What to do when hard times hit

When the bills pile up, financial pressure can leave you feeling isolated and stressed.

You might find yourself with money problems because of a job loss, relationship breakdown, ill health or other change in circumstances. Remember, you’re not alone and there are steps that you can take to help get your situation under control.

Step 1: Create a budget

This will give you a clear picture of your income, your expenses, and what you can afford to pay towards your bills. Not only is it the first step in understanding your spending and financial position, it will be valuable evidence when talking to creditors and service providers. Read our helpful guide on creating a budget.

Step 2: Talk to your creditors

It might be daunting, but it’s best to let creditors and service providers such as your electricity and phone companies, know your situation. Here’s what to do and say:

  • Call and ask for the hardship department (let them know you have spoken with a financial counsellor, if applicable).
  • Have your income statement, list of assets and budget handy.
  • Tell them who you are, and share your story.
  • Tell them what you are asking for, eg a repayment holiday, lower payments (what you can afford to pay based on your budget).
  • Tell them what it would mean to you, and how it would benefit you if they were to grant your request.

Your credit provider is legally obliged to consider your request for a change in payment plan due to financial hardship. You may be able to delay a payment period, reduce a payment or request a final amount to settle your consolidated debts.

Step 3: Prioritise your bills

If you cannot afford to pay all your bills, focus on the following order of priority:

  • Rent/mortgage – your financial problems will be much harder to solve if you are homeless.
  • Utilities – electricity, water and communications.
  • Medication – if you are unwell, you might not make the best decisions.
  • Credit cards and personal loans – pay secured loans such as car loans before non-secured loans such as credit cards.
  • Food and fuel – surprising as it sounds, food is not top of the list, as there are many organisations in Queensland, such as the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society, that can provide emergency food relief and help with other expenses, such as fuel vouchers.

Find out more about prioritising debt.

Step 4: Look at non-payment options

If you are still struggling, you may need to decide whether you can actually continue to pay your bills. Remember, there are consequences if you do not pay your bills, which might range from default fees to having services such as electricity and phone disconnected, eviction, legal action, property repossession, debt collection, or garnishee of wages. You may need to enter a formal arrangement to resolve the problem, such as:

These options also come with consequences that may affect your financial future.

Moving forward

Get extra help

Take advantage of assistance that is available to help you get back on your feet:

  • Emergency relief services such as the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society and Financial Counsellors operating in your area can offer support.
  • Check with a Financial Counsellor or the Department of Human Services to make sure you are receiving all the government grants that are available to you. You may be eligible for a grant, rebate or concession that you’re currently unaware of.

Find out if you're eligible for the Home Energy Emergency Assistance Scheme (Queensland electricity and gas rebates).

Revisit your budget

Your budget is your best friend when it comes to making sure your finances remain on an even keel. Here’s what to consider:

  • By living within your budget and not overspending, you’ll be able to make the repayments to your creditors and reduce your debt.
  • Include a savings and emergency fund to cover any unexpected expenses.
  • Keep a spending diary, so you can be sure your budget is accurate – and it will give you pause each time you reach for your wallet.
  • Reconsider expenses – do you really need that coffee every day?
  • Look for better deals – shop around for cheaper electricity, insurance etc.

Prevent bills from rising

Here are some preventative steps you can take to keep on top of your bills:

  • Open a bills account that is separate from your everyday bank account and deposit a set amount into that account each pay. When your bills are paid, you will be able to see exactly how much is left for the month.
  • If you’re in receipt of a government payment, Centrepay can help you take control of your debt. Through Centrepay, you can make payments towards your debts before the government payment is deposited into your account.
  • If possible, share accommodation or other living expenses with family and friends. They will not only provide emotional support, but will also help you financially by reducing your living costs.
women meeting with finance councillor
The National Debt Helpline offers a free advice service.
To speak with a trained financial counsellor, call the free helpline on 1800 007 007.

Related articles

Preparing for your first appointment

The more information you can share with your financial counsellor, the better their understanding of your situation. Here's what to consider.

Learn more

Couple budgeting
Creating a budget

A budget is one of the most important tools to get your finances under control. Find out how to create one and stick to it.

Learn more