How to keep your finances above water if you are furloughed

With an estimated 800,000 federal workers throughout the country furloughed as part of the government shutdown, there are sure to be tight finances in a lot of households.

Friday is the first payday that most furloughed employees will have to skip.

Here are nine ways to stretch your dollars and make it through these tough times. 

Raid the pantry

How many meals you can create from what you have on hand in your pantry and freezer? You may be surprised at how creative you can get on the meal planning without going to the grocery store. 

Make a soup from random items in the freezer, or make a hodge-podge meal out of your pantry contents.

At our house, we try to have a “no grocery” week before a vacation to free up a little more disposable income, and it works out well — eat for free and clean out the pantry, too.

More: Today should be payday for thousands of government workers. But the shutdown means they’re not getting paid

More: Businesses offer furlough freebies, shutdown specials and assistance to federal workers

Keep the grocery bill down 

Shopping with a carefully curated list is the best way to keep your grocery spending at a minimum. Check prices before you start buying, and gravitate toward items that are on sale.

For example, if there is a special on chicken, it is a good week for chicken. Some of the healthiest foods, like bananas, oatmeal, eggs, cheese, bread, peanut butter and milk are very inexpensive.    

Stay away from impulse purchases.  

Government shutdown: How it impacts what you eat from food safety to beer

Eat in, not out 

According to The Simple Dollar, “the average American eats an average of 4.2 commercially prepared meals per week. In other words, as a nation, we eat out between four and five times a week, on average. This number equates to 18.2 meals (average meal cost of $12.75) in an average month eaten outside the home.

“What kind of money are we talking about here? The average American spends $232 per month eating meals prepared outside the home.” 

Cooking is not that hard. With online recipes and cooking shows, cooking at home can be as much an activity as a necessity. Make it fun with creative menus, or make it a family project where everybody participates in the planning and the preparation.    

If you do go out: 16 ways to spend less at restaurants from Ms. Cheap

The same goes for entertaining. If you are accustomed to going out on Saturday nights, start hosting dinners and events and inviting friends to join. Make it a potluck or joint effort, and enjoy the time together instead of running up a big tab at a restaurant or club.

Find free entertainment

There are plenty of free things to do for all ages. With our public parks, libraries and colleges, almost every community has plenty of cheap and free options, including concerts, festivals, art shows, movies, family activities, walks, etc. 

Do it yourself

Do whatever you can yourself, instead of paying someone to do things like grooming your dog, raking leaves, sewing, painting a room or cleaning your house.

I would not go so far as to suggest cutting your own hair or your family’s, but I recommend checking out area beauty schools that provide hair services at steep discounts.  

Guide to getting rid of things: Declutter your house and help others too

Stop smoking

This would be the perfect time to stop smoking. If you smoke a pack a day, you are talking about as much as $2,500 a year. Not to mention the adverse effects on your health. 

Turn down the heat

Directenergy.com says: “The Department of Energy estimates savings of about 1 percent for each degree of thermostat adjustment per 8 hours, and recommends turning thermostats back 7 to 10 degrees from their normal settings for 8 hours per day to achieve annual savings of up to 10 percent.

“During colder weather, try keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees while people are home and awake but turning it down by up to 10 degrees while everyone is sleeping or away. In warm seasons, shoot for 78 degrees and push it up to 85 degrees when no one is home. According to the Department of Energy’s analysis, homeowners who do this will save an average of $83 per year.”

Create some side income

Since furloughed employees will presumably have time on their hands, this could be a good time to go entrepreneurial by turning a hobby, skill or other interests into money makers to help fill the family coffers.

If you like to bake or make signature meals, check with friends or neighbors to see if they would like to order some of your creations. Or if you are a tech whiz, get the word out that you are available to assist your non-techy acquaintances.

Think of other potential short-term money makers like gardening, cleaning, pet sitting, errand running, babysitting, painting or organizing. It is easier than ever to get the word out with Facebook or neighborhood list serves.

Get financial advice

If you need help, a great resource is the Nashville Financial Empowerment Center, which provides free, professional financial counseling to Nashvillians.

Request an appointment online or call 615-748-3620 to make an appointment. Appointments are required, no walk-ins.

More from Ms. Cheap: Get budget tips, inspiration for frugal fun and more in the weekly Ms. Cheap newsletter.

Reach Ms. Cheap at 615-259-8282 or mscheap@tennessean.com. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/mscheap, and at Tennessean.com/mscheap, and on Twitter @Ms_Cheap, and catch her every Thursday at 11 a.m. on WTVF-Channel 5’s “Talk of the Town.”

Talk to us

Are you and your family’s income affected by the government shutdown? We’d like to hear from you. Reach reporter Yihyun Jeong at yjeong@tennessean.com.

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