“Wanna go out to eat tonight?”
“Can’t, I’m Broke*”
*Broke = “I paid all my
“Wanna go on a mini-road trip?”
“Can’t, I’m Broke**”
**Broke = “Because of my recent trip to the doctor, I only have $50 left over after bills and necessities. And I’ll continue to only have $50 left over after each pay period for the next month and a half until I pay that debt back. I’m not blowing my precious $50 on your stupid road trip.”
“You should buy a newer car, you’re spending too much time working on that one”
“Can’t, I’m Broke***”
***Broke = “I finally have $5,000 in my savings account and no debt. If you think I’m about to dip below $5k or take on debt for something that’ll do nothing but depreciate, you’re crazy”
In the above situations, “broke” is used to describe a situation where said ‘broke’ person is temporarily running low on cash, has their money prioritized elsewhere, or is using their financial situation to get out of doing something they’re not interested in.
This is what I call ‘middle class broke’.
And that’s not the type of broke I’m going to be talking about today.
Defining ‘BROKE Broke’
BROKE Broke is when you have exactly enough money to cover your bills and basic needs, but absolutely nothing else.
BROKE Broke is when you’re actually going into debt every single month, by simply covering your bills and very basic necessities.
BROKE Broke is when you need help from friends and family to cover even the most minor of inconveniences, like a $20 oil change.
BROKE Broke is reading article after article about how to stop being broke, but only getting ‘middle class broke’ advice like “buy in bulk“, “skip the daily coffee“, and “cut your cable“.
You don’t have the extra $5 to buy canned beans in bulk.
You never had a daily coffee in the first place because you didn’t have an extra $20 a week to throw around.
You definitely never had $60/mo
BROKE Broke is sticking tightly to your ultra-frugal budget month after month, but your finances never ever improve.
Ending the ‘BROKE Broke’ Cycle is Much Harder than Ending the ‘Middle-Class Broke’ Cycle.
When you’re BROKE Broke, your finances will never improve until you make some changes.
It’s uncomfortable making the effort and trying new things, but dare I say, it’s more comfortable than being financially stuck month after month after month.
This is just a warning that many of the suggestions I’m about to share are not convenient, nor comfortable. You won’t like them, but they’re good for you in the way that a plain iceberg lettuce salad with no dressing is good for you.It’s gonna make you wrinkle your nose, but you’ll be better off because of it.
13 Critical Steps to Take to Stop Being BROKE Broke:
#1 Call Your Bank.
If you’re falling behind on your bills, you’re probably dealing with insufficient funds charges. Those nasty things can cost you $35 a day (or more!) that you’re in the hole. You obviously cannot afford that!
Banks are run by people. Call in, explain your situation, and kindly ask that they be removed. If the person refuses to do so, call back again and talk to someone else. You just have to catch the right person at the right time to get those removed. Remember to be extra nice, and don’t be too proud to explain your situation.
#2 Call Your Bank Again.
After you get those overages removed, ask to have overdraft protection added onto your account. If you (or a bill collector) tries to withdraw money that you don’t have, it will decline the payment, rather than putting you in the negative and charging you a fee.
Most bank accounts are automatically set up to not decline payments, but instead, pay the expense, and then charge you a fee for the convenience. This allows the bank to make some extra money, and it lets you avoid the embarrassment of a declined debit card. At $35 a day (or more), you’re not in a place where you can afford that luxury. Get the overdraft protection. I’ve never encountered a bank where this service wasn’t free, so take advantage of it.
#3 Get Assistance.
There are good people and organizations all over the country who would love to help you help yourself. Reach out and ask for help.
Of course, there’s the obvious government assistance where you can get some aid paying for your food, housing, healthcare, and childcare.
Click here to get started applying for benefits.
Help from Church
There’s also another option you may have forgotten about- church.
Churches take communion and offering to upkeep the church property, do mission work, and pay employees- but a portion of that money is intended to help needy people in the local community. Talk to an elder in the church to see who you need to go to for help.
I know of some churches that only help members, and some churches who will help anyone. You’ll have to ask to see.
Yes, in some way churches are more careful to hand out money than government assistance programs, but in other ways, they’re much more accommodating.
While state and federal assistance
Keep in mind that some churches are more strict than others. They may ask that you give up alcohol, drugs, and tobacco while you’re receiving assistance- while others don’t care about that.
Some may ask that you attend a bible study or congregation once a week, others won’t have any stipulations.
Some churches will hand you money to use as you need it, some will ask you to keep a log of how the money is spent, while others will want to directly pay your bills and rent.
Just remember that you’re the one who needs help, and the church isn’t asking you to give up habits or record your spending because they want to control your or make you suffer- they genuinely want to see you do and be better.
Also, if they give you loose rein with the money they give you- be smart with it. This probably seems obvious to you, but they WILL notice a new neck tattoo!
If you don’t agree or can’t comply, just move along, and thank them for their time and offer.
Help from Friends and Family
If you can’t find assistance elsewhere, you may need to turn to your friends and family.
It is absolutely crucial that you are both on the same page about what is expected of you.
Is this a loan, or a gift?
If it’s a loan, when are payments due, and for how much?
If you can’t pay them back, how will you make it up to them? Will you babysit their children? Rake their leaves? Help them work on their vehicle?
Make that clear, then write up and sign some kind of a contract, and keep a copy for both of you. You don’t have to have it notarized (most banks will notarize for free if you’re a member there) but it certainly helps.
#4 Call the Creditors
If you explain your situation to creditors, sometimes they can offer you a payment plan or even a reduction- especially if it’s credit card debt.
You may have to agree to have your credit cards shut off during this plan or reduction, but at least you’ll be able to get out of the hole.
Reach out to the National Federation of Credit Counselors and see if they can aid you in finding useful resources for debt forgiveness and/or debt consolidation.
#5 Consolidate Your Debt if Possible
If there’s any way for you to consolidate your debt so you have lower interest rates, go for it.
LendingClub.com is a good place to get help (and when you get out of debt, it’s a great place to invest).
Nelnet is a good student loan repayment service.
American Education Services is another option, but from what I’ve heard, Nelnet seems to be the better choice.
#6 If #4 and #5 Fails- Temporarily Stop Paying Your Debt and/or File for Bankruptcy
If you’re in a dire situation where you have to choose between buying groceries and paying your debt, buy those groceries (especially if you have little ones!). You should do your very best to pay back what you owe, but if not, your credit is something you can repair later on when you’re in a better place.
Filing for bankruptcy should be considered last resort, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it if you’re in that bad of shape.
Most lawyers will offer you your first consultation for free, so don’t be afraid of exploring this option because of your lack of cash. Use that consultation to feel out if that’s a good option for you, or at least keep it in your back pocket as an escape
Here’s an article on How to File Bankruptcy in the United States.
#7 Avoid these Predatory Establishments
I wrote an entire in-depth article on these 8 businesses, but here’s the quick rundown:
- Payday Loans
- Pawnshops/Car Title Loans
- New Car Dealerships
- Certain Banks
- Certain MLM Businesses / Motivational Conferences
- Lottery Tickets
- Convenience Stores
They provide a little bit of help right now, for a lot of
#1-3 are loans with crazy high interest that you probably can’t afford to pay off.
#4 is a bad idea because it’s a less predatory loan than #1-3, but still a loan you can’t afford right now.
#5 refers to banks where overdraft protection is not available.
#6 is about multi-level marketing businesses (and their conferences) that require high start-up costs and no guaranteed return of investment.
#7 is pretty obvious, you have a better chance of picking all Sweet 16 Teams in the NCAA March Madness Tournament than winning the lottery. If you invested your daily $3 in scratch-off tickets into an index fund yielding an 8% rate of return for 30 years, you’d have a guaranteed $127,585.30.
#8 refers to the ridiculously high prices of convenience stores, which are predominantly found in low-income areas. The same package of Ramen Noodles that you can find at Walmart for $0.14 is a whopping $1.28 at a gas station. Screw. All. That.
Moving can be expensive, but it IS seriously worth it. Reach out to friends and family for help with the move if need be. You probably can’t pay them, but you can certainly cook for them or offer to trade your time (such as babysitting, mowing their lawn, etc) for theirs.
- reduce your property taxes/mortgage/rent.
- get you closer to your job- so you can reduce your fuel usage and/or ditch your car (and its upkeep, insurance, tags, fuel, payments) completely.
- save you time, which you can put towards your own self-care (so you don’t feel like a slave) or money-making-pursuits (see #11).
#9 Go Over Your ‘Necessities’ Budget With a Fine Tooth Comb
Chances are, you’ve already been scouring your budget for any little money leaks, but it never hurts to quickly check again.
Here’s my guide to cutting your food budget WAYYY down. The “One Dollar, One Pound” Rule is probably the most effective strategy out there. Jillian from Montana Money Adventures says that the one for one rule is how she cut her grocery bill from $1200 a month to $600 (and she has a family of 6!).
As mentioned in #8, relocating can save you a ton of money.
You shouldn’t be spending more than 30% of your income on housing. If you are this is the perfect place to make drastic cuts.
If you’re not in the position to buy or rent someplace new right now, consider the other housing options. Move in with friends and family, house hack, take on a roommate or two (or a few
I really don’t expect this section to be super useful, but I just want to make absolutely sure that we’re looking at every aspect of your spending very carefully.
If you’re truly BROKE Broke, your entertainment expenses should be very close to zero.
I’m not saying you should do zero fun things, just that you should spend about zero dollars on said fun things.
This is temporary, once you get back on your feet, you can start spending some money on fun stuff again. Although, you may have just retrained your brain, and no longer need to spend much to be happy.
Stay home and practice self-care more often. Just because you’re BROKE Broke doesn’t mean you need to be STRESSED Stressed.
One of my husband and I’s favorite date night is to cook together, have a quiet dinner at the kitchen table by candles, fix a hot essential oils + epsom salt foot bath for one another (sometimes we even go so far as to do pedicures), take a shower, and then retreat to the bedroom for a YouTube-led fullbody massage. It’s completely free, but so relaxing, and a great chance to talk as a couple. It doesn’t matter how much money we have, we love it so much that it’s just our go-to thing.
A few other totally free self-care ideas include:
- taking a nap
- taking a hot shower
- binge-watching YouTube
- cleaning the house (does anyone else find that super therapeutic?)
- reading blogs
- reading library books
- working out at home (again, YouTube Tutorials are amazing)
- take a walk
- kayak (borrow a friend’s, we let our friends do this all the time)
- ride your bike (or borrow a friend’s)
- work on zero waste living (it’ll save you a LOT of money)
- cook at home
- build your vision board on Pinterest (here’s mine!)
- map out your future goals and ideal lifestyle
- purge who you follow on social media
- rewatch your favorite movie (Hello, Hidalgo!)
Vehicles are a tricky subject, especially when it comes to finding the sweet spending spot.
Many believe that you should spend as little as possible on a vehicle, or even forgo car ownership altogether.
But many others believe that spending very little upfront, means you’ll be paying more later on in repairs, especially if you have a lengthy commute (like so many rural Americans do).
Ultimately, the choice is up to you to determine how much you should spend. But, these two guides are pretty darn handy if you don’t know where to begin:
There’s also the 20/4/10 Rule, but I’m not really wild about that one.
I can’t tell you how much to spend on a car.
I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about the subject to offer any advice, but I can share with you my tiny bit of experience so far.
Personally, my husband and I have a 12-year-old Ford Taurus that gets 28-32mpg, a 19-year-old Toyota 4Runner that we like to drive between Montana and Indiana, and a 22-year-old Ford Powerstroke I bought when I was 17. We own each of these vehicles outright.
The newest vehicle I’ve ever owned is the 2006 Ford that we bought this year. Ironically, it’s also the cheapest vehicle I’ve ever bought too, $1,000 cash was all it took (and it’s in excellent shape, only needing routine maintenance so far). The Toyota and 1996 Ford have needed repairs (hey, they have 250k and almost 300k miles respectively), but I still believe those repairs are cheaper than payments on something newer.
We just have liability, not full coverage, so it’s only $360 every 6 months to insure our fleet. Neither of us have had any accidents or tickets, our credit is pretty darn good, and Devin gets us a small discount because he’s considered a professional (CDL A License).
I want to pretend that this category isn’t impacting you much, but unfortunately, it probably is.
If you’re buying lunch while at work, that could cost you $3.3k annually.
If you commute 15 miles to and from work daily in the average American car, you’re spending $735 in fuel annually, and that doesn’t include parking costs, repairs, maintenance, insurance, or payments.
If you spend any time or money on job-related events or outings, you could be spending about $685 annually.
If you have just one pet and one child requiring care while you work, that can easily be $16k annually.
And finally, the average American has a 25 minute daily commute time. Pair that with those obligatory unpaid work events, and you’ve got 9.6 days (or 231 hours) of unpaid work. And that doesn’t even include the time you spend on projects outside of work.
If you’re wondering how I got all these figures, just check out this article I put together that’s full of the details.
Luckily for me, I’m able to cut out almost all of these expenses by freelancing online from home. There are still associated costs (about $978.88 + 20% annually as a $50/hr freelancer), but that’s minuscule compared to an out-of-the-house job.
#10 Get a Better Job
This seems like a big duh, but sometimes there’s only so much you can cut from your expenses. After a while, you just have to get a better job.
I know that’s not easy, so don’t take this as me saying “pfft, just go get a better job” like it’s just
I highly recommend working from home, but I absolutely wouldn’t suggest quitting your job to pursue that avenue until you’ve firmly got one foot in the door. It takes time to get into, or, at least it did for me. Check out the above links from the ‘Work Expenses’ section of #9, and then check out my Blogging + Freelancing category if this is something that interests you.
Here is an article on surviving and moving beyond minimum wage jobs.
My best advice is this
- Position yourself to be capable of moving up (be available for promotions and raises). If you’re in a dead-end minimum wage job, move to somewhere else (even if it’s still minimum wage) that at least has the potential for growth.
- Jobs that require physical labor often pay better too, so keep that in mind (if you’re physically able). While many of my friends in high school made a little more than $7/hr as fast food employees, I earned $10/hr mucking out stalls, feeding horses and cattle, and putting up hay for a local vet/horse farm. It was dirty, physical work that had me outside a lot (okay, all the time!), but it kept me in good physical shape and earning a little more than my peers.
- Always be scouting for better opportunities. Tell your friends and family that if something else comes along, to let you know. Don’t be so loyal to your job or boss that you let a better position pass you by.
- You don’t need college, but you do need an education. I’m a college dropout who makes $25 to $50/hr in the backwoods. I’m nothing special, but I’ve learned the tricks of the trade of writing, editing, virtual networking, and pitching myself as a freelancer, and so I do okay. Find something you’re decent at, learn as much as you can on your own time, get good reviews, network, and get some experience.
- White-collar degree-required jobs don’t always pay more than blue-collar certification jobs. Plumbers, electricians, welders, truck drivers, pipeliners, linemen, oil rig workers, and power plant operators typically make $60k or more annually.
#11 Start a No-Upfront-Cost Side Hustle
Side hustles are amazing! And they usually don’t have much of a startup cost either!
I’m not going to go into detail of all the side-hustle opportunities you can try (there are better articles out there than what I could probably put together, plus this post is getting super long), but here are two quick links to pieces I’ve already written on the subject:
- 5 Small-Business Ideas that Your Town Could Use
ProvenWays You Can Make Money at Home (that I’ve Personally Tried and Tested).
Something that’s really important to remember is that this is a side hustle. Don’t let it interfere with your full-time job, especially if your side hustle can’t support you on its own.
#12 Get Radical
Sometimes you have to think wayyy outside the box to make a significant improvement. Here are a few ideas I have on getting radical, but don’t be too shy to think about other options on your own.
Become a Truck Driver
When Devin and I got married, we jumped into his semi and lived there for a full year. We loved it! It really strengthened our relationship, showed us how little space we needed to be happy, taught us about minimalism, gave us a lot of good stories, and let us see 333 major cities in 48 states.
More than that though, it allowed us to live completely rent/mortgage free, without any utility bills, or personal-vehicle-driving-expenses. That’s HUGE.
Move into a Camper or Van
Camper/Van Living is just as cheap or expensive as you make it. You can stay in fancy RV resorts for $200 a night, or camp at state parks or in friend’s backyards for free. Shelly estimates that it only costs her $1.40 a day to stay at her sites.
Take the ‘No Spend Challenge’
Now chances are that you’re already doing something very similar to a no-spend challenge, but if not, check this out:
Shawna, of Money Saving Mama, makes $32k a year and has a son and an apartment to take care of. Yet, she’s saving $20k of her income in 2018 alone, thanks to a no-spend challenge. If you’re interested in her story, you can see it here.
Get Rid of Your Smartphone
If you have a smartphone that you’re making payments on, ditch that sucker! I went from a ‘smart’ iPhone 6 to a ‘dumb’ flip phone and ended up being happier for it while also saving a good chunk of change.
Go Zero Waste
For instance, going zero waste can mean using tap water rather than bottled water.
Or making your own laundry detergent ($30 lasts my husband and I about a year!).
You can reduce your food waste by using smart storage
Ditch heavy chemical cleaners for more natural, cheaper ones like vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide.
Use less electricity by opening windows in the summer, and piling on cozy blankets in the winter.
Cut your own hair (I can get away with this because I have curly hair that I’d have to mess up pretty bad for it to be noticeable- you may not have as much luck so be warned).
Own fewer clothes (I have a 16 piece capsule wardrobe) and wash your clothing less often.
Rely on a lot of reusable items, such as makeup remover cloths, feminine hygiene products, cloth diapers, kitchen rags, water bottles, coffee filters, and more.
Ditch Your Health Insurance (HIGH RISK)
For about a year, Devin and I decided to forgo health insurance. Yes, it was RISKY, and it’s definitely not something I’d really recommend to a lot of people, but it did work for us.
When we did decide to take on insurance, we used Samaritan Ministries, a Christian Healthcare Sharing Program. Our cost was only $200 a month for both of us, and I really loved the dynamics of that organization.
We did eventually switch from that to my husband’s work-provided health insurance (it’s double the price, but the plan is excellent).
During that year of no health-insurance, we saved between $2,400 and $4,800 depending on which plan you compare it to.
Again, this is high risk, but we were very careful and got lucky by never getting sick or hurt. And no, if you’re wondering, we won’t be pushing our luck like that again.
#13 (Do this Last) Start Building Your Savings
Once you’ve started implementing Steps 1-12, you’ll begin to find your budget isn’t so darn tight. Now is the time to open a savings account and start contributing to it.
It may be tempting to throw this extra money at debt, but I would strongly suggest you not do that (yet). If you have any trouble whatsoever, like a major car break down, or an injury/sickness that prevents you from working, you could go right back to square one. After you save up enough, then feel free to start slinging cash at your debts.
As you become more financially stable, remember to frequently check your spending, check your lifestyle (then compare it to your ideal lifestyle), and avoid excessive lifestyle inflation (also, how many times can I say ‘lifestyle’ in a single run-on sentence? Ew).
Though I LOVE to see people turn around and help the next person in line, don’t get yourself in trouble doing that. If you were struggling before, you probably have a few friends who are still struggling.
Some people genuinely need the help and are working hard to better themselves.
Others will totally take advantage of your generosity and drain you without a smidge of remorse.
Cut those people off, you have to put your oxygen mask on first, and some people cannot be helped. I will warn you, it’s hard to watch, but you cannot fix their finances for them. Find someone else to help.
- What’s your definition of BROKE Broke?
- Do you have any advice for getting out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle?
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