Millions of North Americans are struggling to make ends meet, and data suggests many adults are living paycheck to paycheck. A study released in 2012 by the Consumer Federation of America and Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards revealed roughly 38 percent of Americans stay afloat by living paycheck to paycheck. In 2010, a national survey showed that around 60 percent of Canadians would be in financial peril if their paychecks were delayed even one week.
Household liabilities, including mortgages and rents, as well as other established debt makes it impossible for some people to remain financially sound without a steady income. Should a circumstance like a medical illness, loss of job or furlough in pay delay a salary, many people would quickly find themselves in financial hot water. Despite conventional wisdom that suggests people should have enough money set aside to cover at least six months' of expenses, many people do not even come close to this amount. So what to do if your are faced with a temporary loss of pay? Everyone's situation is unique, but the following tips can help men and women weather the storm of financial uncertainty.
* Remain calm. When money suddenly stops coming in, remain calm and assess the situation. Now is the time to take out financial worksheets and bank statements. Add up the amount of money you have in the bank and any assets that can be liquidated without penalty. Compare this to the money that is spent each month. Once you have an accurate picture of your finances, you can establish a plan.
* Explore assistance programs. Laid off workers may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Be sure to file for unemployment as soon as possible. While unemployment benefits won't equal your previous earnings, the money can help pay bills until you are able to get back on track. Individuals sidelined from work by an injury may be eligible for compensation through worker's programs or any personal insurance plans.
* Talk to your creditors. It is best to be open and honest with creditors so that this blip on your financial history doesn't end up causing any long-term damage to your credit. Many creditors have contingency plans in place and will be willing to work with individuals who anticipate trouble paying their bills. You may be able to temporarily freeze accounts or waive payments for a certain period of time without penalty. If you have a store credit card, you may be able to negotiate a cash settlement to wipe out the debt. Some creditors will take as little as a few dollars a month as good-faith payments. Just don't wait until it's too late to negotiate with creditors.
* Find ways to cut back. Lack of work may have already cut out some of your daily expenses, such as commuting costs. However, now is also the time to assess if any luxuries can be dispensed of to save money. Think about cancelling expensive mobile phone plans or cable service. Cease having dinners out on the town or ordering take-out. Kids may need to make concessions on extracurricular activities that cost money. These luxuries can be restored when a steady income is once again coming in.
* Talk to family members. Do not hide the situation from friends and family members. Be honest with family members about the situation, and they may offer advice or some financial help. Although loans between family and friends can be tricky, they may be your best option to stay afloat financially during a rough patch.
* Steer clear of credit cards. Many credit cards come with steep interest rates, so using credit cards to secure cash advances or make purchases is a risky proposition. Explore other options before resorting to credit cards to bail you out.
* Be open to new employment. Keep an open mind when searching for a new job. You may need to settle for something part-time until a full-time opportunity comes along. Think about looking outside of your normal line of work and into industries that are thriving even in tough financial times.
* Stick together. Financial uncertainty can take its toll on a family. Naturally, losing a job or having a temporary loss of pay can take its toll on morale and put added stress on relationships. But families who work together can ride out the situation successfully.
* Make plans for the future. Realize this type of situation can happen again, and commit to making future plans for emergency savings and other coping strategies. Find ways to achieve a relatively stable nest egg so that you can weather any future financial storms.