52 Week Savings Challenge: What if I don’t have any money to save?

What if you don’t have any money to save? It’s frustrating when you want to build up a stash of cash but never seem to have the money to put aside. Then you wonder what to do. Do you give up and forget about saving? Do you skip it this week and double up next week? What’s the best approach?

What should I do if I don't have any money to save? | A Chat Over Coffee

I would suggest that the best thing to do is to step back, ask yourself a few hard questions, and figure out why you don’t have any money to save.

1. Is this “no money to save” situation rare, or does it happen all of the time?

How often do you find yourself in the position of having “nothing to save” or “nothing left to save”? If you are approaching it as “nothing left to save” then the approach may be the problem. Saving needs to happen first (as we chatted about here) or it’s likely that the money will all be spent before anything reaches savings.

If having “nothing to save” is rare, then it’s likely you can easily identify what was different about this financial cycle and can take steps to alleviate the problem. Some unexpected expenses may be just that, unexpected expenses that are unlikely to happen again. Other expenses may catch us off guard, but then we learn that we need to plan (budget) for them in the future. For example, cars break down, appliances die, and kids need new clothes when they grow. These things aren’t unexpected. We know they’ll happen. It’s just a matter of when. Having a “repair” fund in the plan (budget) keeps these regularly irregular expenses from derailing savings.

2. Do you have a written budget? If so, do you actually live according to your written budget?

This question may be harder to answer honestly. If you have a written budget and are living by it, then you may need to reevaluate your budget to be more realistic for the stage of life you’re in. You may need to set different priorities and make different decisions about your spending in order to have the money to save.

If you have a written budget that is merely a mental exercise which is never actually executed, then you should start living out the budget you’ve planned. Stop carrying credit cards and debit cards and work on a cash-only basis using the envelope system.

Write out your budget for each pay period, keeping in mind the dates that money will be coming and and will need to go out. | A Chat Over Coffee

How does the envelope system work? Put your food budget, in cash, in one envelope. Put your gas money in another envelope. Put your entertainment money, your clothing money, your whatever-you-spend-on money, in separate envelopes. When you purchase food, spend only the cash in the food envelope. When you want to buy cute shoes, use only the cash in the clothing envelope. When you want to go out for entertainment and find the envelope is out of cash, you’ll need to do something free or stay home until the next pay period when you have budgeted more money to fill the envelope back up.

If you operate with cash instead of credit cards you’ll stop absent-mindedly accumulating debt and you’ll have a solid visual cue when the money is running out. There will be no “accidentally” spending the gasoline budget on entertainment, which can happen with a debit card. If you do choose to spend the entire food budget on one fancy restaurant meal, you’ll see it happen and know why you have nothing left to buy groceries, much less save. And by the way, that’s another reason you should save first, so you’re not tempted to spend it!

3. Is there a situation outside of your control that’s preventing saving?

Sometimes you work out the budget and live the budget and life just kind of happens. Hopefully you have a repair fund for car repairs and appliance replacement and an emergency fund for life’s other surprises. Even with that, sometimes life happens in a big way with an unexpected major illness, job loss, or other situation that forces you to trim all of the extras out of the budget, be thankful for your emergency fund, and just hang on for the ride. You can get back to your savings plan when the crisis is over.*

But if we’re honest, there are times when we want to treat things like they’re outside of our control when they actually are within it. I can choose to buy a new car on credit or a used car with cash. I can choose to eat out or cook at home, and when I cook at home I can choose what to cook, where to shop, and how I’ll shop (sales and coupons, yay!). I can choose to tell my children “no” sometimes or I can give them everything they ask for, whether I can afford it or not.

What if I have nothing to save? | A Chat Over Coffee

Now, there’s nothing inherently evil about a nice car or eating in restaurants or buying things for my children sometimes. But if I have a car payment and run up my credit cards in nice restaurants but have no emergency fund or other savings, and then the roof leaks…whose fault is it that I have no money to fix it? The point is not to avoid all manner of fun stuff. The point is to be smart about how and when to have fun, because having a leaky roof or sudden illness or other crisis is definitely not fun, and it’s even more un-fun when you’re broke!**

Friends, I know what bad financial decisions look like because I’ve made them and watched my friends make them. I’ve also learned from them, spent many years making better decisions, and am trying to keep others from repeating my mistakes. You won’t regret making sacrifices and saving now. You will regret it if you encounter a crisis with an empty bank account.

4. Do you need to find a better source of income?

If saving is consistently impossible despite careful budgeting, living a lifestyle within the budget, and making solid choices whenever possible, you may simply have insufficient income. That may seem obvious, but we can often feel like we should be doing better or living more frugally when that just isn’t realistic. Groceries cost money. Medicine costs money. Housing costs money. And adequate income is needed to cover all of those basics.

I’ve been blessed to be able to stay home and educate my children as they grew up. It hasn’t been easy. There are lots of places we didn’t go and things we didn’t do because we simply couldn’t afford it. Jay & I decided that those sacrifices were worth it in order that we might bring up, educate, and influence our children ourselves.

Why Bother To save money when I can only afford to save a little? | A Chat Over Coffee

There were also times that I took on part-time jobs that provided a little extra income. What’s funny is that those part-time jobs generally came to me rather than me chasing them. What’s amazing is that the opportunities seemed to come at just the times we needed them.

How and where to find extra income is outside the scope of this post, but a quick internet search will yield lots of ideas. I’ve earned money over the years by writing, babysitting, painting (walls), and selling crafts.

So if you don’t have any money to save, you’ll first want to figure out why. With that established, your course of action may include getting on a budget (more on that here), setting and living according to different priorities, making better decisions, and possibly looking for a new or better source of income.

As they say, “Adulting is hard.” Nor is it always fun. Sometimes we endure a little pain (staying home instead of going out) now to avoid a bigger pain (being unable to afford necessary home repairs) or gain a bigger reward (retire in style) later. But making the smaller sacrifices to save now is worth it! Don’t give up!

What should I do if I don't have any money to save? | A Chat Over Coffee

If you have been successful $ta$hing Ca$h, please comment and tell us how you are doing it!

*If you’re dealing with a crisis right now, please don’t give up! I’d encourage you to ask your pastor what resources may be available from your church. Your pastor may also be able to refer you to community resources or support groups in addition to any assistance the church may offer.

**If you’re dealing with a crisis resulting from poor decisions, I’d encourage you to ask your pastor for help. Hopefully the church resources will include assistance and training to avoid a future crisis and not just a bandage approach to get through the current difficulties.

This is the part where I remind you that I’m not a financial advisor, just a mom who is sharing her experience in the spirit of having a chat with a friend over a cup of coffee. Your investment results may vary from the examples given. If you require financial or investment advice, please seek the counsel of a professional advisor.

I moderate comments manually but will get them posted as quickly as possible. Please keep your comments kind and if you must disagree please do so without being disagreeable. Rude or inappropriate comments will obviously not be published.

Update: This post was shared at Totally Terrific Tuesday #120, Family Joy Blog Link Up Party #54, Together on Tuesdays #116, The Art of Home-Making Mondays #144, Happiness is Homemade #158 and Share the Wealth Blog Hop #93.

This post was featured at Together on Tuesdays #117.


9 responses to “52 Week Savings Challenge: What if I don’t have any money to save?

  1. Very practical advice. Finances make my brain hurt. I really struggle to grasp control of my financial habits. A lot of the time, my lack of understanding leads me to making poor spending decisions. Thank you for sharing some great ways to double check my thinking.
    Happy Tuesday!
    Together on Tuesdays linkup!


  2. I have to say, we’ve been in that boat a while. Hubby has been disabled for years (hurt on the job working as RN) and the disability income is barely enough to cover bills and very basic necessities, and in the extreme weather months (mid winter and mid summer) there’s a very low food budget in order to make sure utilities are paid. It’s extremely hard to save when there’s nothing left after paying necessary rent/utilities/insurance/etc and feed 3 special needs teenagers. I’d love to have a large savings account on the standby ready in case of emergency. I dream of that actually. But how do you do it when there’s nothing left after everything is tended to?


    • Thanks for commenting, Sunny Patch Cottage. Situations like yours are the kind that give me pause when I consider writing articles like this one. You clearly have a lot on your plate, and that’s a major understatement, and it sounds like you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances. You have my total respect for making tough choices and managing to maintain your “sunny patch” in spite of the hardships.

      I have, over the years, known some folks (my younger self included) who were in much better circumstances than yours but weren’t making the best decisions. This article is intended to encourage them to make wiser choices and to take responsibility for their financial lives. You’re already doing that. And if you’re doing all you can do, then that’s all you can do. My preacher husband mentioned in Sunday’s sermon that we go as far as we can, then we take one step further because of what God can do, which is walking by faith. It sounds like you’re there.

      I hope you have a church family to help you and I would encourage you to speak to your pastor about resources that may be available. For example, our church maintains a community food pantry and there are many people who will help the church family with transportation to doctor’s visits, meals, and whatever they can do. Does your utility company offer budget billing, meaning they average out your bill over the year to avoid the mid-winter and mid-summer spikes? That might allow you a little more room in your food budget at those peak utility times. And if you can manage to drop some change in a jar every so often and watch the jar fill up, it’s a nice visible encouragement as well as a small emergency fund for groceries and what-not.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your situation. I intend to encourage with each post, but in your case I really wish I had a magic wand I could wave to make things easier for you. Instead I’ll remind you that you are doing a great job managing a tough situation, even on the days when you may not feel like you’re doing very well, and pray that the Lord will provide even more abundantly.

      Does anyone else have a helpful suggestion? Kindness and encouragement for this sweet friend would be appreciated!


    • I have read this over and over so I can reply properly. I don’t want to, and hope I don’t, sound critical. It is harder writing then having a face to face conversation.

      1) Being disabled does not preclude someone from acquiring a job. The Department of Vocational Rehab would be a good place to start. With an RN degree there are many non-physical jobs that could be found, such as the on-line/phone “nurse direct” lines set up through hospitals and insurance companies to field and answer questions.

      2) Even while collecting disability there is still an amount of income you can earn. It is not an either or situation. I think it is about 19,000 per year before it affects the disability benefits.

      3) As Leigh suggested the utility should be contacted to get the billing averaged out. Also there are federal government energy assistance programs for low income that could/should be contacted.

      4) Our church gave up it’s food pantry when it consolidated with a number of other churches. The much larger pantry now “pays” its workers in food shares. With your 3 children in school that leaves a good portion of the day available for something like that which would add food and other items to your pantry.

      5) Again, with 3 children all in school, there are many places that hire mothers with school age children to work with that kind of schedule…McDonalds, Starbucks are 2 that I know of and those are all over.

      6) You don’t mention growing your own food and I did look at your blog and did not see it mentioned there either. You mentioned selling at the farmer’s market but that sounded more like craft stuff. If you don’t have land there is information on the internet about making planters out of 5 gallon pails. We have an older couple at church that grows around 40-50 tomato plants this way every summer. Gardening is also a great activity to get children involved in. If the buckets and or beds are raised to the proper height the disabled person could tend them too. My patio garden is all raised beds with a brick surface around them so I don’t have to bend and I have the hard surface to walk on. ( I hear the buckets are free for the asking at bakeries…that is what I hear though I have no first hand knowledge of that.) The bulk of our garden is inaccessible to me so that is tended by the rest if the family.

      7) My last suggestion is go to a mostly vegetarian diet…eat low on the food chain as they say. It is healthy, filling and cheaper. Meat and fish could be more of an accessory.

      Maybe you’ve tried some or all of these, I don’t know, but maybe even one bit of it would give you an inch or two more income. Best wishes to you and your family.


  3. What a great post! Your ideas will really help, and I like the last information. If you need financial training, the sooner the better for learning. Thanks so much for linking up at Together on Tuesdays 🙂


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