Part I: How to make a budget when you don't have any income

Assessing your situation and finding potential income when you don't have any.

December 1, 2017 - Author: William V. Hendrian, Michigan State University Extension

Take inventory of your life. How old are you? Have you missed any meals lately? Have you lost sleep? Do you have clothes to wear? Have you gotten a ride, taken a bus, cab, plane, train or driven a car? It has been said that the four pillars or walls of our financial needs are food, shelter, clothing and transportation. If you do not have an income, you may worry about filling these needs.
Tell yourself the good news, that you have made it this far. You have had food to eat, a place to lay your head, clothes to wear and the ability to get from one place to the other. Of course everyone’s level of comfort is different, but the point is that you have fulfilled life’s basic needs in the past, so that is some evidence that you will be able to do so in the future.
Is it possible to live on a budget when you do not have any income? The answer is not easy, but with a plan you may be able to answer this question with an enthusiastic yes!

Focus on your situation, not on others. Did you lose your job? Did your business fail?  Did you get turned down for disability? Brainstorm possible sources of income and take stock of what you already have. Some ideas may include:

  • Reconciling any financial accounts that you may have to see exactly where you stand
  • Taking on a seasonal job
  • Doing odd jobs
  • House sitting
  • Providing childcare
  • Receiving child support or alimony
  • Selling stuff
  • Turning hobbies into extra income
  • Finding and returning cans for the deposit
  • Converting pennies and other saved coins into cash
  • Participating in surveys
  • Receiving a gift (birthday, holiday)
  • Receiving food from a food bank (Yes, consider this income.)
  • Pet watching (especially during the holiday travel seasons)
  • House cleaning
  • Maximize your tax refund and planning for it
  • Seeking out your house of worship for assistance (food, shelter, clothing)
  • Seeking out government assistant programs (cash, food, stuff)
  • Contact 2-1-1 to see if you are eligible for any assistance programs in your community
  • Temporarily settling for a job that you’re way overqualified for

If possible, get help in your brainstorming from a friend, colleague or family member. Others may be able to see opportunities that you missed. This is a multi-part discussion that will be expanded on in my next article. For now, it is important to face the problem so that you can make smart decisions during this time of crisis.

Try to understand your options. Do some research. For example, if you have missed a house payment, what will you do? When you have taken care of your immediate needs for food, shelter, clothing and transportation, it is now time to make a spending plan or budget. We will discuss why and how in the next article. To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).  

Tags: family, homeownership, money management, msu extension

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