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Cameron Thomas, owner of Toronto-based media relations company Pronoic PR, is wondering how he’s going to pay his rent come April 1.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, both of the events he’s been working on have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely, and some clients are looking for refunds.

“Financially, I’m worried,” he says. “I’m a guy who goes from cheque to cheque, so I’m concerned about rent. I’m concerned about paying my mobile bill. Three weeks – or more – is a very long time.”

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“In terms of what happens next, it’s a big question mark.”

The federal government has heard the pleas of Canadians such as Mr. Thomas, and on Wednesday, it outlined a massive $27-billion aid package that includes $55-billion in tax deferrals. Ottawa is also creating an emergency support benefit for self-employed and part-time workers who don’t qualify for employment insurance. Small business owners will receive a temporary wage subsidy from Ottawa that will equal 10 per cent of employee salaries for a period of three months.

If you’re one of the many Canadians who don’t have a steady paycheque, what should you do until relief comes? Scott Hannah, president and CEO of the Vancouver-based Credit Counselling Society, says you should avoid pulling money out of your registered retirement savings plans or drawing down your line of credit to cover any shortfalls.

Instead, he recommends contacting your creditors immediately to ask whether you can delay or reduce your payments. Better to be proactive, he says, than waiting for them to call because of missed instalments. (Some Canadian banks, mortgage providers, telecommunications companies and utilities have already announced they’ll give customers the option of delaying or skipping some payments, or waiving fees.)

Once that’s done, he suggests building an emergency budget that outlines your family’s basic necessities. “Everything else is a luxury at this point,” he says.

Ask yourself what can you do without for the next two to three months, then scale back as much as possible: reduce the amount you drive or take your car off the road entirely; cut back on subscriptions; cancel your gym membership; and cut back on ordering take-out.

Now is also the time to cancel that summer trip to avoid penalties, look for refunds from cancelled March Break camps and postpone any other purchases, he adds. Another tip: look at every item in your budget and try to scale it back by 10 per cent. That can add up to hundreds of dollars, Mr. Hannah says. (You can find budget worksheets at his organization’s website, nomoredebts.org.)

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The key is to make a plan and follow it. “When people make a plan, they feel better because they’re taking steps,” Mr. Hannah says. “For a lot of people, they get into panic mode and then they’re immobilized – they don’t do anything.”

Michelle Pommells, CEO of Credit Counselling Canada, which represents non-profit credit counsellors across the country, also has some advice for freelancers: start sending more frequent nudges to clients who owe you money, reminding them you haven’t been paid yet. To help smooth out your income stream, Ms. Pommells suggests asking long-term clients to put you on a retainer, pay invoices promptly or, for big projects, pay you in regular instalments, rather than one large chunk at the end.

Mark St. Louis, who started his own retail marketing and design consultancy, PivotRetail, this past October, says his retail customers are shutting down their stores temporarily and postponing projects. “It’s a very fluid thing, day-to-day,” he says. “We’re definitely feeling it.”

Mr. St. Louis says he’s fortunate he has no employees or office space to pay for and he can cut down on personal costs such as driving and eating out. But, he still has to get food on the table and pay his mortgage.

“You hope you don’t have to dip into savings or whatever," he says, “because those are going to pot at the same time.”

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