Canceling autopay, skipping the doctor, selling a car: Federal workers share how they're making ends meet during the shutdown

Internal Revenue Services (IRS) employee holds signs in front of the Federal building at a rally against the ongoing U.S. federal government shutdown, in Ogden, Utah, U.S., January 10, 2019.
George Frey | Reuters

Since Dec. 21, roughly 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or working without pay as a result of President Trump's ongoing fight with Congress over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Many workers began missing paychecks on Friday, Jan. 11. GoFundMe spokesperson Katherine Cichy tells CNBC that roughly 1,800 GoFundMe pages have been created since the shutdown by federal workers campaigning for money to pay rent, buy food and make student loan payments.

According to the Department of Labor, unemployment filings have also increased. More than 4,700 federal employees filed for unemployment the last week of December, up from 929 the week before.

"It's disheartening to hear and read that the end of this shutdown seems to be nowhere near in sight," NASA employee Rickicia Cheatham, 27, tells CNBC Make It.

Below, Cheatham and three other employees share how the shutdown is impacting them and the adjustments they're making to get by:

Government workers protest the government shutdown during a demonstration in the Federal Building Plaza on Jan. 10, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

1. Rickicia Cheatham

Location: Washington, D.C.

Employer: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Since the government shutdown began, how have you had to adjust your finances and lifestyle?

In the earlier stages, I had to assist my mother with funeral arrangements, because my grandmother's condition was declining. In between grieving the loss of her, I've had to have a conversation with my roommate about not being able to pay certain bills (utilities/cable) due to being in furlough status. I am blessed to have received help from her and her family.

A couple weeks before Christmas, I was able to pay a couple of bills in advance to get more time, but I still had to call my creditors, cancel doctor's appointments and take out a one-time loan with my credit union to ensure that I could pay my rent next month. It's been three weeks since I've been able to book a session with my therapist, but I've been using this time to work out, spend time with family and receive love from friends.

Have you picked up any side hustles to make some extra money?

When I'm not watching the news, I have been looking on for freelance/part-time positions where I can put either my B.A. and/or M.B.A. to use. With tax season approaching, I've noticed that several firms are looking for office assistance/secretaries and I plan to apply. As much as I dread going back to work in the restaurant industry, I am also willing to go back to hosting for the sake of having some extra money come in.

2. Julian Dangerfield

Location: Washington, D.C.

Employer: Department of Homeland Security - U.S. Coast Guard

Since the government shutdown began, how have you had to adjust your finances and lifestyle?

These government shutdowns have been a constant threat for most of 2018, so thankfully I've had some savings to fall back on. However, it's hard to prepare for the longest shutdown in American history. To adjust to no income, I've completely stopped shopping, except for the essentials. I've spent most of my time in the house with my toddlers instead of taking them to daycare, so I can save on gas and childcare expenses. Budget-wise, we've started looking ahead at how we could possibly pay the mortgage and bills if this shutdown stretches into the oncoming months.

Have you picked up any side hustles to make some extra money?

I've always done graphic design on the side, along with requested paintings. Thankfully, I've had a few people inquire about logos and a painting or two so I've been able to make some money to supplement my current lack of income.

Demonstrators rally against a partial government shutdown at a protest hosted by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019.
Alex Wroblewski | Bloomberg | Getty Images

3. Chelsea Swann

Location: Washington, D.C.

Employer: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Since the government shutdown began, how have you had to adjust your finances and lifestyle?

Honestly, at first I didn't think much of it. Since I started working in the government 11 years ago, I have been through three shutdowns. Those didn't last more than a few days. My agency is not totally funded by congressional appropriations so we can work part-time now, and I will get paid at least part of my pay at some point.

Initially, I didn't make any major lifestyle changes. With the shutdown starting right before Christmas there wasn't much I could do. The gifts were already bought and the trips and parties were already planned through the new year. But, once the shutdown dragged into the new year I started to realize that this is a serious "thing." I contacted my mortgage company, banks, utility companies and my daughter's school to make them aware that I am affected by the furlough and that my paycheck would be substantially less if I received one at all. I canceled any automatic payments just in case I did not receive a paycheck.

I also sold any upcoming concert and comedy show tickets I had, because the cash will come in handy .

Have you picked up any side hustles to make some extra money?

Yes, I have been selling some clothes and household items online. I maybe needed to do it anyway, but this put a little fire under me. I'm also planning to sell one of my vehicles. I would rather try and stay current with as many bills as possible, as long as I can.

4. Carolyn and Ben

Employers: Ben works at the Department of Homeland Security. Carolyn is a university professor. (CNBC Make It has changed their names and withheld their location.)

Since the government shutdown began, how have you had to adjust your finances and lifestyle?

Carolyn: We are looking for ways to really tighten our budget. We've called all of our creditors to negotiate payments, identified items to sell, returned Christmas gifts and trimmed our grocery list as much as we can. We've eliminated all of the extra meals outside the home, coffee at work, etc. We've also eliminated some of the special services one child needs because the co-pays are high. This is the one that stings — not giving a child something they need because of the added expense, but our options are limited.

Yet, despite the challenges, we realize that we are the "lucky ones." We have my salary and we have creditors who will work with us, family and friends who have offered to help, and savings and pensions we can dip into if the shutdown continues on. We know there are many families who don't have this type of support.

We are doing what we can by sharing information about how to contact creditors, which food banks are supporting federal employees, or businesses that will give a free meal or a bag of dog food to a federal employee.

Have you picked up any side hustles to make some extra money?

Ben: My department's regulations do not allow us to take on extra work, accept gift cards, apply for unemployment, engage in/accept crowdfunding, etc.

Carolyn: I am the one who has to seek out extra work to support our family of five. I'm a professor with a full teaching/advising load. Part of the challenge is that extra work means additional, up front expenses, such as travel and childcare. Ben cannot take any time off, so I have to figure out how to pay the additional expenses, as well as our everyday ones.

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