Are you currently or have you ever been out of work for an extended period of time? Or maybe your partner has? Let’s talk about how to survive unemployment so you can continue striving toward an intentional life.
Tough to keep your spirits up.
Tough to survive financially.
Tough to not let it control every aspect of your life.
This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. This post is not to be taken as professional medical or mental health advice. All statements are strictly my personal life observations. You can see my full disclaimer here.
I’ve been there. My husband and I have been married for more than two decades, and there have been times when one or the other of us have been unexpectedly out of work for months at a time.
I was a stay-at-home mom for 9 years while my boys were younger. My husband works in construction, which is not always full-time employment here in Michigan. Every year we had to plan for some downtime with very little income.
Even when both boys were in school and I went back to work, my wages were pretty low – not enough to survive on if my husband was off work for a while… which happened…
He hurt his shoulder at work and needed surgery. Just as he was recovering from that and cleared to return to work, the construction industry came to a complete halt. Altogether he was off work for about 18 months.
That was an experience I would never wish on anyone!
Even when the economy seems to be better, unexpected job loss does still happen. If it has happened to you or your partner, big hugs! I know coping with the change can be quite a challenge.
Here are some suggestions to help you make it through both mentally and financially.
Expect the Unexpected
If you follow Dave Ramsey and you see ‘storm clouds on the horizon,’ then you need to start pumping money into the emergency fund.
While Dave’s overall philosophy isn’t for everyone, I will say that his book “Total Money Makeover” was instrumental in helping us pay off close to $30K of debt and have an emergency fund in place when my husband was off work for so long. We ended up going through every penny of it, but without it, things would have been much, much worse.
Don’t think you can start saving? Try my ‘little money’ saving and earning ideas and watch how fast the cash builds.
Related: How and Why You Should Start an Emergency Fund – Get Rich Slowly
If You Are Blindsided by Unemployment
1. Don’t pretend it’s not happening
At first, you may be tempted to look at the job loss like a vacation.
For a few days, you can revel in not having to be a slave to the alarm and dressing up every day. But then you need to get busy!
2. Sign up for unemployment benefits if they are available to you
Be sure to follow ALL of your state’s requirements.
If your state allows you to have taxes taken out, do it. Claim 0 dependents for both federal and state. You do NOT want to get hit with that tax bill next year.
3. If you don’t already have a budget, make one — immediately
Once you file for unemployment, you should have an idea of how much money you will have coming in to work with.
Look for easy things to cut like eating out, cable, maybe changing cell phone providers. Go over every single spending category and cut it as low as possible.
Think of it as similar to making a post-summer budget — not impossible at all!
4. Reduce the costs of everyday activities
Are you children in sports, dance, or other activities that cost money?
You may have to swallow some pride and talk to the coordinator about possible scholarships or reduced payment plans.
Also, be real: If the activity is not something your child LOVES or NEEDS, then it may be time for a break.
5. Don’t lose your health insurance
If the one who is now unemployed was the main health insurance carrier for your family, you will need to look into replacing that and take the cost into account in your budget.
Health insurance can run $600-$2000/month for a family.
You may be able to get lower-cost insurance due to the unemployment situation, but it is something you will have to check. Start with your state’s website or union representative.
6. Fill out a new free/reduced lunch application for your children
Most of the schools I know of now use a PIN pad for students to punch in their number and ‘pay’ for their meals, so nobody even has to know that you cannot afford to pay full price.
Your school district’s website should have a link to fill out the application online or you can print it and send it directly to your district’s Food Service Director.
7. Get moving on the job search
Update your resume, create a cover letter, get letters of recommendation from former employers if that’s something common in your field.
Make a list of all of the job-hunting resources you can find.
Put them to use and don’t make these job-hunting mistakes.
Taking Stock During Unemployment
Okay, you’ve done all.the.things.
But it’s been months and you still haven’t been hired even though you KNOW you were perfect for some of the jobs you’ve applied to.
Maybe you haven’t even gotten an interview, which is really messing with your head.
It’s time to take stock of the money and your mind…
How is the money situation?
Did you have a fully-funded emergency fund?
Is it still in good shape? Talk to your partner. How are they feeling about the situation? Maybe they actually like having you at home. It’s likely you’ve taken on more of the household tasks, which could allow them to work a few extra hours and replace some of the pay you were bringing home (or vice versa).
If that’s the case, relax a little. Maybe this new reality is working for your family. If you think that might be so, talk it over with your partner to make sure you are both on the same page.
Is the money running out?
Here in Michigan, the maximum unemployment benefit is $362/week for a total of 20 weeks, which comes out to about $1220 a month after taxes. (Told you I’ve been there — sadly, I know these numbers!)
That does not pay many bills at all. If you are nearing the end of your benefits and feeling desperate, it may be time to cut a little deeper or even sign up for some extra government assistance just to get you through for a little while.
- Do a pantry challenge. See how long you can get by with the food you have on hand.
- Sell some things. Sell a lot of things. Maybe enough that you decide you can sell your house and downsize.
- Sign up with a temp agency.
- Consider a part-time job. Part-time work will get you out of the house, bring in a little money, and may give you something to put on your resume to cover what would otherwise be a long employment gap.
- Use your skills and knowledge to find ways to make money online, perhaps by writing, teaching, or selling things you make on Etsy. Check into the tax implications and whether or not any money you make will affect your unemployment. Don’t try to cheat the government!
- Get some training to update skills or learn new ones. Here are some places you can begin looking:
45 Free Online Classes You Can Take (and Finish) by the End of This Year – The Muse
Open Education Database — free college courses
- Maybe it’s time for a career change. One of those online classes might give you the skills or spark an idea that sends you in a new direction. Be open to new possibilities. (Interested in blogging? Sign up for this free course: The Blog Plan.)
- Think about getting a coach — someone who can look at your resume, your skills, the jobs you’ve been applying for. They can tell you what you can improve or eliminate to get a job you really like.
Don’t just pick someone from a google search. You probably have in-person or online friends who can give you names and suggestions. Just remember that a good coach is providing a valuable service and cannot work for free.
Don’t beg for money, but don’t turn down genuine offers of help.
How is your mental state?
- Connect with people in-person and online. People who can teach you things. People who will listen. People who WON’T listen to whining.
Face it… If you’ve been out of work for months, you’ve probably done some whining. It’s natural, but don’t let it become your main topic of conversation.
- Volunteer to help others. Your situation may not look so bad when you see how many people are worse off than you are.
- If you have children, give them extra love. They know something is different and can feel the tension even if you don’t openly talk about money or jobs in front of them.
- If you are in a relationship, make it a priority. Relationships don’t cost money, but to remain healthy they do require the investment of time and effort. If your partner is the one who is unemployed, work on keeping them upbeat.
If you are worried about them (or yourself), get help. Your state’s official website can provide information on how to obtain mental help for free or on a sliding scale.
More Inspiration and Motivation
Take heart. Re-employment will happen.
When it does, you will realize that you are a survivor!
Depending on how long the job loss lasted, it will take some time to recover financially. That’s okay. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing — live on the same budget as much as possible — and your finances will eventually be right again.
Do you have anything to add to the list? If you’ve been in this situation, what got you through?