By KELSEY SHEEHY NerdWallet
Cutting back on streaming subscriptions is a solid savings tip for some. But what if the choice you’re faced with isn’t paying for Netflix or Hulu, but whether you’re going to pay for food or electricity?
Millions of Americans each year face food, housing, and general financial insecurity, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Agriculture. And getting help often means navigating a maze of websites, automated phone systems, and confusing apps only to get to a waiting list of a year or worse – find out you’re ineligible.
The good news: You don’t have to figure it out on your own. There are financial advisors, nonprofits, and other local and national organizations out there to help you find your financial situation.
If you’re currently facing an eviction, can’t feed your family, or are in another financial crisis, call 211 now to speak with a local expert who can connect you with assistance programs for food, housing, utilities, medical bills and more. Emergency cases.
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Not in crisis mode yet but barely keeping your head above water? Take these steps to prioritize the money you get, then get help filling in the gaps.
Back to basics
Start with a budget Even if you don’t think you have enough money for a budget, says Amy Smith, a financial advisor in Central Texas.
Smith, who is also the Membership Engagement Coordinator for the Association for Financial Advisory & Planning Education, says.
Your first budget won’t be pretty. It might not be the third or the fourth either. That’s fine. Try to stick with it and play around with different budget methods to find the one that works for you.
“When I started this journey, the end of my budget was red,” Smith says, noting that she didn’t have the funds to cover all of her expenses. “At least I knew I needed the extra money.”
You’ll also know how to reallocate your money if you get some extra income or utility assistance for a few months.
Prioritize the essentials
If there isn’t enough money to cover all of your expenses, make sure your basic needs are met first. These include housing, utilities, food, transportation, and childcare, among others.
“If that means the credit card hasn’t been paid for that month, that’s it,” Smith says.
Bills that you cannot cover should not be ignored. Contact the creditor—whether it’s your landlord, mortgage company, utility provider, or credit card issuer—and explain the situation. Then ask if there is any help available. Even late fees waived can help.
Take help where you can
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 right for you, or that things aren’t that bad yet.
It can take some time to go from application to assistance, especially for federal programs. The waiting list for some federal housing vouchers can stretch for years, according to Eric Gartland, a research analyst at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. On the flip side, SNAP benefits (often referred to as food stamps) can begin within seven days of applying if you have no income, says Dottie Rosenbaum, senior fellow and director of federal SNAP policy at CBPP.
Tracking down software, forms, applications, and eligibility requirements is tedious and time consuming, especially if you face language barriers, don’t have a reliable internet connection, or simply don’t have the time because you care and support your family.
Rely on organizations that focus solely on connecting people in need with available help.
How do you find help?
These organizations can help you navigate the network of local, regional, and national programs run by nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and state and federal agencies.
Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education: Financial advisors work with clients on the basics–managing expenses, building a budget, and creating a long-term plan–and adjust to local resources and assistance programs. You can sign up for a free virtual session with a certified financial advisor at findanafc.org/pro-bono.
National Coalition on Low Income Housing: This nonprofit organization maintains Emergency Rental Assistance Programs DatabaseThey can be searched by city, county, state territory or tribe. Crucially, the database also includes up-to-date information on the status of each program: applications accepted, on hold or permanently closed.
Legal Services Corporation: Legal aid organizations across the country provide free legal aid to low-income individuals. Their services cover everything from evictions and foreclosures to wage disputes and disaster relief. Legal Services Corporation is an independent, non-profit organization that provides funding to more than 100 legal aid groups throughout the country and US territories. Visit their website ( lsc.gov ), select Get Legal Aid and enter your address to find a local legal aid office.
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