How to Survive Christmas When You're Out of Work and Broke
Sometimes It’s not A Wonderful Life
I’m going to share something with you that is out of my comfort zone: Right now, I’m technically broke. Not “broke” as in “I’m broken and need a bit of fixing” but “broke” as in “flat broke”. It’s not a unique situation in this country. It’s just one that I never thought would happen to me.
It happened through a chain of events that could not have been made into a better perfect storm if I’d planned it. My last contract ended unexpectedly. At the same time my wife’s unemployment benefits ran out without any extensions (due to the conditions of the Sequester package put out by Congress). Our savings, which at one point ran around $150k, had been shrinking steadily since the 2008 market crash and only picked up speed over the last year until it was depleted. All monies coming from my UI benefits are going toward our mortgage and possibly food.
And it couldn’t have come at a worse time – Christmas.
When you’re broke and it’s December, the weather outside is really frightful. You worry each day if you’ll have enough money to heat your home, power the lights, keep the phone working, and keep a roof over your head. The winter months call for you to have all these things in play. Plus, when you’re out of work, you need to be sure perspective employers can contact you.
When you're a job hunter, you’ll need to face the very real probability that you won’t be employed until after the new year. Why? Everyone is taking their vacation time all at the same time. The “use it” or “lose it” policy on left over time off, combined with many companies’ “tech freeze” schedule make it the perfect time for a break. It’s the slowest time of the year for many firms. Job hunters need to resign themselves to staying unemployed until everyone gets back to work in order to schedule an interview.
On top of all of these very real concerns, your fragile psyche is under the constant assault of Madison Avenue’s campaign for utter materialism. You can't escape it. It's everywhere. Target has created a commercial where two shoppers are choreographed with their shopping carts, excited to empty their wallets and bring home gifts for their loved ones.
For people like me, it’s not a time to be merry. Rather, it’s a time to feel an almost insurmountable measure of stress that I’ve never encountered in my life and, should I survive this, will never feel again.
In this situation, depression is almost a certainty. Statistically, as everyone knows, suicide rates are highest during the holidays.
So in all of this, you need to ask yourself, “What can I do from here?”
Five Things You Can Do to Survive the Holidays
The most important thing you can do is avoid depression. You have to keep fighting. You have to keep the attitude that you’ll survive this. One way or another, by hook or by crook, you will do whatever it takes to make it to the new year. Whether or not you’ll need to negotiate with your banks and creditors, you have to remember that this situation is only temporary. And it WILL only be temporary so long as you never lose hope.
When real depression hits, it can cripple your motivation and keep you from doing everything that needs to be done. It is a myth that the unemployed are lazy and don’t want to work. Most people who find themselves unemployed will do almost anything to return to work and escape an income which is usually less than half of what they could be earning (if they are earning anything at all).
Depression kills your willpower, confidence, motivation, concentration, and self-esteem – which, by the way, are all the things you need on a job interview.
If you are in dire straits during the holiday season, remember these five things:
- Keep your spirits up
- Be grateful for the things you have
- Envision your goals for the next year
- No one can make you buy something
- Know what’s really important
Dire Straits for the Holidays
If you were out of work and broke, would you continue to buy gifts?
Keep Your Spirits Up
This is so vitally important. It’s easy to beat yourself up when things get this bad.
So long as you’re doing everything you can possibly do, that should be enough. Remember, if the companies you’ve applied to are not interviewing during the holidays, it’s not your fault. Spend this time working on your skills and doing productive self-improving activities that don’t cost anything.
Get some exercise, read a book, or spend some time with some loved ones. If you have no loved ones, make new ones.
Just keep this one thought in mind, most companies aren’t going to do anything until their budgets are approved. If and when they have the funds at the beginning of the year, that’s when they’ll start hiring.
It’s something that should give you hope in the next week or so.
Be Grateful for What You Have
People get discouraged when they see others buying gifts. They come to the realization that bonuses and other surprises that usually come with the holidays probably won't be coming.
That does not mean they won't. I was surprised when my agency sent me a small bonus check into my direct deposit account. It was enough so that I could breathe a small sigh of relief and buy some food. I was grateful for it.
During this season, under these circumstances, I take stock on what I have and verbalize aloud what I’m grateful for. I’m grateful for the roof over my head. I’m grateful that I’m still drawing breath and I’m grateful for having a wife who understands what I’m going through. These are the things that really count. If you have pets and children, be thankful for them as well. If you have food on the table and power for the lights and oil for heat, that’s something else to be thankful for.
Don't get caught in the materialism of the holiday. If you’re a Christian or Catholic, this should be a spiritual day anyway.
Incidentally, while it might seem somewhat blasphemous, you may have to think of Christmas as "just another day." If you’re with extended family or friends, take the time to enjoy their company. And, most importantly, be thankful that you can spend time with friends and family. Some people have no one.
Food and Water
You need to be clear headed for any job interview.
Rent or Mortgage
You need a mail address and a roof over your head.
Runs your laptop, charges phone, and can run portable heater.
Any position you apply for has to be able to contact you.
Important for winter job hunters
Job hunters can go to a library.
Credit Card Bills
While some jobs will do a credit check, Survial needs are more important.
Envision Your Goals for the Next Year
Keep your eyes on the prize. Know what you want.
So many people think a job is going to come out of nowhere. If you keep your eyes open on your goal, the opportunities seem to appear. The important thing is to know what you want. After all, if you don’t know what you want, how will you know what to focus on.
If you keep track of your daily activities toward your goals, it will keep you cognizant of them. Keep a journal of what you've done. Log every entry before going to bed. It will help you justify what you've done on your job hunt or career building exercises. Many people grow despondent and every day begins to look the same. You need to actively keep your mind on business.
In addition to this rate each day on how productive you were. Give it a scale of one to five stars (one being the least productive and five being the most). If you're skilled with Excel, you can see your own progress on a graph. If you're honest with yourself, you'll know how you're doing.
No one can make you buy something if you don’t want to
Madison Avenue has truly gone overboard this year.
The fact that JC Penney actually wrote a Christmas jingle to “Deck the Halls” and substituted the “falalalala’s” with “shop shop shop shop” is outrageous.
And it’s not unusual.
The marketing departments for every retail store in existence want your money. Don't give it to them. They are programming you. They are going to pressure people into thinking it’s their duty to buy a gift for a loved one. It isn’t. Remember, they are in the business of selling things and making money. Their goal is to shame you.
They are the last people on earth to shame anyone.
You are in the business of surviving, paying rent, eating food, and keeping warm. Those are your priorities. Give gifts that don’t cost anything. Maybe you can give the gift of time. Spend some time with your loved ones. There are people you never see. You are giving you to them.
Consider making a meal or giving a book from your personal library. I’m fortunate enough to have a few good bottles of wine on my wine rack that I bought in better times. I'm giving one of my 1996 French reds to my parents.
When I give one of those, I know it will be enjoyed.
Know what’s really important
Usually this season is full of smoke and mirrors. People feel guilty for not buying presents.
Trust me, in the long run, it’s not really important.
What’s important is that you should be doing what you can. If you can afford to buy a gift and you want to, buy a gift. If you are just scrimping to get by, know that it’s important to pay your bills for as long as you can.
You need to understand that you need to live – preferably in the best comfort as possible.
That means you should be concerned with these bills in order:
- Food and Water
- Rent or Mortgage
- Phone or Cell Phone
- Cable (internet access)
- Credit card bills
Food is important for survival. Should you get an interview, it’s good to have blood sugar. You don't need your mind to wander when you're talking to a perspective employer. Stay fed.
If you have a place to stay or if you’re living with your parents or a friend, rent or mortgage is not important. However, if you own a home, you will need to work out terms with your bank. Banks hate being in the real estate business. Chances are, you’ll be able to negotiate something if you are up front about your situation. You'll need to give them some money, though.
Next is power. Electricity is important than oil or gas, because you can use a portable heater if you need to – plus there are so many other things you need to run with your home electric system. Power companies should be notifying you if things are going to be turned off. If that happens, contact them IMMEDIATELY. You can work out a payment plan.
Heat comes next because as we’re talking about these problems during the Christmas holiday, it is cold outside. If you have birds or animals that require warmth to survive, you'll need to make plans to have another person care for them - temporarily. It’s important they get heat. Obviously if you’re unemployed during the summer you may need to do the reverse for furry creatures to keep them cool in the heat.
The last thing is your credit record. Some companies do credit checks. If that's the case, it could be a problem. However, you have bigger fish to fry. And if you don't have the money, what can you do?
Don’t get me wrong. If you have the money, pay your bills.
Talk to you creditors and tell them your situation. Many will work with you. You need to explain to them that they will most likely be paid if you healthy and fed. The worst thing that will happen is that you’re credit rating will be toast for seven years.
Being out of work and out of money sucks no matter what time of the year it is. It’s just that during the holidays it’s that much more stressful.
The biggest problem is that people are under a pseudo-obligation to go out and buy things with money that they don’t have. Here's what I say: If you have money put aside and feel you can celebrate the holidays by splurging, feel free to do so. This article is really for people who are in the most dire of situations.
It’s bad because you can get depressed. Really depressed. My advice to you is to take care of business and don’t be discouraged. Your mission is to get out of this situation as quickly and as painlessly as possible. You may not be making the same level of income as your old salary, but your mission is to be able to work and pay your bills. Once you’re on your feet, you can look to switch jobs for more money or you can work within the company that hired you and negotiate a better pay rate.
You should always remember that the holidays will be around for a long time and your objective is to make it to the next season.
© 2013 Christopher Peruzzi