How to Budget When You’re Broke

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I’ve been interested in personal finance for a long time. This blog actually started after realizing I might as well try writing my own after years of reading numerous financial blogs. I figured my love of writing and having a few tricks at juggling a tight budget on a single-mom income could generate at least a few blog posts.

Thankfully it’s been a few years since I’ve actually been “broke” and truthfully I’ve never been truly broke. I’ve always been able to buy food for our family and keep the utilities on and a roof over our heads. I am aware there are people out there that are truly struggling.  If you’re reading this and belong in that category then please reach out to any local resources available to you. Contact your local government or perhaps a church if you need help finding assistance.

This post is for those who just find their budget to be a little tight right now. I get it, believe me. Somehow Christmas tends to sneak up on the best of us, even though it’s the same day EVERY SINGLE YEAR!!! The semester just ended for my kids and they tend to be a little tight on funds then since they don’t work as much with finals and they generally have new books to buy for the next semester.

I’ve also changed careers this month and although it’s going to be a smart move long-term with additional retirement benefits it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment with a change in pay schedules. My previous job paid twice a month and this one pays every other week. This doesn’t seem like a big deal and it all works out in the end but there’s some tweaking to be done since my monthly checks will be shorter then I am used to since my pay is now split up over 26 pay periods rather than 24.

So how should you budget when things are tight? What do you prioritize and how do you make the numbers work? Here’s some tips I’ve used and will again if need be:

Write It Down

Hopefully if money is tight for you then you already know how important it is to have a written budget in place. Get a calendar and write down your pay dates and what you expect each paycheck amount to be. This is easy if you are paid on salary and know exactly how much each paycheck will be. If you get paid hourly or are commission-based then make a conservative estimate.

Next, write down all your bills that will be due this month. If you get paid twice a month then figure out which paycheck each bill will need to be paid out of. My pay schedule just changed but previously I was paid on the 15th and the last day of the month. I knew my 15th pay check would be paying my student loans, cell phone bill, car insurance, electric bill, and our Sling and Netflix.

My paycheck on the last day of the month had to pay my first of the month bills such as my mortgage, car payment, HOA dues, credit cards, gym membership, and internet bill.

Slash the Budget

My variable budget categories each month are Gas, Restaurants, Entertainment, and Groceries. I usually budget a set amount each month for these and I keep track of how much I spend each pay period. For example, I have $400 allotted for groceries each month (this is for food and household supplies) so I know I have approximately $200 to spend out of my first paycheck and $200 out of the second paycheck.

When funds are tight though I know I need to start adjusting one of these four categories. Eating out is a luxury. $50 a week on entertainment purposes is nice but if I don’t have the money to spend then I don’t. Vices like alcohol, cigarettes, junk food, expensive hobbies? This is the time to cut those out!

Prioritize Your Bills

Mortgage/rent payments are generally a fixed amount and should obviously be a priority on your payment list. You don’t want to lose your home. Most generally have a grace period but do your best to pay this on time, since you don’t want a late fee and a ding on your credit if you’re late, or worse, to be kicked out of your home.

Utilities should be your next priority. You don’t want to lose your heat in the winter, your AC in the summer, or your water to be shut off at any point.

Insurance is probably the next most important thing. You don’t want a lapse in your auto insurance because this will get you in legal trouble real quick and it’s just plain stupid to be driving around without car insurance.

Homeowners/renters insurance is also very important. Disasters happen and if you can’t afford life right now then you definitely would not be in a position to replace all your possessions if a disaster did happen.


I know, some of you are probably thinking it’s weird I haven’t mentioned groceries yet. The reason is you have to keep a roof over your head and utilities on to function. Yes, obviously you need to be able to feed your family.  I would venture to say that most people can cut their food budget down quite a bit if things get tight though. You might not be able to get your organic food or the Prime Rib or your kid’s favorite over-priced cereal or Pizza Rolls but you can get the essentials to keep them fed. Buy generic, buy fruit that’s in season, eat breakfast food for dinner, Google $5 meals, get the Angel Soft toilet paper (cheap but good)…get creative.

Get a 2nd Job or Find a Side Hustle

I work a full-time job but I’ve also had various part-jobs over the years as well. Currently I’m working one weekend day at my friend’s Dairy Queen. This gives me a little bit extra spending money for the month and a food discount. It’s also totally different then my full-time job in accounting, which is good because if you’re going to work 6 days a week then it’s nice to have a little variety. Part-time jobs should be flexible enough to work around your full-time job. Also, remember that you don’t have to work multiple jobs forever. Focus on applying the extra funds to help pay down your debt or get ahead on your bills.

Any other tips you want to share? 


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