Inconsistent Income

By Joshua Huffman, certified financial counselor
The Village Family Service Center

Annette and John Graves came in with a very familiar problem. They just don’t have enough money to cover all of their monthly expenses. They have fallen into a pattern of shuffling their bill payments to keep them all as current as possible. In their situation, as in most, this results in a number of obligations running past due, living paycheck to paycheck, and carrying a load of stress.

This problem is a result of a number of different factors, the foremost being a substantial loss of income. The downturn of the economy and the slow-down of the housing industry has meant a decrease in John’s self employment income over the last few years. John earns a good living during the summer, but winter jobs are few. This has led to a cycle of falling behind on bills during the winter months and then spending the summers struggling to catch up. When winter hits, they fall behind again.

At their first session, I went through a comprehensive budget with the Graves. The estimated budget revealed they are short approximately $420 each month during the winter months. Annette and John have worked very hard to reduce their expenses to make up for this shortage in their monthly budget. In addition to cutting back wherever possible, they worked out a deferment on their student loan debt. This will allow them to forgo making monthly payments for 12 months and eliminate $120 from their monthly budget for now.

One of my recommendations to John and Annette is to track all of their expenses for 30 days to determine what they are really spending. Tracking expenses, keeping track of every dollar you spend for a month, is often a first step in putting together an accurate picture of a family’s financial situation. It sounds easy, but tracking can be a difficult task requiring a lot of discipline. (If you are interested in tracking your expenses, use our free Pocket Tracker at www.helpwithmoney.org.)

I will meet with John and Annette in 30 days to review their budget using the numbers they’ve been tracking. They have also pledged to scour their budget looking for other ways to reduce their expenses as much as possible. Annette and John also recognize the importance of increasing their income as much as possible, so John recently applied for a job and will continue pursuing other work. If he is able to find work in addition to his self-employment, their situation could drastically improve.

The Graves were a delightful couple to meet with. They have a good understanding of their situation and a willingness to rise to the challenges of improving it. It is a stressful situation, to be sure, but their stress is tempered with a great sense of humor and a desire to improve their circumstances for the sake of their family. I look forward to working with them and hopefully, witnessing their success.

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