of time, and one where you find yourself without money for a brief time, on an isolated occasion.
No money for more than a day or an extended period of time
1. First and foremost, what payments are due today, or about to fall due? You have a responsibility to advise those people immediately, that you are unable to fulfill those commitments. Whether it's rent, a mortgage payment, a car payment or other financial obligation, the sooner you let people know, the better it will be. Here's why...
(a) Your stress levels will be significantly reduced if you're not worrying about the landlord, the bank, the school principal, the finance company, and the Soccer coach, knocking on your door and asking for money. Hiding under the bed is not an option. If you're adult enough to take out a loan, you're adult enough to be honest when your circumstances change, and you're unable to make a repayment. As saying goes 'Harden Up Princess', or conversely, 'Man Up'.
(b) Everyone, from landlord, to the bank, to the sports coach or dance teacher, to the little old lady who looks after your kids while you work, will be more understanding if you let them know as soon as there is a problem. Explain the situation, outline what steps you are taking to remedy the problem, and give them a date by which they can next expect to hear from you. Be honest. Follow up on all of that, and do what you say you're going to do, if you want them to take you seriously. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT say you'll pay them tomorrow or next week, if you realistically know that will be impossible. They too, and this bit is important, may rely upon the income that you provide to THEM, and will need to make alternative arrangements as well.
(c) If you have children, they are looking to you to model their own behaviour in their adult life. Hiding under the bed or behind the door, and avoiding phone calls, is not an appropriate example for them to follow. Be honest with them as well, reassuring them that you are doing whatever is within your power to remedy the situation. Children are amazingly resilient, and understand more than you can possibly imagine if it's outlined in child sized bites for them.
Here's a bit of an idea of what you could say to those to whom you owe money...
"I need to tell you, that XYZ has happened. Unfortunately this was entirely unexpected, and I find I'm temporarily unable to pay you. I am taking steps to rectify the situation, but for now, I'm relying on my ability to find an alternative source of income to keep my family going. I'm realistic about what needs to be done, but I honestly can't see myself being able to fulfill my commitment to you for at least (a few days, a week, a month..insert time frame). Can we negotiate a way for me to repay you when I am able?"
Here's an idea of what to say to your children...
"Things are going to be different for us for a little while. We might not have much money. That means that for now, all the things we like to do and the food we like to eat, might not be available to us. I'm doing whatever I can to fix this, but for now, I need you to help me. If you can keep your room tidy, get along with each other, and learn to enjoy eating plain things for a while, I think I can find a way out of this for us. Will you help me?"
2. Cancel anything that is not absolutely necessary. So that includes gifts to charity (sorry, but it does just for now), cable TV subscriptions, online deductions for whatever, and anything that is not an absolute necessity of life. You can reinstate those things when life is a bit more financially abundant. You may even find that once things are more financially abundant, that you've learned to live without those things and do not need them reinstated. You could then instead, set that money aside in an Emergency Fund, to forestall a similar situation.
3. So you've done that, and you now have some breathing space. Next is food. Even if it is eating 'plain things', how will you feed yourself and whoever else you're responsible for, until the money is coming in again? This step sometimes requires immense discipline and imagination, but once you've done it, you won't be afraid to do it again. Get out a pen and paper. Now, go to your refrigerator, and write down every single thing that's in there. One egg? Write that down. Half a tub of butter? Add that to the list. A scary looking lump of cheese wrapped in foil? Yep that too. Now go to your pantry or kitchen cupboard and do the same. Good.
Now...this is where you need ingenuity and creativity. Hopefully you have a few pantry staples. If you don't, well, now is the time to use whatever little money you have, to buy some.
First of all, I'm going to go completely against the grain, and say please don't do what so many blogs and money saving websites suggest, and run out spending up on seedlings and pots to grow food. Now is not the time. That is something you do when you have money to spare and time and space to do it properly, as a self sustaining existence or preparation strategy. Growing food on the fly, when you're desperate, often doesn't work, and that money will be wasted. Not only that, but it takes weeks or months to grow anything substantial enough to replace what you can buy relatively inexpensively if you buy what is in season. Buying seasonal produce and making do with that, even if broccoli and zucchini are not your favourite, is the best strategy for now. Take my word for it. Been there, done that. More than once. A pot of chives, some cherry tomatoes, and one of basil are all do-able, and can liven up an omelette or a bowl of pasta, if you feel that growing something edible is going to help. But that's it, if you're a novice. If you're more experienced and truly have a green thumb and some space, and can access inexpensive seedlings, AND can wait a few weeks for a yield, then that's different. Most of us do not find ourselves in that position at a moments notice.
Instead, let's say you have eggs, milk or milk powder, flour, cheese of some sort, a couple of vegetables and a couple of pieces of fruit. That's a pretty scant pantry and fridge to begin with, but there are potential meals even there. Yes, they'll be plain meals, but you won't starve and neither will your family.
Sad fruit can become a dessert, or pies.
Eggs, flour and milk can become crepes or pancakes. Even if you have those with butter and/or sugar, it's a meal. It's going to fill tummies.
Flour, butter and milk can become Béchamel Sauce. Béchamel sauce can be a base for anything at all to become appetising. Got a handful of deli meat? Dice that and toss in that half an onion and some seasoning, and spoon into crepes and roll them and bake them. Got a few odd bits of pasta? Toss the sauce and the deli meat with that, and serve Pasta Alfredo, or Carbonara. Add a tin of tuna or salmon and it becomes a Mornay. Delicious comfort food at it's best.
Pasta, but no eggs or milk? Toss the pasta with fresh herbs and butter, and call it Pasta Verde which translates roughly to Green Noodles. Giving plain meals an exotic name is an old trick employed by many a desperate Mother. My Mum, on one particular day when we were young and money was scarce, steamed some baby potatoes, cut a block of cheese into thick slices, and a 1/4 pound of butter into neat little pats, laid out her best china and wine goblets, and set the potatoes, butter, cheese and a huge jug of red cordial on our beautifully set dining table, and told us we were having 'Bohemian' for dinner. We loved it and the friends we had staying that night, still talk about the night we had 'Bohemian' for dinner when we were kids. Honest. And that was 40 years ago. Funny thing, that.
There were many nights when our family swelled from 7, to 14 because having friends over for the night was what we did to entertain ourselves. That's when we'd have Pasta Alla Oglio, which was just spaghetti tossed with oil or butter and some garlic. We'd add salt and pepper and some dried herbs, and everyone would be smacking their lips for an hour afterwards. Mum would make Johnny Cake with Golden Syrup and tinned cream for dessert, and because nobody had ever seen Johnny Cake, they'd all think that was terribly exotic too! I don't know what it was really. I've never seen a recipe for it. It was sort of a cross between Damper, Dumplings and a really big Hotcake. Yum.
It's often touted by money saving blogs and websites, that Oats are the cheapest breakfast ever, and certainly that is true. Soak them overnight in water and a spoonful of powdered milk, and simply reheat them, and you're done. But many families have food allergies nowadays, and learning to make a few simple alternatives like a home made yoghurt, or gluten free hotcakes are still extremely inexpensive additions to the repertoire, and delicious to boot.
Lunches, including school lunches, will have to be equally simple for the time being. If you can manage a sandwich with spread, a piece of fruit, a bottle of water, and a home made cookie, the kids will be fine. And so will you.
It goes without saying that buying Starbucks coffees and so on, are off limits. I know you think that goes without saying, but I'm saying it anyway. An instant coffee at home, or in a thermal cup from home, will do the trick for the time being, and it's certainly better than nothing at all.
4. Gift giving strategies. Now if you are reading this as I've written it today, then you'll know that Christmas is around four weeks away. If it's some time since I posted this, and you're reading, then it's still possible that you have birthdays, anniversaries, and childrens friends to find gifts for. Gift giving is simply a part of life. Here are a few ideas...
For the kids...
1. Buy second hand. Clean your purchases, tart them up with nail varnish in the chippy spots, add ribbons or glitter for little girls, put them in a box with some tissue paper. Wrap.
2. Organise a toy swap with friends. Tidy and clean as above. Wrap.
3. Gift your time. Even children love head and foot massages, and watching their favourite movies snuggled up with you. Make Christmas Day about being together, rather than the gifts. Imagine rising early on Christmas morning, and filling bowls with warm sudsy water, making hotcakes, and having the kids eat them while you give them a Foot spa experience. Lots of giggles, and so relaxing for you all.
4. Be creative. Make a giant festive collage out of magazine clippings and junk mail, and hang it instead of having a tree. Make some salt dough ornaments, and hang them in the window.
5. Embellish pillowcases with ribbon and trims. Make simple boxer shorts. Trim a Tshirt with a bit of lace. All of these cost little, but make things look very bespoke and upmarket.
Teens are harder, I'll give you that. But I have been broke and with two teenage sons (at that time) with birthdays literally three days apart, I managed.
1. Back in the 90's, when I was a perennially broke single parent, I sourced gifts at a pawnbrokers auction almost every year. These items were even still boxed, and after a clean, looked as good as new. Of course, there's eBay now, and you can find many a bargain on eBay, Gumtree (Craigslist is the equivalent in the U.S. I guess) and Pawnbrokers auction sites. I purchased an electric guitar for $50, game consoles for $25, recent release and new release DVDs for $1 each, a brand new basketball hoop in the box for $20, label clothing still with the tags for under $10 and so on. If even that is beyond you, be honest, give your teens a cheque or an IOU, and make sure you fulfill that IOU as soon as you can once money is available. I've done that too. The funny thing is, that those times when we were really struggling, are the birthdays and Christmasses my sons remember most fondly, because I was able to give them my TIME. Truth.
2. If you're even a little bit clever with a sewing machine or a needle and thread, you can whip up themed cushions, bedding, and tote bags from recycled quilt covers and sheets. Pinterest is an absolute gold mine of ideas for guitar shaped cushions and bags for the musician teen in your life, clever iThingo lookalike stuff, and covers for their electronic devices.
3. Food. Food is always a winner. Fudge, coconut ice (a pink and white fudge confection common here in Australia), rocky road, and other delectable that cost little to produce mounds.
For other assorted loved ones...
As much as you might love these folk, they're the ones most likely to say 'don't worry' once they know your situation. If you're determined to celebrate somehow, an attitude I agree is in the true festive spirit, go together to a Christmas church service and have a cocoa buffet at home afterwards. Or invite them over to make toffee apples, or s'mores. Do something that costs little, but looks abundant and festive. Don't do gifts unless you truly can afford it.
Other things you can do...
...contact local support organisations. If you are unsure of who these organisations are, do an online search or ask your local church or pastor. In fact your local church congregation are usually extremely supportive, even if you are not a member of their own congregation or faith. Isn't that what being a Christian is all about?
...let your childrens school know that your circumstances have changed. They can be very supportive as well, and may be able to offer counselling or resources for your children while at school.
...be gentle with yourself. Walk in the sunshine. Take a bubble bath. Give your mind and your stamina time to recover. These things are stressful, and you need to be at your best.
Stay positive. Stay busy. Keep your home your haven, by cleaning and polishing and nesting while you have the time. That in itself, can be rewarding. Tally up all the ways you are saving, and relish the feeling.
You can do it, and things WILL improve. I promise.
What to do in an isolated incident where you have no money...
This actually happened to me a few weeks ago.
I was out for the evening with my daughter. I slipped my phone and my ATM card into my evening purse as that's about all it holds. We parked in a pay-as-you-leave carpark, and I went to the ATM to withdraw some cash for the hot chocolates we were having after our event, and to pay for the parking.
Well the ATM said in it's cold fashion, 'account overdrawn'. This was patently untrue, as I actually have substantial savings. I immediately rang my banks after-hours number, and was told that they could see I had a healthy sum available, and suggested trying another ATM, as perhaps the one I was using, was faulty. We walked a distance to another ATM. Same thing. Rang the bank again. Same response. I had no cash whatsoever. My husband was at a sporting event without his phone, so I couldn't ring him. Now fortunately, we were with a school group on a school supervised outing, so I was able to approach the teacher (who I knew well), explain the situation to her, and she lent me a small sum of money, which I repaid immediately the following morning. The alternative would have been to skip the hot chocolates, ring the after hours number for the carpark, and explain what had happened and just hope like heck that they'd believe me. I guess that would have worked too. Honestly is always the best policy. I rang the bank again the next day, in an effort to find out what had happened, but they were at a loss to explain. Or at least, that's what they said. I still don't know to this day. All I know is that I had money, but could not access it. It happens. I wasn't brave enough to try paying for something by EFT, in case that failed as well, but it could have worked. It just goes to show that being a cashless society, is not always the best policy. Computers fail. Human errors occur. We cannot always leave ourselves at the mercy of technology.
Here's another story, not necessarily about not having money, but about how technology is not always your friend.
I booked tickets for a show a few months ago. At least I thought I had. It came to 4pm on the day of the show, and I suddenly realised that I hadn't received the tickets in the mail. I checked my inbox to see if I'd ticked the 'print-at-home' option. Nope. No tickets. So I rang the venue. They did a search. No booking. Huh??? I checked my bank account. Sure enough, the Paypal withdrawal had not occurred and I'd simply been too busy to realise that no transaction record had come through either. I knew that I had gone through the process of purchasing though, so I rang Paypal. No record of the transaction. BUT apparently there are very occasional glitches, where a transaction simply disappears into the ether. It's literally a nanosecond in time, but if you happen to be there making a purchase when it happens...whoops! So no show for us. And mostly my own fault for not checking for a transaction record from Paypal, or at least realising we didn't have the tickets sooner. I can only plead guilty and busy, as my excuses. But again, technology is not infallible, whatever we all might think.
I now keep a $50 note on me at all times, no matter what. That's my emergency money and unless it's a genuine emergency, I do not use it. That's hard sometimes, but it's my buy-a-ticket, catch-a-taxi-home, pay-the-carpark, keep-myself-safe money, and that's more valuable.
Here are other things I could have done, even if just to pay my carpark fee...
Called a friend
Called a relative
Got a lift home with another parent or the teacher and left my car there overnight
Called the carpark after hours number
I could have tried to withdraw the cash with the 'credit' option instead of the 'savings' one, but that didn't occur to me at the time, and may not have worked either
Think laterally. The most obvious solution is not always the best one.
In hindsight, we could have gone to the café, skipped the hot chocolate, and asked someone for a lift home, as we all live in close proximity. A phone call to the bank the next morning and a lift into the city by my husband, would have rescued the car in good time. My daughter would have been a little late for school, but that's not the end of the world.
I could have ensured before we left home that my daughter had some money of her own. That is a new strategy, and one that we now employ as a matter of routine.
As mentioned, I now make sure I always have just one bill, be it a $20 or a $50, hidden in my bag somewhere.
I could have changed banks in protest at their 'we don't know what happened' attitude too, but as I've been with the same one for 40 years, without a hitch, that seemed extreme.
One could argue that downloading one of the payment apps onto my phone could be an alternative as well, but if technology is the issue, there's no guarantee that this will save you either!
Other scenarios where you might find yourself temporarily embarrassed might include:
...a technological glitch with a pay transfer...
...a regular payment transfer being removed from your account twice (yes that has happened to me too)..
...a fraudulent withdrawal...
...or just losing track of your spending! Be honest. We've all done it!
Take some common sense steps to avert a disaster, and mostly you won't need my solutions. But even then, the two 'glitches' mentioned, were not of my own doing. Be prepared, as the Boy Scouts say.
What are your coping strategies when you have no money?
My Five Star Frou-Frou linkup is a neverending linkup with a featured blogger each time I post.
Todays featured blogger is...
Debbie with her post on what every woman needs to know about Social Security. A very apt post for todays subject..
Bear in mind, that Debbie lives in the U.S. so her advice will be relevant to readers there. If you'd like more information about Social Security and Retirement benefits in your region, I suggest contacting the relevant authority in your city.