By Jon Cook, Accredited Financial Counselor, Rock Island Arsenal Army Community ServiceMarch 26, 2013
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. (March 26, 2013) -- If you're a federal employee like me, unpaid furlough days might be in our future. It's an unpleasant possibility for many federal employees. Offered below are some tips to help anyone in similar circumstances to "weather the furlough." Read on for ways to hopefully manage without going broke or losing your quality of life. When battling the budget, you have three options: (1) decrease expenses; (2) increase income; or (3) do both. Encourage your team and family to contribute to solutions during these trying times. The personal financial management goal does not change: spend less than you make.
Consider what you'll save
While you won't be earning anything on your furlough days, you won't have any work-related expenses either. For example, if you drive 30 miles round-trip to work, using roughly one gallon of gas, buy lunch out, and wear a dry-cleaned suit, your typical spending might look like:
• Gas -- $3.76 (average national price per AAA as of March 2, 2013)
• Lunch -- $15.99 with tip
• Dry cleaning -- $10
If you have one forced day off a week, you'll save about $30, or about $120 a month. Small comfort, but it's something.
Trim the fat from your budget
If you're making less money, you'll have to either cut back, or dip into savings. But spending less might be easier than you think. Many of us pay monthly fees for things we don't use often (or ever). Hopefully you're tracking your expenses - if you're not, start now. Look at recent expenses to see what you might be paying for but not using. For example:
• Gym membership -- $29.99
• Tanning membership -- $24.99
• Streaming video subscription -- $9.99
• Once you spot "money leaks," call and cancel.
Wipe out unnecessary expenses
Cutting out the extras, even temporarily, can help. You probably have a few expenses you could cut out without sacrificing your quality of life. For example:
• Cancel cable -- potential savings: $75 a month (Canceling cable doesn't mean going without TV.)
• Keep the cable; ditch the premium channels -- potential savings: $39 a month
• Drop your land-line and use your cell phone instead -- potential savings: $30 a month
• Skip the concert tickets -- potential savings: $45 a month
• Eat out one less night a month -- potential savings: $25 a month
These five actions could save $175 a month (or $139 if you want to keep your basic cable). But don't stop there. Look over your expenses in the last few months, and see what you can trim without feeling the loss. Like concerts? Find free ones. Like live sports? Drop pro and go amateur. Like dinner out with friends? Host potlucks instead. Like to buy e-books? Get them free at the library. In short, when times get tough, put your wallet away and use your imagination instead.
Cut back on food costs
In 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average American family spends $6,458 yearly on food -- or $538 a month. This is one expense you can easily save on. Listed here are some tips to save on food:
• Shop salvaged grocery stores. Buying dented cans and damaged packages can save you 30 to 50 percent and we've got a list of salvaged grocery stores.
• Use ads and coupons. One could save up to 50 percent by planning meals around the weekly sales.
• Bring a list. Make a list before you go and only buy what's on the list. That simple move alone could save 10 percent by avoiding impulse purchases.
• Buy generic. Shop the store brands on the bottom shelf and you could save 30 percent or more.
• Prepare it yourself. It's ironic that the costliest food is often the least tasty and nutritious. If you've got more time on your hands, use it to prepare more meals from scratch. You'll eat better and spend less doing it.
Contact your financial institution and creditors to ask for an accommodation
Don't wait until the last moment to ask for help. Once you have figured out your revised budget, and if you cannot pay some debts, consider consulting your local personal banker or credit union representative. Identify your secured debt (a creditor can come get something or deny something, e.g. home loan, car loan, utilities) from unsecured debt (credit cards and personal loans). You may desire to pay secured debts first before you pay unsecured debts. Ask the creditors for accommodations in percentage rates, temporary interest-only payments, and forbearance of debts.
Dip into savings cautiously
If you have to dip into savings, do it sparingly. Granted, the purpose of an emergency fund is for emergencies, and a 20 percent pay cut certainly qualifies. But do everything you can to reduce expenses first. Otherwise you might find yourself short when something even more urgent comes up.
Apply for loans if necessary
Can you ask your family or other persons and organizations for assistance? If borrowing from a person, make a repayment contract. Can you take out low interest loans? Are you a member of a credit union or local bank? Consult with your personal banker for advice. You may also qualify in dire emergencies for a short-term loan from the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund (www.feea.org). The loans are interest-free and up to $1,000, but have short repayment periods. You can read more and get an application at the FEEA website. Avoid payday lenders -- if you think you have a problem now, wait until you try to pay them back at very high interest rates.
Make extra money
Use your furlough days to make some extra cash outside the office. Throwing a garage sale is an easy way to make some extra cash. If getting up early on the weekends isn't your thing, sell unwanted stuff online. You could also babysit or pet-sit in your free time. There are other ways to work from home, but be careful not to get ripped off. Inform your supervisor and discuss with your ethics counselor so there is no conflict of interest.
Military Saves and Ready Army informational campaigns
First the recession and now this furlough all point to the need to save more money in order to carry ourselves in hard times. We should all be promising ourselves to make us better prepared for disasters, incidents and hard times. Ready Army (www.acsim.army.mil/readyarmy) asks us to prepare our work areas and homes for disasters; Military Saves (www.militarysaves.org) asks us to prepare for difficult times by saving money for the future. Time to heed the advice, set goals and take action.
Lastly, Theodore Roosevelt had this advice: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
Note 1: Grateful acknowledgment is given to Angela Colley for her timely March 4, 2013 article at www.moneytalk.news.com. A number of ideas listed in her article were used in the information above.
Note 2: This information is provided by Army Community Service (ACS) Financial Readiness (FR) Program at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. The provided information is not a recommendation; clients are responsible for making up their own decisions. This information should not be considered an exclusion of other reputable, professional organizations, products or services. Before making any financial commitment, consult the appropriate professional adviser. The information is provided only for educating readers in order to broaden their knowledge of options that may be available. For this educational purpose, the above information is provided.
ACS FR can be reached at (309) 782-0815/-0829; email firstname.lastname@example.org; and visit us on the web at www.riamwr.com/acs/financial-readiness. The Financial Readiness page and Jobs & Money Hot Topics page have useful spreadsheets, worksheets, and community points of contact.