How to Make Ends Meet
How to make ends meet and get ahead financially when it seems like unexpected expenses continually break the budget.
We have been struggling financially for over a year now. We make just enough money to pay the bills, but our biggest problem seems to be emergencies. Just when we think we are getting ahead, something always goes wrong (i.e. car breaks down, kids have to go to the doctor (no insurance and I make too much for medicaid) or something in the house breaks and it is always something big). We’ve cut down on all our expenses, but the more I cut back the more problems we seem to have. How can we get ahead if we are always getting knocked back?
Jill: Andrea, I know just what you are talking about. I have lived that way for a good portion of my life. To make matters worse, I am the type of person who loves to have a nest egg and be prepared for emergencies.
I was barely living on a minimum wage income, raising two teens and paying off thousands of dollars of my husband’s debts. It was not uncommon for me to have the washer break down, the car get wrecked, the sewer back up and the heat go out all with in the same week, without a penny of savings.
To add to my frustration, I would hear financial gurus say you must save X percent of your income each month. I simply didn’t have it.
I had no wiggle room at all, but here are a few things I learned.
First, when I thought I couldn’t cut back in one more place I would always find someplace where I could still cut. I frequently have people tell me, “We just can’t cut back any more,” but they still have very expensive smart phones with expensive plans, Internet, cable, kids in sports or other optional activities and they’re constantly spending a dollar here and there for little things like flowers for their yards, fertilizer and even water for watering these things. Though they might be nice to have, none of these are real needs. I’m not saying this is you, but a lot of our readers are in that situation.
Once I knew there was no place to cut back at all, I would make do the best I could. If my washer was out, I would wash things by hand until I could get a new one.
Once my car was wrecked so badly that I had no window on the driver side. (It was winter.) I couldn’t open the door and I could only turn left wherever I went. I drove it like this until I could get the money to fix it.
For years, my roof leaked so badly that I had to keep a child’s swimming pool under the leak to catch the water. I frequently had to stay up all night dumping out buckets of water.
One night, I was beside myself trying to figure out the exact same thing you asked me – How do I save for an emergency when there isn’t one penny left and things keep happening?
I finally prayed about it. (Why didn’t I do that first? I know better now.) I realized my finances were in God’s hands. I had been a good steward of my money but there was still no money available so, if God wanted me to save for emergencies, He would have to provide it for me.
I didn’t get any extra money right away but, with each and every emergency that came, He provided a way to take care of it. After a while, I didn’t even worry about savings because, as long as I continued to be a wise steward, He would take care of it.
When I fully relaxed about it, I started finding myself getting a little extra here and there. Now I have enough saved to cover life’s little emergencies and I can save on a regular basis.
The financial gurus are talking to the huge percentage of people who are squandering their money, living like there is no tomorrow, but there is another group of people who simply don’t have the money. At one point, I talked to a very good financial adviser. When he first started talking to me, he knew he could find money for me to save. By the end of the conversation, he just shook his head. He couldn’t find one penny that I was wasting and finally told me that my only problem was that I needed more money coming in. It does sometimes happen that way but it is usually very rare.
I do understand what you mean and can relate to how you feel about never quite getting caught up. I started baking gingerbread men to pay for our Christmas stuff years ago. The gingerbread men became popular and I started getting a nice little extra income. I always thought I would save it but, just like clockwork, a couple of weeks after Christmas I would need a major car repair, some dental work or something else like that and it always seemed to eat all of my extra money.
I knew I hadn’t quite arrived at the place where God wanted me – totally depending on Him. Eventually, instead of bemoaning the fact, asking, “Why do I always have to use my extra money on a car repair?” I learned to thank Him. At least I had the money to pay for it, even if I was left with nothing extra.
As “noble” as that sounds, when I was in the middle of it it wasn’t easy and I did become discouraged. Now, being older and looking back, I have come to realize that sometimes life just has its ups and downs. Some seasons we have more than we have in other seasons and that’s just life.
The main thing to do at all times is to be a wise steward of the money you are given.
Up to now, everything I’ve said has been on the assumption that your only option is to cut spending, however if you really can’t cut another penny or if you just don’t want to have to cut more, you can also do something to try to bring in more money, which is often easier. It could be asking for a raise, getting a part time job, providing a service like lawn mowing or sewing, selling items on Ebay or something else. It might be difficult to get a second job if it’s just you and the kids, but some of the other options might still work and if you do get a part time job, it could be a temporary solution until you get enough for a reasonable emergency fund.
I know you may be tired and worn out, but if the stress from not having enough money to cover emergencies is getting to you, then another job might be needed. Just calculate how long it will take you save up the money and then you know you have an ending point.
To read more of Jill’s story about how she raised 2 teenagers on $500 per month, check out her book, Penny Pinching Mama!