Survive in '09: The Volkings set up a budget

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - As we continue our look into how a struggling family survives in this recession, we learn more about what happened in the Volking family's case.

"By 10 o'clock I didn't have a job, by 11 o'clock I had my desk packed up and was gone, by about 2 o'clock in the afternoon I realized my medical was shut off, my dental was shut off, just everything was gone," said Fred Volking.

With no job, no money in the bank and behind on the rent, Fred Volking says he'll find some way to keep his family in their home, get the bills paid and put food on the table.

His wife Teresa thinks he's in denial.

"Fred wants to see all this happen but he's, I don't feel like that Fred's facing reality," said Teresa.

"I could go out and go to the movies anytime I wanted to, I could go to dinner anytime I wanted to. I suddenly I find myself in a condition where it's just not possible any more and she keeps trying to let me know that gently," said Fred.

For the first time in his life, Fred had to turn to the government for help.

"I got Medicaid, I got food stamps and they're working great," said Fred.

But that's not going to keep the lights on or the water running. So many bills are piling they don't know where to start.

"I don't know what I want, I want my life back," said Fred.

Finding answers took a step of faith. That's where Judy Waters with the Cooperative Ministry stepped in.

"Take a deep breath and not panic," offers Judy. "We see a lot of people in crisis, but there is help out there,"

The Cooperative Ministry's mission is to offer emergency assistance to families in crisis.

They helped Fred do something most people dread: setting up a budget.

Remember, he doesn't have any income right now, but if unemployment comes through he could get $1,950 a month plus $463 in food stamps. That would be a total income of $2,413 a month.

But what about expenses? Here's Fred's breakdown:

Rent - $975
Electricity - $225
Water - $50
Food - $600
Gas - $55
Car Payment - $248
Cell and Home Phone Service - $120
Cable and Internet - $49
Clothing - $40
Insurance - $135
Miscellaneous - $50
Grand Total - $2,547

He expected to come up way short, but he's only off $134. With a few cuts and some discipline, he can make that bottom line!

"Somebody puts it in black and white and shows you where all the pennies and dollars go to and you can't be going out to have steak dinners anymore. That's cool, we can eat our Beenies & Weenies at home," said Fred.

The Cooperative Ministry even offers up to $100 to help pay utilities, enough to cover one of Fred's bills.

"It lets us stay in the house we're in. It puts a roof over our heads. It keeps the bills paid, the electricity turned on, the water running," said Fred.

Talk about a huge burden lifted, but Fred still has work to do. He learns some creditors are willing to work with you if you work with them.

"SCE&G, I owe them a lot of money, but they said just try to keep making some kind of payments and we'll make it happen," said Fred.

You might not always get a yes. Fred went to the Columbia water office twice. "Columbia water just don't want to talk to you if you ain't got the money in your hand," he said.

But sometimes you run into people who understand.

"My landlord, my landlord has said, 'Ok, we paid first and last month's rent when we moved in here they said, we'll take last month's rent and split it down the middle, we'll use half of it this month and half of it next month so that should give you a total of about 2 months at half rent,' which is great," said Fred.

In regards to the water bill, Mayor Bob Coble said, bottom line, the city needs to do better.

"In this recession we have got to reach out to people -- those who have lost their jobs at no fault of their own and are having problems. The policy is to try to do a payment plan over six months," said Coble.

He said it's not just about the Volkings, it's about everyone in the Midlands struggling to pay the bills.

So what can you do if you just cannot pay the bill?

  • Try to work out a payment plan with the company that you owe money.
  • Be up front and see if they will work with you instead of bearing the worry on your own.
  • If you don't have any luck at first, ask for a supervisor. A lot of times its just a matter of getting in touch with the right person.
  • With utility bills, do your part. If you show the company you are trying to use less power or water, they will be more willing to work with you.