How I am Coping with Unemployment
Being unemployed in the current economy scares me to death! It loomed before me for months as a possibility, and I scrambled to prepare for the eventuality, but no preparation in the world can properly prepare you for dealing with such a thing. I am by no means an expert on the subject, I am stumbling right along like so many people, part of my reason for posting this is to see what comments and tips others may have to share. And well, because I find that sharing what I am going through helps it to feel a little less scary; and I am more scared this time than I ever was before when I had employment woes.
Today, 10/22/11, I posted an update here.
How I Got Here
In basic terms, I think I got here the way a lot of people did, our economy stinks and jobs have become more and more difficult to find. In more specific terms, I have spent the past 4+ years self-employed doing graphic design and administrative consulting, and I put all my eggs in one basket--I started off with a client that gave me more than 40 hours a week in work and I didn't diversify. Had that client continued to give me that amount of work over the years I might find myself in a different position. But they didn't...and I don't. And by the time the hours began dwindling and I started to look for additional clients, it was too late, advertising budgets were dropping and with them opportunities. Attempts to get temp work and a second job ended in similar brick walls. And then, the worst possible thing happened, my one client decided to have an in-house employee begin to complete all of the tasks that fell under my list of duties, and POOF...NO. MORE. INCOME! So here I sit, trying desperately to find income as I watch the red in my budgeting spreadsheet gradually replace the green.
Thankfully, I am far less in the red than I might be had I not begun to cut expenses over a year ago. It is amazing what you learn when you sit down and really look at your past spending. Around this time last year I set up a spreadsheet to provide an overview of anticipated expenses and income for the remainder of 2010. I have made a lot of adjustments, but these were my 3 biggest lessons...
FAST FOOD - It is amazing how quickly you can go broke eating fast food! I had no idea how much of a suck on my income it was. It seems so innocent to go and buy yourself dinner off of the dollar menu, but it adds up at an alarming rate. The sad thing is that I really enjoy cooking, but I got frustrated with cooking for one and also a little lazy. I won't say I have cut out fast food altogether, but it is now a rare treat. Meanwhile, I have started spending 1 day each week making things that freeze well in my Crock Pot--chili, split pea soup, stew, various pasta sauces. I also bought a Mr. Tea and now make my own iced tea, yummy!
ENTERTAINMENT - My vices here are magazines, movie rentals and books. Between my various subscriptions, memberships with BOTH movie rental by mail companies, and numerous book purchases I was rapidly going to be broke. I immediately checked to be sure no magazines would auto-renew. Then I put both movie rental memberships on hold--who knew you could do such a thing! This allows me to keep my queue, and to easily restart my membership if I reach a point where I can afford the expense. And I immediately cut myself off of book purchases. And then, I went and did what I should have ages ago, I got a library card. I had forgotten how much I love the library!
HOUSEHOLD UTILITIES - It is amazing what can be done in this category with a bit of time spent researching and some mindfulness. I already use the cheapest phone service possible, and don't have any choice in the electricity, gas or water companies I use, so I thought there would not be much wiggle room here. My first change was calling the cable company to discuss my internet cost and discovered I was paying for the middle speed tier instead of the lowest, and I also sweet-talked my way into a 6-month discount. I believe the biggest changes I made her though were the following 3 things: 1. Replacing all of my light-bulbs with CFLs - Yes, it is a bit of an investment, but you can save quite a bit on your bills by switching, my utility company says you can save about $55 over the life of the bulb, imagine changing all of your bulbs! And another plus is that they they last longer. 2. Fighting "vampire power" - Does my coffee maker really need to be plugged in all the time? Is the fact that I don't have to wait for my computer to boot up in the morning worth the money I am spending to leave it on all night? Does the clock on my DVD player really matter? Answering these, and so many other questions, yes for too long is the cause of a much higher electrical bill. I have now made power strips my friend! All of my small kitchen appliances I use regularly are plugged into one, and it is off when I am not using them. The same goes for my main computer peripherals, and a second one for the ones I use less often, and two in my entertainment center with the same distribution on each as my computer. 2 of these strips are "smart power strips that actually turn off peripheral devices when I turn off the main device, and then start them all back up for me in the same fashion. 3. Being mindful of my usage - I discovered that I am one of those people that leaves lights on all over the apartment when I am not using them. I also realized that I often do half loads of laundry or run the dishwasher half full. I am still not perfect, but I am getting better, and every little bit helps! With these 3 changes I have reduced my monthly utility expense by an average of $20-$30 a month, and it is still dropping as I make more adjustments.
Money You May Not Know You Have
I spent a weekend in January looking around my apartment for possible ways to make money. It is amazing what you will find just sitting there gathering dust when it could be putting money in your bank account.
Return unopened items - I had a number of items from various stores that had never been opened (mostly craft supplies, and a few recently purchased books). I looked through my files to find the receipts and then went online to look at their return policies. I then spent about 2 hours the next day driving to the stores to return items, and suddenly I had almost $200 in my account that had essentially been sitting on a shelf; and I have not missed a single one of those items.
Sell items online - As a book junkie this has been huge for me. I had hundreds of books in my apartment, and though it is hard for me to part with them, it has been well worth it so far. This goes for things other than books too of course, books are just my vice! I went through my books and also my DVDs (I had a lot of DVDs unopened and just gathering dust) and listed a bunch of stuff on Amazon. So far I have made about $400 and I still have quite a few items listed.
Have a yard sale - I thought this option was closed to me, but found a friend willing to let me use their yard for a weekend. It was a pain getting everything over there, but well worth it. Between books I thought were too beat up or old for Amazon, clothing, furniture (those emptied bookshelves!), and a bunch of other random stuff I made almost $200!
The Job Search
I am not going to go into major detail here, it is a work in progress. My biggest challenge right now is to not get frustrated or discouraged. In the past when I have been looking for a new job the economy has been better AND I have not been in such a hurry. Sending out my resume 10 times easily got me at least 3 or 4 interviews, and I would often get inquiries from people I had not even contacted. Sadly, that is not how things are working right now. I think the key things here are:
-Make sure your resume is updated and well put together. I checked a few resume books out of the library and made some adjustments including ensuring I was using keywords appropriate to the field I am searching in. I also got some good ideas from the sample resumes included in these books.
-Be familiar with the places to search out there. Are there job boards for your particular field? Is Craigslist a good option? What is your best search criteria on websites with huge databases such as Monster? These are some of the questions I asked myself.
-Know what you are willing to do, and how much you are willing to take to do it. For me, since I have a little bit of time before I have to be frantic, I am trying to still wait for something that is a good fit. Something that I would be good at and like doing that pays an amount I don't think would be short-changing myself. I don't want to set myself up to be looking again in 6-months or devalue myself by settling for a salary well below what I know my skills are worth. I have set myself a date when I need to abandon those guidelines and begin searching for whatever I can find, and I just have to hope it does not come into play.
This is the main book I used when refining my resume. There are a few bits I disagree with, but that is the case with many things. I went through it with my resume sitting next to me and made notes as I went. I REALLY loved the sample resumes they included, they helped me come up with some formatting ideas.
I wish all of you in similar situations the best of luck in finding a job and also learning to be better with the money you make. I feel like I have established new habits that are likely to remain after I find a job. If I do I plan to reward myself with something I have always wanted the money for--a trip to Disneyworld!