No Money for a Week? Here’s What to Do.

Photo: Helga Weber

We’ve all been there — broke as a joke with nary a loose coin under the couch cushions. Whether it’s self-imposed or just money mismanagement, it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. So if you find yourself in such a situation, don’t panic. You’ll get through it with these been-there-done-that tips from yours truly. (See also: Emergency Belt-Tightening)

1. Cancel Your Plans

If you don’t have a dime to your name but dinner and drinks scheduled with friends, it’s time to make that tough call. You just can’t afford to indulge. Same goes for any other activities/plans you have on your calendar that require cash. Sacrifices must be made, and unfortunately, these are on the chopping block. This is only temporary, though — don’t beat yourself up about it. There’s always next week.

2. Raid Your Pantry 

No more eating out or ordering in. Those luxuries cost money, and you don’t have any. Instead, this is a great time to eat some of that food sitting in your pantry that you’ve purchased over the past weeks and months that’s collecting dust. So you’re not stuck eating ramen all week (although that’s probably not a bad idea) out of laziness, make a list of the ingredients in your fridge and pantry to create a meal plan for the week that will provide cost-effective variety and nutrition.

3. Find Things to Sell

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Everybody has something they can sell. Go through your things and decide what has value and what you can part with. If the situation isn’t serious, stick to some of the junk you have lying around — no need to jump the gun. If you’re in a real bind, however, it might be time to think about unloading some of those higher-end items — like your video-game console, for instance — for an influx of quick cash. Some of you probably rolled your eyes in that "yeah, right" kinda way, but would you rather stay fed or play "Halo 4"? After about four days of living on no money, the answer should be clear.

4. Look for Side Work

Since you can’t have fun with your friends shutting down the bar or shopping till you drop this week, use this time to make honest money to help you get back on track. There are usually small side jobs listed on Craigslist that you can look into, but when I was in college and needed a financial boost I called the Bank of Grandma, which "hired" me to do odd jobs like yard work or cleaning kitchen cabinets. They might be tedious jobs, sure, but they pay — and because it’s grandma, they sometimes pay a lot more than they’re worth.

5. Hide the Credit Cards

It’s tempting to whip out the plastic when you’re in a pinch, but it’s completely counterintuitive to fixing the predicament you’re in. Charging your way through this tough time will only increase your debt and add to your low morale. To avoid temptation, remove the cards from your wallet and lock them in safe. If you think you still can’t resist, cut up the cards (you shouldn’t have them at all if you’re completely broke) or give them to someone you trust for safekeeping. 

6. Put the Car Away

Gas isn’t cheap, so it’s in your best interest to put the car in park for a week and find another mode of transportation. Walking and biking are great, but if you have to go further than your feet will allow, look into public transportation. If public transportation isn’t available where you are, lean on a friend or coworker. Ask your coworker if you can carpool with him or her with the promise that you’ll return the favor next week, and reach out to a friend if you have a doctor’s appointment or something equally important. Just don’t push it. Don’t take advantage of your friends’ goodwill to go somewhere you really have no business going in your situation. That’s a good way to tick off that helping hand.

7. Call for Backup

You don’t want to do it, but sometimes you have to. If there’s anybody in this world who will almost always bail your broke butt out, it’s mom and dad. If you’re really hurtin’, maybe it’s not a bad time to get on your knees and beg for some dough. Yeah, your pride will take a hit, but at least you won’t have to eat ketchup sandwiches for the rest of the week. Start the conversation with a compliment and a hug for mom. That’s half the battle already won.

8. Reevaluate Your Priorities

If you have absolutely no money for an entire week, there’s something wrong with your money management and spending habits — especially if you’re employed. This week should be spent reflecting on your financial mistakes, how you got yourself into this situation, and thinking of ways to change it. Whether that’s getting a better job, cutting out the excess recreation in your life, or reducing your budget by shutting off the cable, changes must be made if you want to start moving in the right direction.

9. Make a Positive Change

Reevaluating your priorities is the first step. Implementing your new plans for financial health is the next. Don’t just think about what you should do — act. Pound the pavement to get a better job or a side job. Reach out to contacts who might have an opportunity for you. Use this past week as a blueprint for how you can cut back but still live reasonably well. If at the end of this week you haven’t put in place a plan that will positively change your future, you haven’t been broke long enough. You can expect to be broke a lot more often, too. It’s time to make big life decisions, and that starts today.

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Guest's picture

What we would do before was just stay home and eat in as much as we could!

Guest's picture

nice! a complete list so far that I've seen...and I am super agree with number 3..I just did my own garage sale and made some money..:)

Guest's picture

You can also read the moneyless manifesto by mark boyle (online for free) that maybe inspire you to do it longer for a week :)

Guest's picture

We just finished "no spend" October. We stayed home, didn't eat out, no shopping, etc. it was wonderful! That stress of having to buy something just because was gone! We were able to pay off a store credit card and cancel it. Our plan is to repeat "no spend" for January, February and March.

Guest's picture

I kind of object to #7. I've been my daughter's "backup," "emergency," go-to person for way too long (she's 41). It's gotten to the point where this year for Christmas, we're giving her cash and telling her the "momma, poppa savings and loan" is closed.

Guest's picture

Beverly, I applaud you!!
You don't have any funds .....stay in, eat what you have, and make due. Quit whining because....This is Life until you master daily living. Warm and gentle hugs

Guest's picture

Beverly, well done!

My parents are currently floating my two older (mid 30's) brothers and they're both retired. It's rather silly and they don't seem to see the cycle (and the enabling) they're creating.

If my brothers suck my parents dry...... guess who's problem THAT becomes??

Guest's picture


Very beautiful post. If we can do this for 1 week, then we already are in a mode of savings. I think, we should follow these rules even if we have money for a week. These habits definitely can help in long term.

Guest's picture

I have to say I am a bit disappointed in you recommending people do work for their grandma for cash! I agree a college age student doing this is fine, but I would be seriously uncomfortable working for my grandparents for cash now. To be honest, a cup of tea and a sandwich made by granny would be payment enough for me. Grandparents are really important and deserve to be cherished, not used. Also, ditto the grovelling to mum and dad (though I find this less distasteful!) - and as has been seen by Beverley's comment can end up creating a dependency on the bank of mum and dad, which isn't fair on them.

Otherwise, your tips are spot on!

Guest's picture
San Diego Lawyer

Nice list you have there. #5 will surely help. Worst case scenario is you already don't have money then making yourself another burden by using your credit card and will add up on your problem on how to allocate funds to pay for those credits.

Guest's picture

Most of your tips are wise. In fact, if they were applied more often than only in desperate times, they might even spare "us" the tips of sponging off elders. "Start the conversation with a compliment and a hug for mom. That’s half the battle already won." - Seriously? Sucking up to the parents for money just reached a new level of sad.

Guest's picture

Ugh. I hate the feeling of beginning a new week on a low budget let alone with no money. But sometimes those weeks can be the most humbling. You learn a lot about yourself and you get to appreciate what you have a lot more. You also learn who your true friends are.

Guest's picture

This didn't help :(