Living on the Financial Edge? 7 Tips to Help You Keep It Together

About to lose your job with no emergency fund in sight? Time to put your life in "safe mode."

Living on the Financial Edge? 7 Tips to Help You Keep It Together Photo (cc) by twicepix

This post comes from partner site Girls Just Wanna Have Funds.

If you’ve ever owned a computer that crashed, you’ve probably heard of “safe mode.” That’s a way to run only the computer’s essential programs, so you can buy some time to figure out what’s wrong.

Well, this should be the same goal if you recently lost – or are about to lose – a job with nary an emergency fund in site.

First, unless you’re single, you should call a family meeting to agree about the following cuts that will need to be made. Don’t come up with a plan and put it in place without helping each member of your family understand the rationale. This helps to ease the shock while engendering a team spirit about how you will get through this together.

Downsizing: different strokes for different folks

If you’re single and currently renting an apartment, downsize to renting a room, getting a roommate, or even a studio. This may also work if you’re a couple with no children.

If you have young children, you may want to have the children share a room in a two-bedroom apartment or have them share a space in a one-bedroom apartment.

And, before you write and tell me that your kids need space to run and play, don’t. We’re discussing the need to stay above the recession tide and your kids having a space to run and play in the house isn’t a priority at this stage in the game. This especially applies if you have very young children. They do not need their own bedroom. This isn’t about keeping up appearances to your children or family. This is about saving money and being able to literally keep food on the table. Of course, this is often a very uncomfortable reality for many but the sooner you embrace it the sooner you will move past it and understand that this is only temporary.

Finding work

If you don’t have a full-time job, try getting a job at a supermarket, library, fast food place, etc. I often get frowns when I tell folks this as if the money isn’t just as green. Get over it. While in grad school I walked dogs for a living and went on several mystery shopping trips during the week because I wanted to have my own money coming into our household. Right now, no job is beneath you unless it is just morally unacceptable.

Until you get back on your feet, get in where you fit in. Walk dogs, pick up trash, do someone’s laundry, babysit, start a business – there are endless options for bringing in money. Many people are out of work and your perfect job may not be there right now. Until then, take what you can get and rebuild little by little.

What should I cut from my budget?

This will largely depend on your streams of income. How much, how often, etc…

  • Eating out: You should under no circumstances be eating out if you’ve lost your job and have no income. Eating is a necessity. Eating out is a luxury. When preparing meals at home, try Aldi as a great alternative to high-priced supermarket brands. Food budget basics include:
  • Water
  • Lemons/limes (for flavored water or lemonade)
  • Rice
  • Canned food: soups, beans, peas, veggies
  • Pasta: ramen noodles, regular pasta
  • Bread
  • Chicken
  • Ground turkey (very versatile)
  • No red meat, too expensive
  • Hair salon: Do I really need to explain this? Get a hair dryer and your favorite shampoo/conditioner and make it work! YouTube gurus offer up a lot of advice around how to style your hair sans salon visit.
  • Cell phone: This is tricky. My advice here is if you have a laptop and regular access to WiFi (local library, Panera Bread, McDonald’s) then you don’t need a cell phone. With the advent of Google Voice and Skype, you can easily make phone calls to prospective employers using one of those services. If you have to have a cell phone then Safe Link may be an option as this is available to those who are already on food stamps or Medicaid.
  • Car: Give this up if you live in a fairly “metro-friendly” area. If you have access to buses and subways then this is a no-brainer. Expenses like gas, insurance, repairs, and/or a car loan are things you don’t absolutely need right now. If you can, sell it and relieve yourself of the monthly expense. Opt for a bike share or using a service like ZipCar when necessary.
  • Health care: If you need to go to the doctor and can’t afford health insurance, a federally funded health center is a great option. This is often missed when discussing alternatives to health insurance. These clinics allow you to pay what you can afford, based on your income. Health centers provide:
    1. Checkups when you’re well
    2. Treatment when you’re sick
    3. Complete care when you’re pregnant
    4. Immunizations and checkups for your children
    5. Dental care and prescription drugs for your family
    6. Mental health and substance abuse care if you need it

Cut everything, but need help making ends meet?

Check with your local social service agencies and related nonprofits in your area. There’s a program called TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – which gives cash assistance to families with children based on income. Check your state for income guidelines.

There are other food banks like, which gives families two bags of groceries for $23 or free if you volunteer for 2 to 4 hours with their organization.

Check with local clergy for cash and food assistance. They can also be a good source for referrals in the area around social service needs.

Check your budget to determine what you may be hiding. Often we gloss over things we would never dare cut but when we’re operating in emergency mode, those budget items need a second look.

Should I pay creditors?

If you can afford to do so, yes, pay the minimums to save your credit. Call your creditors and explain your situation and they may be able to work out a plan with you. If you can get on a program that makes your payments if you lose your job, do it. But ask your creditor if this is available before you tell them you can’t pay. Get on that plan, usually a little more than $1 per month, which they add to your balance.

Of course, if you have to choose between eating/shelter and paying a bank, the choice is obvious. The bank will be fine until you get back on your feet.

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