Personal finance: when pinching pennies isn’t enough

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Reducing streaming subscriptions is good money-saving advice for some. But what if the choice you face isn’t to pay for Netflix or Hulu, but to pay for food or electricity?

Millions of Americans face food, housing and general financial insecurity each year, according to data from the US Census Bureau and Department of Agriculture. And getting help often means navigating a maze of websites, automated phone systems and confusing apps only to find yourself on a waiting list years old or worse – finding out you don’t qualify.

The good news: you don’t have to figure it out for yourself. There are financial advisors, nonprofits, and other local and national organizations that exist to help you find your financial footing.

If you’re currently facing eviction, can’t feed your family, or are experiencing another financial crisis, dial 211 now to speak to a local expert who can connect you with relief programs. food, housing and utility expenses, medical and other bills. emergency room.

Not yet in crisis mode but barely keeping your head above water? Follow these steps to prioritize the money you receive, then get help filling the gaps.

Back to basics

Start with a budget, even if you don’t think you have enough money to budget, says financial counselor Amy Smith.

“It doesn’t matter how much you bring in — any amount of money — because at least you tell that money where to go,” says Smith, who is also the member engagement coordinator for the Association for Financial Counseling. & Educational planning.

Your first budget won’t be pretty. Your third or fourth might not be either. Its good. Try to stick with it and play around with different budgeting methods to find the one that works for you.

“When I started this journey, the end of my budget was red,” Smith says, indicating that she didn’t have the funds to cover all of her expenses. “At least I knew I needed the extra cash.”

You’ll also know how to reallocate your funds if you get extra income or a few months of utility assistance.

Prioritize the essential

If there is not enough money to cover all your expenses, provide for your basic needs first. These include housing, utilities, food, transportation and childcare.

“If that means a credit card isn’t paid that month, it happens,” Smith says.

However, bills that you cannot cover should not be ignored. Call the creditor, whether it’s your landlord, mortgage company, utility provider, or credit card issuer, and explain the situation. Then ask if there is help available. Even a late fee waiver can help.

Get help

Don’t let perceived social stigma keep you from getting the help you need. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that services like food banks or food stamps aren’t for you, or that things aren’t “that bad” yet.

The transition from request to aid can take time, especially for federal programs. The waiting list for some federal housing vouchers can go on for years, according to Erik Gartland, research analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. On the other hand, SNAP benefits (often called food stamps) can take effect within seven days of application if you have no income, says Dottie Rosenbaum, senior researcher and director of SNAP federal policy at CBPP.

Searching for programs, forms, applications, and eligibility criteria is tedious and time-consuming, especially if you face language barriers, don’t have reliable internet access, or don’t have any you just don’t have time because you are taking care of your family and providing for them. .

Rely on organizations whose sole purpose is to connect people in need to available assistance.

These organizations can help you navigate the network of local, regional, and national programs administered by nonprofits, religious organizations, and state and federal agencies.

211.org: You can call 211 or visit 211.org to find local experts who know the help available where you live and can put you in touch with the benefits you need.

Association for financial advice and planning education: Financial advisors work with clients on the basics – managing expenses, setting a budget, creating a long-term plan – and they listen to local resources and assistance programs. You can register for a free virtual session with a Certified Financial Advisor at findanafc.org/pro-bono.

National Low Income Housing Coalition: This nonprofit organization maintains a database of emergency rental assistance programs, searchable by city, county, state territory or tribe. Importantly, the database also includes up-to-date information on the status of each program: applications accepted, pending or permanently closed.

Legal Services Company: Legal aid organizations across the country provide free legal aid to low-income people. Their services cover everything from evictions and foreclosures to wage disputes and disaster relief. Legal Services Corporation is an independent, nonprofit organization that funds more than 100 legal aid groups across the country and US territories. Visit their website (lsc.gov), select “Get legal help” and enter your address to find a local legal aid office.

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