New Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws has revealed his predecessor left him a note reading: "I'm afraid there is no money."
Mr Laws, speaking alongside Chancellor George Osborne, said he opened the note expecting some advice only to find it was "slightly less helpful".
Liam Byrne, his predecessor, said he had just been using a phrase that all chief secretaries got used to.
He said it would not be long before Mr Laws was using it with his colleagues.
Mr Laws - the Liberal Democrat MP who has become chief secretary to the Treasury in the new coalition government - revealed the note Mr Byrne had "very nicely" left him - as he and Mr Osborne took part in their first joint press conference since the general election.
"When I arrived at my desk on the very first day as chief secretary, I found a letter from the previous chief secretary to give me some advice, I assumed, on how I conduct myself over the months ahead.
"Unfortunately, when I opened it, it was a one-sentence letter which simply said 'Dear chief secretary, I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left,' which was honest but slightly less helpful advice than I had been expecting," he said.
Treasury sources said the letter, dated 6 April - the day Gordon Brown called the general election - actually read: "Dear chief secretary, I'm afraid there is no money. Kind regards - and good luck! Liam."
It has similarities to the note reportedly left by the Conservative Reggie Maudling to Labour's Jim Callaghan when he became chancellor in 1964, which said: "Sorry to leave it in such a mess."
Mr Byrne was reported as having said the letter was meant as a joke. But he told the BBC he was just using the language that everyone in that job used eventually.
"It's a phrase that chief secretaries do have to get used to using I'm afraid. Chief secretaries do have to be tough, they are the unpopular ones in government. I'm sure it won't be too long before Mr Laws is using it with his colleagues."