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This is what to do when you have no money at all

This is what to do when you have no money:

  • Ensure you have food for three-four weeks.
  • Negotiate all payments you have to make and ask for a ‘payment holiday’.
  • Apply to all emergency money schemes for which you are eligible.
  • Keep yourself clean, tidy, and presentable.
  • Start earning money; fast.
  • Don’t allow your brain to drown all your other thoughts by screaming ‘I have no money’.

You open the fridge and only a smelly piece of cheese you forgot there a month ago is staring back at you. No food, no warmth, no money in the bank. Your mind starts pulsating with panic, screaming at you:

I have no money!

In this article, I’ll share what to do when you have no money. I did it all and pulled out. I’m not talking about being so skint that you have to cancel your iPhone payment. I’m talking real emergency; a situation where hard choices become unavoidable. Like choosing between:

  • Having heating and buying food;
  • Having a haircut and replacing your worn-out socks;
  • Taking the bus and having your clothes washed.

This is the kind of ‘I have no money’ emergency I’m talking about.

You may think that you’d never be in a position where you have no money. You have a secure job, after all; don’t you? Get off it. If life has taught me one thing, it is that anything may happen at any time. This includes job loss, overwhelming debt, currency devaluation that wipes out your savings, or a fire that leaves you homeless. Anyone, including university professors like me, can find themselves in a situation where they have to make impossible choices.

A decade ago when we realised how much debt we had, my darkest money fear was that my son won’t have enough to eat. Now that have paid off all our consumer debt, I live my life with no fear.

(I know you have little money now, but it may be worth learning how to pay off debt the smart way.)

Over 4 million children in the UK, this is close to one in four children in one of the wealthier countries, live in poverty. It’s even worse: close to two-thirds – three of every four – children who live in poverty are in families where at least one parent is working. Think again and think carefully when you catch yourself believing that you’d never be in a situation where you have no money at all.

Flipping from comfort and security to I have no money is as easy as your next breath, and can happen almost as fast. When I was at university, a long time ago now, I had no money left at the end of the month. Still, I was young and my solutions were the ones that tie you up for a day or a week: when you are young you have the rest of your life to figure out a better way. When I had no money, I did one of four things:

  1. Went to a mineral fountain to drink hot water so my stomach stops screaming for food;
  2. Borrowed a bit of money from my close friends;
  3. Pawned my typewriter (yes, we are talking so far back that typewriters were in fashion); or
  4. Phoned my Dad and asked for money (he never said ‘no’).

I’m guessing you are beyond that.

I’m guessing you are wondering what to do with no money.

Now, older and wiser, this is what I do when facing a money crisis. Some of the actions shared below I practice regularly; others are on the back burner (hoping I’ll never need to use these again).

Here is what to do when you have no money

#1. Make sure there is food for three-four weeks in the house

I have no money

 

In my experience, you should deal with the worst and most basic fears first. Being worried all the time about where the next meal is going to come from is exhausting and doesn’t leave space for tackling much else. So, make sure that you have food for up to four weeks in the house.

This has to be mainly stuff that keeps: beans, lentils, rice, tinned food, flour, sugar, and dried milk. If you have a freezer (and your electricity is still on) you can make a lot of healthy vegetable soup and freeze it.

“Where am I going to get all this when I have no money at all?” – you may be thinking. You are asking the wrong question.

The one to ask is: ‘How am I going to make sure there is enough food in the house?’. This is how you do it:

  • You make an inventory of all the food you already have; and mean all of it – even the dry crusts at the bottom of your breadbin.
  • You visit a food bank. You’ll need to be referred by a number of agencies that can refer you (check here how to do it). Also, you’ll do well to check whether there are informal foodbanks run in your area; I know that some people have started self-organising for mutual support and help in a crisis.
  • You borrow money to buy food (it’s important to borrow responsibly and keep in the back of your mind that you need to repay it).
  • You call for help at a support forum; people on MoneySavingExpert.com are generally supportive and generous. You can also find advice there on how to feed a family well on very little money.
  • You plan and every week you buy one long-term item for your pantry (pulses are great but you will need to learn to cook them.). Gradually, you build reserves. (This method works and I’ve seen it done by a friend of mine.)

Once you have made sure that you have food for four weeks in the house, you can exhale and tackle the rest.

#2. Make sure your home is safe for two-three months

If you own your home, but the bank owns most of it because you have a mortgage, you can get in touch with your mortgage provider and ask for a ‘mortgage payment holiday’. Check this guide to learn how to do it in the UK.

In brief, though, you should explain your circumstances to your lender and ask to stop paying your mortgage for several months or to reduce the payments. I know people who’ve done it, so this works.

If you are renting, the situation may be a bit trickier. Still worth talking to your landlord, explaining the situation, and asking for a grace period with the rent. Remember you need two-three months so that you could sort it all out.

#3. Face your bills and be very honest with yourself

This is where you’ll need the help of a debt advisor; you can contact one through a debt charity. Try National Debt Line or StepChange. There are bills that you could stop paying for some time but it is not a trivial matter. Yes, ask for help and advice on this one.

#4. Stop non-priority debt repayment

Non-priority debts are the ones that won’t get you in prison if you stop paying them and you won’t lose your house. These are credit cards, unsecured loans, payday loans, etc.

Not paying these can be inconvenient and even damaging in the long run: it is inconvenient because you’ll have to brace yourself against a barrage of phone calls and threats. It is damaging in the long run because failure to make payment can damage your credit score. Still, there is time to worry about all that and it’s not when you have to choose between eating and keeping clean.

#5. Learn about and take advantage of emergency schemes

There is a variety of schemes that are supposed to cater to people in financial crises. You can ask about these when you visit a Job Centre.

Alternatively, you can check the complete list of benefits that may be available to you here. There are local welfare assistance schemes which you can check here. There are budgeting loans (for information look here).

#6. Ask family and friends for help

what to do when you have no money

 

There is a rule of personal finance that says ‘never lend money to family’. I think it is rubbish. If we don’t help family and friends in an emergency our humanity, not our wellbeing is under threat.

In fact, you don’t need to ask for help; you can barter. If you wish to learn more about how you can weather a financial emergency by finding reprieve with family you may wish to have a look at this.

#7. Ensure you look presentable

You know, I believe that when you have no money at all, it is time for a haircut and a wardrobe tidy-up.

Many will see this as wasteful: after all, you are in crisis. You have to prioritise spending on your very basic needs like food, warmth, and shelter.

But if you don’t look presentable, your chances of getting out of this situation are very slim. So, listen to me and look in the mirror. Have a very hard look and ask yourself whether you’ll trust the person you see with a job. If your answer is ‘no’, it’s time for some changes. What these are you can decide on your own. I can only say that when someone rings on my door and asks to wash the car or do the garden, I’m more likely to hire the person who looks presentable and smells clean rather than someone who looks like they’ve just fallen out and rubbish skip.

#8. Sell everything that doesn’t move for ten minutes

And if this happens to be your grandmother, so be it.

Okay, guys, I’m joking but there is a serious point in all this. Please look around you and make a list of things to sell. It doesn’t matter whether you really don’t want to part with something: if you haven’t used it in the last couple of months you need to shift it. You’ll be surprised what people would buy. If you want to get an idea go to eBay and have a look around. Then start doing it.

#9. You need to have some cash

In the first instance, you’ll need to borrow it (very likely) but you need to have some cash.

Spend it wisely because this is your capital. Use it to get around when looking for a job and paying for small items you may need. Spending wisely also means that you must brush up on your budgeting and money management skills. To collect the information about your income and spending, it is wise to use Money Dashboard which is easy, useful, and free.

#10. Inventory your skills

what to do when you have no money

 

The only way the get out of the hole in which you’ve found yourself is not by telling yourself ‘I have no money’; it is by making some money. Get a piece of paper and a pen and make a list what the things you can do. Don’t skip over the basic stuff: you can clean, you can wash cars, you can work in a bar and you can deliver kebabs. Make a shortlist of the three skills that you can use to make some money. Here is a list of jobs that can bring you enough money to fill your fridge for a month. Once you have come up with some ideas, you should act on them.

#11. Get out there and ask

There are no two ways about it: you need work.

When in crisis, you don’t need a career and you don’t even need a job – all you need is to get some work for which people pay you. Assuming you’ve already done what I said under point #10 you have targets. Now, you should get out there and ask. If you want to work in a bar, go around all bars in your area. If you are going to do some gardening (because you are good at it), drive or take the bus to a wealthier neighbourhood or one where there are elderly people living.

Ring the doorbell and ask whether they’d like you to do the garden. You may be surprised how much work you can pick up this way. Doing this, you’ll have to be nice and keep your sense of humour.

Someone I know was telling me that he started in the UK by delivering kebabs. When he looked for a job he went to all shops in the little town he lived and asked for a job. Eventually, he got to a kebab shop where the owner asked his name; the name was difficult so the owner asked whether he can call him ‘Thomas’. This guy’s answer was priceless (and I suspect it got him the job).

‘You can call me Susan if you wish; just give me a job.’ He got the job and worked there for several months. He also made a good friend: the shop owner and my acquaintance still have a drink from time to time and laugh when they remember.

#12 Under-promise and over-deliver

You need all the work you could get. You also need to keep the work you get and get referrals if you are to make a living and get out of the situation you’ve found yourself in. This is best achieved by under-promising and over-delivering. This way your employers will be impressed and you’ll get the reputation of someone who is a self-starter and can be trusted to do a good job.

Finally

I’m not going to lie to you: it is hard when you have no money.

Faced with this level of crisis many people fold. Some fail because they don’t know where to start. In this post, I offered a roadmap for financial recovery.

I told you what you need to do so that you buy yourself some time to focus on earning; I also offered some ideas on how to approach the matter of earning and making a living. Others fail because they focus on the wrong thing. You see, some people listen only to the voice screaming ‘I have no money’ and focus on poverty and scarcity.

Yet others get so captured by being embarrassed by the situation they’ve found themselves in that they have no energy left to try to dig themselves out of it. What I’d say is, it doesn’t matter. Anyone can find himself (herself) in a tight spot. As with many things in life what matters is not where you are but where you want to be. What matters is not that the sh*t has hit the fan but what you do next. Good luck on your way to recovery and here is to prosperity and abundance.

And if you found this post helpful tell your friends about it: who knows, they may be in a tight money spot too.

Editor’s note: This post is a substantially re-written and updated version of a post I first published in 2013. Hoping that you never find yourself in this situation, I still believe that we should all know what to do when money is short; or when we have no money at all.

42 thoughts on “This is what to do when you have no money at all”

  1. I guess that would be “whatever it takes” – in my case I picked potatoes that had been left in the field after harvesting, foraged for free foods (nettles and skip diving), accept “Hand-ups” from friends (these are very different from “Hand-outs because the expectation was always that this is temporary and “this too shall pass”).

    I also sold what I could and “watered down” my food so it went further.

    It was crap!!! But it didn’t last long – because I always saw myself as “skint” and NEVER as “broke” – I never allowed myself to be ground down so far that I could never climb back.

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  2. I’d work round the clock. When I was in school I came closest to this point and took on a third job between 2 am and 6 am. Luckily I only had to to that for a month, but I appreciated that check.

    With unemployment around 30 percent though, that might not be available. Then I don’t know what I’d do. I really don’t.

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    • @AverageJoe: May help. If you were a woman with cople of young children, the options for doing this will be rather limited. Did you know that Charlie Chaplin’s mother used to sell her blood? I seem to recall that in his biography there was a rumor this is why she got ill and died when he was still very young.

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  3. I often share this dilemna with my students. If you took everything away from me, what would I do. I am refering to money, cash, credit cards etc. I still have an education and experience to rely on. I think I would be resourceful enough to find some work to earn enough to feed myself. I do not wish to actually test out this hypothesis, but I think I woudl do what I have to do to survive.

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    • @Krant: I was thinking recently about similar topic; I also thought that I will still have my education and I am, kind of. respected in my area internationally. Then I remembered that in times of real crisis things go down to barter – and I wonder whether I have anything to barter with.

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  4. Wow! 30% I think I’d start a few blogs and find some writing and social media gigs on O-desk and other online sources that weren’t dependent on the immediate job situation in my area. Hard times call for little sleep and lots of hustle.

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  5. If I had no money at all, I would instantly start looking for work. I would humbly contact everyone I knew that was in a position to hire and I would ask for work. I would do anything from cleaning toilets to delivering pizzas to mowing grass to make a dollar. I would not borrow money. I repeat, I would not borrow money. Doing so would hurt my situation even more. If I had to, I would ask for hand outs to eat before borrowing. Yuck, the thought of being in that situation scares the living daylights out of me. That’s why I save right there.

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    • @Kraig: Good on being prepared to do any work. As to borrowing – it depends on how hungry you get. There come a point in all this beyond which you normal prejudices will turn off; trust me.

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  6. Great topic Maria. I think I would at least consider doing what Joe suggested as a temporary measure (work around the clock). While that is not sustainable, it can at least provide some foundation to start from. However, in case of the younger people you described, it seems like that was part of the problem: they are either unemployed or underemployed. Like you, I would probably begin to sell stuff and start a side hustle in order to place a little bit of distance between me and Murphy.

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    • @Roshawn: Boggles the mind but…I think that until the situation has improved families should keep together. There was a time when generations lived together, retired people looked after the grandchildren (child care is frightfully expensive) and their children looked after them when and if there was a need. I am sure that soon we will need to revisit some of the PF matras to reflect the new world we are living in.

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      • I could not agree more about families sticking together it still amazes me however how much flack we get and all the “when is your daughter moving out?” like it is the worse thing in the world…only in America LOL. Many other cultures especially the girls, do not leave home until they are married or 30! Yet studies show children who grow up in close extended family households tend to be happier and well-adjusted.

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  7. This post touches my heart, I have lived in in cycles throughout my whole life and am currently living it now. My adult daughter lives with us as she can not live on her disability alone ( she was born with cerebral palsy when 2 1/2 months early) My adult son is currently homeless 100 miles from us. We have offered for him to come home even with us being considered extreme poverty but he has decided to try to go it alone.

    A few years ago my husband made good money for where we lived at the time however his two heart attacks by age 38 changed our situation radically. I was in a major car wreck several years ago, totally affecting my ability to work a decent job. Our decision to homeschool also keeps me home.

    Sometimes I think the hardest part is to seperate your emotions out of it, for when you are too emotionally tied, you are more apt to focus on the problems and not the solutions. By looking at it from a nuetural perspective it puts you in a more frame of mind to look at all angles and options……in a more productive way. Also of course staying positive.

    We have never had family to rely on for loans and have always gone it alone, by ourselves. I also would NEVER use a payday loan, that would make things far worse than better!

    I feel fortuante to have great country and wilderness skills that have taken us far and do anything I can to keep expenses low and dealing with anything that comes up. We spent all last summer walking and biking 5 miles to town when our car died until we came up with the small amount we needed to get another car……..that took us 4 months to gather enough for the down payment!

    I try quite afew things to bring in more money…….sometimes I think it is easier to just learn to live with no money that it is to earn more! I have romantic dreams of running off and living in the wilderness somewhere just because that seems easier to see sometimes and actually doing better.

    Most days though I take a postive approach and do not feel poor, we really have a good life and I have no complaints. I take a minimalist and simple living approach, will eat road kill if I hit something with my car, fish, grow a garden, forage wild foods and do what we can.

    There was a time we went without furniture, to get back to Michigan after trying North Carolina for a year we sold everything and only kept what would fit in the trunk of our car to get back.

    When it comes to possesions, it is only stuff and I learned not to be attatched for as long as you own “stuff” you can sell quite a bit of stuff to make money, whether it is to raise money to move somewhere cheaper or to pay a bill. You will find you really only need a few things to live day to day.

    If it ever came down to no money at all? I have the skills so I truly would sell everyting I owned and go off disappearing into the wilderness and fining some abandoned cabin somwhere………..or build my own shelter somewhere in the deep remote wilderness

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    • @Poor to Rich a Day at a Time: I realise that this may sound shallow, but thanks for sharing. Your story is touching and motivating at the same time.I hope the situation improves soon; your son comes back home, your husband gets a job and you get your most charished desire. Thinking of you!

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  8. That same statement would also hurt my heart too if I heard it from a family member! I know what it’s like because I, too, had to move back in with my parents when I graduated college. I couldn’t do anything but stay home and job hunt, so it really made it seem like I couldn’t do anything. I was just grateful they let me stay there for awhile. When I finally got a job I made sure to protect myself just in case I was in that situation again. Times are tough everywhere, and I never thought about this situation before. You always think that things will be temporary, but sometimes you have to deal with the situation if it’s on-going.

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    • From Shopping to Saving: Our oldest son was unemployed for four years after university – all he wanted was to teach little kids (which, let’s face it, is not very usual for young men) and he would have been really good at it. Now he is working (not as a teacher but in a bank; still it is an ethical one at least) but he wrote an article for this blog – To be is to do. You may be interested to see it.

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  9. I would sell all the things I could and then see where that left me. I would also browse the paper for different jobs that I could do simultaneously. I would also work as much as much as a could for a finite set of time. I couldn’t keep it up forever but I would work hard to give myself a bit of a cushion.

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  10. i lived in poverty for soo long. for years, 18 years. having to walk 20 miles.daily to go and from school, no money for  travel. eating once a day. no hand outs -ups.  having shoes with holes, and having no possesions just some ill fitting clothes.. and shared accomodation on a notorious council estate. and yes fighting off people trying rob or fight me in the process. 
    past the 18th year i got jobs of which i could  get be it part time work at retail stores  minimun wage, plus any over time i could get (8 hours weekly contracted). promoter of theatres, (£5 every ticket you sell), buying tickets for theatre ( £1 every ticket you get). being a minicab controller for a small firm. (£50 a day).  being a waiter and a porter for private fine dining catering events (£90 per day). to being a gardener (£10 an hour). and of course selling phones, mp3, game consoles, yu gi oh cards, magazines,  bikes, shisha botttles,and middle manning anything to get a gain be it small or big. all of that to get out poverty

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  11. its easy to say sell everything you got when you have something to sell when you have nothing it gets a whole harder i worked an 60hour week till my exhusband tryed to take my kids then my dad got gangreene i took care of him till he passed away kept a sex offender from taking my 3 girls but havent a dime of money not for lack of trying to find a job i know what its like to have to chose between food or power my kids are still small i have no one to watch my kids while i work if i could find a job their father its in jail while i have to try and feed the kids what do you do when youre really broke try and smile anyway wipe the tears away and keep onkeeping on there has to be away to change life but how

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    • @Willy: Um. You see, my experience may be different from yours. This doesn’t mean I have no clue about life; in fact, it may mean that I’m better at figuring life out and living my life. It also doesn’t mean that what I know and do is not applicable in different situations. Just saying.

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  12. Having reached the age where my family are dead, I was going to say my nearest friend is over 70 miles away but they’ve stopped talking to me – so the nearest is probably 150 miles away; having been unemployed for over a year I’m definitely feeling unwanted in the job market (I’m sure my age isn’t helping) and I’ve finally run out of money, so I’ve made my decision. I am selling everything I own, including some clothes, to pay the bills. I’m making plans to kill myself as painlessly as possible. I’ve done my research and I just need enough money to get my hands on the drugs I need. I haven’t had to worry about money in a very long time, and I admire those people that say they will clean toilets to make a dollar. You can call me arrogant or stupid if you like, but I’m not going to take a dreadful job with terrible money simply because they know I’m desperate, knowing that yes, I can pay the bills and eat, but the food I’m buying is the cheapest, reduced to clear, there’s no prospect of treating myself to the smallest luxury; I don’t drink, or smoke and I sold the tv last year. A holiday! Ha, fat chance of that. To those of you with family, friends and or dependents I applaude you for your spirit and determination. But I’m sure I won’t be missed when I’m dead, so I want ‘an escape route’.

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    • @Anonymous: Do you know what I think? I think there is no trouble in life – money or other – that justifies ending it all. Please talk to someone before you do something final. And I’m very sorry that you feel so cornered and unwanted. Please let me know what would change your mind (you can send me a private message, if you wish).

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    • Please don’t give up. I would like to say things will get better, but I’m not God. I am where you are since, I have thought about ending it all too. No money, but lots of debt. Surely there must be a reason for our suffering, and I’m not just speaking of financial loss. I’m talking about the loss of joy, love…hope. That is the worst. It’s lonely getting old and thinking no one gives a damn. I agree with you that society doesn’t care about us older folks too much. But as long as there is a spark of life still left in you, reach out to me as a friend, and we can discuss our difficulties and commiserate on life. I believe you are important, so I am counting on you to message me. That goes for anyone else who feels lost or sad. I’m a fellow traveler, like you, trying to navigate, at times, in total darkness. I’m lost, but see that flicker of light ahead in the distance? Could it be a glimmer of hope? Could we give it a go?

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  13. If you have NO money how the hell do you make sure you have enough food in the house for 4 weeks and as for babysitting that is a joke you need to know someone who needs a babysitter and given the situation at the moment I doubt anyone can afford to have a babysitter plus they would not need one anyway as they have no where to go

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    • @P.Gilks: Building up food store cupboard can be done very gradually. A friend of mine built one when she was on very low income (check her site, Mortgage Free in Three). As to babysitting, I checked my post – this was not brought forward as a favoured option; if an option at all. You are the only one who can decide waht you can do to – I can just give ideas and examples. Sorry, you seem to be having a hard time of it; this is an exceptional time for all of us. Maybe, we should all focus on surviving the next several weeks and only after that revisit this matters.

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  14. So the advice is to make you have groceries for a few months which would be bought with eeerrrrr….no money. Always have cash when you have eeerrrrr….no money. Gosh, the advice is so pathetic and honestly helps no one.

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    • @Rakhee: Not that hopeless and I had to do all these approximately ten years ago. When you have no money, your objective is not to stay that way but to gradually, step by step get yourself to a position where your situation is improved. I have a friend who very gradually created a store cupboard on a very low income – she just put aside something that keeps every week. Always have cash goes hand to hand with looking around for something that will provide/increase your income…this can be anything someone is prepared to pay you to do. If you feel that you may wish to talk about this, please e-mail me through the e-mail address under contacts – I’ll do all I can to help you navigate this difficult times.

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  15. Hello, I just read some of your comments on this post. I would like to say that not everyone is capable of doing these things. Can’t borrow from family when you don’t have family. If you are like me you don’t have anything worth selling. Living on a disability means that I can’t work. Then there is no formal education, no skills or talents that can help. My whole life has been a financial crisis. Some of my earliest memories are of wondering if I’ll get to eat any time soon. As for education,training, that costs a lot of money. Example; I looked into the idea of getting my forklift license a couple of years ago. What a shock to discover the 75 dollar per hour cost. Not counting the cost of transportation to and from. A writing course, 120 dollars per hour. Sometimes having no money means you can’t get out of poverty. Thanks for trying and God Bless You, in Jesus name, Amen

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    • @Kenneth: I am so sorry to be writing so late – had been really snowed under with other things and, let’s face it, this pandemic is not doing any of us any good (me included). Thanks for sharing a bit about your situation and I hope that what I write, and try to help others with, has made you continue figuring it out. Not all I propose can be applied by everyone, I agree. Please if you’d like a ‘bouncing’ board write to me privately. The art is to get a foothold somewhere – it may be relatives, it may be friends, it may be doing something that no one else will do for some time so you earn yourself a bit a breather.

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  16. Hey, I just read your article and it gave me somehow hope to keek trying, I’m 23 years old, lost my job sold everything I had(still have to lie about it to my sisters) and recently I had to move back to my mothers house. its tough to admit but am broke!

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    • @Mario: Sorry to hear that but we live in very difficult times. What has happened to you is not shameful and you have no reason to hide what you’ve done. It is probably time, however, to start thinking about what you would do next. And be focused, confident, and patient.

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    • @Mario: You said it all – you are broke and this is temporary. Hard to admit but with a little support you will pull through. Think about what you can do and people will pay you for it; go out there and knock on some door. Let me know how it is going and if you need to talk privately email me.

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