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09/04/2015 |

Being on a budget is difficult, even under the best circumstances. But when you’re unemployed or underemployed, an already unstable situation turns into a financial tightrope. So we’ve compiled a few tips to help you – and your bank account — stay balanced.

calculatorCalculating a Monthly Budget

First, figure out what your net pay is (your monthly pay after taxes and deductions). Next, figure out much you really need each month. Not how much you want; not how much you normally spend, but the lowest amount you can get by on each month.Once you have those two numbers, you can build from there. For help, get a sample budget from Consumer Credit Counseling Service of SF (CCCSF) here.

What Does it Mean to “Pay Yourself” First

You “pay yourself” first by putting money into a checking or savings account and letting it grow. Experts suggest saving at least 5% or 10% of your income each month, more if you can afford it. If you can afford it consider a traditional or Roth IRAs.

If you don’t (or can’t) have a bank account because of past problems with a bank or financial institution, check out The Bank on San Francisco program helps SF unbanked residents open up a new bank account. Currently, over a dozen major banks are participating in the program.

Having a bank account helps you:

  1. Earn interest on checking and saving
  2. Avoid paying exorbitant fees at check cashing establishments
  3. Build “emergency savings” you can use during a crisis
Quick Tip: Open up bank accounts for your children too. Many banks have special accounts for the kids. It’s been proven that adults who learn simple financial concepts like saving as children are more likely to avoid serious financial problems as adults.
apartmentGetting Help With Housing Costs

One of your largest expenses is your rent / mortgage bill. Looking for inexpensive housing? One place you can start is the SF Mayor’s Office of Housing. They have listings for below market rentals as well as for SROs and other low income housing options. Get more information at:

If you’re having problems paying your current housing costs there are agencies in the Bay area that can help. You can learn more at the Eviction Defense Fund website: Two other resources are: Catholic Charities (415) 972-1300 and the Season of Sharing (415) 557-6484.

carNeed a Car Loan? Try a Credit Union

Need more credit? Or maybe you just prefer the “personal touch” with your banker? Consider joining a credit union. While banks often make financial decisions based on their shareholders needs credit unions are more likely to base their decisions on their clients’ needs. Unlike banks, they make their money primarily on client accounts and fees, not from stock shares.
They also:
1. Are more likely to give out first time loans or loans to clients with “less than perfect credit”
2. Offer higher interest rates on their checking and savings accounts
3. May offer more free checking and savings accounts than traditional banks

credit cardHave Bad Credit? Try Negotiating

Many of us saddled with credit card debt have difficulty getting rid of it. But did you know that many creditors may be willing to negotiate on a bill rather than risk having you default, if you ask. Try calling yours and see what they have to offer.

If you think you need professional help getting you bills under control, try a nonprofit debt consolidation service CCCSF. Unlike other debt consolidators that tack their own expensive fees to their services, CCCSF charges no or low fees for their services. You can contact them at (800) 777-PLAN or online at to learn more.

Want to get more money saving tips? Check here next week for Part 2 of this 3 part series.

by Merrie Triplett