What would you do if you really have no money at all?

no money at all

And I’m talking about a real emergency here.

A situation where you have to make some hard choices.

Like choosing whether to:

  • Put the heating on or buy food;
  • Have a haircut or replace your worn out socks;
  • Take the bus or have your clothes washed.

This is the kind of emergency I’m talking about.

Are you thinking that you’ll never be in this position?

Are you feeling smug about having a secure job?

Get off it. If life has taught me one thing, it is that it can serve us anything at any time. This includes job loss, overwhelming debt, currency devaluation that wipes out your savings or a fire that leaves you homeless.

Anyone can find themselves in a situation where they have to make hard choices. I did: five years ago when we realised how much debt we had, my darkest money fear was that my son won’t have enough to eat. Now that we’ve paid off all our consumer debt, I live my life with no fear.

Unfounded as it may be in my case, this is reality for many families in the UK; after all, close to 4 million children in the UK, this is more than one in four children in one of the wealthier countries, live in poverty. It’s even worse: close to two thirds – three of every four – children who live in poverty are in families where at least one parent is working?

Think again and think carefully: flipping from comfort to a situation where you really have no money at all is as easy as your next breath; and can be almost as fast.

And if somebody is thinking that these people’s problem is that they didn’t have an ‘emergency’ fund, don’t even bother saying because you’ll be just running your mouth.

They probably don’t have an emergency fund, but they probably never had sufficient income to build one. Material poverty is so exhausting that it can easily become poverty of the soul – ingenuity is not really an option.

When I was at university I had no money at all. But I was young and my solutions were the ones that tie you up for the day or week: when you are young you have the rest of your life to figure out a better way.

When I had no money at all, I did one of four things:

  1. Went to a mineral fountain to drink hot water so my stomach stops screaming for food;
  2. Borrowed a bit of money from my close friends;
  3. Pawned my typewriter (yes, we are talking so far back that type writers were in fashion); or
  4. Phoned my Dad and asked for money (he never said ‘no’).

But most of the people reading this blog are beyond being that young.

Here is what is to be done when you have no money at all. These points come from experience, discussion and research (presented in no particular order).

#1. Make sure there is food for three-four weeks in the house

In my experience, you should deal with the worst and most basic fears first. Being worried all the time where the next meal is going to come from is exhausting and doesn’t leave space for tackling much else.

So, make sure that you have food for up to four weeks in the house.

This has to be mainly stuff that keeps: beans, lentils, rice, tinned food, flour, sugar and dried milk.

If you have a freezer (and your electricity is still on) you can make a lot of vegetable soup and freeze it.

“Where am I going to get all this when I have no money at all?” – you may be thinking.

You are asking the wrong question. The one to ask is: ‘How am I going to make sure there is enough food in the house?’.

This is how you do it:

  • You have make an inventory of all the food you already have; and mean all of it – even the dry crusts at the bottom of your breadbin.
  • You can visit a food bank. You’ll need to be referred by a number of agencies can refer you (check here how to do it). Also, you’ll do well to check whether there are informal foodbanks run in your area; I know that some people have started self-organising for mutual support and help in crisis.
  • You can borrow money to buy food (it’s important to borrow responsibly and keep at the back of your mind that you need to returns it).
  • You can call for help at a support forum; people on the MoneySavingExpert.com are generally supportive and generous. You can also find advice there on how to feed a family well on very little money.

Once you have made sure that you have food for four weeks in the house, you can exhale and tackle the rest.

#2. Make sure your home is safe for two-three months

If you own your home, but the bank owns most of it because you have a mortgage, you can get in touch with your mortgage provider and ask for a ‘mortgage payment holiday’. Check this guide to learn how to do it in the UK. In brief, though, you should explain your circumstances to your lender and ask do stop paying your mortgage for several month or to reduce the payments. I know people who’ve done it, so this works.

If you are renting, the situation may be a bit trickier. Still, it may be worth it to talk to your landlord, explain the situation and ask for a grace period with the rent.

Remember you need two-three months so that you could sort it all out.

#3. Face your bills and be very honest with yourself

This is where you’ll need the help of a debt advisor; you can contact one through a debt charity. Try National Debt Line or StepChange.

There are bills that you could stop paying for some time but it is not a trivial matter. Yes, ask for help and advice on this one.

#4. Stop non-priority debt repayment

Non-priority debts are the ones that won’t get you in prison if you stop paying them and you won’t lose your house.

These are: credit cards, un-secured loans, payday loans etc.

Not paying these can be very inconvenient and even damaging in the long run: it is inconvenient because you’ll have to brace yourself against a barrage of phone calls and threats. It is damaging in the long run because failure to make payment can damage your credit score.

Still, there is time to worry about all that and it’s not when you have to choose between eating and keeping clean.

#5. Learn about and take advantage of emergency schemes

There are variety of schemes that are supposed to cater for people in financial crisis.

You can ask about these when you visit a Job Centre. Alternatively you can check the complete list of benefits that may be available to you here.

There are local welfare assistance schemes which you can check here.

There are budgeting loans (for information look here).

#6. Ask family and friends for help

There is a rule of personal finance that says ‘never lend money to family’.

I think it is rubbish. If we don’t help family and friends in emergency our humanity, not our wellbeing is under threat.

In fact, you don’t need to ask for help; you can barter. If you wish to learn more about how you can weather down a financial emergency by finding reprieve with family you may wish to have a look at this.

#7. Make sure you look presentable

You know, I believe that when you have no money at all, it is time for a haircut and a wardrobe tidy up.

Many will see this as wasteful: after all you are in crisis. You have to choose between spending on your vary basic needs like food, warmth and shelter.

But if you don’t look presentable, your chances of getting out of this situation are very slim.

So, listen to me and look in the mirror. Have a very hard look and ask yourself whether you’ll trust the person you see with a job.

If your answer is ‘no’, it’s time for some changes. What these are you can decide on your own.

I can only say that when someone rings on my door and asks to wash the car or do the garden, I’m more likely to hire the person who looks presentable and smells clean rather than someone who looks like they’ve just fallen out and rubbish skip.

#8. Sell everything that doesn’t move for ten minutes

And if this happens to be your grandmother, so be it.

Okay, guys, I’m joking but there is a serious point in all this.

Please look around you and make a list of thing to sell. It doesn’t matter whether you really don’t want to part with something: if you haven’t used it in the last couple of months you need to shift it.

You’ll be surprised what people would buy. If you want to get an idea go to eBay and have a look around.

Then start doing it.

#9. You need to have some cash

In the first instance you’ll need to borrow it (very likely) but you need to have some cash. Spend it wisely because this is your capital. Use it to get around when looking for a job and paying for small items you may need.

#10. What are your skills?

The only way the get out of the hole in which you’ve found yourself is by making some money.

Get a piece of paper and a pen and make a list what the things you can do. Don’t skip over the basic stuff: you can clean, you can wash cars, you can work in a bar and you can deliver kebabs.

Make a short list of the three skills that you can use to make some money. Here is a list of jobs that can bring you enough money to fill your fridge for a month.

Once you have come up with some ideas, you should act on these.

#11. Get out there and ask

There is no two ways about it: you need work. When in crisis, you don’t need a career and you don’t even need a job – all you need is to get some work for which people pay you.

Assuming you’ve already done what I said under point #10 you have targets.

Now, you should get out there and ask. If you want to work in a bar, go around all bars in your area. If you are going to do some gardening (because you are good at it), drive or take the bus to a wealthier neighbourhood or one where there are elderly people living. Ring the doorbell and ask whether they’d like you to do the garden.

You may be surprised how much work you can pick up this way.

Doing this, you’ll have to be nice and keep you sense of humour.

Someone I know was telling me that he started in the UK by delivering kebabs. When he looked for a job he went to all shops in the little town he lived and asked for a job.

Eventually, he got to a kebab shop where the owner asked his name; the name was difficult so the owner asked whether he can call him ‘Thomas’. This guy’s answer was priceless (and I suspect it got him the job).

‘You can call me Susan, if you wish; just give me a job.’

He got the job and worked there for several months. He also made a good friend: the shop owner and my acquaintance still have a drink from time to time and laugh when they remember.

#12 Under-promise and over-deliver

You need all the work you could get. You also need to keep the work you get and get referrals if you are to make a living and get out of the situation you’ve found yourself in.

This is best achieved by under-promising and over-delivering. This way you employers will be impressed and you’ll get the reputation of someone who is a self-starter and can be trusted to do a good job.


I’m not going to lie to you: when faced with a financial crisis many people fail.

Some fail because they don’t know where to start. In this post, I offered a roadmap for financial recovery. I told you what you need to do so that you buy yourself some time to focus on earning; I also offered some ideas how to approach the matter of earning and making a living.

Others fail because they focus on the wrong thing. You see, people get so captured by being embarrassed by the situation they’ve found themselves in that they have no energy left to try to dig themselves out of it.

What I’ll say is, it doesn’t matter. Anyone can find himself (herself) in a tight spot. As with many things in life what matters is not where you are but where you want to be. What matters is not that the sh*t has hit the fan but what you do next.

Good like on your way to recovery.

And if you found this post helpful tell your friends about it: who knows, they may be in a tight spot as well.

27 thoughts on “What would you do if you really have no money at all?”

  1. I guess that would be “whatever it takes” – in my case I picked potatoes that had been left in the field after harvesting, foraged for free foods (nettles and skip diving), accept “Hand-ups” from friends (these are very different from “Hand-outs because the expectation was always that this is temporary and “this too shall pass”).

    I also sold what I could and “watered down” my food so it went further.

    It was crap!!! But it didn’t last long – because I always saw myself as “skint” and NEVER as “broke” – I never allowed myself to be ground down so far that I could never climb back.

    1. @Elaine: Did you read the pen-ultimate sentence of this post? The one about growth? You know who I mean and how much growth I expect!

  2. I’d work round the clock. When I was in school I came closest to this point and took on a third job between 2 am and 6 am. Luckily I only had to to that for a month, but I appreciated that check.

    With unemployment around 30 percent though, that might not be available. Then I don’t know what I’d do. I really don’t.

    1. @AverageJoe: May help. If you were a woman with cople of young children, the options for doing this will be rather limited. Did you know that Charlie Chaplin’s mother used to sell her blood? I seem to recall that in his biography there was a rumor this is why she got ill and died when he was still very young.

      1. Right! It’s difficult to leave the house between 2 and 6 with young children…and if you did I think there’s a cell with your name on it somewhere….

  3. I often share this dilemna with my students. If you took everything away from me, what would I do. I am refering to money, cash, credit cards etc. I still have an education and experience to rely on. I think I would be resourceful enough to find some work to earn enough to feed myself. I do not wish to actually test out this hypothesis, but I think I woudl do what I have to do to survive.

    1. @Krant: I was thinking recently about similar topic; I also thought that I will still have my education and I am, kind of. respected in my area internationally. Then I remembered that in times of real crisis things go down to barter – and I wonder whether I have anything to barter with.

  4. Wow! 30% I think I’d start a few blogs and find some writing and social media gigs on O-desk and other online sources that weren’t dependent on the immediate job situation in my area. Hard times call for little sleep and lots of hustle.

  5. If I had no money at all, I would instantly start looking for work. I would humbly contact everyone I knew that was in a position to hire and I would ask for work. I would do anything from cleaning toilets to delivering pizzas to mowing grass to make a dollar. I would not borrow money. I repeat, I would not borrow money. Doing so would hurt my situation even more. If I had to, I would ask for hand outs to eat before borrowing. Yuck, the thought of being in that situation scares the living daylights out of me. That’s why I save right there.

    1. @Kraig: Good on being prepared to do any work. As to borrowing – it depends on how hungry you get. There come a point in all this beyond which you normal prejudices will turn off; trust me.

  6. Great topic Maria. I think I would at least consider doing what Joe suggested as a temporary measure (work around the clock). While that is not sustainable, it can at least provide some foundation to start from. However, in case of the younger people you described, it seems like that was part of the problem: they are either unemployed or underemployed. Like you, I would probably begin to sell stuff and start a side hustle in order to place a little bit of distance between me and Murphy.

    1. @Roshawn: Boggles the mind but…I think that until the situation has improved families should keep together. There was a time when generations lived together, retired people looked after the grandchildren (child care is frightfully expensive) and their children looked after them when and if there was a need. I am sure that soon we will need to revisit some of the PF matras to reflect the new world we are living in.

      1. I could not agree more about families sticking together it still amazes me however how much flack we get and all the “when is your daughter moving out?” like it is the worse thing in the world…only in America LOL. Many other cultures especially the girls, do not leave home until they are married or 30! Yet studies show children who grow up in close extended family households tend to be happier and well-adjusted.

  7. This post touches my heart, I have lived in in cycles throughout my whole life and am currently living it now. My adult daughter lives with us as she can not live on her disability alone ( she was born with cerebral palsy when 2 1/2 months early) My adult son is currently homeless 100 miles from us. We have offered for him to come home even with us being considered extreme poverty but he has decided to try to go it alone.

    A few years ago my husband made good money for where we lived at the time however his two heart attacks by age 38 changed our situation radically. I was in a major car wreck several years ago, totally affecting my ability to work a decent job. Our decision to homeschool also keeps me home.

    Sometimes I think the hardest part is to seperate your emotions out of it, for when you are too emotionally tied, you are more apt to focus on the problems and not the solutions. By looking at it from a nuetural perspective it puts you in a more frame of mind to look at all angles and options……in a more productive way. Also of course staying positive.

    We have never had family to rely on for loans and have always gone it alone, by ourselves. I also would NEVER use a payday loan, that would make things far worse than better!

    I feel fortuante to have great country and wilderness skills that have taken us far and do anything I can to keep expenses low and dealing with anything that comes up. We spent all last summer walking and biking 5 miles to town when our car died until we came up with the small amount we needed to get another car……..that took us 4 months to gather enough for the down payment!

    I try quite afew things to bring in more money…….sometimes I think it is easier to just learn to live with no money that it is to earn more! I have romantic dreams of running off and living in the wilderness somewhere just because that seems easier to see sometimes and actually doing better.

    Most days though I take a postive approach and do not feel poor, we really have a good life and I have no complaints. I take a minimalist and simple living approach, will eat road kill if I hit something with my car, fish, grow a garden, forage wild foods and do what we can.

    There was a time we went without furniture, to get back to Michigan after trying North Carolina for a year we sold everything and only kept what would fit in the trunk of our car to get back.

    When it comes to possesions, it is only stuff and I learned not to be attatched for as long as you own “stuff” you can sell quite a bit of stuff to make money, whether it is to raise money to move somewhere cheaper or to pay a bill. You will find you really only need a few things to live day to day.

    If it ever came down to no money at all? I have the skills so I truly would sell everyting I owned and go off disappearing into the wilderness and fining some abandoned cabin somwhere………..or build my own shelter somewhere in the deep remote wilderness

    1. @Poor to Rich a Day at a Time: I realise that this may sound shallow, but thanks for sharing. Your story is touching and motivating at the same time.I hope the situation improves soon; your son comes back home, your husband gets a job and you get your most charished desire. Thinking of you!

  8. That same statement would also hurt my heart too if I heard it from a family member! I know what it’s like because I, too, had to move back in with my parents when I graduated college. I couldn’t do anything but stay home and job hunt, so it really made it seem like I couldn’t do anything. I was just grateful they let me stay there for awhile. When I finally got a job I made sure to protect myself just in case I was in that situation again. Times are tough everywhere, and I never thought about this situation before. You always think that things will be temporary, but sometimes you have to deal with the situation if it’s on-going.

    1. From Shopping to Saving: Our oldest son was unemployed for four years after university – all he wanted was to teach little kids (which, let’s face it, is not very usual for young men) and he would have been really good at it. Now he is working (not as a teacher but in a bank; still it is an ethical one at least) but he wrote an article for this blog – To be is to do. You may be interested to see it.

  9. I would sell all the things I could and then see where that left me. I would also browse the paper for different jobs that I could do simultaneously. I would also work as much as much as a could for a finite set of time. I couldn’t keep it up forever but I would work hard to give myself a bit of a cushion.

  10. i lived in poverty for soo long. for years, 18 years. having to walk 20 miles.daily to go and from school, no money for  travel. eating once a day. no hand outs -ups.  having shoes with holes, and having no possesions just some ill fitting clothes.. and shared accomodation on a notorious council estate. and yes fighting off people trying rob or fight me in the process. 
    past the 18th year i got jobs of which i could  get be it part time work at retail stores  minimun wage, plus any over time i could get (8 hours weekly contracted). promoter of theatres, (£5 every ticket you sell), buying tickets for theatre ( £1 every ticket you get). being a minicab controller for a small firm. (£50 a day).  being a waiter and a porter for private fine dining catering events (£90 per day). to being a gardener (£10 an hour). and of course selling phones, mp3, game consoles, yu gi oh cards, magazines,  bikes, shisha botttles,and middle manning anything to get a gain be it small or big. all of that to get out poverty

  11. its easy to say sell everything you got when you have something to sell when you have nothing it gets a whole harder i worked an 60hour week till my exhusband tryed to take my kids then my dad got gangreene i took care of him till he passed away kept a sex offender from taking my 3 girls but havent a dime of money not for lack of trying to find a job i know what its like to have to chose between food or power my kids are still small i have no one to watch my kids while i work if i could find a job their father its in jail while i have to try and feed the kids what do you do when youre really broke try and smile anyway wipe the tears away and keep onkeeping on there has to be away to change life but how

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