This post may contain affiliate links.
Not Enough Money
It is scary when you are in a position where you feel you have not enough money. I have been in that situation before, with a small income and a lot of debt, and it is stressful. It is uncomfortable. It is not a good place to be. And it is no way to live.
If you are in a position where you do not have enough money and you cannot pay all of your bills, then this article will help you know what to do to manage your current financial situation and budget your money as best you can.
These 11 tips will help you to make decisions about your money and get your financial feet back under you so that you can manage your bills and get back to a better financial situation fast!
To learn how to make a budget so you can manage your money well, also read this complete Beginner’s Guide to Budgeting!
Not Enough Money: 11 Must-Know Tips when You Can’t Pay All of Your Bills
Not having enough money and not being able to pay all of your bills can be terrifying. When you’re in the situation and have to make tough choices about what to pay and what not to, it’s hard to know where to start or what to do to get back control of your money.
But even if you’ve hit rock bottom financially, you can dig yourself out of this mess! Where you are today does not define who you are or even how you are with money. With patience and dedicated effort, your whole financial world can be drastically different if you’ll just systematically follow the steps below in order to improve your financial situation.
1. Get a clear picture of all of the money you owe and when each bill is due.
When you feel that there is not enough money to pay all of your bills, it is crucial to figure out where things really stand financially.
No matter how bad you fear the reality of your financial situation might be, decide to just own the mess from today on, and start to dig into the numbers. Not knowing the full extent of the problem won’t make it go away, so determine to roll up your sleeves and just deal with the numbers, no matter how bad they might be.
Sit down, with your spouse if you’re married, and go through you bills to determine what bills need to be paid and when. If you have old, bad debt that you haven’t been paying on, include that at the bottom of the list. We’ll deal with it too—eventually.
Plan to spend 30 to 60 minutes to figure out how much money you owe and to whom. Make a list with all of this information. Then take a deep breath. You may have just finished the hardest part, so things can start to get better from here.
2. Figure out (or estimate) your monthly income.
Next, figure out your total monthly income, or estimate an average monthly income if you have a variable income.
If you don’t know your monthly income, spend a few minutes to figure it out. Look at your pay statements, for both you and your spouse if applicable, and add up the total. Be sure to include income from sources such as side hustles or freelance jobs, child support, and so on.
3. Create a prioritized spending plan or budget when there is not enough money.
The next thing to do when you are in a situation where there is not enough money is to create a modified spending plan or budget.
Once you have a rough idea of your income, start getting a rough idea of your expenses, as well. And then create a prioritized spending plan, which is just a slightly different type of budget where you list the most important items you spend money on down to the least important items, and you pay the most important items first.
Once you know how much you owe each month and when and how much you bring in each month, you can create a plan to pay your bills. If you’re not living already on a written financial game plan, called a budget or spending plan, start doing it now. I walk you through exactly how to create a monthly budget here.
I know it might seem hopeless or pointless to have a budget when you can’t make financial ends meet right now, but you’ve got to start from somewhere, and that somewhere is a written budget. When creating that budget (you can download a simple prioritized budget here or create a budget on your computer with a program like Excel), I recommend you list your expenses in this order:
- Pay your tithing or give to charity first. If you are a person of faith in God or a higher power, then pay your tithing first. I have seen the hand of God bless my life so abundantly when I have put my faith to the test and paid my tithing even when I was completely freaked out about being able to pay all of our bills because of a big pile of debt.
But my loving Father has never let me down, and I promise that He won’t let you down, either. The Lord has promised, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). Put God to the test, and He will bless you both temporally and spiritually in amazing ways. He has done so for us, and I know He will for you too if you will put your trust in Him.
- Cover your food expenses next. Your most important expense (after tithing) is food. List that next in your budget, and take care of food before anything else. That being said, there’s a good chance you can drastically reduce your food spending. I teach you how to slash your food budget here.
A few of my favorite ways to save money on food are to follow a meal plan, to shop at discount food stores, to shop the sales, to reduce your number of grocery shopping trips, to buy less meat and less expensive meat (we eat a lot of chicken 😊), and to buy produce only in season. You can also reduce your food spending by using money-saving apps like Ibotta, Ebates, Walmart Savings Catcher, and Checkout 51.
- Pay your transportation costs third. Then, because you probably need your vehicle to get to work, pay your transportation costs next (gas, insurance, and car payment(s), if applicable). Again, cover only necessary spending here. Save money on gas. Don’t drive more than you need to. See if you can lower your insurance premium. If you have a car you rarely drive, now might be the time to sell it. And if you are in the rare situation where you don’t actually need your car to get to work, then move this step to come after paying your utilities. Find more than 30 ideas for how to save money on transportation-related costs here.
- Then make your house payment or rent. If you recognize that you’re spending too much money on housing (more than 25 percent of your take-home pay, including subtracting tithing or charitable giving if that’s a substantial amount, for your mortgage and about 30 to 35 percent for rent), see what you can do to reduce your spending in this area. If you own a home, you might be able to refinance your loan for a lower interest rate (but don’t extend the term of the loan!).
Or you might be able to take in a roommate or two for a time. Or rent out some rooms on Airbnb or com. If you rent and your lease is up soon, look for a cheaper place. In extreme cases, you may need to sell your home and rent or buy a cheaper one, or you could look into moving in with family. Check out this article for more than 30 ideas on how to slash your housing costs.
- Next, cover your utilities. Make sure you pay your utility bills so that you can keep your lights and water and furnace on. But do what you can to reduce your utility expenses, as well. Turn off the air conditioner, open some windows, and turn on a fan. Turn down the furnace, put on a sweater, and grab a blanket. These two things can save you over a $100 a month depending on the time of year. Find ideas for how to save money on winter utility costs here and ideas for how to save money on summer utility costs here.
Complete Beginner’s Guide to Budgeting
17 Must-Know Tips to Rock Your First Budget!Budgeting fail? Try This Simple Alternative to Budgeting
13 Surefire Steps to Help You Stick to Your Budget
9 Must-Know Tips to Help You Finally Start Saving!
4. Next, look at your prioritized budget or spending plan, and pay your other expenses in order of most important to least important.
Now, take a breather. You probably have enough money in your budget to pay those first five things listed above, so now you can relax just a little bit, knowing that if nothing else, your food and housing and transportation costs are covered. You’re not going to lose your home or your car. After you’ve met these most basic needs mentioned above, look at reducing your spending in the following areas:
- Purchase only (truly) needed clothing. You probably have enough clothing in your closet to last a long time, so go on a clothes-buying moratorium. If you do need to buy clothing, you can find ways to save money on buying clothes here.
- Buy only necessary home furnishings and appliances. Unless you have something essential break or get ruined, don’t spend any money on this category until you can pay all of your bills, you have an emergency fund, and your finances are in better shape. If something does break, look at getting it repaired rather than replaced, or buy a used replacement rather than new.
- Stop going out to eat and getting takeout. If you’re like the average American household, you spent over $3,000 last year on eating out and takeout! To me, that feels like an astronomical amount. We spend only about $300 a year on restaurant food, which I know seems crazy to some, but we don’t feel deprived at all, and it helps us accomplish our financial priorities and goals.
If you turn eating out back into the rare treat that it used to be (see if you can reduce restaurant and even fast-food eating to once a month or less), your current and perhaps especially your future financial self with thank you! While you’re working to be able to pay all of your bills, cut eating out from your budget completely.
- Reduce your internet and cell phone bills if you can. If you can’t pay even a small amount in this budget category without being pinched, consider cutting either your internet or cell phone service for now, or both. Or look at at least reducing your cell phone and internet bills to help make ends meet.
If you’re paying a lot for internet (more than about $40 per month), look at less-expensive options. You can go to the library and many other places for free internet.
And even though cell phones are extremely convenient, they are not a necessity (even if they sometimes feel like it).
For example, with an awesome service like ObiTalk, you can have a super cheap home phone option, and when you’re out and about, you’ll almost always be surrounded by plenty of people who have cell phones. We’ve been using ObiTalk for over three years now, and I’m so glad we made this switch.
With ObiTalk you pay a one-time fee of $50 or less for the Obi device to connect to your internet, and then you use your phone over the internet. No monthly or yearly fees, and their phone service has been completely reliable. If you can get rid of even one basic cell phone line and instead get ObiTalk, you’ll probably save a minimum of $200 a year, and depending on how much you’re spending on your cell phone line or if you still have a landline, you could save quite a bit more than that.
Especially if you’re going to need some time to fix your financial situation, then look into ways to save money on your cell phones. You can get rid of your smartphones and go back to a basic cell phone (my husband has a very basic cell phone), or you can switch to a cheaper smartphone plan. Republic Wireless or Mint Mobile are excellent options for a cheap smartphone plan.
I’ve used Republic Wireless for the past two years, and I love them. I pay on average about $13 a month, though I am a very light data user; I’ve always used less (far less) than the 512 MB my plan gives me. But I can do this easily because, except for when I’m driving or in the car, I’m almost always in an area with free Wi-Fi service (at home, work, church, and almost everywhere else), and I bet you are, too!
But if you want a cheap unlimited data plan, Mint Mobile offers one for less than $20 a month. If I get to the point where I want to use more data or if my husband’s basic cell phone plan gets much more expensive, we will definitely consider switching to Mint Mobile.
Also, if there is not enough money to make ends meet, look seriously at cutting the kids’ cell phones plans altogether if they have them; the kids can share a phone with you or your spouse in the few cases when they really might need one (but generally they’ll be with friends or a teacher or other adult who will have a cell phone).
*UPDATE*: As of September 2018, we’ve switched to Xfinity Mobile! If you’re in an area with Xfinity high-speed internet and mobile, you’ve got to check them out! We’re paying an introductory price of $40 per month for our internet for the first year (same price as the much slower internet that we used to have from a different provider), and the cell phone plan is potentially virtually free. (After this year our monthly internet bill will be $65, but you can bet that I’m going to call before the year is up to see if we can lower that—but even if we can’t, I think it will still be worth the cost, because of the virtually free cell phone service!)
Since we’re such light data users (especially given the fact that Xfinity Mobile has free hotspots it seems almost everywhere), we pay only about $3 a month for taxes and fees for each line. (That’s the price if you use less than 100 MB of data per month, which we do; then it’s $12 per GB per month, or $45 per month for unlimited data.) It’s such an awesome deal!
And Xfinity Mobile has the same coverage as Verizon, which reportedly has the best cell phone coverage in the U.S. You do need to sign up for Xfinity internet in order to use Xfinity Mobile, at least initially. You can then drop the internet service if you want, but then you’ll pay an extra $10 per month per line for the mobile service. (That’s still very reasonable, though!) And when we signed up they had $300 and $150 rebates available on their phones (depending on the phone you bought)—so my phone cost only $40 (including taxes) after the rebate! And it’s a great phone. Interested in signing up? Use this referral code to receive a sign-up reward of up to $100: 1RQ4SP
- Pay only the minimums on your credit card bills. If you can’t pay all of your bills, there’s a good chance you’ve been getting harassing calls from your credit card company. See if you can work out a deal with them to reduce your minimum payment. If you can’t, pay what you can when you can, and then don’t worry about it anymore. You can clean that up later when you’re in a stronger financial position.
Remember this: no matter how frequently they call or how belligerent they might get, do not get pressured to pay your credit card bills when you have other bills you can’t pay. The only power they have is the power of intimidation, but don’t let yourself be intimidated. Yes, you owe the money, and yes, you need to pay them. But only when you reasonably can.
And if that means that you don’t pay them for a few months or even several months while you get your finances in order, so be it. You can work out a repayment plan later, and if you have to negotiate to have them write off some of the bill so that you can right your financial ship, you can do that too.
- Stop retirement contributions and other investing. Until you can balance your budget and have an adequate emergency fund of at least three to six months’ worth of expenses, stop contributing to your retirement accounts and other investment accounts. Believe me—I want you to save as much toward retirement as you possibly can and to build long-term wealth through additional investing, but first you need to get back on firm financial footing. Learn how to create an emergency fund here.
- Consider temporarily cutting music lessons and sports teams and so on. You might need to temporarily cancel financial commitments for the kids, such as music lessons and sports teams.
- Cut out all money spent on recreation, vacations, gifts, and so forth (or cut out as much as possible) until you can comfortably pay all of your bills again. If you have the wedding or birthday of a loved one coming up, buy a card and write a heartfelt note. Explain that you’re in a difficult financial situation if you want to. But don’t feel pressured to spend money you don’t have.
And even when you can pay all of your bills, determine if you might need to continue to spend less in this area than you were previously so that you can put more money toward long-term financial goals such as building an emergency fund, saving for retirement and kids’ college, or purchasing a (new-to-you) home or a rental property. (If you’re like most people, it probably is a good idea for you to spend less in these areas to fund other crucial long-term financial goals.)
At whatever point that you run out of money as you work your way down your prioritized spending plan, then you simply don’t pay any of the bills or expenses beyond that point until you receive your next paycheck. In the meantime, continue to work to reduce your spending and increase your income.
Budgeting Tip: When you are new to budgeting, I recommend that you use a simple paper and pencil to write out all the numbers. Once you get the hang of budgeting and have done it for a few months, go ahead and switch to a digital system. Or if you really can’t stand paper and you prefer to do everything electronically, you can build a budget in Excel or use a program such as You Need a Budget (YNAB.com). It’s a great, user-friendly budgeting tool with a lot of awesome features.
5. Address the underlying financial issue or issues.
Take a hard look at your financial situation, and be really honest with yourself. What is it that is making it so that you can’t pay all of your bills? Is it a one-time, temporary setback such as the loss of a job, a large but one-time medical bill, a divorce, or similar situation?
Or is it an income problem? Do you need to get additional schooling or training to be able to get a higher-paying job? Do you need to update outdated skills to make yourself more marketable and move up in your career? Do you need to look at better-paying jobs in your career field? Learn more about increasing your income here.
Or is it something deeper than that? Are you living a lifestyle that you simply can’t afford, and the numbers are finally forcing you to acknowledge that? Do you have a problem overspending or constantly living paycheck to paycheck? Whatever the reason for the gap between your income and expenses, the following steps give ideas for some things you can do to make things right.
6. Differentiate honestly between wants and needs.
When you’re struggling to pay your bills, appropriately and honestly distinguishing between wants and needs is crucial. If you have a hard time telling yourself no, then work first on being honest with yourself about what is truly a need versus what is a want. A need is something that you literally cannot live without—it’s not just a matter of convenience.
Transportation may be a need, but a car is not. Housing is generally a need, but your particular home or apartment is not. Basic clothes are a need, but having 20 (or 40) outfits or having designer clothes or shoes is not. Having running water and power is a need; having high-speed internet (unless it’s a requirement because you work from home) is not.
7. Negotiate with your creditors to lower your bills and potentially even forgive some of your debt.
If you have to go for a few months without being able to pay all of your bills, call your creditors (especially those that you aren’t able to pay) and see if you can work out a plan to pay a reduced amount toward your debt in exchange for them writing off the rest of the loan. The longer you have gone without being able to pay your bills, the more likely creditors will be to accept such an offer.
Just remember to get everything that they agree to in writing, and don’t give them access to your checking account—they might empty it! Instead, use a money order or cashiers check if needed to pay these creditors.
8. Make a plan to further decrease your spending when there is not enough money.
Once you’ve honestly distinguished between needs and wants, reevaluate your budget, and find additional areas where you can reduce your spending (<<click the link for 21 great ideas on how to spend less). If you are still not able to pay all of your bills after cutting all unnecessary expenses, look (again) at ways to increase your income, both short term and long term (see the next step and this article on ways to make more money).
After you are able to pay all of your bills again, start putting something each month toward savings, even if you start small.
9. Make a plan to increase your income.
In addition to decreasing your spending when you do not have enough money to meet your needs, it is also important to look at increasing your income.
The awesome thing about looking to increase your income is that the possibilities for doing so are virtually endless! And truthfully, even though decreasing your spending to the point where you live within your means (spend less than you earn) will always trump increasing your income—because you can always outspend your income, no matter how high you get it—finding ways to increase your income has overall greater potential to change your life because of the limitless possibilities.
There’s only so far you can cut your spending, but there is no cap on how much you can grow your income. That’s why, even if you are able to pay all of your bills by reducing your spending, you should still always be working actively to increase your income.
Here are some ways you can do that:
- Always be learning and growing and increasing your value and marketability in the workforce. Keep up with trends in your career field, and not only don’t let yourself become obsolete, but try to stay on the cutting edge of what’s going on so you can command top dollar and help to make yourself invaluable.
- Look seriously at starting a side hustle, getting a second job or taking on freelance work, or starting your own business. Check out this article that has 19 ideas for side hustles you can do from home. And learn how to start a side hustle here.
If you like to write and would love to help other people and work on your own schedule, consider starting a blog.
Or if you enjoy reading, consider being a professional proofreader. I have been doing freelance editing and proofreading (and writing) since before I graduated from college, and it is a fun, rewarding way to earn extra money.
- Ask for a raise or promotion. It took me a long time to figure this out (maybe largely because my first manager was very on top of this kind of thing and actively sought promotions for high performers), but generally speaking, the only person that’s really going to be worried about your advancement in your career is you. So you need to be continually actively working to advance in your career if you don’t want your salary to stagnate. I discuss the steps to take to get a raise or promotion in another article, but here’s a summary:
- Be prepared by doing your research. Before you ask for a raise or promotion, you need to be prepared for the discussion. Do your research to find out if your salary is on par for your area, career field, and amount of education and experience.
- List your accomplishments and the reasons you feel you deserve a raise or promotion.
- Make sure to show how you have helped your company make money or reduce costs.
- Choose the right time to make your request. Before you request a raise, be sure you’re aware of the current climate. Have you had layoffs recently? Or have you been able to hire more people? Is upper management working to cut expenses, or is HR spending pretty freely? If there are signs that times are tight, be patient. You’re more likely to have success if you wait till the situation improves.
Find more ideas for ways to increase your income here.
10. Set up an emergency fund so that you can cover larger unexpected expenses in the future.
If you want to be able to have lasting financial well-being and avoid being back in the situation where you can’t pay all of your bills, then having a three- to six-month emergency fund is an essential part of your financial plan.
Your emergency fund should be in a separate savings account (and maybe even a different bank or credit union) than your normal checking account so that it’s not too easy to get your hands on. We’ve had our emergency fund with Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct, when we first set up our account) for almost 15 years now.
And though I’m not a fan generally of big banks, Capital One has been great. I love them because we can transfer money easily online between our checking account and our savings accounts—yes, accounts. I know this might sound crazy, but we have more than 10 different savings accounts for our various savings goals.
Not to mention the fact that their savings rates are way better than even our local credit union, and their customer service has been excellent. I’ve only needed to call them a few times (always for some minor thing I did wrong—oops!—like paying someone twice on accident through bill pay), but they’ve always been very professional and competent and solved the problem within a couple of minutes (no sitting on hold forever).
11. Start saving for irregular but expected expenses so that they don’t become an emergency.
Once you have a fully funded emergency fund, begin saving for other irregular but expected larger expenses. This includes saving for car maintenance and replacement, house maintenance and repairs, replacing of furniture, repair or replacement of appliances and electronics, and even gift giving for things such as Christmas, weddings, and birthdays.
As I mention just above, we’ve found our various savings accounts with Capital One 360 to be an excellent place to save for these expenses. But any bank where you can open multiple savings accounts and you get a pretty good rate will work
Learn how to save for large purchases and expenses here.
Want even more budgeting inspiration? Find more information about how to succeed at budgeting here.
I know how stressful it is when you feel that there is not enough money to pay all your bills. It’s an awful place to be. But where you are today is not where you will be in the future. You can do this; you can! You can improve your financial situation by taking simple, continual steps in the right direction. You can turn things around.
And I’m here to help. Your whole financial world can be completely different in as little as a few months if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and follow the steps outlined above.
What questions do you have about how to pay your bills when there is not enough money? What ideas have you tried in the past? What are your biggest budgeting challenges or hurdles? Leave a comment below and let me know! Or leave a comment in the Families for Financial Freedom Facebook group. I would love to help!
Invitation to Share
Was there something in this article that inspired you to change something about your money? Are there ideas or tips that you feel could help others? Would you please take a minute to share this article via email or social media? I would love your help to share these principles of financial well-being. Thank you!
Join our closed Families for Financial Freedom Facebook group to get support and share ideas for how we can all improve our financial well-being by earning more, spending less, saving more, and investing more and reach our financial goals. You can do this! And we are here to help.