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Budgeting

What to Do If You’re Running Out of Money

It’s the end of the month, and you’re out of money—again. Ugh. It’s a hopeless feeling knowing you’ll have to pay some bills late and scrounge around in the pantry for food until your next paycheck. We’ve all been there. In fact, 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck . . . to paycheck.1

And now, inflation is jacking up gas and grocery prices and making it even more difficult to make ends meet.

So, what gives? You’re just not making enough money, right? Well, that’s one way to look at it.

What to Do if You’re Running Out of Money

Here’s the truth: It will never matter how big your paycheck is if you’re always spending it on your past (like those credit card bills) or on the little things that always add up to big things. Sound familiar at all?

If it does, it’s time to stop doing the same things you’ve always done and find a solution to your money problems.

Are you ready? Stop the cycle of running out of money by following these four steps:

Step 1: Prioritize Your Spending

Your income is your biggest wealth-building tool, so you need to start putting it to use. It’s time to get serious and take real inventory of where your money is actually going.

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Go ahead and log in to your bank account, pull up your transactions, and look at your expenses, both big and small. Where are you consistently spending money, and what are you spending it on—other than bills? Do you see a pattern? (Ahem, those streaming services add up.)

No matter what you find, it’s important to dig deeper and ask yourself, Is this purchase a need or a want? If it’s a need like your utility bill or student loan payment, that’s a different story. But if it’s a want like restaurant delivery or random movie rentals, you might have to give your spending habits an overhaul.

How do you do that? By creating a zero-based budget—income minus expenses equals zero. This type of budget puts you back in the driver’s seat as you tell every single dollar where to go. This is one of the few instances where seeing that zero is actually a good thing.

Great news: We’ve got a free budgeting tool called EveryDollar to help you do just that.

Step 2: Pay Your Important Bills

This goes without saying. So let’s go ahead and tackle your next question:

Which Bills Do I Pay First?

When you’re running out of money and you’ve got more bills than you know what to do with, you have to play favorites. So, set aside those sternly worded letters from the credit card company. Guess what, debt collectors. You’re not getting paid . . . yet.

Keep shuffling through your bills until you find the ones that cover the Four Walls. These are your basic necessities. You want to pay these first and in this order:

  • Food
  • Utilities
  • Shelter
  • Transportation

After you’ve got your Four Walls covered, you can start sending what’s left to cover your other payments, like your credit card or student loans.

What Should I Do When I Can’t Pay My Bills?

This is rough. We can feel the anxiety rising in your chest. But before we jump in, take a deep breath. If you can’t pay your bills because of inflation or the loss of a job—it’s going to be okay.

After taking care of your family, if you don’t have any more money to send to Mastercard or Sallie Mae, it’s not the end of the world. And even if your bills go to collections, you still have time to pay them.

Remember: No matter what that creditor might say, don’t let them bully you into believing that paying their bill is more important than putting food on the table.

It’s time to get creative. You’ve already done inventory on where your money is going (hopefully) and made a zero-based budget. Now it’s time to cut spending and bring in more money.

Step 3: Find Ways to Cut Spending

Remember the patterns you found in your monthly bank statements? Whether it was your daily coffee fix, extras at the grocery store, or those little Amazon purchases, it’s time to cut them out—or find a good substitute.

1. Eat meals at home.

Hey, everyone loves a nice prepared meal with great service, but if you can’t pay your bills, the only time you should see the inside of a restaurant is if you’re working there. Seriously—meal plan, buy groceries, cook the food, and eat your meals at home. And bonus: You don’t have to tip the hired help.

2. No one is too good to use coupons.

There’s no shame in clipping coupons and shopping the clearance aisles. In fact, you can make it a game. It’s fun to see how much you can save, and there’s a sense of pride that comes from saving money for your family. And since paper coupons are harder to come by these days, you could try out a few money-saving apps like Ibotta, Honey or RetailMeNot.

3. Review your subscriptions.

We all do it. We sign up for that online gym membership, thinking we’re going to turn over a new leaf and work out every day. But the last time we logged in was two months ago. If that’s you, there’s no judgment from us, but it’s time to say goodbye—at least for now. Those $14.99-per-month subscriptions don’t seem like much at first, but they add up fast.

If you aren't using a subscription (or if it's really just fluff in the budget), cut it. 

Okay, when it comes to cutting extra spending, you’ll need discipline. And that’s not something you’re born with. Get a trusted accountability partner (or your spouse) and ask them to review your spending habits for a season. Not only will it make you think twice before you swipe your card, but it’ll also give someone the opportunity to provide other ideas you may not have thought about.

Step 4: Find Ways to Make Extra Money

Since marching into your boss’s office and demanding more money isn’t the best idea, you’ve got to think outside the box. When you’ve got more bills than income, any extra cash counts. Here are a few ideas to help you bring in extra cash:

1. Deliver food.

If you’ve got a valid driver’s license, a working car (or bike) and some extra time on your hands, delivering food might be the perfect opportunity for you. Check out food delivery apps like Uber Eats, GrubHub, Postmates or DoorDash. Companies like these offer a base pay, and you get to keep your tips!

2. Shop for groceries.

Do you like to grocery shop? If so, you can earn money doing it . . . for someone else! Check out Shipt or Instacart and start shopping.

3. Become a glorified mailman.

Everyone loves a good mail day. But even more than that, we all love a good Amazon delivery day. Sign up to deliver for Amazon Flex and start making money (and putting smiles on people’s faces).

4. Get creative.

Do you have any skills in graphic design, writing or other freelance-type work? Check out Fiverr. This site will connect you with lots of creative opportunities. You’ll get the satisfaction of creating something beautiful while making even more money.

5. Walk the dog.

If you have a flexible schedule and enjoy being outside, you might want to look into becoming a dog walker. Rover allows you to make money by walking Rufus or Buddy around the block.

6. Sell stuff.

An old-fashioned yard sale could raise the cash you need to get back on top of your bills. Don’t want to spend a Saturday haggling over prices? Sell your stuff on Facebook Marketplace or eBay instead.

There’s no shortage of ways to make extra money when you’re in a pinch.

No matter where you’re at in the month or how much money you have left in your wallet, it’s important to get on the right track. Taking control of your money is your first step toward leaving money stress behind once and for all.

And the best way to do that? With our free budgeting tool, EveryDollar! You’ll be able to tell every dollar where to go—so you’re never left wondering where it went. Don’t get caught with too much month left at the end of your money. Start budgeting today!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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