The bills are piling up. The credit cards are maxed out. The paycheck received on Friday is spent by Monday, and socking extra money away seems like wishful thinking.
An organization that recently set up a branch in Brooklyn Park can help.
"We encourage people to save, even if it's a small payment," said Sharon A. Watson, manager of the Brooklyn Park branch of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Maryland and Delaware Inc. "You have to consider your saving as a bill. If you say 'I'm going to save what's left over,' you're never going to save."
The service, a nonprofit organization which has set clients on the road to financial salvation since 1966, opened its new office in November at 5410 Ritchie Highway.
CCCS' services are free. People have been shown everything from how to avoid losing their credit cards to how to fashion a budget and stick to it.
Mrs. Watson said she prefers to help clients sketch out a tough but reasonable short-term budget rather than a long-term plan. People find the thought of budgeting less depressing that way, she said.
"It's frustrating," she said of living off a strict budget. "You can't work all week and come home and look at the four walls on the weekend. You have to have some entertainment in there."
The trick is to resist the temptation to go overboard and spend as though you make $50,000 when you only make $20,000, Mrs. Watson said.
A budget plan also teaches people that saving is a gradual process that requires patience and setting realistic goals so that they don't become discouraged, Mrs. Watson said.
"Some people want to have $3,000 saved in three months," she said.
One of the fastest ways to save is to eliminate credit debt quickly.
To help people do that, the counseling service offers a debt management program. Under the 36- to 42-month program, a budget is worked out with clients. Then the credit counseling service contacts the clients' creditors and asks them to reduce monthly payments by waiving late fees and interest charges.
Once an agreed-upon payment plan is reached, clients send money to CCCS, which places it in a trust account. The service mails a check to creditors once a month. Eventually creditors are paid in full.
Creditors may inform credit bureaus that an account was paid off slowly. But that's better than getting stuck with a bad credit record that can stay on a credit report for seven years, Mrs. Watson said.
The service, which has 10 locations and serves 5,800 clients, sent a monthly average of $1.6 million last year to creditors on behalf of clients, Mrs. Watson said.
For those who don't have any money to send creditors, the counseling service refers them to other agencies that might be able to help.
"You send them somewhere," she said. "We don't say 'Well, we can't help you.' You must do something for everybody" who comes in.