Here’s What You Can Do When it Feels Like You Can’t Afford Anything

"I'm just struggling to save up. I can't put any more money away than I already do. I don't think I'll ever be able to move out."

Imagine this scenario: You found a steady job with consistent pay. You're ready to live the good life. However, after a little while you realize something. You still can't afford anything.  Sure, you can go out for dinner a few times per week, but you still can't buy that new car nor can you move out.

What happens when you're not making enough money to live the life that you always wanted?

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What happens when you're broke?

One thing that surprises most of us when we start working is that sometimes a day job doesn’t pay enough to live the good life. You start off excited about your new pay and about the fact that you have real money coming in. You’re ready to take on the world.

Then the bills come in.

Then you decide to go out for beer and wings.

Then you file your taxes.

Then you feel like buying a new car or possibly moving into a better place.

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You realize that you can’t afford your dream life.

It feels like you’re never going to get ahead. You’re never going to have that nice condo. You’re never going to have a fancy new car.

Does it feel like you’re struggling despite finally making steady money?

If there’s one constant that I hear in conversation with friends is the complaints about a lack of money. Most of my friends are educated with decent paying gigs. They just can’t seem to make enough money to move forward and live a better life.

Does this sound familiar?

You’re always working. You’re doing the “right things.” Yet you can’t afford to retire by 40 or to travel every other month. You can barely afford to do anything.

How much should you be making?

[Feeling stuck? Read up on how to add $1,000 to your bank account by next month.]

There’s no magical salary that’s going to make you happy for the rest of your life.

How much you should make to live a decent life depends on two things:

  1. Your location. Where do you live? Are you in an expensive city or a small town? Your location will determine your cost of living.
  2. Your expectations. What do you want out of life? What do you want to be doing? What kind of lifestyle would you like to live?

Here’s what you should have money for:

  • Enough cash flow to cover your fixed and variable expenses. This includes everything from living expenses to your cell phone bill all the way to your premium dating apps.
  • Enough to save up for the future. Do you have any money left over once your expenses are covered? Are you planning for the future? Are you saving up for a rainy day?
  • Enough money to be able to treat yourself occasionally. Are you able to treat yourself once in a while?

If you’re not making enough to save up for the future while trying to enjoy today, then you’re going to have to make more money.

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How do you make more money?

We’ll get into this later. There are many ways to increase your income. The trick is to find a way to use your limited time and energy to make this happen.

This was something that I accepted at 18. I figured that I wouldn’t be able to get everything that I wanted out of one gig because I wasn’t really specialized enough in one topic. I also didn’t want to rely on one source (one employer/one person/one entity) because anything can happen in life and I didn’t want to be boxed into one role for the rest of my life.

Let’s figure out how you can finally get some money in the bank without stressing about paying your rent.

What do you do when you’re not making enough money?

Take a realistic look at your lifestyle.

There’s a huge difference between where you are in life and where you want to be.

I talk to friends who see themselves as being something that they clearly aren’t (yet).

Here are a few harsh questions that you have to honestly answer:

  • Can I really afford to be doing that?
  • Am I making enough money for that kind of a lifestyle?
  • Do I really need to be doing this?
  • Are my skills valuable enough to help me make more money one day?
  • Do I have the potential to earn significantly more money one day with what I’m doing right now?

This leads to an important realization.

There’s no nice way to say this. You could just not be in a position where you’re going to make lots of money in your life with what you’re doing right now.

On that note…

Accept that you’re not making enough money.

Chances are that you’re not bringing in enough money for the lifestyle that you want to be living.

This could be due to a variety of reasons. I’ll take a guess at a few:

  • Your job has limited growth. You had to settle with the first job offer that you landed.
  • Your field doesn’t pay well. You could be in a low-paying field.
  • You’re new to the industry or the job. It could take you a few years to reach your maximum pay.
  • You don’t work enough hours. You’re not asking for extra hours.

I don’t want you to feel guilty about your situation. I just want you to accept that at this point in time you might not be bringing in enough money for that dream life.

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Always remember that everything is not as it appears to be on social media.

You know that friend who’s always traveling? There’s a good chance that they’re financing that lifestyle with credit cards. I bring up this example because I recently found out that a young lady on my social media who was traveling for three months last year actually couldn’t afford it. She financed her trip with credit. When she returned she had to beg a friend to let her stay for free. Then she had to borrow money to make a deposit on a place. She’s in debt while living on a friend’s couch.

If you judged the situation solely on social media, you would’ve been jealous of her because she was visiting cool places around the world while you had to work. In reality, she now has to pay off that trip as she desperately looks for a new job.

Everything isn’t always as it appears to be. This is why I hate sharing ridiculous success stories because we all have unique situations.

Try to be patient.

Don’t worry, I won’t lecture you on patience. I’m as impatient as they come. The thing is that everything takes time. I only live in a downtown condo in my 30s because I spent my 20s writing about personal finance. I’ve been thinking about money management and sharing my best ideas on the topic for over a decade. It still surprises me when friends think that I lucked into my situation. These are the same people who refused to read my articles in 2008. It took me an entire decade to figure out my finances so that I could live comfortably.

All major purchases won’t come quickly. Your parents may have a spacious home today but it may have taken them decades to build up to this level.

Relax and focus on saving up. You’re not going to win the lottery anytime soon.

Try to cut back.

I hate to say this, but sometimes you have to cut back until you get to where you want to be. You can’t have it all at once. You have to say no to most things so that you can say yes to what you really want.

How can you cut back?

  • Go out less.
  • Be realistic with your spending.
  • Keep things simple until you can afford to move out.
  • Spend your weekends working a part-time gig.

Believe me, cutting back isn’t all that exciting. I promise you that it’s worth it when you get what you want (new condo, new car, or just the ability to travel more).

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Find a way to bring in more money.

This is where things get interesting. You have to find a way to make more money. You don’t have to quit your job to chase some ridiculous dream. I’m all about practicality.

Here are practical ways that you can make more money without being an “influencer” or some other random gig:

  • Upgrade your skills with courses offered by your employer.
  • Apply for jobs in a different company.
  • Switch fields. A friend of mine recently took up a trade because it offered more opportunities and higher pay.

Here are my best articles on making more money on your own:

At this point you’re either all in or you’re rolling your eyes. I get it. Being told to work more is annoying. Most people don’t want to do it. The thing is that you have to switch things up if what you’re doing right now isn’t working for you.

I know how pathetic it feels when you’re stuck driving an old car or not able to have everything that you want. It’s important that you keep your eye on the prize and try to focus on saving up for one major purchase at a time as you try to enjoy your life. Nobody has this money thing figured out.

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10 thoughts on “Here’s What You Can Do When it Feels Like You Can’t Afford Anything”

  1. Fuck this article. 40 hours a week should pay for your rent, Gas , electric, water, trash, car insurance, fuel for your commute, health insurance, phone. On 11.00$ an hour you can’t afford to do those things alone, even when you cut back on spending. I have spent the last 2 months in my house avoiding contact with friends and family because it costs money to ‘get a coffee’ or drive to my grandmothers house 45 min out of the city. I have had to stick with my boyfriend of 8 years because financially speaking we can’t survive without each other. I can’t even find a job that pays me 30,000 annually without 2 years of relative experience. I can’t afford to go to school. I can’t afford to pay back old student loans. This article is useless. This country is useless.

    1. Even if you have a job making more than 30k you can barely get by. I work the 40 hours and make 38k, but still can barely get by even living with my boyfriend and including his income. We cut back on EVERYTHING and we still scrape up change to make ends meet. You’re screwed anyways.

  2. My husband graduated from college and he makes $45k a year. I homeschool our two special needs kids. It is financially heartbreaking. I know this article is right. I’ve started an online business with no experience. I’m teaching myself from YouTube videos. Looks like I’m going to make 10-12k my first year in profit. It’s not what I hoped but it’s better than nothing. I saw a study done by MIT that said the living wage for a family of four is $65k. Then you need more if you want to have any savings, retirement, or extra for travel. That matches my calculations. So I’m going to keep trying to build my online business and hope that we get to $65k. In the meantime, it’s heartbreaking that I can’t ever go out to eat and we don’t have enough for Christmas or birthday gifts. Still, I’m thankful to live here where I have the opportunity to start my own business. I lived in the UK for five years and it was even harder for families to make ends meet. The cost of living was so much higher and there was waaay more red tape.

    1. I just wanted to take a second to Congratulate you on your YouTube business and offer some words of encouragement. I raised a family of four on a single income in very expensive California and it was brutal. We were so broke when we started out, it was disheartening. I worked weekends at the computer shows and wrote tech manuals at night. I went to night school for years to get a degree, which bumped up my income. The point I want to make is that you will pull ahead like we did and all of the hard work will pay off. You have put your kids first and that’s the most important thing. The money will come, your husband will get raises and life will get easier. Keep charging ahead.

  3. It’s not easy to just make money without a degree and to start off with that is bad and you should reconsider that as well as be ashamed. I came on here to look for help and instead I’m insulted because apparently I’m stupid for not realizing how easy it is to make more money without a degree. Have you ever hear of there’s only 24hrs in a day? And how can I be patient when rents due? Do you really think I haven’t accepted I don’t make enough money and cut back on spending? MY WHOLE LIFE IS SAYING NO! You literally are speaking to the reader like they are an idiot when in reality whoever wrote this probably was never poor in their life and doesn’t know what they’re talking about. If I’m mistaken then fine but for god sakes at least take it down.

    1. Hey Payton, I’m sorry that you feel insulted. I didn’t grow up rich at all. I come from an immigrant family. The goal of this article is to share resources with the audience for how to make more money. Did you check out any of the options for increasing your income? I’m here to help if you have any specific questions. This has been a rough year for all of us.

  4. Wow, 30 grand a year sounds wonderful. I exist on a disability income of less than 14 grand a year. The poverty line in my area is 52 grand a year. It is impossible to cut back on anything. After rent and bills, I have about $140 a month to pay for everything else. I don’t have any skills or talents to use to make money. Obviously I can’t afford classes/courses to improve my situation. I have read a lot of articles on making extra money or improving ones self, but all of them assume that you have money or skills and talents. What do you do if you are like me, no skills, no talents, no money, no people to help you?

    Thanks and God bless you, in Jesus name, Amen.

  5. You know, I can’t help but be totally fed up with the whole “you’re a hapless, sheltered [Gen-whatever] with no real life skills, just do better” narrative. The only people who read these kinds of articles are people who are genuinely trying to get ahead in life — not go out for wings and beer when the rent is due tomorrow. Absolutely absurd and painfully ironic that this person would tell us how to stretch our dollars when they write as though they don’t know the value of said dollars.

    Stop the virtue signaling, please. It takes money to make money, and you know that. You aren’t saying anything new, you’re just saying what worked for you. That kind of info belongs on a personal blog, next to your opinions about what living “the good life” means. If merely switching things up was the root of all our problems, no one would even be here because that’s the story of our lives.

  6. I think the only thing to truly accept is that for this sort of economy to work, there has to be losers. If you work hard enough and have a little luck you may find a way out of being one of them. The typical story, unfortunately, is that there will be more losers than winners regardless of how hard you work. I guarantee you Warren Buffett doesn’t work as hard as the warehouse employee making $16 an hour scraping by. It’s not hard to figure out how I think the world should be. It doesn’t even matter to explain it anymore. The world is how it is. It will never be how it should or could be. I hope I’m one of the lucky ones, but that prospect isn’t looking good. Fortunately, in America I won’t have to endure the endless servitude for too long if I find myself in a dire health situation. I won’t be able to afford treatment so I’ll be released early ?. You better believe in dystopias Mrs. Turner, cause you’re in one lol

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