Many military families rely on a spouse's income, or a service member's second job, to make ends meet. With the current situation, many people have lost hours or been laid off entirely, while plenty of others can see that their job is not secure. It's a challenging time!
Whether your income has already been cut, or you think it will happen in the future, here are six steps you can take to make it through this tough situation.
1. Check on Unemployment
Depending on your status and the state you live in, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Many state unemployment offices are swamped right now, so you may need to be patient to apply. Of course, you should do so online. The amount of the unemployment payment will vary depending on your usual income and your state law, and there's a limit on how long you can receive benefits.
2. Slash Your Expenses
This seems obvious, but sometimes you really have to look to see opportunities to cut costs. Call your cable company, look over your insurance bill, and see if your cellphone carrier is offering any promotions. Walk around the house and unplug anything that doesn't need to be used right now. (Putting my television and cable box on a power strip has saved me about $20 a month!) Plan your meals to avoid waste and include low-cost recipes. If you have more than one car, drive the one that gets the best gas mileage.
If your job loss is anticipated to be long term, consider taking your kids out of child care. If they are older, curtail activities that cost money. Cut back on subscriptions such as the gym, subscription boxes, TV and music services.
3. Talk to Your Creditors
As soon as you know there is a problem, reach out to your landlord, utility companies and creditors. Many are offering special programs right now. Find out the terms and provisions if they are offering delayed payments, loan extensions or waived interest: Will interest continue to accrue? Will this show as a late payment on your credit report? Are there any specific terms you need to meet? Will there be a balloon payment due?
4. Prioritize Your Bills
Obviously, the ideal is to pay everything at the bare minimum. But if that isn't possible, focus on shelter, food and transportation.
5. Look for Creative Ways to Bring in Income
You may not be able to pick up another job that will completely replace your previous income, but there are always options to make a few dollars. If you feel comfortable going out, certain types of businesses are booming right now, such as grocery stores. Many restaurants are hiring delivery people, and companies like Instacart and Shipt are swamped. If you'd rather stay home, programs like online surveys and watching videos will help you earn a few dollars. This might be a great time to clear out your closets and bookcases and sell your unwanted clothes, media and electronics to online resellers.
6. Use Your Local Resources
Take advantage of the resources available on your military base and in the local community. Many school systems are offering free meals to all children. My local district is letting all kids pick up three meals in one package, five days a week. See if any food programs are still operating. In a pinch, utilize your branch's relief society for short-term assistance.
Long term, make it a goal to fit your necessary monthly spending into just one income. For military families, that's usually the active-duty member's paycheck, because second jobs and spousal employment can come and go as the family moves or situations change. In the meantime, making these changes can help get you through the sting of a loss of income. Be safe, y'all!
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