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Living Below Your Means
Guide to Surviving Unemployment

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By markoose
November 25, 2002

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As some of you may know, I was unemployed for a while. Much longer than people should be out of work, mind you... but far from going the longest ever.

Anyway, here's a list I thought I'd share, in no particular order, things I learned along the way which may help a little. It's far from a complete list, as everybody's situation can be different. And some things might seem like common sense, but it's still good to at least make a note of them. Enjoy....

markoose's Guide to Surviving Unemployment

1.) Don't lose your job.

2.) If you do lose your job, be sure to do it when you can easily find another one.

3.) Have a sense of humor. Obviously I'm (partially) joking about numbers 1 and 2, as we don't always have complete control over certain situations. Yes, you can do things to improve your odds of keeping your job... but even then, sometimes it's no match for larger issues at your company, your industry, or even the economy in general. So, don't beat yourself up too much. Even though it kinda sucks, losing your job is NOT a total nightmare. Sometimes it's just a blessing in disguise. It's okay to smile and laugh and crack jokes. It's not the end of the world.

4.) Don't get caught with your pants down. What your financial picture looks like going into unemployment certainly affects what it looks like coming out of it -- while affecting everything in between. Losing your job when you have two young children and a pregnant wife who's a stay-at-home mom, while you're already up to your eyeballs in all kinds of debt can be a much different situation than if you're single, childless and not only don't have any debt, but also have a big fat emergency fund. Getting prepared during good times can help ease the difficulty of the bad times. It might be a little too late this go-around for some people, but there will always be a (potential) next time.

5.) Work in a state that has generous unemployment benefits. Obviously there's much more to working (and living life) than what state your employer is located. But after this bout of joblessness, I think it's okay to bump this up the list a bit. In case you didn't know, some states are more generous than others when it comes to unemployment benefits, in terms of dollar amount, duration, and even qualification. As for myself, this traditionally liberal state has saved my @ss in a BIG way.

6.) Stick up for yourself. Or, even seek legal counsel if you have to. Sometimes companies may try to deny you of your unemployment benefits (or severance, or back-pay, or accrued vacation time, or pension, or whatever), even if your situation truly warrants them. Why? Some employers may not want to pay their share if you did collect, so they try to weasel out of it, even if they know they're wrong. Certainly every situation doesn't justify fighting to the bloody death, but don't be a push-over, either. There is a standard appeals process for unemployment benefits already in place for a reason. States aren't stupid; they know what goes on sometimes.

7.) Don't be bitter. Hey, stuff happens. Trust me, you're far from being the first and only person ever to be laid off. Be angry for a spell, and let it out in constructive ways. But be sure to move on. No use in dwelling on it, as you'll only be hurting yourself.

8.) Be sure to play defense. As companies cut costs (namely, your job), be sure to follow suit and cut YOUR costs (even more so than usual). Everybody's situation is different, and there's no one right way to save money. But if you look around and pay a little more attention to your budget, there's room to save. Even if it's just a little here and a little there, it adds up, especially over time. And something is certainly better than nothing. Read the LBYM board for some good ideas (yes, it's not ALL off-topic).

9.) Treat yourself. Cutting your budget and saving money is good, and can even be FUN! But be sure not to be a total slave, even depriving yourself and others of basic necessities. If you find yourself eating only bread and water day after day after day just to save a few bucks on the grocery bill, it's probably a good idea to head out to McDonald's or something for dinner one night. It's not gonna make or break you, if keep it limited to every once in a while. A $5 meal that you once took for granted is now a very special treat. You'll be surprised at just how many small things now mean a heck of a lot more.

10.) Kiss your vices goodbye. There's no better time to clean up your life than when you're unemployed. Quit smoking. Quit boozing. If you have a drug or gambling problem, now is the time to kick the bad habits. Not only are they are EXPENSIVE, but they're also UNHEALTHY. Speaking of which...

11.) Stay healthy. Especially if you have no health insurance. Don't get sick. Don't fall down and go boom. Easier said than done. But there are common-sensical things you can do to minimize the risk. Do them.

12.) Keep active. Go for a walk. Do some yardwork. Not only will moderate exercise help you spend some of all this free time you now have, but it also helps burn away the stress and keeps you in a good mood. Being unemployed can get depressing, and every little bit helps in combating this.

13.) Get out there, see people. Friends, family, former co-workers, neighbors. It's easy to become much more isolated when you're outta work. Interacting with others (with whom you want to interact) is a GOOD thing. Don't become a hermit. And not everything has to cost (a lot of) money. You might even get a free meal out of the visit.

14.) Get educated. What better time than now? If your industry is in the gutter and you're having trouble finding a job, it might be time to brush up on your skills and improve yourself... or even enter a new field altogether. Take a few classes at the community college, or get an advanced degree at a private university, or anything in between. Various forms of financial aid are always available. Student loans are usually an excellent investment. Heck, nobody said it even has to be FORMAL education. I've borrowed from the library and read so many business books and investing books and whatever, that it's been my own specially tailored MBA, no joke. Education is an amazing thing. (Oh yeah, I've also been coming to www.fool.com *wink wink*)

15.) Go west, young man! With all this free time on my hands (and a little bit of money in my pockets), I had the opportunity to experience a decent chunk of the good ol' U.S. of A., during quite a few trips. I gotta say, after 16 states and thousands of miles on my car, I'm impressed. There is so much diversity out there, so much to see and do, it's amazing. But you don't have to travel half the country to have a good time. You know that town just a few exits down the highway, the one you've never visited but always used to pass on your way to work? Go ahead, take that exit. Explore a new town. Heck, explore your OWN town. I bet you don't know it as well as you think you do. Interesting and fulfilling travel doesn't have to cost much.

16.) Start your own business. Here's your chance! Obviously it's not for everyone, but people do it every day. Take your career up a few notches... or maybe turn your hobby into a money-maker. Start out small and part-time, if you need to. Hey, with a lot of hard work, intelligence, perseverance, and a little luck, small things can blossom into big beautiful things. Remember, every business out there had to start from somewhere, even those that are now giant multi-nationals with billions in sales that employ thousands worldwide.

17.) Try to stay cool with your family. I realize that that's not very reasonable or even possible for some of you. But for the rest of us, is it so hard to forgive and forget, or at least be civil to your siblings, your parents, your in-laws, your extended family, whomever? They can be a big help when you're unemployed, lending all kinds of support such as financial, emotional, whatever. They can even be part of your network for your job search. Note: If you're gonna borrow money, be sure to PAY THEM BACK as soon as possible. And remember, interest on loans can come in many forms, not just monetary. Just be sure that both parties at least roughly understand and agree upon certain elements of these loans. Oh yeah, and again, be sure to PAY THEM BACK!

18.) Go online and read really long lists on how to survive unemployment. ; )

19.) Get a job. A bit of common sense: Get thy butt to work! There are jobs out there, believe it or not. And there's more than one way to find a job. Don't give up. Use all the methods available, because you never know where it will come from (and how long it might take to get one). And hey, sometimes it gets to a point where you can't find something that's roughly equal to your last position. It happens. So in the meantime, bite the bullet and take what you can get. Yeah, lower your standards a little if you have to. If it helps any, remember that no job is forever (as you've learned the hard way), nor does it have to be. Keep looking for a better one as you work, something that's more suited to your skills and interests and whatever. Besides, you never know where something will lead you if you get your foot in the door somewhere. People can (and do) get promoted, or switch to a different department, sometimes rather quickly, you know. You can be one of them. Be open to new potential careers... you might even find that you enjoy your new one much better than your old one.

Anyway, if you're still reading, I just wanted to say that even though unemployment can be tough, it won't last forever (unless you really, really want it to -- and you can afford it). In fact, parts of it can be pretty cool. I might be poorer for it, but I'm certainly that much wiser. And although I'm still gonna experience a little pain, even with the new job, much of that pain has now subsided (knock on wood).

All in all, I guess in a weird sense I'm glad unemployment happened to me -- it's not ALL bad! What was that old saying again, something about life handing you lemons? Oh yeah...

20.) Make lemonade.


; )


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