Frugal Living: Survival Mode

Most personal finance blogs are filled with wonderful advice, provided that you’ve got a stable source of income that is adequate to support yourself and your family and enable you to save money at the same time.  While this advice is great for those in stable financial shape, it doesn’t work quite so well for those who are struggling to survive day by day. To that end, I would like to write a post aimed at those of you who are barely getting by.

Let me start off by saying that the advice herein comes from the school of hard knocks. I was there as recently as a few months ago and I can readily empathize with how you feel and your day to day struggles. I know what it is like to spend a day on the phone making payment arrangements with the utility companies for this month’s payment because I had just made last month’s payment a few days ago. I know what it is like to receive call after call from collection agencies hounding me for money I just don’t have. I know what it is like to be at the brink of foreclosure and that sick, sinking feeling you get when you know you’ve given all you can and there is nothing left inside you to give. And yet, you must go on. You must spend your hours figuring out how best to parcel out what little bit of money you have to keep a roof over your family and keep the lights on.

The first step is to figure out how much income you currently have coming in. Once you have that, then you can prioritize your expenses and debts.

Obviously, the most important expense is your rent or mortgage. If you can keep paying it, even if it takes a huge chunk out of your available money, then that is payment number 1. If you can’t make your rent, be sure to let your landlord know. How understanding your landlord is depends on him or her. If you’re only renting, you can also always find cheaper accommodations. If you have a mortgage that you can no longer afford, then that is a stickier issue. If you intend on keeping the house, then contact your lender right away and ask for a loan modification. The earlier you get started on this, the better, because, let me tell you, it can take a year or more to get into a successful loan modification!

Next are the utilities. Most utility companies are very good at working with you on payment arrangements. Just explain that you are having financial difficulties and they will be willing to work with you. Sometimes you get a representative on the line who won’t cooperate. If this happens to you, ask for a supervisor and more often than not, that does the trick. As a shout out, the Verizon folks were always pretty good with me, barring a few individuals, as was Southern California Edison.

Following that is food. There are some tricks here to help you get by with less, and many of you probably already know them, but I am going to share them here anyway:

1: Check the mail for your weekly circulars. These will have the sales that are happening that week. The basic idea here is to look for items that you use that may be on sale. Many times you can get decent cuts of meat like london broil (top round in Canada) for as little as $1.77 a pound. Similar sales will be on for ground beef and chicken. You can shave off a good $20-50 off your weekly grocery bill by hitting up all the grocery stores with the best sale prices.

2: Chicken is your friend because it  is pretty cheap. It is also healthy, and eating healthy will be quite challenging on a limited budget. You will probably find yourself eating a lot of it. To help with the boredom of eating the same foods week in and week out, search for recipes on line or try different marinades. (These will often be on sale for cheap as well.)

Next, this is a no brainer, but cut out any unnecessary expenses such as cable or satellite tv. You don’t have to cut it out all together, but you can drop down to the basic package to cut costs.

Finally, consider moving away from your current location. Even in the States, there are regions that have not been as hard hit as some other areas have. The northern central region of the country is doing ok, and so are some southern states. Both coasts have been buried by the economy as well as the sunbelt region. You may have better luck finding work in areas where the ratio of workers looking for work and available jobs is a better percentage.

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