Smart Advice to Help You Survive the Government Shutdown — or any other surprise financial setback

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As of today, the current federal government “shutdown” is the longest in history. Digging into news stories that are making headlines, ones claiming “chaos” and near-apocalyptic consequences, most Americans, by far, are managing to get through their daily routines without any issues at all.

However, there are households that are affected, and should the shutdown continue, more paychecks may be missed.

If you are one of those who isn’t getting a paycheck, hang in there! We have some ideas to help you get through this temporary tight time.

Organize your bills

Take out all your bills and put them in order by due date. The bills that are due now, are on top. If you don’t already have a budget or a list of what your expenses are, now is a good time to list every expense you have, including that daily cup of Starbucks coffee and the kids’ school supplies.

On a piece of paper, list your bills with the most important and with the earliest due dates on the top of the list. Rent/mortgage should be first, followed by insurance, utilities, then any revolving debt.

Dave Ramsey recommends always prioritizing your “four walls” in times like this. Whatever money you have needs to be first be used to maintain your home (rent, mortgage, utilities), then food, transportation to and from work, and basic clothing.

For now, if those are the only 4 categories you can cover, at least you’ll have the basics to survive. When paychecks resume with backpay, you’ll be able to get caught up on the extras, such as gym memberships, subscriptions, credit card payments, and the like.

Continuing with your list, add other bills that arrive in the mail or are automatically paid by your bank, such as Netflix. Go through a month or two of your expenses on your bank’s website to make sure you have the clearest picture possible of your expenses.

Now, on a separate piece of paper, list other expenses that don’t show up as a bill in the mail. Groceries, medical visits, gas, etc. When you review your bank statements, there may be a few small expenses things that are automatically deducted that you’ve forgotten about.

Look at both lists and start canceling anything that is not necessary. Often there are termination fees when canceling. Find a human on the phone and explain your situation. You may not be the first person to call that is affected by the shutdown, but weigh the cost of terminating against getting rid of the expense. It may not be worth it.

Hulu and other companies offer a pause to memberships, for weeks or months. Most companies have a policy in place for customers who fall upon difficult times. Now is the perfect time to set aside time for these phone calls.

If you are looking for something to help you budget or you don’t know how or where to begin, check out Everydollar! It is FREE!

Contact your lenders

Reach out to your mortgage, utility companies, credit cards, insurance companies, and any vehicle loan lenders. Let them know of your situation and what can be done to assist you until the government fully opens again. There are many companies are aware of the circumstances and willing to help.

Here are some banks that offer assistance:

Chase has been automatically refunding overdraft/monthly service fees for customers who had direct deposit of federal government paychecks. It also is offering numerous hardship options for its customers who have loans or credit cards with them.

Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and other large financial institutions have hardship programs for federal workers and others who are affected by the shutdown. These may include delayed payment, modification of leans or fee adjustments.

Even if you have a smaller bank or credit union, call and find out what they can do to help. Ask about suspending payments until the shutdown is over. Student loans are usually easy to deal with. Payment can often be stopped until other employment or the government fully opens again.

AT&T states they will waive late fees, provide extensions and work with customers concerning their phone, internet and television service as long as there is a shutdown. Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon are also willing to work with government employees. Don’t forget your utility companies. They are likely to offer short term solutions.

Just don’t procrastinate with this step. The shutdown is stressful enough on your family and each day that goes by that bills remain unpaid only adds to the tension.

Contact your medical team

If you have a medical condition that requires a prescription, call your doctor (dentist, chiropractor…). They have samples and discounts they can offer. They may be able to help a sick family member with a phone call consultation, so you don’t have to pay the co-pay.  Also, there may be some other alternative medicines they can recommend. One example of this is diabetes medicine. It can be expensive and difficult when there is not a lot of money. Walmart has vials of insulin for about $25. Each. They have the fast and slow acting available. Call your doctor to see if this is a wise solution for you in your temporary circumstance. He will be able to help you know how many units to take.

Ask your doctor if there are generics you can switch to that may have a lower co-pay. He may know of some special offers by pharmaceutical companies. If you have medical bills, contact your lender or the doctor. They, too, might be able to offer some financial help.

Find Funds

It is time to go on the money hunt! Gather any cash you may have, check the sock drawer, on top of the dryer and in between the cushions of the couch. Put it all the liquid cash in one place, you may need it. List all the other assets you have. Consider any other bank accounts, stocks, and any items in the house that may be worth money. Part of this list should also be life insurance policies, Roth IRA’s and a possible equity line of credit. It would be best if you don’t have to borrow against any of those, but it is good to know what you have in case you need it.

Family members may be another source of money. For some families, this is not a problem. Consider carefully if you choose this. It is may not be worth the potential future trouble if it gets you in a sticky family situation. However, it’s worth considering.

Do everything possible to avoid using your credit cards and going to the title loan or quick-loan places. The payments may be due before you are back at work and the interest can be high. The last thing you want is to owe a big chunk of your paycheck to creditors when it resumes.

Cut back now

After canceling all non-essential memberships, making phone calls, and listing every expense, it is now time to cut back. What this looks like will be different in each household.

  • Possibly raise or lower the thermostat to save on power usage.
  • Reduce water usage with timed showers and washing fewer loads of laundry.
  • Train family members to turn off lights when they leave a room or during the day.
  • Unplug anything that isn’t used very often, such as a paper shredder or accent lamp.
  • Put post-it notes on the bathroom mirror to remind everyone to not waste water.
  • Tape light switches in the off position if they are not needed.
  • Don’t water outside unless it is a plant that you can eat.

If you have a family, take time to have a family meeting and talk to them about conserving.

Consider your transportation. If there is someone working in the home, could they carpool with a co-worker or take a bus if one is available. Plan all your errands in advance. It will save time and gas. Ask your neighbor they will take you along when they go to the store.

Consider unemployment

You may be able to file for unemployment benefits depending on your job and where you live. States determine the unemployment laws. Most of the time, eligible workers can get benefits up to 26 weeks. Remember, if you receive back pay, you will be obligated to pay the state back for the benefits you may have received.

Get a side hustle

Inventory your abilities, hobbies, and skills. What do you have that you can turn into a stream of money? Consider babysitting, a garage sale, driving for an Uber or Lyft type of company. Temp agencies may help too. Look at the food and service industries. They have a high turnover and can often use help now. There are many websites that are looking for people to do side gigs and there are places for you to post your resume.

Mom-and-pop type businesses might offer a lot more flexibility and can often hire right on the spot, while larger companies usually require a lengthy application process, which can sometimes take weeks.

One last suggestion is to network. Let others know of your situation and have them become your eyes and ears for possible employment. Use social media, friends, and family to spread the word that you are looking for a way to make some dough. You can learn about different ways to make money by reading Many Streams Make a Mighty Fine Income.

Seek assistance

Public assistance is another place to go for help. Call 211 or visit www.211.org to find out what human services programs are available in your area. They can give you information about SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program), food pantries, charitable organizations, and energy assistance.

Do you attend a church? Are you a part of a club or lodge? Chances are, there are members there who want to help you. They may not want to make the first move or are unsure what you need. You might need to make the first move. Go to your religious leader or head on an organization and explain your situation. Gracefully accept help and remember to pay it forward when you are back on your feet.

Food

Now is the time to stretch your food budget. Look into free or reduced breakfast and lunches for your kids. Learn what it takes to qualify. Some schools have a fund for kids in a temporary situation.

Read all about meal-stretchers and learn new ways to transform a recipe for 4 people into one that easily serves 8 or more. More servings mean more leftovers, and leftovers provide food for packed lunches — another way to save money.

Stretching meals can be done! Consider adding these foods to your grocery list:

Beans – They are high in protein and fiber and contain antioxidants. They also contain vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, niacin, and B6. You can make soup with them, smash and refry them, make them a side dish, use them to stretch a protein. Use them as a protein, like in burritos! They can be flavored a million different ways, so you won’t get bored.

Eggs – This is another scrumptious protein that can be so versatile! Eggs are great for breakfast but consider them for other meals too. A simple egg casserole can be a filling meal. We like our Mexican style- green chilies, onions, leftover beef or chicken, cheese and salsa on top! Eggs can be poached, over easy, scrambled. Hard-boiled eggs are a perfect snack, can be put into a lunch box or made into a sandwich.

Pasta – it’s is not just for Italian food. With a large choice of size and style, you can’t screw this up. Salads, casseroles or just a big pot of spaghetti, everyone will love it. It is cheap and there are so many recipes online, you will have trouble choosing.

Fruit – Buy what is on sale and in season. Bananas are often inexpensive and can be eaten in so many things. Make fruit a part of your meals, snacks, and even dessert. A simple baked apple (cinnamon, brown sugar and butter) is a fast and easy dessert.

Rice – Brown rice is more nutritional, but white rice will certainly do. Like beans, rice can pick up the flavor of anything you cook with it. Italian, Mexican, Indian, Asian… use your imagination. We add rice to our leftover soup. (Add leftover meat, veggies, and rice in a pot. Chose a seasoning and go for it!) Rice and beans go together beautifully. A great example of this combo is The Survival Mom’s Macho Mexican Rice. Rice can be used to stretch ground meat, like in a meatloaf. And don’t forget rice pudding!

Whole chicken – I recommend roasting the chicken in the oven and experimenting to see how many meals you can get from it. When you buy the bird whole, it is soooo cheap. The drippings can be used for a savory gravy to pour over the chicken and mashed potatoes. Consider chicken salad sandwiches, shredded BBQ, burritos, add it to pasta or rice.

Ramen – I may get a few eye rolls for mentioning ramen, but most kids and teens love them. If you are trying to save money, this is cheap food that you can transform! For breakfast, add some frozen peas and carrots, along with an egg. Remember, you don’t have to use the seasoning packet that comes with it. You can add your own seasonings. Ramen soup is a welcoming home for any leftover meat and veggies.

Veggies – Buying vegetables fresh and in-season can be a money saver, but don’t ignore frozen vegetables! They are just as nutritious. Steamed, raw, roasted, microwaved, tossed in soup or salad, you can’t go wrong. We have a “veggie tray” that I constantly re-fill and keep in the fridge. Baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumber slices, and cut broccoli are the favorites for my family.

Potatoes – These are so easy to prepare. You can do a hash, smash or roast them, bake, fry or dice them — it’s all good and cheap! Add them to a casserole, stew, or soup. Potatoes are filling and nutritious. Just about any meat or veggie can go on top of it. My boys love to open a can of chili to pour over a baked potato.

TIP- If you love tacos… sneak a peak and learn How to Stretch your Grocery Budget on Taco Night.

My new favorite grocery store is Aldi. Even if you have to drive a few extra miles, Aldi can save you a lot of money. I spend 95 cents on a pint of sour cream, 95 cents on a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts, eggs, milk, bread, tortillas, chips — all at bargain prices. You’ll be bagging your own groceries, so be sure to bring some shopping bags from home, and renting a shopping cart is a quarter, which you get back when the cart is returned. To me, these are very small inconveniences for the low prices.

Continue living and loving life!

As overwhelming as things can be, it is important to also acknowledge that there is still good and fun to be had. If you no longer have cable TV, consider digging up some board games, cards, or exchange DVDs with some friends. Enjoy walks outside. Journal, go to the library, attend free city functions, maybe find a church or club social.

All of this is especially important if you have children. They pick up on a parent’s stress and concern, more than we realize. The government shutdown should not cause stress for them. If it is their birthday, still have a party. It may be simple, but that is okay. Celebrate the little things, like a good grade on a paper, being kind to a sibling, helping around the home. Leave little notes, not just for the kids but your sweetheart too! The extra compliments they receive will always benefit!

This terrific list has even more ways to celebrate when times are tight.

With any government shutdown, you always know that you aren’t alone. There are many other families in the same situation as you. Maybe some bartering could be beneficial. Reach out to those in your community that is also affected by this. Gather, talk and emotionally support each other. You may make some dear friends from the experience. Do you have any suggestions that you would like to share?

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Erin Foster is mom to 5 kids. West Georgia is home where you can find her reading, camping, enjoying a play and on any adventure she can do with her family. Along with a B.A. degree in Emergency and Disaster Management, she has an EKG technician and nursing assistant certificate.

1 thought on “Smart Advice to Help You Survive the Government Shutdown — or any other surprise financial setback”

  1. Solid advice. Sometimes people under duress don’t think clearly. Your list would help them prioritize the most important things. Let’s hope this is only temporary.

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