5 Ways to Survive an Income Crisis (and 1 Thing to Avoid)

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Being broke is scary. Having an income crisis is even scarier.

The vast majority of us depend on our jobs as our only source of income. It’s how we provide for our families. It’s how we save for retirement. It’s how we pay for our homes, our clothing, and our food. Our income is usually our only lifeline.

In our book, Zero Down Your Debt, one of our 10 Fundamental Truths states, “Your paycheck is your most powerful wealth building tool.” So, what happens when that income is gone? What do you do? (Click here to get a FREE chapter of the book!)

Struggling to get by usually means one of two things: Either you aren’t using your paycheck efficiently or you don’t make enough money. Efficiency is easy to fix. An income crisis takes more work.

Unfortunately, income crises happen all the time. Losing a job, taking a paycut, getting divorced, falling ill – these things happen. Still, most of us aren’t prepared to handle these situations. According to a Bankrate survey from  2019 a whopping 60% of Americans don’t have enough money to cover a $1,000 emergency expense, never mind a sudden loss of income. That’s a huge number. It also means that you’re not alone.

Having an emergency fund and preparing for disaster before it strikes is the best approach, but what can you do if you’re already in the middle of an income crisis? Let’s determine what constitutes an income crisis, what to avoid when you’re there, and learn some simple steps for improving your situation. Here goes…

What is an Income Crisis?

So, what exactly is an income crisis? In my opinion, an having an income crisis means that you legitimately don’t make enough money to cover your essential bills. I’m not talking about overspending or stretching your paycheck too thin because of your spending choices. This is a situation where you are legitimately struggling to keep a roof over your head, put food on the table, and keep the lights on in your house because you don’t make enough money.

Usually, an income crisis happens because:

  1. You’ve experienced a sudden loss of income.
  2. You are significantly underemployed.

In many cases, an income crisis happens through no fault of your own. Perhaps you’ve lost a job. Maybe you are going through a divorce or lost a spouse to an accident. Maybe somebody in your household has gotten sick and is unable to work. Although the income loss is bad, what’s worse may be the emotional baggage that comes with it. And yes, much of the time, things feel completely out of your control.

So, let’s focus on what you CAN control. If you’re not in the throes of an income crisis now, you can control how you prepare for one. If you’re experiencing an income crisis, you can control how you react to it. Here’s how to handle it.

What Not to Do

When you’re struggling to get by, securing a loan or using credit cards to pay the bills might seem like a good idea. It’s tempting to use that “free” and easy money as life raft to help you float toward solid ground. Except, the money isn’t free and paying it back isn’t easy.

Using debt to survive an income crisis is like using a blowtorch to examine a gas leak. It’s a poison pill that might get you through the moment but could have effects that last the rest of your life. What if you don’t find a job as soon as you think? What if your income doesn’t rebound to it’s former heights? How will you ever get ahead when you constantly owe money to somebody else?

Turing to debt is a temporary solution that can have long-lasting effects. Saving money becomes infinitely harder when part of your paycheck is spoken for. And, one reason you’re in this mess is because you didn’t have enough money saved to begin with.

Related: How Do I Budget When I’m Broke?

Don’t turn a temporary situation into a long-term problem. Avoid using debt to solve your woes and get on the right track as soon as possible.

5 Tips for Getting Back on Your Feet During an Income Crisis

Now that we know what not to do, let’s take a look at a few ways to get you back on your feet!

1) Attitude is Everything

Losing an income stream can be depressing. As I mentioned earlier, many of these losses also come with an emotional loss as well. Losing a job. Losing a spouse. Getting sick. All of this stuff can play on your emotions and make you think you’re in an impossible spot.

You’re not. Remember, this income crisis is only temporary. It will get better and you can overcome it. By keeping a positive attitude, as tough as that may be, you can turn this thing around and come out the other side stronger and wiser for the experience. You can do this.

2) Bust Out the Budget

When you’re in the midst of an income crisis, having a solid budget is more important than ever. Remember, a budget is your monthly plan for the money you have. It takes your income (or savings) and tells that money where you need it to go. By directing your money with a zero-sum budget, you’ll be able to identify unneeded expenses, prioritize your spending, and make the most of the money that you actually do have.

But a budget isn’t just about getting the most out of your money. It’s also about restoring a sense of control. Losing your income can make you feel totally helpless, which leads to making desperate choices. Using a budget and asserting control over the money you do have helps return a sense of power to your life that may have went missing. Seriously, you can do this!

3) Prioritize Your Expenses

When you’re in crisis mode, it’s absolutely imperative that you prioritize your spending! That means making the best use of the resources you have. Before you put money down for any other bills, you first have to pay for the things that are keeping you alive. The four most important expenses you have are: food, shelter, utilities, and transportation. If you pay nothing else, make sure you cover these first.

Remember, this is only temporary. You can do this!

4) Slash and Track

Now that you’ve created a budget and covered your essentials, it’s time to slash your spending. Examine your budget and look for unnecessary expenses you can cut. Smartphones, cable TV, and restaurant spending are good places to start. To survive this crisis, you’ve really got to slash the fat from your budget and eliminate every extra expense that you can. Again, it doesn’t have to stay this way forever… but you can’t afford to waste a dime during this crisis period.

See Also: How to Create a Budget that Actually Works

Once you’ve determined what to cut, be sure to keep a watchful eye on your spending. Track every penny you spend and compare it to your budget several times a month. This is always good practice, but it’s especially important to ensure you aren’t bleeding extra money on unplanned expenses. Yes, you’re in a tough spot… but, you can do this!

5) Hustle Your Butt Off

To make it through an income crisis, you first need to take care of the money you have. Next, you’ve got to find a way to earn more.

Pound the pavement and look for a new job. Take temporary part-time work while you’re looking. Create a side hustle and start knocking on doors to pick up clients. Deliver pizzas, mow lawns, wash windows – do what you need to do to get some cash flowing in.

Use these pieces for ideas on how to get started:

Use this list of 99 ways to make extra money for ideas on how to get started. (Make sure to try those with a quick return.) Keep reminding yourself that this is only temporary. You can do this!!!

Getting Ahead… and Staying There

Surviving an income crisis isn’t easy, but you can do it! Once you’re on the other side, be sure to prepare your finances so it doesn’t happen again.

Stick with your budget, keep your expenses low, and use your new side gigs to generate extra income. Start saving money in an emergency fund immediately. That way, you’ve got the money to handle unexpected expenses or a sudden loss of income the next time they come around.

Most importantly, if you’re in a tough spot right now, don’t forget that this will get better. Your situation is temporary and you will find a way through it. As hard as it is, keep you head up and try not to make decisions you’ll regret down the line. You aren’t the first person in this situation, and you won’t be the last. Millions have made it through this before, and you will too!

Have you experienced an income crisis? What did you do to get back on your feet? Let us know below!

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  1. #3 is my favorite of your list. In a crisis, sometimes you can’t buy everything. Start with the important stuff and move your way down the list.

    As an added benefit: you’ll get to figure out what matters and what doesn’t. A helpful exercise no matter what your income is.

  2. #1 Keep positive that everything will get better! Aside from taking a set of actions, this is what we need to get out of income crisis!

  3. That attitude part got to me. Honestly, in any situation attitude is the main thing. thanks for all these tips, I have faced an income crisis before and can attest to how awful and stressful it feels like.

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