Navigating Financial Hardships? 27 Practical Tips for Seeking Assistance During Crisis

WEALTHOFGEEKS FeaturedImageTemplate 2024 02 20T131654.447

We aren't all financially comfortable with a sizeable nest egg to fall back on. Sometimes, many of us find our saves struggling and panicking. Have you ever sat and stared at your bank account and a stack of unopened mail and said, “I can't pay my bills?” It's stressful, but it's nothing to be ashamed of. 

1. Research Where You Can Turn To Get Help With Money

man and woman trying to work out finances
Image credit: bbernard/Shutterstock.

Assuming you have exhausted the simple resources like asking your friends, neighbors, and family, and it just wasn't in the cards, where do you go next?

If you put aside the time frame and urgency issue, you can start by looking online for local resources and ways to get help through free grants or other assistance. This is an excellent place to start, and you might be surprised at how much assistance you can get in the short term.

2. Don't Ignore Your Creditors

woman looking at grocery receipt
Image Credit: SrideeStudio/Shutterstock.

When people don't have the money to pay their bills, they stop opening their mail. They can't bear to look at the balance they owe, but knowing where you stand is essential. Ignoring your bills and creditors will worsen when your services are shut off, or your debts get sent to collections.

Instead, contact your creditors and explain your situation. Let them know if there are extenuating circumstances like temporary unemployment, unexpected medical bills, or something similar. Tell them you want to pay your bills, but you need some flexibility right now, like a lower minimum payment, an extended due date, or a reduced interest rate.

3. Sell Your Stuff

sell unwanted goods for extra cash
Image credit: New Africa/Shutterstock.

It's time to hustle and find some additional money. Sell your junk. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Your old music CDs, video games, books, clothes, etc., can get you some fast cash.

Even items that don't work can have value…as many people will purchase electronic or mechanical items for parts. Indeed, this isn't a sustainable long-term solution, but it does help you dig out of this financial mess. 

4. Ask for a Raise

anxious over money
Image Credit: Damir Khabirov/Shutterstock.

Ask your boss for a raise if you think you deserve one. Make sure you point out all the contributions you've made and the reasons you're worth more. It doesn't hurt to ask; it will at least give you some feedback on whether you're progressing at work and will see more money soon.

5. Start a Side Hustle

Person working at their laptop, starting a side hustle to make extra cash.
Image credit: aodaodaodaod/Shutterstock.

Get a second job or a side hustle to earn additional money. Even a part-time gig at a fast food restaurant 10 hours a week will make you several hundred a month and maybe some free food. Or work for yourself by babysitting, dog walking, selling crafts, or one of the hundreds of other ways you can make a little extra dough. 

When you find that additional income, ensure it goes toward paying off your bills and doesn't get squandered. Some side hustles take time, but it gives you a longer-term solution to your financial woes. 

6. Track Expenses and Start Budgeting

making a budget to manage expenses
Image credit: JohnKwan/Shutterstock.

Do you have a budget? If not, track your expenses to see your monthly spending. If you already have a budget, you may need to manage it better. Your income can only go so far, and when overspending on credit cards or other debt payments, disaster approaches.

You may find that you're spending all or even more than you make. Your income may be irregular, like earned on commission, tips, bonuses, or overtime. Any of these factors can make your finances easier to manage.

7. Ditch the Credit Cards

credit card health check
Image credit: smolaw/Shutterstock.

Eliminate using all credit cards until you can pay them off in full. After that, only use credit cards when they are figured into your monthly income plan or don't use them at all. (If you use a credit card, make sure it has no annual fee, a good rewards program, and a low-interest rate.)

8. Reduce Utility Bills

woman worried about utility bills
Image credit: tommaso79/Shutterstock.

Save on your utilities; wear a sweater in winter and open the windows in summer to save on energy costs if you're paying for them.

9. Save on Transportation Costs

car driving over a crosswalk
Image credit: Varavin88/Shutterstock.

That car you drive at $300-$400+ per month may also have to go. Do some research to see if you could trade in your car or find a less expensive option. Right now, reliable transportation is more important than fancy.

And while you're at it, shop around on your car insurance to see where you can save.

10. Save Money on Groceries

save money on groceries with coupons
Image credit: photastic/Shutterstock.

Find ways to reduce your grocery bill. Shop the sales, use coupons, plan your meals, and make wise choices to reduce your food budget while still eating healthy.

11. Get Help With Critical Expenses

get help paying bills
Image credit: Artie Medvedev/Shutterstock.

When you've fallen into hard financial times and need help, paying for monthly expenses like food and utilities is often your first and most significant concern. Many public assistance programs are in place to help struggling people. 

Programs work like loans for utilities, which you will sometimes have to repay. However, many others are gifted as grants through various organizations.

12. Low-Income Resources

getting financial help
Image credit: Ground Picture/Shutterstock.

There are local, state, and federal resources that can help eligible low-income individuals struggling to pay their utility bills. Most of these assistance programs are temporary and meant to help you out of a challenging situation and back onto solid financial footing. However, some programs are offered as grants, which means they can be paid.

There are wide ranges of trusted financial opportunities, including assistance for personal bills, transportation, and medical needs offered as benefits or grants.

13. LIHEAP

learning thermostat to reduce energy costs
Image credit: zhu difeng/Shutterstock.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) block grant is funded by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and provides two basic types of services.

Eligible low-income households receive financial assistance to offset the costs of heating and cooling dwellings and weather their homes to make them more energy efficient by local governmental and nonprofit organizations.

14. Other Assistance Programs

unveiling a superhero
Image credit: ranges/Shutterstock.

Many states offer additional assistance programs, in addition to LIHEAP, that can help you and your family. They also help you save energy and reduce your electric bill through easy and sometimes free energy-saving methods. Please contact your state websites to find out where help is offered.

15. HRRP

old rusty air conditioning unit
Image credit: BoxBoy/Shutterstock.

The Heating Repair & Replacement Program is another federal government-funded program offered in your local community. It may be called slightly different names in each state but functions similarly in most parts of the country. It is often used in conjunction with the weatherization program.

16. Weatherization Assistance Program

tools in a tool belt
Image credit: mihalec/Shutterstock.

This program offers weather stripping, wall and attic insulation, minor home repairs, and furnace tune-ups. There may be other related energy-saving measures that will help people lower their electric bills and save money. It can repair or replace heating units, appliances, furnaces, and other home upgrades.

17. Free Air Conditioner

installing an air conditioner
Image credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.

Free air conditioning units and window fans are available during the summer months. The assistance is usually provided as part of LIHEAP, or charities such as the Salvation Army offer them to low-income families. The free air conditioning units are often combined with emergency utility bill assistance to help keep a struggling family cool.

Many states, particularly those in the south and west, provide financial assistance during the summer to pay cooling and electric bills. Emergency cash assistance, grants, and more, such as free box fans or air conditioning units, may be offered.

18. Get Your Electricity Back On

Kansas City Plaza Christmas Lights
Image Credit: TommyBrison/Shutterstock.

If your electricity has been shut off, it can be difficult for you to reconnect promptly. You can use assistance programs to get your power turned back on. The programs are offered at the federal and state levels for aid with electric, utility, water, or heating bills.

You can even receive grant money to pay electric or energy bills, apply for emergency hardship funds, and get assistance paying any deposit to reconnect utility service.

If you use oil for heating, you can qualify for free or low-cost fuel. The same is true for homes that are heated by firewood. Government programs and charities will help low-income households that use this as a heat source.

19. Balanced Payment Plans

working out a balanced payment plan
Image credit: bluedog studio/Shutterstock.

Many utility companies offer these to help pay and manage your bills. These plans provide the customer a way of paying their electric bill at a monthly flat rate year-round so families can budget for the seasonal spikes in their heating or cooling costs.

The payments you need to make do not dramatically increase during the winter or summer. For example, if your annual electric bill is $1,800, you may pay a flat fee of $150 per month rather than a higher amount in the summer or winter.

20. Contact Your Utility Company

call center worker
Image credit: Bojan Milinkov/Shutterstock.

A struggling customer should always contact their utility company to find out about any programs they offer. Call the customer service number on your bill. They even may cancel the charges you owe if you are income-qualified.

21. Get a Home Energy Audit

different types of energy
Image credit: William Potter/Shutterstock.

Utility companies will offer HEA's as a free service or provide it for a meager fee. These audits will help homeowners identify where improvements or updates can be made to reduce energy usage. Some utility companies will even contribute towards fixing the home if you meet the income criteria.

22. LIHWAP (Low Income Household Water Assistance Program)

kitchen sink
Image credit: NavinTar/Shutterstock.

Many companies offer payment plans, rebates, or financial help with your water bill. They also receive grants from charities that allow them to provide free audits to help reduce your usage.

23. Dollar Energy Fund

shaking hands and exchanging money
Image credit: Atstock Productions/Shutterstock.

The Dollar Energy Fund is a charitable program that has existed for almost 30 years and relies on donations. Hundreds of thousands have received grants from this fund to pay their utilities. The fund is available in West Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, California, Connecticut, Texas, Kentucky, and Virginia. 

24. Operation Roundup

utilties
Image Credit: fizkes / Shutterstock.

This assistance program, offered by many utility companies, provides cash grants to help pay utility, heating, and other bills. You can also get help with rent, medical expenses, or food. Many small utility company cooperatives also provide Operation Round Up.

25. Telephone and Internet

person using call phone outside
Image credit: GalacticDreamer/Shutterstock.

Low-income families can receive discounts on their monthly phone bills from Lifeline, free cellular phones, or even savings on their high-speed cable internet connection. Some of these services are combined with other electric bill programs as well.

26. Free Legal Assistance

getting legal advice
Image credit: fizkes/Shutterstock.

Most states have non-profit law firms that can advise low-to-moderate-income individuals, the elderly, and the disabled on their legal rights regarding utility service disconnections. Priority is given to the elderly and people with medical conditions. Lawyers can provide free legal advice to help individuals keep their power on.

27. Solve the Long Term Problem

savings
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

To make sure you can pay your bills in the future and even start to set aside some savings (especially that all-important emergency fund), you need to live within your means. Simply enough, you either need to earn more, spend less, or, most likely, do both.

If your earnings fall short, consider your current circumstances to determine where to improve. Do you need more education? Can you get additional training to supplement your skills at work?

If you've settled for a dead-end job, it may be time to start looking for another opportunity while still employed. It's always easier to find work when you still have a job. Don't ignore the other half of the equation. Reducing your expenses should be an ongoing effort. The lower your spending, the more flexibility and security you will have.