Winter Storm Informaton

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Winter Can Bring Financial Woes

Debra Pankow, Family Economics Specialist:
Margaret Fitzgerald, Child Development and Family Sciences

Severe winter weather can have the effect of making financial situations more difficult for some families. In some cases employees not able to get to work on stormy days are not able to draw on vacation time or sick leave to make up for blizzard-caused absences because of company policy. So, wages earned ends up being less than expected as hours worked drop. At the same time, retirees' Social Security checks which are not direct deposited may be delayed because of storms and snow-clogged roads.

Meanwhile, both wage earners and those living on fixed incomes are seeing expenses for items such as snow removal and heating fuels exceed expectations.

Those facing a short-term financial crunch should first focus on reducing their variable expenses, like clothing, gifts, entertainment and eating out, as well as overall food expenditures. For example, cash-strapped individuals or families should begin planning meals around foods already on hand. Another solution is to cut down on purchased services. Dry cleaning is one example. Wash all garments that are not dry-clean only items, and postpone dry cleaning those that are.

If you really can't make payments, decide how much you can pay and offer to pay each creditor a proportional share of what you owe. It's better to talk to local creditors in person. For the others, a letter explaining the situation is often effective. (Sample letters are available from your county extension office.)

Another option for some people to pay current bills with credit cards, but use this option with caution. Consumer debt (excluding house payments) should not exceed 10 to 15 percent of take home pay. Also, if this option must be used, pay off additional credit card debt as quickly as possible.

Help dealing with a financial crisis is available from a number of community agencies:

* County Social Services: Each county in North Dakota has a social service board that has help available in many forms, including medical as well as general assistance. To find out if any emergency aid is available, call 1-800-472-2622. However, Fitzgerald cautions that it's often difficult to receive social service assistance.

* The Mental Health Association of North Dakota maintains a help line 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The telephone number is 1-800-472-2911.

* Community Action Emergencies Assistance Programs provide access to food pantries and housing, as well as outreach referral information and self-reliance programs. Community Action Agencies are located in seven regions of the state, the telephone number is 1-701-232-2452.

Once a short-term financial crisis has passed, resist the urge to overspend in order to "catch up" on what you have put off buying. In fact, this is the time to start an emergency savings fund for the next time finances are tight.

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