How to Step Back from the Financial Edge
Is money tight right now? I'm not talking about having to cut down on eating out here. I'm talking about them coming to evict you, repossessing your car, and your kids don't have anything to eat tonight. You've begged and borrowed every penny you can and you're still coming up short. That's the situation I'm talking about.
Things probably seem pretty bleak and desperate right now with the only light at the end of the tunnel being an oncoming train. So, what do you do? Well, here are eleven ways you can make some quick (legal) money or conserve what little money you still do have.
Making Some Extra Money
When money's short, life can get hard. Here are a few ways you can make some quick cash in a pinch.
This option has saved my butt personally. There was a time when our business was struggling and I needed some money to keep the lights on. I chose to go to work for a day labor company called Labor Ready (now People Ready) where I would put in a day's work and get paid when I returned to the office that night. It wasn't a whole lot of money (maybe $50 a day) but it was enough to put gas in my car and some food on my table, just for a few months until business picked up.
The beauty in this type of work is that it's pretty mindless, just physical. You don't have to waste any of your precious energy on company politics and drama and you don't usually need any experience to get started. You just go in, do your job, and get paid. It's that easy. If you don't like the people you're assigned to work with or the boss who's over you, you just go back to the office and pick up a new assignment. Once you're out of the woods financially, you can stop taking on new assignments.
It's not a perfect solution, though. A couple of downsides to this type of work is that it can be physically exhausting due to many of the assignments being labor intensive and a lot of times the work is on a first-come, first-served basis. That means that there may be times when there isn't any work for you and so the pay can sometimes be unreliable. You can also be hurt on the job and I can't even count the number of times I've come home with cuts, bruises, aches, and pains. That being said, overall I liked the variety of the work, I picked up some new skills along the way, and it served as a great financial safety net for me when I needed it.
Pay Day Loans
Pay Day Loans can be a two-edged sword when it comes to getting over financial hurdles. On the one hand, these companies can lend you much needed cash on the spot when no one else will. This can let you keep the lights on for a while, keep the family fed, and keep an eviction at bay for another month. On the other hand, their interest rates are just this side of criminal, and paying the loans back can be a financial hurdle all by itself. If you're going to go down this path, make sure you know what you're getting into first and definitely read the fine print on any contract you sign.
Now this one can be a bit controversial. You see, some people see selling their plasma as somehow beneath them. It's like they think that having someone take something tangible from their body is somehow making them less of a person. Well, my experience selling (or donating as it's often called for marketing purposes) plasma was pretty positive overall. I went regularly (twice a week) for about five years when money was tight and I met quite a few interesting people while I was there. The two locations I went to were in the downtown area and close to a university. There was a mixture of college students and lower income people with a sprinkling of other income brackets as well. The reasons they were there were as varied as the people themselves.
Most of the college students were there just to make some extra drinking money while the lower income people really needed the money to get by on a daily basis. One guy I talked to was a college professor who had been going there for over twenty years. He invested his plasma money every week into his retirement fund and was planning on retiring several years earlier than his same-aged colleagues. The last year I donated, I managed to save up most of the money I received and used it to pay for the airfare, car rental, and hotel for a trip to Disney World!
So, how much money can you make selling plasma? Well, it depends on the time of year, the number of donors in the area, and the demand for plasma at that time. On average I was making around $80 a week by going twice a week and they were always giving out bonuses to those who donated multiple times per month. The more often you donated, the higher the bonuses, and I was pulling in $300-$400 a month on average. Not too bad for laying on a bed and watching TV for a few hours a week. Plus, the money is tax free cash!
Sell Some Stuff
Tired of tripping over all that old stuff in your basement and attic? Well, as the saying goes “One man's trash is another man's treasure.” I've found this to be true in recent years when my older brother passed away. He had been a collector of music for most of his life and accumulated hundreds of CD's and albums over the years. After my other siblings and their partners had taken what they wanted out of it, I was still left with quite a few musical treasures. I boxed them up, took them to several of my local record stores, and over a period of a month or so sold them for several hundred dollars. Basically, I emptied space in my house and filled up the empty space in my wallet!
Look over the things in your home you've collected over the years. Are there any things that you haven't used in the last few years that are in good shape but you're probably never going to use any time soon? Hold a yard sale, post them on Facebook Marketplace, or list them on eBay. There's someone out there who would love to have them. You just need to meet them … and get some cash, of course.
Feeding yourself and your family is an ongoing challenge when money is tight. Here are a few options for filling you and your family's bellies in a crunch.
Food Banks and Pantries
Food banks and food pantries can be a great option if you're tight on cash and there are people relying on you to keep food on the table. Don't feel that you're alone in feeding your family either. Our local Akron/Canton Regional Food Bank serves eight counties here in northeastern Ohio and distributed over 288,000 pounds of food last year to more than 26,000 people. The Foodbank secures food donations from corporate food donors, state and federal food assistance programs, and Feeding America, the national food bank network. The programs provide this food through their food pantries, hot meal sites, or shelters to the hungry in their community or neighborhood.
Government Food Assistance Programs
If you'd rather take advantage of your tax dollars when feeding yourself and your family, the U.S. Government has 15 nutrition assistance programs including WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and school meals. You can sign up for these programs through your local Department of Jobs and Family Services.
If you're enrolled in SNAP, you get a debit card (a.k.a. an EBT card) which is loaded each month with your benefit amount and you can use it at most grocery stores and convenience stores to purchase food items. It doesn't include hot prepared meals or toiletries like toilet paper or toothpaste. It's limited to food purchases only but it can put an extra $200 to $500 or more a month back into your budget depending on your family size.
Another great government food program for those with small kids is WIC. This program provides supplemental, highly nutritious foods such as cereal, eggs, milk, whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables, and iron-fortified infant formula to infants and children up to age five. According to their website, they serve almost half of all infants born in the United States in some form or another through their partnerships with hospitals, schools, clinics, and public housing facilities.
Public Assistance with Utility Bills
What do you do when you need to keep the lights and heat on but your wallet's pretty bare? You start turning over some rocks. Here are a couple of public programs out there designed for those facing those dark and cold days.
Behind on your heating bills? H.E.A.P. Can help. The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is a federally funded program that helps low-income people pay the cost of heating their homes. If you're eligible, you can receive one regular HEAP benefit per program year and could also be eligible for emergency HEAP benefits if you're in danger of running out of fuel or having your utility service shut off. The benefit amount is applied directly to your utility bill or bulk fuel bill and can cover a variety of heating options such as:
- Natural Gas
- Wood/Wood Pellets
Eligibility and benefits are based on your family's income, household size, primary heating source, and the presence of a household member who is under age 6, age 60 or older, or permanently disabled. So, if your utility company is threatening you with a shut-off, HEAP may be a great safety net for you.
So, what if you need help with your utilities on an ongoing basis instead of just a one-time emergency situation? Well, there's help for you in that area too and it's called P.I.P.P. or Percentage of Income Payment Plan. It's a program that lets you pay a certain percentage of your income towards your utilities instead of the total amount owed. This lets you keep the lights and heat turned on even though your wallet is running a bit on the thin side.
One of the additional benefits of this program that people often overlook is that paying on-time and in-full each month reduces your outstanding balance. If you make 24 on-time and in-full payments, your outstanding balance with your utility company will be eliminated regardless of how much you owe them. How's that for a great debt elimination plan!
To quality, you need to have a household income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines and have utility service from an electric or natural gas company regulated by the Public Utility Commission. The guidelines are based on your income and your household size.
Once you're enrolled in the PIPP program, you need to re-verify your income each year and be caught up on all your PIPP payments by your Anniversary Date. If you're not, you can be dropped from the program.
Keeping a roof over your head can be a financial challenge sometimes. Here are a couple of ways to make that happen.
Move in with Friends or Relatives
This option can either be a Godsend or a nightmare depending on your relationship with those involved. In my case, it has worked out pretty well. Several years ago I was facing foreclosure on my home and my living options were limited to say the least. Fortunately, my mom was willing to take me back in after over twenty years of living on my own. Although it was difficult at first making the adjustment to the new living conditions, eventually things worked out. In exchange for a roof over my head and paid utilities, I take care of a lot of things around the house she's too old to take care of anymore like yard work, basic maintenance, and running errands. Another benefit is that I get to keep an eye on her and have been there for her when she's had a couple of medical emergencies and needed to be taken to the hospital.
If you're considering moving in with friends or relatives, talk over with them as far as what's going to be expected of you going forward. Set agreements on what your fair share of work around the house is and any other ground rules. This will hopefully eliminate most of any friction that will come with the new living arrangements. Also, it's best to set a time limit (at least at the start) as far as how long you'll be staying. Your mindset going in can be very important so try to treat this as an opportunity to grow your relationship and get closer to those you care about most.
Mortgage and Rent Financial Assistance
If you're set on staying where you're living now, one of the best places to go if you're behind on your rent or mortgage is HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development). This federal agency has several programs to help you with forbearance (pushing back your mortgage payments) and with finding funds to assist with your rent payments to avoid eviction.
As of right now, the federal CARES Act has issued a stop order on all evictions due to the Corona Virus. Although this isn't a permanent solution, it may give you some additional breathing room in keeping a roof over your head.
Another often overlooked source of funds for paying your rent or mortgage is in local grants to prevent homelessness. Check out your county and state governments for these. You almost always need to fill out some financial paperwork but it's worth it in the end.
Don't forget to check with your local churches. Sometimes they set aside funds to help families in financial need and have money available for mortgage and rent assistance.
When All Else Fails: Bankruptcy
Now we come to an elephant in the room that a lot of people don't like to talk about: Bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy is one of those things most people don't like to talk about and that not a lot of people (who haven't gone through it, anyway) know a lot about. A few years ago I helped some friends of mine file for bankruptcy and found the whole process a lot less mysterious than I had thought it would be. Basically, they didn't own a home or a whole lot of assets but the payments on their debts were a whole lot more than the amount of income they had coming in. If they owned a home, a business, or a lot of assets, they may have needed to hire a lawyer to help them file and represent them in court but they were able to get away with doing it on their own since they didn't own very much.
To get started, we went down to the county courthouse and picked up the forms. They were filing for the Chapter 7 Bankruptcy which pretty much erases all of your debts (except student loans and child support). (The other type of bankruptcy, Chapter 11, is for those who want to keep some of their assets and work through a payment plan with the court.)
Although the forms themselves were long, they weren't as complicated as you might think, and filling them out took a long time but weren't too difficult to decipher. Once we filled them out, we went back to the courthouse, paid a fee to file, and scheduled some credit counseling classes (which are required for all bankruptcies). The classes were taken online and were pretty easy to complete.
Once my friends filed, the court bailiff scheduled them an appointment with the judge. The hearing was relatively quick with the judge asking them a few questions about how they got into the financial situation they were in. Once they answered the questions to his satisfaction and showed that they had completed the credit counseling classes, he had the bailiff notify their creditors about the case so that they could dispute it. Thankfully none of them did and at a subsequent hearing the judge ruled the bankruptcy closed.
Now, they're completely debt free and their financial situation is much better. Although they won't be able to file again for at least seven years (by law), their stress level about money is much lower and they learned what not to do in the future.
Even though filing for bankruptcy isn't for everyone, for others it can be the relief they've been praying for. It can erase overwhelming debts and give you a fresh start on your financial life.
Putting it all Together
Well, I hope that these options are something which can ease the stress you may be finding yourself under with your current financial situation. Remember, ignorance is expensive and educating yourself about money and your finances can help you avoid some of the pitfalls many of us find ourselves in. Read, learn, and grow!
Thanks for reading!