How do you survive when there is not enough money? What will you do with your first unemployment check? How will you stay alive? What will you have to do?

  1. Your most valuable resource is not money. It is social capital. Social capital consists of friends, family, coworkers, and support systems. Why? Because when all else is gone, it is people who help keep you alive. After Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, researchers looked at what it was that allowed some people in financial poverty to survive while other people did not. It was social capital. Develop your social capital. Who are you going to text every day? Who are you going to check on? With whom are you going to do virtual social get-togethers? Virtual happy hours? With whom will you go out in the street and dance while you keep a safe social distance?
  2. Do a plan-backward money list. In other words, you work backward. Always start with rent/mortgage. (Unless you are at the level of basic survival, and then you start with food.) Let’s say your unemployment is $350 a week times four times a month—$1,400. Start there. Now subtract your rent or mortgage payment. If your rent is $1,000 a month, you now have $400 left. Under new laws in many places, you cannot be evicted for the next two months. If you can’t make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, check local legislation and try working with your landlord or mortgage company. Your cell phone is next. How much is that? You can save money here by getting a basic prepaid plan. Next is food. What is the least amount of money for food per week? What is absolutely essential? Make food from scratch. It is cheaper. For example, one can of black beans, one can of chopped tomatoes, and one can of corn mixed together has all the same amino acids and protein as in meat. Then utilities. How much are they? Transportation? Keep subtracting. Is there any money you can save?
  3. If you use a cash budget, use an envelope system for your money. You have one envelope for rent/mortgage, one for food, one for phone/cable/utilities, one for transportation, one for medical or childcare or other, and one for savings. Put cash in each month. On the outside of the envelope, write how much money has to be put in that envelope each month or week. If you borrow from food to pay rent, you have to put a piece of paper in the rent envelope to say you owe the food envelope that amount of money.
  4. Stack your bills. Put on the bottom of the pile the bill you just paid. Only pay each bill every 60–90 days. If you pay rent/mortgage, you skip a month. Then you pay. You cycle your bills. Your credit report will indicate that you are late on payments, but they typically do not take anything away unless you are more than 90 days overdue.
  5. Learn to barter. There will be some sharing, but be careful how you share. Learn to barter. You can barter for time, for money, for food, to do repairs, etc. Survival economies always stay alive by bartering. Bartering allows for mutual respect. There is a rule here that is always true: If one person always gives and the other person always takes, eventually both sides hate each other.
  6. There is a huge amount of social capital in religious and spiritual institutions. If you are not associated with one, become associated with one. They are tremendous resources, and in the hard research, they do more to get individuals out of homelessness than any other institution. And they bring faith and hope, two key survival skills.

If you are not sure how to survive in poverty, develop social capital with someone who has survived in poverty. Trust me. They know how to do it.