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Five Easy Steps to Avoid Homelessness

Kawika Chann is an online writer who has worked with the homeless.

Many American families are just one tragedy away from homelessness.

Many American families are just one tragedy away from homelessness.

You May Be Closer to Being Homeless Than You Realize

Sometimes we forget how easy it is to find yourself in a financial jam. If you live on your own and you're barely staying ahead of your bills, you could easily fall prey to being homeless. Even if you have a two-income family without a large savings parachute, it doesn't take much to offset the fragile balance.

Like so many families in America, you live paycheck to paycheck with little chance of putting together any kind of a savings plan. Families usually have a month's worth of income to live off of in case of an emergency—but that’s it. Their financial status is such that if one thing goes wrong—like if the car needs a new transmission—all reserve savings will be lost.

If one of the wage earners loses their job, it will only increase the tension. The monthly bills keep coming, which means you'll have to scramble to make rent or mortgage.

This is a typical "homeless formula." It's a myriad of mishaps and expenses that hit one after another, usually stemming from one major disruption like job loss, death, addiction, hospital bills, etc., until all your bills are behind and you find yourself facing your first homeless night.

The Homeless Numbers

For the nearly 600,000 Americans that were or are homeless in 2018, the formula is formidable. 17 people in 10,000 is homeless. The numbers could easily be doubled if it were not for families that have been "doubling up"—two or three families to a home. For most families, doubling up is a blessing in disguise.

The children can afford to save for their own home, and the parents get to spend time with their grandchildren. If you have this situation available to you, consider doubling up until you can increase your financial strength.

1. Avoid the Surprise of Being Homeless

You should know that anyone can fall victim to homelessness. The trick is to take the necessary steps to avoid becoming a victim. If you fit the scenario above and understand that anything can happen in life, you will be further ahead than those that think "this will never happen to me."

You have to undergo a change of thought. You need to unscrew your pride and do anything you can to get through a hard time. If you look at how you can get the best bang for your buck now, it will be easier to keep your head above water later.

Remember, the first night of homelessness is terrifying for someone who has always had a roof over their head. Let this fuel your need to get your affairs in order.

A homeless hoarder on the move in the city.

A homeless hoarder on the move in the city.

2. Know Where You Stand Financially

You should know exactly where you are financially—this means you should know how many expenses you have verses income every month. If your expenses come out to more than your income, you need to take your scissors out and start cutting the fat from your monthly bills.

Someone wiser than me once said, “If you’re in a hole... stop digging.” These are good words to live by. It means to stop spending any more money that will cause your expenses to outweigh your income.

A common mistake struggling people make is that they are oblivious to their financial disposition. They don’t know where their break-even point is. They don’t know what their base average monthly expenses are in respect to their monthly cash flow.

When you know what your base monthly expense is vs. your income at the end of the month, you’ll be more apt to resist foolish spending. Just knowing what your numbers are will make you react more frugally to the sirens of the fast food restaurants and other unnecessary expenses.

3. Curb Your Spending Now (and Stop Eating Fast Food)

If you are eating fast food more than a few times a week, this is the best place to cut your spending...even if you’re eating off the $1 menu. If you are buying big meals and spending more than $10 at any given time, you definitely need to cut this out. Besides, the lack of nutritional value and harm that it does to your health could jeopardize your otherwise steady work income.

Cutting out fast food sounds like it shouldn't even be on this list, but it would surprise you to know how many fast food restaurants make bank from food stamp recipients. I don't know why people on food stamps or electronic benefits think that this is a better alternative to buying groceries and cooking.

It's a habitual problem that will feed you for a meal when that same money could feed you for a couple of days. You can easily make a dinner and have leftovers for the following day, or better still, leftovers for lunch at work. These are people on benefits that have limited funds but still have a roof over their head and the means to cook their meals.

If there is a dollar store near you, start looking at what you can get there instead of where you normally shop. Think about it. All the things that you normally buy— mouthwash, toothpaste, canned goods—could just cost you a buck instead of twice or three times that amount. If you have never looked at the dollar store as a main source of grocery or other needs, stop by one and take a look.

Yes, the people that shop there are a little different from you. Wait, hold up—they’re the same as you. They all want to save more than they’re spending. Swallow your pride, get in, and get out.

It's time to ask yourself if you really need something before you buy it. Drive the speed limit and take care of your car's maintenance to avoid costly repairs. If you gamble, stop—this includes scratchers or sweepstakes that you pay for.

4. To Avoid Being Homeless, Cut Your Bigger Expenses

Your largest expense is usually your car payments or your rent/mortgage. If you rent, always be on the look out for a better deal. If you have a mortgage, consider if your home is the right size for you, or if it's more house than you need.

In the past 10 years, people have fallen victim to buying “too much house" and have suffered the consequences. A small house is easier to clean, maintain, and unload in a quick-sale.

A larger house is harder to afford, harder to maintain, and harder to rent or sell. Consider your options when downsizing to a smaller house, or depending where you are financially (gulp), consider letting your home go if you are drowning in mortgage payments. This is a hard decision to make, especially if it’s your first home.

It depends on where you are financially. That will dictate how much of a sacrifice you need to make. Consider professional advice at this point—you can easily find a plethora of free non-profit services that can assist you in getting all the information you need to make an informed decision.

Your car payment can be looked at in the same way. In addition, think about your insurance—if you are not bundling your car, home, and life insurance, find out how you can save by doing this. Start making calls and keep a journal of things that you need to do to get your expenses under control.

The comfort of a few good friends.

The comfort of a few good friends.

5. Start Saving Today

With every check you deposit, you need to add to your savings. As soon as you have a handle on your bills, incorporate a habit of paying yourself first. Try to accumulate at least six months' worth of income as fast as you can.

The peace of mind in knowing that you have the financial backing for six months should an emergency occur will give you the time you need to ensure you land on your feet. Once you reach your six-month savings target, you can consider investments, retirement funds or other needs that you or your family have put off.

The more you are in tune with your finances, the more of a fun game it becomes. It's exciting to see that you've saved more than you expected to—this also fuels your thought process into thinking where else you can cut and stretch your budget, or reuse and recycle your belongings.

Your entrepreneurial spirit may surface and give you an incredible idea to market. You’ll soon find that once you start purposefully safeguarding against mindless spending, you’ll wonder why you didn't start this a long time ago.

Final Notes About Battling Homelessness

The Law of Reciprocity is well researched and practiced by the rich, who understand that giving is a very large part of receiving and being able to hold onto it. The Bible says 10% of your income should be given away, and that's as good as a number as any. If you can't do that much, give what you can and slowly build up to it.

If you are crashing with a relative or a friend, do your part not to overstay your welcome by helping out wherever and whenever with whatever you can. Even if you're not working, tirelessly do things around the household to pull your weight.

Find a place where you can store most of your things—the last thing you want to do is overburden your friends and family with your junk. If you have a group of friends and family, try to spread the stay out with all of them; make a schedule and stick to it. Do not let your idiosyncrasies become a problem for them—they are already making a huge sacrifice in opening their home to you.

Keep your head up, stay positive, and keep adjusting your financial plan. You were built for tough times like these, and no matter the situation, no matter what you're facing, you have the ability to survive this. Be blessed, and in all you do, have peace.

Test Your Homelessness I.Q.

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. When is the scariest night when becoming homeless?
    • When you don't know when tomorrow's meal will come from.
    • That first homeless night outside—most cry until sleep comes.
  2. What can you do to ensure you won't be homeless?
    • Start making a financial change to cut expenses and save.
    • Work two jobs so you don't have to cramp your style.
  3. What continuous event will remind you that you are homeless?
    • Where can you go to the bathroom.
    • Finding the soup kitchen.
  4. What else can I do—I'm getting laid off in two months, no other job or family in town?
    • Start building as many solid contacts as you can that can help house you while you look for work.
    • Make sure you apply for welfare and every government assistance available.
  5. What practical options are there for me if I think I could be homeless soon?
    • Buy a tent and camping supplies.
    • Look into using and preparing your vehicle as possible living quarters.
  6. What if I lose everything and find myself homeless tomorrow?
    • Call in your favors—call everyone, your job, your church, your friends and family.
    • Get in touch with emergency shelters in your area to see if they can take you.

Answer Key

  1. That first homeless night outside—most cry until sleep comes.
  2. Start making a financial change to cut expenses and save.
  3. Where can you go to the bathroom.
  4. Start building as many solid contacts as you can that can help house you while you look for work.
  5. Look into using and preparing your vehicle as possible living quarters.
  6. Call in your favors—call everyone, your job, your church, your friends and family.

National Alliance to End Homelessness

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.