I have more expenses than income. There is no way for me to increase my income given my education and skill set, and my wife is now voluntarily working from home. What should we do? If I am laid off, what happens then?

There are only three sustainable ways to make ends meet: increase income, reduce expenses, or do a little of both. You might want to reach out to local social service agencies for financial assistance (if you qualify) or job training support. Resources such as these might provide additional income. Your wife might also need to seek paid employment or some type of income that she can earn by working at home. Issues related to finances can often be difficult to talk about. Virginia Cooperative Extension has a informative publication titled “Families Taking Charge: Talking with Your Spouse” (available at www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/ftc/354-103/354-103.html).

To prepare for a layoff, you need a big cash cushion. Financial experts recommend saving the equivalent of three to six months’ expenses, but any savings is better than none. Save whatever you can, and don’t touch this money except for emergencies. If you are laid off, apply immediately for unemployment benefits. “Getting Through Tough Financial Times,” available from University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, gives suggestions for dealing with your tough times (http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/toughtimes/).

Start the process of developing a future spending plan (budget) by getting your income and expenses down on paper. Rutgers Cooperative Extension has several online resources to assist with budget preparation. To download a worksheet that can be completed with a pencil and a hand-held calculator, visit http://njaes.rutgers.edu/money/pdfs/fs421worksheet.pdf.

To download a spending plan spreadsheet that uses pre-programmed Microsoft Excel® software to make income and expense calculations with a computer, visit http://njaes.rutgers.edu/money/templates/Spending-Plan-Template.xls. “More for Your Money” is an interactive Web site from University of Illinois Cooperative Extension where you can input income and expenses and create a spending plan to meet your individual needs (http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/money/). By registering and logging in, your data will be retained so you can continue to work on your situation.

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