Whether it is unexpected or planned, being between jobs usually means you have less disposable income to spend than you would normally have. Some have the luxury of a savings on which to fall back, but the majority of Americans enter this trying period with little to no financial cushion to soften the blow. As such, a period of unemployment usually means having to adjust your lifestyle to stretch your dollars further. After all, you likely need to get a new resume and buy a few new pieces for those interviews. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seasonally adjusted media duration of unemployment was 12.8 weeks as of November 2014. If you’re talking about 3+ months of unemployment, then for most of us the fat has to be trimmed as much as possible to avoid financial ruin. Here are a 7 tips for retaining more money at the end of that month.
Unemployment Strategy #1: Fix Meals at Home
Most of us love to eat out. It is how we socialize and bond with our friends or catch up with the activities of family members. But dining out is a large part of most of our expenditures. Did you know that the average person lays out $232 per month in food prepared outside of the house? This translates to $12.75 per person per meal (given the average of 18.2 meals per month). There are many meals that can be made that will feed four people for under $10, and feed them quite well. This leads us to the next logical area to find savings until you can get off the unemployment train.
Unemployment Strategy #2: Smarter Grocery Shopping
For most, one of the biggest (and unavoidable) bills is the grocery bill. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that as of 2009, the average person spent $537 monthly on food. As part of your unemployment strategy, try the following to help bridge you to the next paycheck:
- Coupon websites and apps – you don’t have to clip coupons anymore. Between the internet and your cell phone, navigating the coupon world is much easier than it was in the past. Consumerreports.org lists can help you to determine the one that is for you.
- Avoid salad mixes – Instead of the pre-packaged salad mixes, build it yourself. Who knows, you may come up with a mix of your own that you like!
- Spices – Ever thought of getting your spices from the bulk bins? You can buy smaller amounts.
- Stock up on the staples – Look for notification of sales on items such as olive oil, pasta, rice and beans.
- Potatoes – At a paltry average of about $0.30 each, potatoes can provide you with a filling meal without denting your pocketbook.
- Chicken – Ever considered buying and roasting/grilling a whole chicken? Good savings there.
Unemployment Strategy #3: Chat up Your Creditors to Negotiate Lower Payments
When you fall on hard times, contact your creditors to let them know the situation and see if you can negotiate a lower payment during your unemployment period. Most creditors are very good about working with you to ensure that they get something in as opposed to nothing. Make no mistake, creditors just want their money. And anything they can do within reason to ensure they get it will be within the sphere of negotiation. It is always a good unemployment strategy to let your creditors know that you have good intentions and want to stay connected during this troubled time. But whatever you do, don’t just stop paying and not inform them. That is how you end up with a sub-500 credit rating. and that is just another world of problems.
Unemployment Strategy #4: Curb your Weekend Partying
It is after one loses their job that you feel like partying and blowing off steam. But should you really do this? it is believed that for every $100 consumers spend, about $1 goes to alcohol, which has been consistent for 30 years or so. With a a 1,206% markup on bottom-shelf liquor, it only makes sense that you are better off buying your liquor and inviting friends over. Not only do you save money on the alcohol, but you are not tempted to go out to dinner (see section above). Also, you eliminate your chances for a DUI, which will make it even harder on you to find a job. So as part of your unemployment strategy, blow off that steam by having that drink at home, if you must.
Unemployment Strategy #5: Look at Cell Phone Plan
One study has American overpaying for cell phone services by $336 per year (or $28 per month). Have you checked your cell phone plan lately to see where you can trim the fat? Do a quick audit of your account and see how your voice and data usage stack up against the plant that you have. Has your carrier restructured their plans and have a better one that fits your needs?
Unemployment Strategy #6: Home Entertainment Costs
Okay, do you REALLY need three Tivo units, Hulu Plus, Netflix AND three premium movie channels? Take an honest look at that you are paying out in home entertainment and make adjustments accordingly. After all, your time is supposed to be spent looking for a job, right? Getting rid of some of these “distractions” may make for a more efficient job search.
Unemployment Strategy #7: Curtail Your Holiday Spending
If you are unfortunate enough to be laid off around the holidays, you will need to make some hard decisions about your holiday spending. Instead of lavish gifts, perhaps less expensive gift cards to a loved one’s favorite restaurant or coffee bar will be a good substitute. Also, it may be time to tell all adults in your sphere that it is a “Recession Christmas” and that unless you are 17 or younger, this year’s gift will be a “smile and a loving hug/firm handshake”. if your friends and family cannot understand that you need to reign in the spending, then it is perhaps THEIR issue and not yours. No one should expect you to incur hundreds (or thousands) more in debt for stuff they all did without for the last 11 months.
If you are fortunate enough to have a savings or investments to lean on, then perhaps you will not need to take these measures. But that does not describe the situation for most. 12.8 weeks is a long time to when there isn’t a paycheck coming in and anything that you can do to help you reach the end of that trying without financial ruin should be considered. It has always been recommended that one puts away 3 months of expenses for such a time. But with rising prices for basic goods and services, coupled with stagnant wages, most need those funds just to meet current obligations. As such, when you are back in the saddle with a new job, it may be a good idea to stay in savings mode to see if you can in fact build a reserve, even if a small one.