I was just laid off.
When I got the news, I entered the first stage of grief: Denial. I acted like it would all be fine. I know it will be, but once I left the office I broke down crying just thinking of what to tell my spouse and my family. After I got that over with and had some breathing space, I most certainly got to the second stage. I got angry: They only hired me a few months ago, why didn’t they figure this out before they hired me? Did they intend to lay me off the entire time? I skipped over the third stage — bargaining (albeit, I did ask for more severance when they told me the layoff package) — and quickly got to the depression stage over the weekend. Ice cream was defenseless against me, as were cookies and Cool Whip. (Which, for the record, really don’t taste that good together; but they’ll do in a pinch).
We have an emergency fund, so I know we will be OK. Nonetheless, I wallowed over the weekend. Although I’m still wallowing a bit, I am a planner at heart and I need to recalibrate our lifestyle. Since cutting our everyday budget, I hadn’t also cut down our emergency budget accordingly, so it needed some trimming. I tried not to cry as I crossed off our clothing and gifts budget, because that has already had its share of challenges being as low as it was already. I thought someone might benefit from my morbid exercise, so here is
Stapler Confession’s Guide to
- Gas & Transit: Cut. This is going to be painless: Cut all your commuting costs out of the budget. See? There is an upside to being unemployed!
- Utilities: Increase (maybe). If you live in a climate that needs heating or cooling throughout the day, you may want to adjust your programmable thermostat to account for being home during the day. But you may find that your library or another temperature-controlled environment meets your temperature needs in addition to providing a job search workspace free from tempting extra-curricular activities like the television or cookies and Cool Whip.
- Food: Cut. Use the increased time at home to make things the cheaper way: use dry beans instead of canned, make bread instead of buying it, portion yogurt into single-serve containers instead of buying it that way, etc. Shop at two grocery stores and build the weekly meal plan off of two stores’ loss leaders. If you are still haven’t cut out the expensive habit of eating out for lunch, now is the time. You won’t be at work, so the temptation to get out of the office for lunch is no longer there.
- House Supplies: Cut. Use the time not at work to scope out the best deals on house supplies and build up the stockpile when items are free or close to free. Pursue money-making deals.
- House Services: Cut. When I was hired a few months ago, our income increased and we considered hiring a housekeeper to clean every two weeks. We are incredibly relieved that we spent my raise on paying down school loans instead. If we had hired a housekeeper, our apartment would be cleaner, but we would have nothing to show for it at this point. Instead, we have 89 fewer liabilities each month! Now is not the time to have a housekeeper, lawn maintenance service, or a dogwalker. You are home for the foreseeable future, so you can DIY while you are home. Consider posting your DIY-mowed lawn pattern to Pinterest if it keeps you engaged more.
- Clothing: Zero, except for interview attire needs. There is no need for more work wear while unemployed, just as long as it’s possible to be professional and polished when networking and interviewing.
- Gifts: Zero. In some families and friend circles, it is hard to not give a gift. But unemployment is probably the easiest time to give love instead of stuff. Or find a way to give great stuff for very little money. Going into the holidays with a $0 gift budget is going to be really difficult. I have had some success with finding great holiday gifts for under $4, which I planned to write about, but I will have to get really creative to get everything else for free.
- Entertainment: Zero. Cut the cable (if it makes financial sense, not if it would raise your internet rates), cut the movie night, cut the pizza night, and don’t buy tickets to anything. If there’s ever a time to look for free activities, now is it. Tell yourself it’s temporary, just until your budget can get into the black or only if you make enough that month to offset the cost. Take it a day at a time and see if you can find a free substitute for whatever fun activity it is that you want to do. Write down what you want to do and put that list of pricey “to do” activities in a drawer for later. Heck, put it on your Christmas list if there are people who want to buy you presents. Just get it out of sight and out of mind. For now.
- Career Expenses: Increase. Increase this budget line item — now is not the time to cut back on any opportunity you will have to network in your field or learn the skills you anticipate needing in your career — but spend wisely. Over the weekend, I have already scoped out training and professional organizations that will be useful for my job search. The fees are pricey, but some organizations offer discount memberships or scholarships for attending trainings. It doesn’t hurt to ask! One organization will reduce the price of the training to $25 if you volunteer for a qualifying non-profit. Volunteering and contributing time to a professional organization can be a great way to show others how well you work in a team and provide high quality work, so it’s a win-win. As a bonus, these expenses might even be tax deductible.
- Childcare: Cut. Consider whether you will need childcare for volunteer, networking, and job search activities, and consider available free or low-cost resources. For us, my mother is happy to step in to look after our son if I have an interview. But I know early mornings aren’t best for her, so I wouldn’t want to impose on her at 8:30 in the morning. I also spoke to the director of our son’s preschool, who said that there is a waitlist for Tuesdays and Thursdays. If our little guy doesn’t continue attending on those days, he will lose his spot and would have to wait to get back into preschool full time when I do go back to work. Because I don’t want to impose early mornings on my mom if he is waitlisted when I go back to work, we decided to keep our son in school for those days.
- Health Insurance: Increase. If your employer provided health insurance, your health insurance costs will probably go up unless your spouse has similarly-priced coverage. Consider not only the cost of your spouse’s insurance plan, but also any lost income due to not being able to take a health insurance buyout. It is possible to get coverage independent of anyone’s employer, particularly now that there are health insurance exchanges in each state. Check out the federal marketplace, which can link you to your state’s insurance marketplace.
- Student Loans: Cut. If comparing your emergency funds to your emergency budget leaves you in the red, take advantage of the options federal student loans provide for people facing economic hardship. Take a look at the Income-Based Repayment plan. This is my favorite calculator. If IBR doesn’t reduce your expenses low enough, consider applying for an economic hardship forbearance, which means that you do not pay your loan for a year. However, if your loan is not subsidized, it will accrue interest during that time and will capitalize it when your loan comes out of forbearance. With that in mind, make periodic payments to cover the interest accrued or be sure to save up that money once you’re ready to come out of forbearance. It would really stink to be paying interest on interest in the future.
With all of these changes made, we are at a $550 monthly deficit based on my spouse’s income and my expected unemployment. It hurts to think that we may have to dip into our emergency fund for that monthly $550, plus any amount I have to pay towards career expenses. There are many things that are hard about this layoff, and one of them is giving up the financial vision I had for our family in the near future. I hoped we would have one less loan by the end of the year, but now I’m contemplating a need to dip into the emergency fund! I am grieving for the loss of those hopes. At the same time, I am grateful that we slashed our expenses months ago and already slayed a loan. I have also learned that cutting expenses is only part of the debt-slaying equation. Another part is earning income, which I hope to do in order to balance out our deficit and avoid touching the emergency fund.
Image courtesy of Ponsulak from FreeDigitalPhotos.net