Steps you can take when no money is coming in

Surviving a Financial Dry Spell

by Barbara Frank

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Whether you are laid off from your job without advance warning, or sales at the business you own come to a screeching halt, it can be a quite a shock to discover that you suddenly have no money coming in.

In our case, a manufacturing recession affected my husband's business as a designer in the plastics industry. For the previous six years, he had never been without work, and he made enough money as sole breadwinner to keep our family of six comfortable. Then one day, the work stopped. His clients had nothing for him; in fact, many were laying off their own people.

At first, he continued to write himself a paycheck each week, but as it became obvious that no work was on the horizon, he stopped. He needed to keep enough money in reserve to pay taxes and health insurance. We would need to live off of our savings.

It would be six months before my husband would find more work, and during that time, we learned to take our already frugal lifestyle to the next level. For example:

  • Now that my husband had some free time, we increased our use of low- or no-cost entertainment, such as outings to parks and nature preserves, bike rides, videos from the public library, and trips to the local pool after supper (when admission is half-price).
  • We couldn't afford a nice vacation, but we did take some short trips that involved bringing our own food and drinks, and going to museums on their "free" days.
  • My husband kept busy by working around the house. He installed lights, sealed the blacktop driveway and replaced and painted the trim on our house. These jobs would have cost us plenty if we'd hired someone to do them, and they kept him from hanging around his office waiting in vain for the phone to ring.
  • We postponed routine doctor and dentist visits until the money started coming in again.
  • Our teenagers started paying for all of their clothes and grooming items because, as my husband pointed out, "they have an income and we don't" (they both worked part-time).

Then there were the things we didn't do:

  • We didn't eliminate the use of the central air conditioning, even though we pay the highest electric rates in the country, and this dry spell ran from April to October. Running the air on hot days kept us from feeling sweaty and crabby and kept our spirits up.
  • We didn't look at further cost-cutting as drudgery but as a challenge. Our goal was to take the bare minimum out of our savings account each week, and we worked as a team toward that goal.
  • We didn't eliminate charitable giving, especially to our church, though we did reduce it.
  • We didn't fight. It would be easy to get into arguments because of the stress we were under, but we knew it was good for our kids to see us pull together during a tough time.

After six months, the work started to trickle in. It still hasn't bounced back to where it once was, but our habits have kept us in good shape. Looking back, I can see that living frugally during the good years really helped us get through the tough times later on.

If circumstances have put your family in debt, find out how to conquer your debt by creating a plan personalized to your family's budget and lifestyle.

Three things stand out in my mind as being especially helpful.

  1. We could not have survived financially without the savings we had been accumulating for years, and being debt-free except for our mortgage kept us from spending our savings too quickly.
  2. We tried to use what was on hand instead of buying something. For example, late each summer I like to pick up a few marked-down perennials from a local nursery. But during the dry spell, I put my energy into dividing the perennials I already had and trading them with a neighbor instead. This provided the same result at no expense.
  3. Good habits pay off. We weren't used to carrying credit card balances, so we weren't tempted to buy things on credit. We weren't used to recreational shopping, so we didn't face as many temptations in stores.

It's easy to live large while work is plentiful and checks turn up in the mail on a regular basis. But living frugally, even in the good times, is the key to surviving the dry spells that may eventually arrive.

Barbara Frank is a freelance writer/editor, and the author of Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers, a curriculum that prepares teenagers for the adult world with assignments that emphasize traditional values and financial know-how. For more information, visit

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