First, Gregory White lost his job. Then his car engine died.
But the one-two punch failed to knock him out.Surviving unemployment hasn't been easy, but White, a College Park, Ga., father of four, is still putting up a good fight.
"We're cutting back and living a simple life," said the construction pipe fitter, who has been laid off for three months.
The simple life includes not fixing his car and supplementing his unemployment check with sporadic jobs, such as cutting down trees. It also includes driving his wife to work in their remaining car, a 1973 Cutlass Supreme.
The Whites are doing what families with laid-off workers need to do, experts said.
"Put your wants on hold if you don't have enough for your needs," said Michone Kuhlman, a counselor with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Atlanta. "A lot of people don't know the difference between wants and needs. A need is something you have to have to live on. Wants are Doritos and vacations."
In addition to getting spending priorities in order, financial advisers offer the following tips to laid-off workers:
_ Don't wait until the bill collectors are beating down your door. If you expect problems paying bills, contact all your creditors as soon as possible and try to work something out. In general, it's easier to negotiate payment changes on debt that is not secured by collateral, such as credit card and medical bills.
"Do things early," Ms. Kuhlman said. "The later it gets, the narrower the alternatives become."
_ On credit card bills, pay something _ even if it's only $5, Ms. Kuhlman said.
"It puts money on the books and it shows you're making a good-faith effort," she said. "That will help in negotiating with creditors later."
_ Of course, with some bills, like a mortgage payment, $5 is not going to help. Still, contact the lender to see what type of deal can be worked out.
Most mortgage lenders don't initiate foreclosure action until borrowers are behind by at least three months, said Jimmy Bennett, executive director of DeKalb-Fulton Housing Counseling Center. And laid-off borrowers with FHA mortgages may be able to qualify for a special program that provides up to 36 months of relief from full or partial payments.
Housing counselors like Bennett can help you deal with mortgage lenders.
As a last resort, he said, it's much better to sell a house than to lose it through foreclosure.