During my evacuation from Ida, safely ensconced in a hotel room almost 200 miles from New Orleans, I ran the gamut of emotions. Concern, of course; stress – naturally … but I also felt deep and poignant gratitude. I was grateful because it was not too long ago that having to plunk down several hundred dollars unexpectedly to simply be safe and comfortable would have had disastrous financial implications for my family. I would have either had to humble myself to borrow money from a family member (not knowing when my debt to them could be cleared) or robbed Peter to pay Paul, resulting in possibly paying bills late, incurring late fees … you see what I mean by disastrous.
I am the LAST person you will ever meet who would call themselves a financial wizard, and I am not ashamed to say that I have accepted help and support from my family in the past. But if you are in a financial position where an unexpected $500 could have repercussions for six months or more, I want you to know that I have been there, and here are a few things I did to get out.
#1. “Self Care” no longer means spending extra money.
Sorry. For this season of your life, you shouldn’t be getting your nails done, getting expensive beauty treatments, or buying those concert tickets. This won’t be forever, I promise, but right now, consider this door temporarily closed. Treat yourself with laughter, long walks, or a good library book.
#2. Delete your Amazon app.
Yep. I’m sorry, I said it. And I am aware that Amazon can actually save you a bunch of money, but you will see things that you don’t actually need, and you will buy those things, instead. The solution? Buddy up with a friend who is in a different financial situation, and can currently swing those frivolous expenses. Tell them what you need, and pre-pay them. They can either have it sent directly to you or give it to you the next time you see them. This way you save money but are not tempted.
#3. ABS- A- Always B- Be S- Saving.
Always be saving. I know, I know- “boy, Jeanne, you are dumb. Why would I have clicked on this post about finances for those struggling if I had anything left over to save?!” You do. Even if it’s just 5 dollars a pay period, have it come out automatically from your check, and see it grow. If you don’t miss 5, increase it to 10. DO NOT MAKE A PLAN FOR THIS MONEY. It will present itself to you, don’t worry. Then, when you get your tax return or similar unexpected cash, (maybe gifted money) put it in here, too. Saving money, even a small amount, is empowering and confidence-building. It’s a down payment you are making on YOURSELF and your future.
#4. Learn to accept help when it is offered.
This is difficult. If a friend offers to pay for your coffee, put your pride aside and accept. You WILL be able to return the favor, and very soon. This does not mean taking advantage of people or friendships, but often the person who is eager to help has stood in your shoes before, and is paying it forward themselves.
#5. Check your mail.
If you receive an offer for a credit card with cashback, apply for it. If you have had not great but not terrible experiences with credit cards before*, put the card in a safe when it comes in, so you are not tempted to use it for purchases. Then, set as many bills as possible to come out of this card automatically. Set your checking account to automatically transfer a little bit more than that total to pay the balance of the credit card, and voila: Money for nothing. You’ll never run an interest if it pays off immediately every month, and the cashback can be used for Christmas, your rainy-day fund, or for end-of-year expenses. An added bonus to this is that since it is coming out automatically, you’ll never forget to pay your bill, and you won’t incur a late fee.
Note: Not travel points, not Disney points, Cashback points. Disney will still be there when you are financially stable.
#6. Check your mail AGAIN.
Paying attention to your mail and email is really crucial. You could be making an expensive mistake, and just going with the flow and overpaying something. Call the numbers on the bills you receive. Ask to lower your rates, for a better deal, or shop around.
You could also be missing a class action lawsuit check, refund, or premium overpayment reimbursement. This is just too simple of a rule to not follow, and you could be losing money.
#7. Ask for a raise, or walk away.
A friend of mine once shared a meme when I was struggling so much financially. To paraphrase, it said that the only two ways to get everything you want are to make more or to want less. That’s when I knew that I just needed to make more because my “wants” were so reasonable. I didn’t want to drive a fancy car or sip champagne every day, or jet set all over the world; I wanted to be able to pay all my bills on time every month and be able to go on modest family vacations.
I could never do that with the salary I was making at the time, so I found a new job. Gone are the days where you put 20 years in with a company and are rewarded with a living wage and a gold watch when you retire. You have to be prepared to be uncomfortable to “move up”.
Take some time with this one, because the quality of life is so very important, but if your family has needs that your current employment will never meet, what are you waiting for?
I hope any or all of these tips are helpful for you, I was not able to achieve them all right away, but I chipped away at it. Now it is such a relief to know that if a crucial appliance breaks or something equally terrible that I won’t even put out into the universe happens, it won’t be as likely to spell ruin for my family.
I wish the best of luck to you!
*If you have fallen into a credit card hole, please skip this tip. If you will be too tempted to pull out your card and use it for unnecessary things, this could be FAR more harmful than helpful!