Everyone goes through hard financial times. It could be because of a job loss, or illness, unexpected changes, divorce, or even a global pandemic. The greatest financial skill you can learn is how to adjust your finances to fit your situation. Over the years I have developed what is now the signature system in my business. It’s called the Bulletproof Budget Method. It is so named because it takes any financial situation and helps you develop a plan to get through it. I first started using this when I was just past the edge of my homeless phase. I use it still today.
The reason this system is so freaking powerful is you can use it over and over. I know people promise that a lot – I’m not naive – but it’s been working for me for 20 years. It’s worked through hunger, 2 divorces, evictions, lawsuits, health crises, loads of debt, two home purchases, and more. I create this system when going through my own hard financial times – so I know it works!
Because we are going through unprecedented hard financial times I want to give you a sneak peek. This way you can start putting it to use for yourself. Because, yes, this is my business. I do this work to pay my own bills, but more than anything else I want you to be ok. I am in business to help people. Period. So here we go.
Get through hard financial times Step 1: Organize
The first thing you must do to get through hard times financially is to get yourself organized. You need to know what you have coming in, what bills you have and the debt you owe. It really doesn’t take much more than gathering it all together and writing it down.
Get through hard financial times Step 2: Optimize
Once you are organized the next step to optimize anything and everything you can. When you are having hard times financially you need to make some adjustments. So what do I mean by optimize
- Reduce your monthly bills
- Check assistance options – you would be shocked at the number of programs available for different things. I have personally used assistance programs for medical bills, student loan payments, phone bills, electric, insurance premiums, and groceries. Don’t feel like you are taking advantage – these programs exist to help you out when you need them. Yes, you have to qualify and do a bit of research but if it saves you in a hard time financially then it’s worth it!
- Assess your tax withholdings – make sure you are not sending in any more taxes than necessary. Are you one of those folks who likes to claim “0” and then get a big refund later? This is not the time for that, my friend. Waiting to get a big refund will not help you through hard financial times. You need money in your pocket now. Adjust those withholdings! Use this withholding calculator to keep you on the right track
- Rearrange your bill due dates so they flow better with your paychecks – this is often something people totally don’t realize. You can move your due dates as long as it’s within the same month. Many people struggle unnecessarily because their bills all fall together at a certain time of the month. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Pro-tip for getting through hard financial times
Depending on your circumstances, you may have to get a bit nit-picky on reducing your bills. Don’t overlook anything. Those $ 10 savings by reducing your data plan on your phone? Do it. $15 bucks to eliminate music streaming? Cancel it. This phase won’t last forever – you are focused on survival right now. You need food, water, shelter, power, and likely transportation to get to work. That’s it.
Sound too extreme? Perhaps, maybe you don’t need to cut back much to make the numbers work. Just don’t walk into this hard time financially thinking your lifestyle can remain the same. I want the best for you and normally I ALWAYS promote including pleasure goals and fun things in your budget. Please know this season will turn the corner much sooner if you dig in and make a solid plan now.
When your needs are simple. You need less. Anonymous
Getting through hard financial times Step 3: Outsmart
Ok, so you’ve organized and reduced your bills as much as humanly possible while still attending to your basic needs. Next, it’s time to see what you can do to increase your income. I bet you wonder why I didn’t start with this huh?
I didn’t start with increasing your income because it is an area you have much less control over. You can get yourself organized, you can reduce your bills as listed above. For many, pulling in corporate paychecks pay is not something we have as much control over. It is intensely frustrating to try and manage your finances by starting with an area largely outside of your control.
The reason this step is called ‘outsmart’ is because it’s not about asking for a raise. If your having a hard time financially because of an economic downturn, asking for a raise is likely to result in frustration. So we are going to talk about outsmarting your income in other ways. Namely, we are going to focus on the main resources you have to monetize:
- Things you own
Getting through hard financial times Outsmart – breakdown further
Let me break this down a bit more with a few examples for each category to get your juices flowing. Remember you are looking for ways to increase your income.
- Things you own – see what’s lying around the house and sell online (FB marketplace, Craigslist, etc.), consider selling a vehicle if it makes sense for you (this also reduces insurances bills), sell mature plants you don’t want in your yard (chances are they will even come to dig them out for you)
- Space – do you have a spare room? consider renting it out for a short period of time. Do you have space to store things like an RV pad but no RV, offer it up for rent. Got a big yard? Consider renting out space in it for someone who would like to garden. Got an extra seat in your car? Start carpooling to work in exchange for gas money. Get creative!
- Time – sign up to deliver groceries (huge right now during COVID-19), join a ride-share service or food delivery service, ask for overtime at work if you can. Use this tool but don’t burn yourself out using this one.
- Expertise – what skills do you have people would pay for? Can you play an instrument? Offer lessons. Can you code on a computer? Offer web services. Can you fix cars? Offer to do so for a friend in need (they save money over taking it to a shop and you get something too!) Can you cook? Offer cooking classes. Make a list of every single thing you can do and consider what you could do to make a little side money with that skill. You might consider it basic but for every simple skill, there is someone else out there who struggles with it.
Getting through hard financial times step 4: Overcome
This is where you put it all together. This is where this having hard times financially really starts to happen less and less. You’ve organized, reduced your bills, increased your income; now it’s time to create a new budget. Use my free budget template to write it all out in its new form and see where you are at NOW. You will be in one of three places:
- Your bills are still more than your income – repeat steps 2 and 3 until this changes. Get drastic.
- You now have enough for bills but not much more – congrats! This has you well on your way to success! Tweak steps 2 and 3 as needed until you start having more and more margin (income vs bills) so you can start saving and getting ahead. If this is as far as you get right now it is enough. Truly. You just need to make it through this season.
- You have more income than bills – Victory! Now you have the chance to put extra margin to good use to secure an even bright financial future where this hard time financially won’t hit you so hard the next time.
Once you have the margin above your bills it’s time to start saving. If you haven’t read my guide on how to save money and what you should be saving for, you can get it here. Set up your savings categories and start funding them. In hard financial times, I would start with an emergency fund then move on to others. Once you are getting that goal funded you can consider investments, property, and using your money to make money.
These are all steps for the future. If you are having hard times financially and you find a way to pay your bills without going under, honestly, you’ve won! Give yourself a huge pat on the back because that’s what it takes to ride out the storm. Adjust, trial, adjust, test, adjust.
Rinse and repeat for future hard financial times
The beauty of the Bulletproof Budget Method is it is repeatable. I don’t even pretend it will “fix” your finances once and for all – and frankly, any person who says so is lying to you. Your financial situation is always going to be fluid. You go through solid periods, periods of less and periods of plenty. Pretending you can use the same budget during each of these times is frustrating and will only lead you toward failure. That’s why the Bulletproof Budget Method is a process, a repeatable system you can bust out any old time you need it.
Every time your situation changes you just go through the 4 steps and you’re set.