Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to make your money last during a layoff

Unfortunately, a few of my friends lost their jobs in mass layoffs in the past year. And while losing your primary source of income clearly sucks, the silver lining is that not knowing where the next check is coming from forces you to learn how to stretch a dollar really, really far.

So I asked a friend of mine -- we'll call her "Sandra" -- for some tips to share about how she held it together when she was out of work briefly last year:
  • Filed for unemployment IMMEDIATELY: It now takes 5 weeks (longer than in years past) to begin getting the benefit payments, so this is CRUCIAL
  • Cut off all major luxuries: (no more fancy dinners, no shopping, all trips were cancelled) and limited things like hair salon visits (non-essential dry cleaning, bi-weekly hair appointments instead of weekly)
  • Paid all my essential bills up front: to make sure things like heat, car note and insurance payments, prescriptions, cell phone/internet were guaranteed to be there.
  • Took a part-time job: The work was beneath me, but provided a steady stream of extra cash for pocket expenses (about $150 to $250 a week, depending on how much time a put towards it).
  • Set aside enough money to pay credit card minimums: I paid 4 months worth although, I was only out of work for 2 months.
  • Deferred some bill payments: I called around to see who would let me defer payments out of "hardship consideration, and both my student loans and gas company were willing.
  • Reduced cable services: I kept HD channels, but dumped on-demand and premium channel services.
  • Gave my family small gifts and "IOUs" for the holidays: It hurt to have to do this, but I'll make it up to them. I also skipped sending holiday cards.
  • Switched to low-cost entertainment activities: I rediscovered house parties, museums, going out for dessert and coffee (instead of meals and drinks) and frequented clubs/parties where I knew people, and could be guest-listed.
  • Paid more attention to what I paid for groceries: I shopped on sale days and clipped coupons on higher priced items (like laundry detergent and saline solution).
  • Cooked at home WAY more: Being unemployed showed me how much of my money went to waste on food, particularly snacks, lunches and dinners, while on the go, etc., etc.
  • Used public transportation whenever possible. The price of gas is less of a concern now than it was last summer, but PARKING is still way overpriced and a huge waste of money in NYC and Boston.
Hopefully, Sandra's experiences will help someone else who reads this and finds themselves unfortunately unemployed. Better yet, most of her suggestions are things that can save you money long before you lose a job. There's nothing wrong with working AND being frugal.

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