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Bills Piling Up? What To Do When You Can’t Pay Your Bills

Bills piling up

If you can't pay bills, then your financial stress may be through the roof. And that is completely understandable! No one enjoys running into unexpected financial difficulties. If you find yourself in a tight spot with bills piling up, the key is to create a solid plan to get you through to better days.

We are here to help during this trying time. Today we will discuss 6 key steps you can take if you can't pay bills that will help alleviate your current financial problems.

6 Steps to take if you have bills piling up

It can be disheartening when you are unable to pay debts. However, taking action is crucial to getting back on track with your finances as fast as possible. So here is what to do when you can’t pay your bills!

1. Start with your essentials

The first step to take when your bills are piling up is to determine what you absolutely have to spend money on and what you could get by without. With a prioritization of your spending, you can choose to focus on the most pressing financial issues. As you sort through your bills, it is important to prioritize what needs to be dealt with and what could potentially be slashed from your budget.

Unfortunately, this comes down to a difficult line between needs and wants. You’ll need to decide for yourself where the line falls in your life. Let’s take a look at some general priorities that most of us have in our budget.

The fundamentals

Throughout human history, the essentials of life have been food and shelter. For modern times, that means paying for food, housing, utilities, and transport receive top billing in our budget. These core bills are the means for our survival.

Since they represent survival, they will remain a top priority for our spending. Especially in times of crisis. The average American spends thousands of dollars each year on housing and food, so it will take some creativity to continue paying for these needs when your bills are piling up.

Important bills to stay on top of

Beyond basic survival, most of us have several bills that are important to pay but we will not physically suffer if we cannot make these payments on time. Although some of these might seem like essentials, it could be possible to delay or cut back on these expenses for now. Here are a few that might be present in your life:


Depending on where you live, you may be responsible for federal, state, local, and property taxes. Although the government may step in to delay our tax burden at the federal level, you’ll likely be required to pay your other taxes on time.

Legally, it is important to pay your tax bill on time. Without an on-time payment, the interest liability could spiral out of control. However, you may be able to work out a payment plan that will allow you to defer the bulk of what you owe for now.

Car payment

If you have a car payment, then this car could be your method of getting to work. In fact, the average American commute spends 26 minutes traveling to work each day. With that, if you have bills piling up this is one that takes precedence. Even if you are out of work now, but plan on commuting as soon as possible, then this should be one of the top priorities.


Insurance comes in all shapes and sizes for different liabilities in our lives. Without insurance, you open yourself up to expensive legal risks that most of us simply cannot afford. Since a lapse in insurance payments could lead to an expensive mistake, it is a good idea to consider insurance premiums a priority when bills are piling up.


If you have outstanding debts, then just try to keep up with the minimum payments. Depending on the size of your debt, this can be easier said than done. That decision can be heartbreaking if you were on a path to becoming debt-free. However, you should not attempt to continue an aggressive debt payoff plan until you are more comfortable with your immediate financial position.

Remember, taking a break from an intense debt repayment plan doesn’t mean that you’ll never pay down your debt. It simply means that you have to take a temporary pause in order to prioritize your immediate needs. So don't get discouraged if you are unable to pay debts as quickly as you would like.

Everything else

Beyond these essentials and pressing bills, you’ll need to cut back on all spending for now. The usual budget-breaking culprits include eating out, traveling, streaming services, and subscriptions. Make the effort to purge this spending from your immediate plans.

A few suggestions for more affordable entertainment include reading through your bookshelf, canceling streaming services, and checking out the library. Even if you aren’t able to physically go to the library, you’ll likely be able to take advantage of some of the free digital options such as audiobooks, eBooks, and streamable Indie films. You can also check out some of our favorite books if you need suggestions.

2. Set a budget for your bills

After you’ve thought through your expenses and decided what is absolutely essential, then you can set up a budget. If you aren’t sure how to get started, then check out our free budgeting course to help you build a budget that works for you quickly. If you have any emergency savings, now is the time to use them.

The goal of your budget should be to eliminate all unnecessary spending so that you can stretch out any savings that you have on hand. If you don’t have emergency savings now is a good time to open an account and create a plan to make small contributions. Even if it’s just a couple of dollars till you get back on your feet, the small amounts add up.

3. Communicate with your providers when your bills are piling up

Taking stock of the situation is a big step. Hopefully, you’ve found ways to trim your expenses and pay your essential bills. However, that may not be the case. If you absolutely can't pay bills, then you should reach out to the provider as soon as you realize that you might be in trouble.

Many types of companies that you can call and potentially work out an adjusted payment arrangement. Some of the most common types of companies that will likely be willing to work with you include utility providers, credit card issuers, student loan lenders, mortgage lenders, landlords, and medical bill providers.

When you contact these companies, be prepared to explain that you are unable to pay debts and the details of your financial situation. In many cases, they will be able to help you. If you find yourself with accounts in collections, then for right now, you can create a plan to deal with them once you get back on track.

4. Stretch your savings farther to cover expenses

You can choose to push your savings even further by using everything that you already have on hand. Although this principle could range from toiletries to unread books in your home, the most useful example is food.

Try meal planning with what you already have on hand to push your food costs down in the short term. If you need some motivation to start meal planning to save money, then consider taking our free 30-day meal planning challenge.

After you’ve used what you have, switch to generic brands to save more. You might be surprised how these small shifts can truly stretch out the funds you have available. Cutting costs on essentials can help you save money for those bills piling up!

5. Get creative to earn income to pay your bills

So what's another easy tip for what to do when you can't pay your bills? Increase your income. So take advantage of this opportunity to think outside of the box in terms of creating extra income for yourself. For instance, are you splitting bills with your partner or could you get a roommate?

Also, think about the skills that you already have available to you and about the skills that you’ve always wanted to learn. This could be the perfect opportunity to ramp up a side hustle or start a completely new business.

If you decide to start your own business, then consider taking our completely free new business owner courses to help you get on the right track. Although starting a business can take time, you can raise capital quickly by selling anything in your home that you don’t need.

If you are anything like me, then you’ll find hundreds of dollars worth of stuff that you’d love to get rid of. A few good items to start with include electronics, textbooks, and designer bags. Don’t let anything limit your income possibilities. Explore any avenues that get you excited and could bring home an income. It will help dramatically to get money fast when you are unable to pay debts.

6. Change your mindset

With bills piling up it can be difficult to cultivate a positive mindset. But our money decisions are significantly impacted by the attitude we have towards money. With the wrong mindset, it is easy to allow money to overwhelm us. The key to long-term financial success is a mindset that allows you to manage your money confidently. 

You can make the choice to adjust your mindset and change your financial future for the better. If you’d like help navigating this mindset change, then take a look at our free "Build a solid foundation bundle" that is designed to help you think about money differently.

Take action immediately if you notice your bills piling up!

Now you know what to do when you can't pay your bills! It can be scary, but possible to survive trying economic times. Take the time to set up a realistic budget that will help you navigate the coming weeks.

Most of us feel some relief from stressful times when we have a plan in place. Build your plan and work towards creating a positive attitude towards money.

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