The American job market is fairly grim, and one of the hardest aspects of unemployment in the new millennium is the length of time workers are going without a job. According to a recent Labor Department study reported in the New York Times, the average length of unemployment has now surged to approximately 40 weeks. Unfortunately, that amount of time spent pounding the pavement is not only demoralizing, but it’s also extremely tough on a family’s budget. Here are some very important methods for keeping afloat while you work to find your next job:
1. Register for unemployment. There is good news and bad news when it comes to unemployment. Even if you did not immediately file for benefits after you lost your job, that does not necessarily mean it’s too late to take advantage of unemployment. So if you believed that your period of unemployment would be a quick blip rather than a weeks-long (or longer) phase of job-searching, you can still qualify for benefits.
The bad news is that unemployment benefits have fairly low dollar amount caps that differ from state-to-state. The average unemployment check nationwide tops out at $270 per week. So the money you receive from this program can help, but do not expect it to replace your income.
2. Make your budget your new best friend. One silver lining to the big fat hairy storm cloud of unemployment is that it forces you to differentiate between your wants and your needs. While denying yourself retail therapy and dinners out is hardly fun at the time, many families find that Thoreau was absolutely right and living simply is much more satisfying. It also establishes the excellent habit of tracking your spending, which is something that will help you both weather any future financial upsets and keep you on track with all of your money goals.
3. Find alternative ways to make money. Most American attics, basements and garages are full to bursting with items the owners don’t even remember buying. Hold an old-fashioned yard sale (or a virtual one via Craig’s List or Ebay) and sell off that old bread machine, exercise bike and tie rack you only used once each. Don’t worry about seeing your stuff sell for less than you paid for it. It’s still worth more to you in someone else’s hands.
You can also look for small ways you can add to your income while you’re looking for a job in your field. Baby-sitting, dog walking, handyman repairs and house-sitting are all services you could provide that would not take away from your job search. As a bonus, doing this kind of work will also get you out and talking to new people, and networking really is the best way to find a new job.
4. Talk to your creditors. If you simply do not know how you will get all of your bills paid, it’s time to have a chat with your lender. Creditors would prefer to have an open and honest discussion with you about what you can and can’t handle financially than sic a collection agent on you. Even the most monolithic of banks is still made up of people who do not want to see you default, and letting them know that you are struggling will assure them that you are responsible and fully intend to take care of your debts. Simply not paying your bills gives them no such assurance.
Keeping your finances on track after a lay-off is not an easy prospect, but getting through it will give you confidence that you can handle anything life throws at you.
Emily Guy Birken is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mother in Lafayette, Indiana. Her musings on life and parenting can be found at The SAHMnambulist.