Some financial difficulties come with a way out.
Life is full of surprises—some happy, some expensive. Unfortunately, most of us don’t include the expensive kind into our monthly budgets. In fact, 40 percent of U.S. adults faced with an unexpected $400 expense would either not be able to pay, or would need to raise the cash by selling something or borrowing money†.
So, what can you do when rain starts pouring through the ceiling, you step on your glasses, or you experience a reduction in income? First off, don’t panic or beat yourself up for any past spending indiscretions. Living on a tight budget is hard enough. Instead, consider these ways to dig yourself out.
If the crisis is an unexpected expense...
If the emergency involves a purchase—replacing a household appliance or your car, for example—decide first how much of an emergency it actually is. Consider whether you can put it off or save toward buying it with cash, suggests The Money Coach’s Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, personal finance expert and author of Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom.
“People think they know what’s a necessity, but sometimes that’s because they never tried a different strategy,” she says. “When my car died last year, my husband and I never thought we’d be able to manage with one car, but we did for five months‡ .”
Sometimes, when the source of the expenses is a natural disaster—for example, damage from a hurricane or flood—the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program can help guide you in finding out if you may be eligible for local, state, or federal government resources.
Some big-ticket expenses may also be negotiable—even some that you might not expect. Many people who routinely shop around for the best price on things like household or car repairs don’t realize that you can also negotiate medical expenses by calling your care provider to ask about a discount or payment plan.
If delaying until you have the cash isn’t an option, try to avoid higher-interest options like buying with a credit card or taking a loan against your pay. If you own a home, taking a loan against its equity (the amount you own minus the mortgage owed) may be a less costly option to access cash, says Huntington branch manager Adrian Vestemean. “You may pay lower interest, and you’ll only have to pay the outstanding balance and any interest on that outstanding balance.”
Vestemean also urges homeowners who have had difficulty building emergency funds to consider upgrading existing insurance policies or adding supplemental insurance that can help guard against unexpected costs.
If the crisis is a loss of income...
When your emergency involves job loss or other income reduction, it can be a tremendous emotional setback that can leave you feeling helpless. While complex feelings are often part of an unexpected job loss, leaving many people feeling unable to react, moving fast is the best defense, however difficult it may be. File for unemployment right away if you’re eligible, and seek ways to bring in cash while you look for a new job, says Khalfani-Cox.
Being proactive can help avoid falling behind financially. Reach out to credit card companies and your mortgage bank to explain the situation and ask for temporary relief in the form of lower payments or an interest rate deduction.
“The worst that can happen is they say no, and then you’re in the same boat. No harm, no foul,” says Khalfani-Cox.
Lifestyle changes, such as eating out less often or stepping down your cable television package or cell phone plan can also help you stay on track financially, she adds. Though it isn’t easy, you may be able to bring in more money. “Many people have hobbies or skills that can be turned into cash,” she says.
Indeed, tens of millions of Americans are working part-time, many of them for web-based platforms that link customers with people who have gear and skills††. (See “Earning ideas for a cash infusion.”)
Do an inventory of your less obvious skills, because some may be marketable. For example, “if people are constantly coming to you for help with their resumes or whatever it might be, that tells you that you have a viable way to make extra money,” says Khalfani-Cox.
Whatever the source of your financial need—losing your job, funding a home repair, or paying out-of-pocket medical expenses—the crisis will likely pass. And the moves you’ve made can help you be in a better budgeting position for the future.
For Huntington customers, one place to start looking at budgeting options is in their account at The Hub.