Underemployed? How to Improve Your Financial Picture in 2021

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Here's what to do if you're not earning enough to make ends meet.

Many people have seen their income take a hit in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. If you've experienced a drop in earnings -- perhaps because your hours at work were cut -- then you may be starting out the new year on shaky ground. If you're underemployed, here's how to turn things around in the coming months.

1. Consider a new industry

Restaurant staff, hotel workers, and others employed in industries that have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic may not be getting the hours or wages they need to get by right now. If this applies to you, it may be time to look outside your current industry. The good news, however, is that you may have certain skills that translate well into other industries.

Imagine you've spent the past two years as a server in a restaurant. To succeed at that, you need great interpersonal and customer service skills. And there are businesses outside of restaurants that need people with those skills. As such, you might apply for a client services role at a marketing firm, or a customer service job at any manufacturing company or retailer.

To be clear, this isn't to say that you should permanently abandon the industry you like working in. But if that area, at present, isn't paying you what you need to cover your bills, then it may be time to look elsewhere. You can always explore your options again once the economy picks up.

2. Network like crazy

Though the economy isn't in great shape right now, there are jobs out there. And the start of the year is actually a good time to look, because that's when many companies' hiring budgets renew. If you're willing to branch out and find a new job, let people know you're looking. Reach out to friends, family members, neighbors, former colleagues, and even old college professors if you think they'll be able to offer any help. The more people you contact, the more job opportunities you're apt to learn of.

3. Find a safe side gig

Maybe your former 40-hour-a-week schedule has been reduced to 25, and you're not earning enough money to stay on top of your expenses. If that's the case, and you want to stay with your current employer because you're convinced you'll be back to 40 hours a week at some point this year, aim to find a second job that lets you pull together a higher wage for the time being.

Of course, right now, your options for finding a safe side income may be limited, but that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities out there. You can try finding a telemarketing or data entry job that can be done from home, or seek out a gig that doesn't require much interaction with other people, like pet-sitting or dog-walking.

Hang in there

Right now, it's tough to earn a decent living given the state of the economy and the restrictions so many industries are facing due to the ongoing pandemic. The good news is that vaccines are expected to become widely available at some point in mid-2021. The bad news is that it'll take time to get enough people vaccinated to make notable progress in halting the pandemic, and you'll need a way to cover your bills until that happens.

If you're not earning enough money right now, it pays to do what you can to boost your income. At the same time, though, see what assistance you may be eligible for. If you're falling behind on rent, for example, talk to your landlord and ask for flexibility. If you owe money on your credit cards, talk to your issuers about more relaxed payment terms. You may be surprised at how much leeway you get when you explain that you've been impacted by the pandemic, so don't hesitate to discuss your circumstances.

And, of course, while you're out there looking for work or ways to fill in your income and manage your bills, do your best to not give up hope. With any luck, your underemployment status will only be temporary, and as the economy on a whole improves, so too will your personal situation ideally start to get better.

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