How Much Money Do You Have Left?

When was the last time you had no money left? I mean that, literally. NO MONEY.

Nothing in your bank account. Nothing in your wallet. No emergency $20 hidden under your mattress. Nothing in a piggy bank or the cup holder in your car. Nothing until payday – which could still be days or maybe even weeks away.

While I hope that no one is ever in this situation, I know that people are.

Because I have been one of these people myself.

From Super Saver to Super Broke

Years ago, if you were to ask me how much money I had left, I wouldn’t have fully understood what you meant. Because I always had at least some money left.

(Whether I was willing to spend that money or not is another story.)

I’ve always been a saver. As a child, I had money in my piggy bank and in my bank account. Even as a university student, at one point, I somehow had saved $10,000. 

And then I was laid off. It was years before I found a good (and good-paying) full-time job again. At one point, I was working three part-time jobs simultaneously just to try to get by. My husband was working an “on-call” position at the time, where he could work 60 hours one week and 0 the next. (With the promise that the “permanent full-time hours” were coming soon…)

The question of “How much money do you have left?” basically became how my husband and I budgeted.

Not because we wanted to. Because we had to.

In our first few years together, our combined annual income ranged from about $38,000 to $70,000 USD. (And yes, that’s for 2 people.)

So budgeting in any sort of consistent way other than the “what’s left?” approach was impossible.

But it worked. And we survived.


The “How Much Money Do You Have Left?” Budget

If you find yourself financially stretched, it is critical to figure out how to best spend the money you do have left. That last $20 can disappear in a snap! But if you budget it carefully, it can feed you for another few days.

For the most part, the “how much money is left” budget is exactly like any other budget. It’s a plan for how you’re going to spend your money, whether that’s $5,000 or $500.

It’s just a lot more erratic, reactive, and probably more depressing than the more traditional budgets are.

But it isn’t complicated.

There are only 5 steps to the process:

  1. Figure out how much money you have until your next pay-day
  2. Make a list of what your spending priorities are (such as shelter and food)
  3. Rank them by importance
  4. Note due dates and try your best to meet them to avoid paying late fees
  5. Put your money towards your priorities in order until you don’t have any money left

If you do happen to have money left over (and you’ve double-checked that your math is correct) –  great! Use that money in a smart way. Catch up anywhere you’ve fallen behind. Get ahead with one of your top priorities. Set it aside in a savings account. Pay off some of your debt. Heck, buy yourself something nice! (Within reason, of course!)

Otherwise, you will likely need to repeat this process regularly. Maybe even daily. Because your priorities will change, especially as the money disappears and the stress on your finances increases.

Spending $10 on lunch out might not seem like a big deal one day, but tomorrow, it could mean sacrificing essentials like gas for your car.

When I was in this situation, I would come up with an overall monthly plan and reassess it every payday. But things would periodically change in between. You can’t always predict how much your bills will be or when you have an unexpected sick day, so you have to be flexible!


It’s a Terrible Approach But Might Be Necessary 

The “how much money do you have left” approach to managing your money is not ideal, but when you are living paycheck to paycheck like we were, it might be the only choice you have. 

Be prepared to have some real ups and downs with it.

Sometimes all our bills were paid, the kitchen was well stocked, and we still had money left. 

Other times, when things were at their worst, we would have no money left, only a day or two after being paid. 

When that happened, we’d scrounge together whatever loose change we could find. We had to decide which bill were we going to have to skip paying that month. We would dig to the bottom of our freezer and to the back of our pantry to put together whatever meals we could. Several times we humbly had to ask family for help so that we could eat or put gas in the car. 

At one point, everything lined up horribly, and we literally had ZERO income for over a month. Our savings accounts were drained, our credit was beyond maxed out, and we had exhausted all of our backup options. 

The only thing that saved us was one of the many “make extra money online” options. (So yes, there is some real value to them!) I was able to make $140 over the span of a month – $10 at a time.

$140 isn’t much, especially when it’s got to last 2 people for a month. But it undoubtedly saved us when we were in a desperate situation. 

Most of the time, however, we fell somewhere in the middle. The essentials were covered, but anything extra (including paying down our debt or putting any money into savings) was far out of reach.

The truth is, we still pretty much live paycheck to paycheck. Any disruption to our finances, like a missed paycheck or hefty car repairs, would significantly hinder our ability to cover our basic living expenses. 


It’s Not Just You

Unfortunately, this situation is not unique by any means. 

Many people have very little to no money left over after paying for their essential needs, housing costs, and bills. 

Like the 38% of Americans who have less than $100 in their bank account. Or the 18% that doubt they can pay their monthly bills in full.

Or they might find themselves in an emergency situation that unexpectedly drains their bank account or maxes out their credit card. 


What’s Next?

Hopefully, if you find yourself needing to follow the “how much money do you have left?” budget, it’s only temporary. But as I learned, “temporary” can still mean a few years. 

So whether you suddenly find yourself worrying about how much money you have left or you’ve been living this way for a while, you need to be thinking about what’s next – what you can and must do to get your finances back on track – or better yet, to get ahead. 

If you’re in survival mode, there may not be much else you can do at the moment but survive. But that doesn’t mean you should just accept the situation you’re in, either.

Start identifying and addressing the circumstances that led you here. Don’t ignore them!

You won’t be able to overcome your financial issues if you aren’t clear as to what they even are. So you need to identify exactly what the underlying problem is.

It could be something that should only be a temporary set-back, like you’ve recently lost your job and are trying to find a new one. Or you’re adjusting to a big lifestyle change, like having a baby or going through a divorce.

Maybe you’ve been living above your means for some time and didn’t realize just how much you’ve been over-spending.

Or you’re carrying a lot of high interest debt.

Or you have a money disorder. (Side note – this is a GREAT article that I think everyone should read regardless of their financial situation.)

Research and explore your options. 

Are there government supports available to you? 

Do you need to move to somewhere more affordable? Or sell your car and get a bus-pass instead? 

What do you need to do to get a promotion at work or to get a better paying job? Do you need to go back to school or learn a new skill?

How can you make more money (even if it is only $10 at a time)?

Although it can feel like you are stuck in a hopeless situation, you can overcome living this way. But it will take time, effort, and smart decisions.

Focus on surviving. Identify the source of your financial problems. Start making positive changes to fix them. And one day you will have money left in your budget instead.


YOUR TURN: Have you ever had no money left? What did you do to improve your finances? Please leave a comment and let us know!

Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN,, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

1 thought on “How Much Money Do You Have Left?”

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever literally had $0 left, but we came close a lot of times (back when I was still married) and my husband was on unemployment and I was on disability. We would get paid weekly, so we’d keep the bare minimum out and throw everything possible at the credit card/student loan debt. So there were weeks where it got pretty close to the wire. And there was a month just a couple of months ago when I had something like $50 left in my accounts before my check finally came. Now, you can do a lot with $50 if it comes down to it. And I had credit cards to fall back on. But it was harrowing nonetheless.


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