Many people face tough economic times periodically, and some of the challenges they experience are due to unforeseen or unanticipated circumstances. As an educator who teaches personal finance, it is easy to discuss the merits or advantages of saving for the unexpected. In other words, it gives me such pleasure to write about the steps to developing an emergency savings account, as someone who thinks about money and financial management on a day-to-day basis. However, for individuals trying to stay afloat from one month to the next, it may seem like a trivial task to try to save out of the little they have coming in each month. While I encourage everyone to work on building their savings (for specific goals and unexpected events), there are some other strategies to consider as well:
Attend a free or low-cost cooking class or food preparation program. A USDA report suggested that food is one of the top three household expenses. The report also indicated that spending on food (at and away from home) increased in 2017. Learning how to make simple dishes can help reduce the cost of what you spend on food, and meals prepared at home are often healthier than restaurant meals or fast food. I cook simple meals that include grains, celery, carrots, green beans, spinach, and tomatoes. I also make a lot of stews and soups and then I freeze some of what I make, so I don't have to worry about making dinner every day.
Pack lunches.If you work outside your home, packing lunches help save on the cost of food. Include lunch ideas on your grocery lists or pack leftovers. This may also reduce food waste. I know it is tempting when you smell the amazing scents coming from the cafeteria, food carts, or restaurants, but you will feel good about the decision you make to pack a lunch and save that $10-15.
Talk with your creditors or financial institution. If you experience job loss or other situations that affect your monthly income, it is good to take a proactive approach. If you are working or waiting to replace your income source, talk with your lenders about adjustments or possible new repayment agreements. This varies from one lender to the next, but it's better to explore the options available to you rather than avoid looking at the bills.
Side gigs. Do you have skills that fall outside of the purview of your everyday job or talents that wouldn't cause any conflicts of interest with your current employment? Are you interested in a secondary source of income? Technological innovations support accessibility, control, and flexibility of self-employment and side gigs are becoming a fast-growing area of the labor market. Thomas (2018) explained that online platforms allow millions to earn money by driving, selling goods, renting personal space (e.g., rooms and apartments), or running errands. I have friends who have taught health and wellness classes (e.g., yoga), substitute teach/tutor or create arts and crafts to sell at local events or online, in addition to their regular jobs. The growth of this segment of our economy in the U.S. has many implications for workers, so if you are interested in making money this way, find out more about your tax responsibilities since you may be categorized as an independent contractor. See the reference below for more information on taxation and side gigs.
Locate community resources. It is not always easy to ask for help especially when it has to do with money or finances. Agencies engage in non-discriminatory, non-judgmental practices (based on legal and other ethical requirements); they understand and work with clients experiencing temporary financial hardships. If it's a wellness class, housing inquiry, or other financial assistance programs, check with your local libraries or social service agencies. Even if it's to find out more information, you can reach out to your local agencies and build up a list of your financial resources.
This is not an exhaustive list, and I am sure you have strategies that have worked for you. My goal for this article is to highlight a few approaches that are beyond saving for the unexpected.
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Reference: Thomas, K. D. (2018). Taxing the gig economy. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 166(6), 1415-1473.