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Are you currently or have you ever been out of work for an extended period of time? Or maybe your partner has? It’s tough.
Tough to keep your spirits up.
Tough to survive financially.
Tough to not let it control every aspect of your life.
I’ve been there. My husband and I have been married for 19 years, 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 down time with very little income.
Even when I went back to work, my wages were pretty low – not enough to survive on if my husband was off for a while. Which happened. Several years ago 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!
The economy seems to be a little better now, but unexpected job loss does still happen. If it has happened to you or your partner, big hugs! I’ve been out of the traditional workforce for the past few months, and 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 (visit his website here) and you see “storm clouds on the horizon,” then you need to start pumping money into the emergency fund. (*Dave’s book “Total Money Makeover” was instrumental in helping us pay off close to $30K of debt 10 years ago 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.)
If You Are Blindsided by Unemployment
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. If the activity is not something your child LOVES or NEEDS, then it may be time for a break.
- 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-$1000/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.
- If your children attend public school, be sure to fill out a new free/reduced lunch application. 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.
- Update your resume, create a cover letter, get letters of recommendation from former employers if that’s something common in your field, and 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.
Okay, you’ve done all that. 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 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 articles 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 a couple of places you can begin looking:
- 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.
- Think about getting a coach. Someone who can look at your resume, your skills, the jobs you’ve been applying for. Someone who 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. 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.
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?