Short on Cash and Bills are Due…What Do You Do?

It’s one of the worst possible situations in personal finance – the bills are due and you’re short on cash this month. You’re probably scared, frustrated, and running out of options. What do you do? Here are a few solutions (other than totally skipping the payments) to get you through this bill cycle, and some ways to prevent this going forward to put you on the right financial track.

short on cash image

Borrow from Family

The first thing you can do, and probably the easiest and most cost effective, is ask your family for help. In many circumstances, you’re family will help you either with extra money or a loan. However, it is important that you respect the sanctity of family and don’t take advantage.

Your family always wants to support and make sure you’re okay. As such, they will probably lend you the money. In order to seem like you’re not mooching and taking advantage of them, you need to make sure that you setup payment terms and follow through on your commitment. This will ensure that you don’t breed bad blood in your family.

Borrow from a Lender

Payday Loan

If going to your family isn’t feasible, or you’re just not comfortable doing it, you could always go to a lender to borrow money. You can get same day cash loans from a payday lender who will lend you money for several weeks until your next paycheck. It is important to remember that payday loans are designed to be short term, and interest and fees can add up quickly if you don’t repay them on time.

Pawn Loan

If a payday loan isn’t quite for you, you can also consider a pawn loan. A pawn loan is where you put up an item of value as collateral for the loan. If you don’t repay the loan, the lender will simply sell the item you collateralized in exchange for the debt. This is a more secure way to borrow, but if you don’t think you can repay the loan, you could end up not getting your item back.

To let the cat out of the bag…I personally utilized a number pawn loans when I was struggling with money. The interest rates were horrendous but they served as a quick band-aid (not a solution) to give me gas money when my credit cards were maxed out.

Other Methods

If you have more time to spare, you could check your local banks and credit unions, or borrow from peer-to-peer lending sites like LendingClub.

How to Prevent this Going Forward

The biggest take-away from this experience should be how to prevent it going forward. The first thing you should do is construct a budget to address you cash flow shortfall. Maybe it is only temporary because of something unexpected, or maybe you have a structural issue with your budget. Whatever the case, laying it out on a budget template is the first step.

Once you’ve laid it all out, you need to address where you can cut and start building an emergency fund from. Having adequate savings on hand can prevent this from happening because you will always have your reserve you can dip into in the future. Once you get your cash flow in line, start saving so that you can prevent cash shortfalls from putting you in a situation where you have to borrow to make ends meet. It’s uncomfortable, scary, and you don’t need to put yourself in this situation.

Picture by FreeDigitalPhotos.

About the Author

By , on Oct 19, 2013
Andy Tenton
Andy is a 30-something New Yorker who turned his financial life around. He took charge of his finances, got out of debt, and is now working his way toward financial success. He is the publisher of

How to Become Rich e-Course

Budgeting 101


  1. I would say a payday or pawn loan should be your last resort. Depending on how much you’re short on your bills, the best option may be to find something you can sell quickly on Craigslist. That way you don’t owe money to anyone, not even family. After that, I think carrying a balance on your credit card for a month or two until you can pay it off is still a better option than a payday or pawn loan.

  2. Terry says:


    I would suggest if you have lost your job, and the time frame allows, to contact community service organizations that will help you to sigh up for unemployment insurance and food stamps.

    It may sound like a desperate choice, but It’s not uncommon these days for people to lose their jobs and be faced with dire circumstances that they may never have never anticipated. And, if you pay taxes, you have paid into these programs.

    That’s services exist to help out people who are in financial trouble.

  3. Number two ought to be go into credit card debt and not take out a payday loan. With a credit card APR of 24 percent, you’d pay around 2 percent per month as opposed to 12 to 30 percent per month.

  4. Great post Andy!
    Im a big fan of having and emergency fund, it was one of the first things I setup when preparing myself financially.

    Something I have always struggled with is how much do you put into your emergency fund?

  5. I saw another comment about credit cards, and you can use those to get by. However, those can be even more dangerous than a set loan because there is no finite due date for repayment. At least with a payday loan, you know when it’s due and how much you owe. With a credit card, you can string it out forever.

  6. Great tips. Having a plan to prevent borrowing cash from others may not always go through. I’ve known people who went through all their cash and had to borrown from family. Rough!

  7. I’ve been burned with family and friends so I’m going to always be a no when or if someone asks me. I don’t like to talk about “our money’ around friends to be honest. I would prefer them to think we have no extra cash that way no one will bother us. Although you think you are helping someone by taking money from your emergency funds it becomes stressful when they don’t pay you back, relationships are ruined.. it’s crazy sometimes. I don’t think Payday loans are the way to go might as well hand someone a shovel although some people have successfully used that service. I think if a friend or family wants cash unless you are willing to say, don’t worry mate I don’t want it back you’re better off saying no I don’t have it.

  8. There has to be a better way than Payday loans. I’d call the companies and explain the situation, then work like mad to get caught up the next month. If you are a good customer, they will most likely work with you. Just don’t become a repeat offender. There are lots of ways to earn extra money in the meantime or you could find something to sell. The only case I can think where you couldn’t earn or sell would be in an extreme medical emergency situation, and I bet they wouldn’t turn off the lights if you called and told them what was going on.

  9. This is certainly a sinking feeling… This is also why I have a savings account set aside for most of my bills. I move the monthly amount into it and then I pay my bills out of it. It makes me feel more in control and secure in knowing the money is there…

  10. I’ve been lucky I guess and haven’t hit hard enough times to make this a regular occurrence. But the one time it did happen, I took out a balance transfer from my credit card. They send me checks all of the time for 0-2% for a few months. I took advantage of the 0% offer but did have to pay the 3% balance transfer fee. I would rather pay the 3% than go to a pawn shop or take out a payday loan.

    Of course, you have to make sure you pay back the balance in time so that your offer doesn’t expire and you get hit with the standard purchase APR.

  11. Modest Money says:

    I agree that the most important part is finding ways to prevent this situation from happening again. A supportive family may be able to help you out a lot, but you really need to develop independence. Other options often result in money waste don high interest payments. So the ideal situation is that you get better control of your money and have a more efficient plan in place to be able to cover all bills.

    • Andy says:

      Budgeting and learning to live on less than you make should be the primary concern for every person that finds themselves needing extra cash or resorting to options such as the ones in the post. The other problem I’ve seen is that people are too scared to miss payments (particularly to credit card companies), and out of fear they resort to things such as payday or pawn loans.

  12. It’s a bit distressing to see payday loans even mentioned. Suggesting payday loans as a possible remedy for the even the temporarily distressed is a but like suggesting a drink to help out an alcoholic.

    • Andy says:

      Kurt, I agree with you 100%, but reality is that they’re an option for people when there are no other places to go. Sean said it best though: if you’re in that position then it should be a major alert that you need help and must do something to change your situation. As I mentioned in my post regarding pawn loans: many people view these types of things as a solution and they’re simply not (which is where people go wrong). They’re a band-aid that allows you to cover a serious problem for a few days/weeks, but if you don’t address the core issue then you’re headed down a path that leads to disaster.

  13. AverageJoe says:

    Nice piece. I remember several times that I needed money when I was young and felt like there was nowhere to go. Those were some rough, rough days.

    • Andy says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I pawned some pretty precious items when I was struggling and it always made me feel terrible. Good thing I got my junk together and was able to get it all back!

  14. In the past, when my wife and i were just getting started, we ran into this a few times. We defintiely asked my mom for help more than once, and we eventually paid her back (I wish we would’ve done that faster though); we also were able to call a couple companies (credit cards, especially), and nicely ask if we could skip payment this month, but have interest keep buildilng up. And wouldn’t you know, some companies will let you skip a payment without penalty every once in awhile if you ask nice and have a good history with them. None of it is optimal, but hey, whadda ya do otherwise?

    • Andy says:

      Skipping payments is definitely an option and certainly one that companies might offer you if you’ve been with them for awhile (as you mentioned). It’s great they were willing to work with you…I hope more people attempt to contact them and work out that type of arrangement as opposed to just jumping to a payday or pawn loan first.

  15. Catherine says:

    Agreed payday loans are scary! We’ve had to borrow from family but have outlined repayment with them which I think is important! We’re working on the efund right now, so important!

  16. The minute you use a payday loans company should be the same day you realize that you need to make a change in your life and stop spending so much money.

  17. Adam Hathaway says:

    You can also call the billing companies and ask for an extension. It is my understanding that some are amenable to extending.

    • Andy says:

      You’re totally correct and this should certainly be something people attempt first before borrowing money in any fashion. Often times though, it’s a larger issue at hand and even getting on a repayment plan, or pushing the due date back, doesn’t correct the core problem (and therefore they won’t have the money ready even for the extended/later due date).

  18. Good points, especially on setting up a budget and E-Fund to help prevent the same thing from happening again. I don’t know that I’d use a payday loan or pawn loan though. Their rates are just too high for me and I think would be the last resort for me. That said, another possible option could be to contact the specific service provider to see if they’d negotiate a payment schedule for you. It may not work for all of them, but some might see your initiative as goodwill and be willing to work with you.

    • Andy says:

      John, you make some great points and I’d also do EVERYTHING I could to avoid a payday or pawn loan. The reality for many people in these positions though is that they haven’t planned ahead and use these options because they have no other choice. For instance, I just met with somebody the other day that got a payday loan because their electric was going to be shut off at 12:00 PM that day….so they went to the payday lender early in the morning, got the cash then got a money order, and then paid the bill before the noon cutoff.

      If it’s your first time being late then it’s likely the electric company (or whatever it happens to be) will work with you, but if you’re already late on the bill and another notice is due, then it’s hard to get them to extend the due date any further.

  19. Pauline says:

    I wouldn’t use a payday loan or a pawn shop unless it was my very last resort. I would try to find money where I probably forgot first (medical or insurance refunds due, cashback and reward credit cards, sell stuff I don’t need, barter with neighbors for stuff I do need…), and call the companies I owe money to to try and arrange a payment plan. Your bank can help too with extending your overdraft or short term unsecured loans.

    • Andy says:

      Pauline, these are some great additional sources. The options available to people will ultimately depend on the situation though. I know for me personally, I needed cash in an instant so selling stuff wasn’t really an option as that takes a few days and really gives an undetermined time frame. Calling the companies is always a great option and whether or not they’ll help you just depends on them. Rent can always be a little late as most landlords understand, but if you need money for food or gas then there isn’t much you can do about that.

    • I’m with you Pauline.. I think i would delay paying a month before using payday loans. Those are bad news…

  20. Ravi Ahuja says:

    Borrowing from friends and family can be better in these extreme situations. Main goal should be borrowing money without interest.

    • Savvy Scot says:

      I would have to agree with Ravi, providing you have a good relationship with your family. Personally, I am clsoe with my siblings and parents and would have no issue asking them for a loan or equally offering them a loan!

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