Many times, when someone is having a difficult time making ends meet, there are one of two causes. They are either spending more than they make (living beyond their means), they earn too little to support their lifestyle, or both. This can usually be fixed with a little savvy frugality...coming up with a sensible spending plan to ensure that one isn't living beyond their means. However, sometimes...frugality just doesn't cut it.

Some people are on a fixed income. They have no means of making additional income, and they have already cut their spending to the bone. Some retirees may fall into this category, as well as disabled people living on Social Security. The hammering suffered by 401k accounts and the stock market certainly hasn't helped. When frugality isn't enough, what does one do then?

Other cultures have actually found a way to deal with situations like this. Extended families share the same home. The elderly move in with their kids. The parents cared for the kids when they were children, now it is time for the parents to be taken care of. Most Americans don't do this. They opt for their own space.

A friend of mine has recently encountered a situation like this. They are widowed, on a fixed income, and have no prospects of earning more money. Their home needs repairs, the kids are going back to school soon, and there is "too much month at the end of the money." The stress levels are high.

What to do when frugality isn't enough? Sometimes...people need to ask for help. If friends and family are unable to lend a helping hand, or if the needs extend beyond a loan of a few dollars and expenses like food and housing become unmanageable, it may be time to look at some of the community resources available, to see if there are "safety nets" that you may not be aware of.

These may include:

1. Food banks or community gardens.
If getting enough food is an issue, there are organizations that can help. Food can be obtained from food banks, church pantries and other faith-based organizations, community gardens (where you can trade work in the garden for the food it produces) and programs like Angel Food Ministries. If you have low income, the food stamp program may be an option. The program doesn't really use "stamps" anymore. Now they use something that looks like a debit card.

2. Housing assistance. If you are having a problem paying the mortgage, consider refinancing, if possible. Otherwise, there are housing programs available at the local, state and federal level. Some of these offer rental assistance, while others offer low-cost, low-interest housing for sale.

3. Clothing. Many organizations offer free backpacks, school supplies and back-to-school clothing for kids. Usually, the family must meet certain income requirements and register with an organization like the Salvation Army. This is still yard sale season, so don't overlook the bargains that can be found there, as well as the new and used clothing that can be purchased at Goodwill.

If times really are tough, and there are no prospects for income of any kind, there are programs that can help. That is why they were established in the first place. Many people don't seek help due to one thing: pride. If it's a choice between my pride and feeding my kids, I will choose my kids every time. Start at Fill out the questionnaire available on the site. When you finish filling it out, it will list the specific programs for which you may be qualified, and how to apply for them.

Other resources:

Angel Food Ministries

Community Gardens

SHARE Food Network

Second Harvest

Federally-funded Health Centers

Housing assistance

Salvation Army


Dress for Success

Legal Aid

Nobody likes to be in a position where they must ask others for help, but help is available if you do need it.


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