Ever had that feeling of dread when payday comes and you have more bills than money in the bank?
Some of you won’t know what I’m talking about because you’ve never been there. And that’s wonderful! But others may know all too well what I mean. You get out your stack of bills, add them up, and try to figure out how in the world you’re going to cover everything. Or you have enough money to make all your payments, but not enough for food and gas until you get paid again. It’s a miserable, depressing feeling.
When I was still in spending mode, I wasn’t just a member of the Utility of the Month Club – I was the president. We never actually had any of our utilities cut off, but that’s only because I knew exactly how long I could wait. And because I frequently used credit cards to buy groceries. And because I had a friend at the electric company who would conveniently “miss” my house when he pulled meters for nonpayment.
Most finance sites would tell you a lot of practical ways to prevent bill overload from happening. Spend less. Cut out unnecessary items like cable. Use coupons at the grocery store. Sell your furniture and sleep in a tent.
And I will say that all of those can be great moves (except the tent thing). But what do you do when there’s no time for all that stuff? What happens if you are reading this RIGHT NOW and don’t have enough money to make it until payday?
Attention: This is an Emergency
Desperate people don’t have good options. It’s much easier to handle a disaster when you’re prepared, but then it wouldn’t really be a disaster, would it? If you can’t pay your bills, you may be facing choices like these:
- Use a credit card
- Take out a payday loan
- Use your bank’s overdraft and incur fees
- Ask friends or family for money
- Skip a payment
All of those options suck. You don’t want to do any of those things, yet the clock is ticking and you’ve got to figure out something NOW.
I’m here to tell you, there are better ways to handle this problem.
Prioritize the Payments
If you’ve read my Single Mom Budget series, you know that I prioritize expenses a little differently than most personal finance bloggers. That’s because I know what it’s like to live in the danger zone. I don’t recommend it as a longterm strategy, but you can’t wave a magic wand and make things better, so here’s where you start.
FIRST: Buy groceries. Yes, you’re in the middle of a crisis and I’m telling you to go shopping. You know you’re going to eat in the next week or two, right? So don’t pretend you don’t need food in the house.
Don’t go crazy – get the bare necessities. Milk, bread, pasta… Cheap multipurpose items that will last awhile. Allow yourself one snack item (candy bar, bag of Skittles, etc.) because you’ll need it later.
SECOND: Is your rent or mortgage payment due? Pay it. The last thing you need is to risk the roof over your head. Even if it’s not due for a week, just pay it now. No point teasing yourself with that money sitting around.
THIRD: Utilities. These costs are the ones that usually get people in trouble. I remember getting a $500 gas bill one winter, when it had been $200 the previous month. I nearly crapped my pants.
If your utility bills are the cause of your financial catastrophe, call the companies. Today. Don’t wait until the bill is past due and they’re mad at you. Explain that you are having trouble paying your bill and ask if there are options to break the payment into manageable pieces. All utility companies have payment plans (as long as you haven’t screwed them over recently). If you agree to reduced payments, be prepared to keep those terms; otherwise they may not work with you next time.
While you’re on the phone, ask about levelized billing options, where your bill is the same each month. Yeah, you won’t get the relief of lower payments during certain times of the year, but you also won’t have a heart attack during the hottest and coldest months. It’s worth it to know what to expect each month. Also, if your bills are lopsided (more due one pay period than the next), ask about changing your due date.
FOURTH: How much gas/cab fare/whatever do you need to make it until next payday? Take that amount out in cash. Just like with food, there’s no point in acting like you won’t need transportation. Don’t short yourself either. Very few things are more embarrassing than calling in sick because your gas tank is empty. Trust me.
If you’ve made it this far without running out of money, congratulations! Remember that snack food you bought at the grocery store? Now is the time to eat it, because it only gets tougher from here.
Now it’s time to look at everything else you need to pay versus the amount of money you have left. You may have expenses like:
- Debt payments
Number these expenses from most to least important. Some questions to help you prioritize:
Will anything be repossessed, confiscated, or otherwise taken away if I don’t make this payment?
Will my children go without NEEDS (not wants) if I don’t make this payment?
Will I lose my job, car, or home if I don’t make this payment?
Once you’ve decided which payments are most important, set that list aside for a minute. Regardless of importance, think about which of those bills may be negotiable. For example, are you using a promotional discount on your TV and internet service? If not, call and tell them you need to lower your bill because you’re having trouble keeping up with the payments. Will your daycare provider allow you to make smaller payments for a few weeks? The worst they can do is say no. Even your auto lender may accept interest-only payments for a few months.
The point is, you don’t know what options are available unless you ask. And if you can score a discount on any of your remaining expenses, you may be able to pay more than you thought. Once you’ve asked about every possible discount or extension, go back to your prioritized list and pay what you can.
Where to Go From Here
Obviously the steps outlined above are not a solution to your problem – they’re a band-aid. Following my advice will only keep your head above water until the next payday, when you’ll likely be freaking out all over again.
This is the time to consider some changes in the way you’re living. No one likes to hear that, but it’s just the truth. There are only two ways out of a bad money situation; you have to either spend less or earn more. Consider implementing the Single Mom Budget to figure out where your money goes and how to gain control of it. Read some other finance blogs for tips on budgeting, saving, and spending smarter.
Need help figuring things out? Send me an email and we’ll talk. If you’re struggling to pay your bills, something has to change. Let today be the LAST DAY you spend worrying about money.
It’s time to stop panicking and start living. Take real steps toward positive financial change. TODAY.