Making Ends Meet During Prolonged Unemployment


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.

Attribution Some rights reserved by jronaldlee

6 Replies to “Making Ends Meet During Prolonged Unemployment”

  1. I agree with you that you should find alternative sources of income. You can still work part time and earn up to a certain amount without losing any money from unemployment in Pennsylvania.

  2. Having gone through this experience not long ago I can tell you that the one thing that saved mine and my family’s welfare was not relying on one stream of income. Although I had a full time job my wife and I started a small business in real estate investing on a part time basis.

    Much to my unexpected surprise when layoffs in my company rolled around and took me with them we ended up going into real estate investing full time. At a time when unemployment in Atlanta was at 15% it was a great relief to find out that we could produce income that matched my income from a job, with our own business.

    I suggest to everyone I know to not rely solely on the income from a job and that everyone should own their own business. It could be real estate, an income producing website, freelance work, etc. There are a lot of possibilities. Because if there is one thing that is certain is that every one will be laid off at one time or another.

    Think about what you are doing when you come how after work? Are you plopping in front of the TV for 2-3 hours or are you working on your future and financial well being?

  3. Good tips. Being unemployed can definitely be difficult, and discouraging, too. It’s good to think of other ways to create income even while working, and like Luis mentioned in his comment, we should remember that no job is totally secure and guaranteed so it’s important to create our own business or at least have something else in place that we can rely on.

  4. I worked for 20 years straight and had never collected a dime of unemeployment at the beginning of my career. But, I was out of work for six months during the dotcom crash. The thing that saved me was not having a lot of payments. My mortgage was low and my cars were older, so we mostly had to pay utilities and buy food. The people who’s expenses equal their paycheck have a much harder time when they are laid off.

  5. I’m no longer unemployed, but I am under employed. Consider taking in a roommate. It helps ease the finances for both (or all) of you

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