Saving your money and spending it wisely can seem difficult when bills start to pile up, and you have a family to care for in an unstable economy. But, there are resources out there that can help you if you know where to look.
Whether you qualify for particular government or state programs or community, non-profit services, there may be some resources that you don’t realize that you can tap into on a regular basis. Living paycheck to paycheck is no fun, but if you know where to turn, there are often a lot of resources available to you. Here are some of the top programs to save you money in your own backyard.
Public Library Services
It goes without saying that the public library provides an exceptional resource when it comes to accessing information via books and online services. But, the public library has a lot more than you might realize at first because it goes beyond books and computers. Many of them loan free music or movies to members. Others provide free wireless internet access to either use on site or to check out hot spots that you can bring home and use to access wireless internet. All of these can save you a meaningful chunk of money when it comes to entertainment or Wi-Fi services for your home, especially if you don’t pay for them at home and just use what is available at the library.
Some libraries also loan out devices like laptops and iPads, which can save your family a lot of cash since you can borrow them for free without renting or paying for them. Consider sharing a network streaming service with another family member rather than paying for it (or cable) yourself. Every penny you save can add up so don’t think about it as small chunks of change. A little saved here and there can end up being a lot, and some libraries may even provide log-in passwords to use for various periodicals or streaming services while there.
Government And State-Run Programs
Depending on your household income level, there are many government and state-run programs that can provide monetary, food and other resource services for you and your family. These are put in place to support those that especially need help so there is no shame in requesting assistance to see if you qualify. With a little bit of homework, you can access a lot of information and monetary resources that the government can provide. For many, these programs are life savers that keep them afloat when times are tough.
Reach out to your local city office or town hall, religious institution, local school or university, financial advisor or local bank to learn about programs that can help you. This can include food stamps or even rebates and discounts that come from insurance providers.
Many people, especially around the holidays, find themselves in a situation where they cannot afford gifts for their kids. There are nonprofit agencies like Family Services, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the YMCA, the YWCA and religious institutions that can step in to help. They can provide access to holiday gifts or meals for those that cannot afford it on their own.
They can also assist with housing, food, clothing and shelter for those in desperate need. Some organizations, including the United Way, may also be able to direct people toward work opportunities or financial planning assistance so that they can get back on their own two feet. There are a lot of generous people amongst us, and they can provide life-changing assistance if you know where to turn.
If you qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, be sure to take advantage of its services. This can significantly help reduce medical and other living expenses. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare is available to people who are “age 65 or older, younger people with disabilities and people with End Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplant).”
Medicaid assistance varies based on income and family size, and it provides health coverage for some low-income adults and children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with disabilities. In some states, it covers all low-income residents below a certain household income level. Each state’s Medicaid website provides assistance on who is eligible and for how much.
Care Credit is another option for people who are having financial difficulty. It’s a credit card specifically designed for medical expenses. It covers everything from dermatology and dentistry services to pet care and pharmacies. While it does not provide free medical care, it helps you develop a more efficient payment plan so you can better manage your expenses.
Many medical professionals sometimes have hosted days where they provide access to their services for free, which can be helpful if you need attention, but are low on cash. Call a local doctor or dentist to see if they know of any of these community assistance programs where you can take part in a free checkup.
Your local branch of The Humane Society of the United States may be able to help provide care and food for your pet if you are struggling to make ends meet. They can offer everything from shelter for the pet to spay and neutering services. Nearby veterinary colleges may also provide support for animals that need emergency care. If you are not able to locate one, your own veterinarian may be able to work out a payment plan to spread out the cost of the services.
Crowdfunding is another way to raise money for particular expenses, and there is a dedicated platform just for pet care. Dubbed Waggle, this service allows you to raise money for a particular pet that needs attention. The funds get channeled directly to participating veterinarians that have agreed to provide their services for less.
You may not realize how much money you are spending on energy use for your home. It may be time to install a smart thermostat so that you are not overspending on energy you are not using. Unplug appliances when they are not being used as these still consume a small amount of energy. You can also save energy by washing clothes at a lower temperature or buying more energy efficient appliances. A smart thermostat like Nest can help you effectively manage how much money you are spending on energy and where (and how) you can cut back.
Putting your kids through college (or even grade school) can be a challenge on a low income or one that was significantly reduced in recent years. There are numerous scholarships that can help with tuition. Local libraries or religious institutions may also be able to point you in the right direction to find one.
Many nonprofits can also suggest help for financial aid, school supplies or money for breakfast or lunch, and transportation. Another major hurdle for working parents is after school care. Consider sharing a babysitter with several other families or finding a work provider or religious institution that offers discounted options.
Debt Consolidation Programs
One of the worst ways to waste money is by carrying endless debt, and if you don’t pay off credit cards in full each month, you are fast-accumulating it. Consider a debt consolidation program that brings together high-interest credit card bills into one monthly payment at a reduced rate. Not only can this help you save quite a bit of cash each month that is unnecessarily going toward interest, you will also be more careful about your spending and not carrying any debt.
This may seem obvious, but many people often forget to sign up or think that it involves some type of cost. On the contrary, these are often free programs that offer discounts in exchange for your email or contact information. You can slash the cost of groceries, gas, pharmacy purchases and other items simply by signing up. If you want to see the power of these small savings, put all of the money you get back from these programs into a jar and watch it add up. It will provide you with extra motivation to keep saving, especially if you set a goal for the money you save (a holiday present for your kids or school supplies).
This may seem rather daring, but when all else fails, asking for help from someone can really pay off. Share your financial troubles with others, ask them to help you however they can. Maybe they can offer to take your kids to school saving you gas money, or they can offer hand-me-down clothes that they are no longer using. When purchasing something, ask if there is a discount program for repeat customers or those with large families or family members over a certain age. Many places also offer student or military discounts that are not always readily displayed. You might be surprised about the money you can save by simply being open and asking for help.
Cash Back Apps
There are lots of cash back apps and websites that help you score back some of the money you spend either online or in your favorite retailers. These include apps or websites like TopCashBack and Rakuten. There are also apps like Fetch where you scan receipts to various retailers and earn back a percentage of what you spend in the form of gift cards. This takes just a few extra seconds of your time, but can yield substantial savings over the course of a year.
Rely On eBay
If you have things lying around your house that you are no longer using, consider turning them into cold, hard cash. By listing them on the eBay website and shipping them to customers that buy what you’re selling, you could have a nice little side hustle that helps you to save money. If you’re too busy to handle it yourself (as you’ll need to take photos and upload them to the website), there are brick-and-mortar retailers that will handle all the work for you by listing, storing and shipping your products on your behalf.
Be A Good Samaritan To Help Someone Else
If none of these categories applies to you, consider making a donation to an area nonprofit to provide help to someone else in need. You can even earn free cash that you can donate to charities by scanning your receipts using the Fetch app. The earnings can be donated to charity or redeemed for a gift card to your favorite retailer (including popular stores and restaurants) and given as a gift to someone in need.
Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe. He's a contributor to NerdWallet, Forbes, Fortune and more.