Basic Needs Taking Your Whole Check? How to Fix it

Your basic needs don't have to outweigh your income. You can fix this.

Your Basic Needs Matter to Me

Have you realized that you’re spending more than you make each month? Even just on basic needs? Maybe it’s from a job loss, injury, or just a pile of random and unexpected expenses. Whatever the reason, I am sorry you’re having a hard time. I want to help you fix this situation. Even if it’s not your fault, you still have the power to fix it. That might be hard to believe right now (especially if the mess actually is your fault), but I believe it for you. Humor me for a couple minutes, would you? Let’s see what we can do to get your basic needs met.

You Have Some Options

You might not like the first step of figuring out how to fix this situation; I’m gonna ask you to look at your monthly expenses. Yes, I know it’s hard to look at, but I promise it’s the first step to getting out of this. Instead of fearing the unknown, it’s time to look the facts right in the eye. The known is always better than the unknown when it comes to money. How can you fix something if you don’t know exactly what the problem is? You might find things aren’t as bad as you thought.

Now, once you have your expenses, the next step is easy. What do you bring home each month? (If you’re living on savings right now, just write down how much is in your account). Subtract your expenses from what you’re making (or from your savings account). If you are indeed negative this month, now you see how much you need to cut down. If you’re living on savings, you can see now how much longer your account will last at this rate. We have some options to make your money last longer.

Basic Needs Versus Your Other Bills

Before you go hacking away at your expenses, I want you to take a second and consider what you will cut out. Not all items on your budget (did you realize you just made a beginner’s budget? Not so bad, huh?) are equal. You need to prioritize a few things: Housing, transportation, groceries, and clothing. Your family and your own well-being is the top priority. These are your basic needs – everything else is just bills. Are those bills important? Most of them, yes, but as important as you being able to have a roof, food, clothes, and the ability to get to work.

For this article, we are focusing on those basic needs. If you can afford your basic needs, but your total expenses are greater than your income, check out this article or contact me for a financial coaching session to start getting things sorted out. So, let’s get to work on getting your basic needs met.

This Won’t be the Most Fun You’ve Had

I wish I could tell you this will be easy, but I’m afraid it won’t be. For the rest of this article, I will be talking about how to survive when you’re actively employed and your basic needs still can’t be covered by your income. If you are living on savings due to unemployment or injury, the advice will often still be relevant.

Your basic needs are important, and that’s why we are going to work hard to figure out how to get them met. First, I want you to very seriously consider each section of your basic needs. It may be that one (or several) items are more expensive than they need to be.

Housing

We will discuss home ownership first, then renting. If you have a mortgage, and you aren’t able to afford a payment, you need to contact your lender immediately. When you just don’t pay, it looks intentional to them. If you call them before the bill is past due and explain your unexpected and/or difficult circumstances, they will work with you. If you’ve already missed payments, it’s still better to call and explain.

Foreclosure is not what the bank wants. They don’t want your home, just your money. If they know you’re really trying to get the money to them, and you’ve agreed on a plan with them, they will likely not take any action against you. It’s always best to be honest with your lender, and never make promises you can’t keep.

What to do Next

Next, you need to honestly ask yourself if this home is worth staying in. I’m not saying you have to sell it, I’m only asking you to consider the option. It might be worth getting into a cheaper home for a while, or going back to renting, even. I know, the downgrade is not pleasant to even think about. It’s better than potentially losing your home, though, right?

If you are current on your payments, this will be like normally selling a house. When payments are past due, it gets a little more complicated. If you have equity in the home (i.e. it’s worth more than you owe) then the bank or broker may be willing to let you sell the house, use some of the equity to repay what you were behind on, and keep the rest.

Get permission first! If you’re behind on payments, everything will have to be on the bank’s terms. Don’t give them any reasons to dislike you as you go through this. Call them, find some other options (like a temporary loan adjustment; not a permanent loan modification), and whatever they tell you, get it in writing. It’s not real if they won’t sign it.

Transportation

The average new car payment in the US is over $700/month. If you’re unable to cover your basic needs, but you have a new car, then we have found the problem. You could sell that new car, get a $5-6k used car, and literally have an extra $700 each month. Wouldn’t that feel good?

Yes, I know, it’s easy for me to say when it’s not my car. Guess how expensive my car was? Yup, right at $5k. I’ll drive that thing until it’s about to fall apart. There was a time I almost bought a new car, but I decided the money would be better spent on other things.

If you’re concerned about the reliability of a used car, then get an inspection on potential purchases. Do some research and find out what cars have the least mechanical problems. Buy a car you can afford, and that you don’t absolutely hate. Will it be the nicest thing you’ve driven? No. Will it be permanent? Also no. There will be a day that you can get a new car and actually enjoy it, knowing it isn’t ruining you financially.

Food

If you’re struggling to meet your basic needs, this is one other area that might be hurting you. America has a culture of eating out – a culture I immensely enjoy. It’s fun to go to restaurants and enjoy great food that you don’t have to prepare. It’s also expensive.

Even just fast food is going to be $10-15 per person. Restaurants will be more than that usually, especially if you drink alcohol. Even just weekly date night with your wife is taking about $200/month, assuming you only eat and don’t do any activities.

Compare this to grocery shopping, wherein you can easily get meals at $2-3 per person. I’m not talking about just processed crap – I mean real, good food. It takes a little intentional planning and a willingness to eat leftovers, but switching to only eating what you get at the grocery store can make a big impact on your monthly expenses. (Bonus: switch from name-brand to generic if you need to save even more.)

Clothing

Finally, clothing. When I say clothing is a need, I’m not talking about Gucci. This is not a way to justify frivolous spending that you can’t afford. I’m talking about the clothes you have to have to not be naked. Your clothing costs will vary widely depending on how many kids you have, their age, and what your dress code is at work. If you’re struggling to meet your basic needs, then switching to cheaper brands for a while will help.

I like to get blazers off Amazon (no, I’m not paid to say this). You can find surprisingly nice stuff for $50-70. Not everyone needs to dress like this for work, but if you do, it’s a great place to look. Plus, department stores like Macy’s still have sections with crazy big discounts, 90% and more. This is a great way to save on clothing, even if just for a little while.

Clothing wears out and needs replaced. That’s just how it goes. Replacing worn out clothes doesn’t have to bankrupt you, though. Shop smart, act like you’re broke (cause you are), and get every deal you can.

Now You Have Action Steps to Meet Your Basic Needs

Your basic needs don't have to outweigh your income. You can fix this.

I know, this wasn’t an easy process to go through. It can be painful just thinking about making these changes, but it might be your only choice right now. You’re doing what you have to so that your family can survive, and that’s honorable. While you’re going through this, don’t forget to reach out to local assistance. Government programs, charities, churches – they’re there to help you. If you need the help, don’t be too proud to ask.

If I can help you at any point along the way, please reach out. I have free consultations available right now, and going through financial coaching can take you from here to debt free in just a couple years. I’d love to help. If I never meet you, I’m still glad you read this post, and I hope it helps. Stay strong and you will prevail.

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Nutrition coach Stepi and financial coach Cameron - co-owners of Hi Focus Life

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