FRIDAY, SEPT. 7: There’s no shortage of residents who are finding these tough economic times extremely difficult.

People are struggling to make ends meet and are finding themselves with mounting unmanageable debt.

As a result more and more people are being sent to debt collection agencies which in many cases serve to incur more debt as the additional charges are added to the original debt that the consumer was unable to manage in the first place.

There is no quick fix to this situation but there are a few steps consumers can make to tackle their debt.

Swallow your pride

Take responsibility for what you owe and make it a priority to tackle your debt to the best of your ability

We have been in a recession for a number of years and while some people were lucky enough to weather the storm for the first few years, there are many whose finances are not fairing as well these days.

Once you realize that your financial affairs are in disarray, you must face some tough decisions. Waiting to change your lifestyle after the lights are cut off and the car is repossessed is a bit too late.

Deciding that you can live in a studio as opposed to a swank two bedroom after you are three months behind in your rent will not help your debt circumstances.

Assess your situation before you are drowning in debt and do not be afraid to seek assistance.

Don’t concern yourself about how people will perceive your new financial limitations and if they comment on your change of lifestyle.

Having control of your finances is a lot more important than keeping up appearances that you cannot afford.

Address the problem

Avoiding the problem will not make it go away, don’t be afraid of your bills, confront them head on.

Open your bills as soon as you get them and read them carefully.

Check for anything that looks odd or unusual and if you have concerns about your statement contact the company right away.

If you are unable to pay the bill do not put it aside and ignore it. Contact the company and explain your situation honestly.

Tell them how you are able to get the debt paid and ask for assistance.

A lot of businesses are willing to work out a payment plan with their customers.

Have a budget

One of the easiest ways to get out of debt is to spend less. Everyone should have a realistic budget and should stick to it.

There are no hard and fast rules for creating a budget but it is good to have a budget spreadsheet to record your income and expenses. Keep it simple and easy to understand. Make a list of those expenses that you cannot avoid as well as those expenses that you can avoid.

Be very honest and determine what is necessary and what isn’t; what is a want versus what is a need. If you are trying to get out of debt your spending should be on essentials only.

Get organized

Being organized is a big part of your budgeting success. Stacks of bills on the dining room table or shoved in a drawer, will not help alleviate your problems.

If your bills are pending payment, put them together in one place with the intentions of paying them before they are due. Those that you pay immediately group together as well. Those that you feel you are unable to pay, put together with every intention of addressing them as a priority. These are the most important bills that you will need to address — contact the creditors to discuss eventual payment and how to avoid being sent to a collection agency.

As soon as you pay your bills record them in your budget spreadsheet and store them in a monthly folder of ‘paid’ bills. Make sure you record the date you paid the bill directly on it.

Remember, you are not the only one struggling to pay bills. And, don’t let your bills control you. Get organized and commit to doing the best that you can to get out of debt. You may have to be creative. If you have ‘stuff’ that you can sell – sell it. If you can find a second or third job, then do so.

But whatever you do, have a plan and stick to it.

• For more information on personal finances and to download a sample budget spreadsheet, visit our web-site www.ca.gov.bm.

Honey Adams is the education officer for Consumer Affairs.