Life happens. Sometimes, life can throw a sudden job loss or drop in income your way. Beyond saving up an emergency fund, you’ll need to make a few key moves while you stay afloat. These steps will help minimize the damage and stabilize your finances, quickly.
Alert the people who need to know
There are some exceptions to this rule, but it usually pays to be proactive and honest about your financial situation. If you make the first move and have an honest talk with your landlord, for example, you might be able to negotiate a reduced rent for a few months, set up a split payment agreement, or mutually decide on a later due date for the payment. If you wait until the rent is overdue, and your landlord’s patience is already stretched thin, those negotiations might not go so well.
It can be intimidating to initiate these conversations; there’s no guarantee they’ll go your way, and it’s humbling to admit that you’re struggling financially. However, it’s worth the effort. The worst you’ll get is a, “No.” In the best case scenario, you may gain some extra time, waive some late fees, or find a much-needed reduction in what you have to pay.
Put payments on hold
If you have automatic payments, particularly large ones, call your bank and put them on hold. While your income is low, you need to assess and prioritize each payment you make, rather than let things flow automatically. You’ll also avoid potential overdraft fees by holding those automatic transfers or payments.
Some banks charge a fee for putting payments on hold; if that’s the case, see if you can put the payment on hold from the payee-side of things rather than through the bank. In other words, if you have an automatic payment scheduled to your insurance provider, for example, and the bank will charge you to put a hold on that auto payment, call your insurance provider and cancel the automatic payment plan until you’re ready to reinstate it.
Be sure that you keep a spreadsheet or other record of all the payments you put on hold; they still need to be paid. You’re just going to manually send those payments according to the best timing for each one. Don’t lose track of the payments that need to be sent: Note the amount, the payee information, and the due date for each payment.
If you know you’ll be late on a bill or payment, call ahead. You may be able to negotiate a temporary, reduced payment plan for credit card debt, car payments, or other bills. Most companies would rather have some money than no money and will work with you, at least to some extent.
Reduce your expenses
Take a good look at your budget and cut out all but the essentials. This usually means that you’re paying bills and handling necessary expenses such as food and fuel in the car. Every other expense goes on hold: clothing, travel, entertainment, and so on need to wait. You can — and should — still have fun, but now is the time to opt for free activities.
For the time being, pay for your expenses in cash. First, you’ll stay more aware of what you’re spending if you’re handing over a stack of bills. Second, you won’t be buying things you can’t really afford if you’re paying cash. You either have the cash, or you don’t; no cash, you don’t buy it. This is a very simple way to reduce your expenses to the essentials, only.
Remember that this is a temporary state of being. It’s stressful to deal with income loss, and having to do without your favorite luxuries can make it even more difficult. However, reducing your expenses is key to getting your finances under control. Splurge on free experiences that help you relax and enjoy the moment, such as watching the sunset, taking a walk, meditating, listening to music, or volunteering.
Get money coming in
Now is the time to polish up all your side-hustle skills. You may not be able to get back to your original income level, but you can definitely pay some bills. There are numerous ideas for side gigs; you might start by offering your professional skills within your network. You can tutor, write, advise, consult, pick up a weekend job, do yardwork, become a virtual assistant, or any combination of those.
Side work will help your mentality; it’s important to keep working and be active rather than sink into helplessness. And more importantly, side work will bring in some money.
Last, but certainly not least: Don’t panic. It’s scary to watch your income plummet and your savings dwindle. But a sudden loss of income is not a reflection of your value as a person. It does not define you, and it does not limit your potential or your future. Many people have walked through the financial fire before and come out stronger than ever on the other side. By taking some of these smart steps now, you can start moving along that path yourself.