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Unemployment Adventures: How I Could Have Prepared for a Layoff

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Elizabeth West. She's been recently unemployed and has agreed to share her experience with Lazy Man and Money readers. You can catch more of her writing at Graphomaniac and follow her on Twitter as DameWritesalot.]

In this economy, there's no telling when the hammer will strike.  Anyone can become unemployed at any time.  I thought my job was somewhat safe.  Nope.

Thankfully, I got a severance, and I had a little bit of savings.  But knowing the state of the economy, I could have done a lot more preparation during the time I was working.   How?  By doing these five things.

5. Upgrading skills

There's no point in waiting until unemployment strikes to learn the latest software, or becoming fluent in another language.  The best time to do that was when I had a job.  Well, actually, I had two jobs last year, so I didn't really have time.  But I do now.

There are numerous free learning resources online for learning new skills or brushing up on old ones.   GCFLearnFree.org has tutorials on everything from Microsoft Office to social media.   Coursera.com and Open Culture aggregate free online courses from top universities.  You may learn something useful, or even find a new passion.

4. Downsizing

We have too much stuff.  Our houses are stuffed, our car trunks are bulging, and our backs are breaking from the weight of purses, backpacks and messenger bags.

Do I need all this junk?  No, I don't.  In my garage, a sad little pot rack lived for many years, alone and friendless.   I'll never have room for it, so I sold it for $30 on Craigslist.  That's not much, but it paid a bill.  An iPod shuffle?  Don't use that, so bye bye.  Now I'm eyeing furniture.  If I have to move, I'll have less to carry.

Selling stuff is great, but you can only do it once.  I still need a bed.  And maybe a plate or two.  I could have done this before and simplified my life.

3. Staying on Top of Bills

Don't get behind.  Just don't.  No matter what.  It's tough.  The recession drove prices up higher, so everything I normally bought—food, clothing, gas—took more money out of the good paycheck.  Any bills I was behind on got worse when I had less money coming in.

Paying bills when they arrive, or as soon as possible afterward, not only keeps relationships with creditors in good standing, it helps avoid late fees.  That money can go into savings.

2. Networking

This doesn’t have much to do with money, but it's vital when you're job searching.  I was employed at a smallish company located in an industrial park.   We didn't have customers coming in.  I didn't meet many people at work.

What I could have done was join a professional organization, while I had the dues money, such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP).  It's a worthwhile investment—local chapters can hook you up with like-minded people in your area.  They offer certifications, and many of them provide discounts on other resources for members.  If you're out of a job, you can tap into your network for leads.

1. Establish an emergency fund

If you read Lazy Man and Money, you probably already have one, or are looking for advice on how to get one.  Good for you!

The next sound you hear will be me banging my head on the desk.  I am such a jerk for not doing this.  There were plenty of times I could have put more into my tiny savings.   And I did not do it.

Why?

I don't know.  Lazy?  Maybe.  Budgeting is tough for me—I have issues with math—so maybe I was just intimidated.

But I do know this.  I vow, once I am gainfully employed again, to faithfully sock away money every pay period, even if it's only $5.00, into a savings account that is for emergencies only.  If I want to go on a trip, I'll save up for that separately.  If I need something, I'll build it into my budget.  The savings are just that—savings.   If my job has a 401K or other plan, I'll contribute to that too.  Had I done that in the last six years, I could have had enough put back to avoid a mandatory cash-out.

My ultimate goal is to have enough to carry me for a couple of years.   Unemployment is lasting much longer these days, since companies aren't hiring the way they were before the recession.  Now that the election is over, let's all hope that changes.

We can learn from every situation.  Preparation is the best way to get through any unexpected setback.

Last updated on February 5, 2013.

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... and focuses on:

Career, Employment

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8 Responses to “Unemployment Adventures: How I Could Have Prepared for a Layoff”

  1. Kirk Kinder says:

    Elizabeth,

    Great article. I would emphasize the networking from your list. You can’t wait until you are unemployed to build your network. Networks take time to build and need attention.

    I would also add some of the traditional fraternal and charitable organizations as solid networking opportunities: Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions Club, etc. These are fantastic supplements to groups in your field of expertise.

  2. Kosmo says:

    Networking with internet contacts can also be effective.

    I met Lazy Man via a baseball sim league we were in once. We built a good friendship despite never actually meeting each other in person. Both of us have utilized each other to make money. I met another blogger through him and also made money through that networking. (Not that it’s all about the money; I fell backwards into a couple of opportunities and wasn’t actively seeking them out).

    I also keep an eye open for situation that might be mutually beneficial to people I know and put them in contact with each other – even when there’s nothing in it for me.

    Having an emergency fund is also a great idea. We have a separate account for this and money just gets automatically deposited every pay check.

  3. Thanks, Kirk, those are good ideas. :) My dad was in Rotary and Kiwanis, and it just never occurred to me what a great networking opportunity that was. I was only interested in the hamburgers Kiwanis Club sold at the fair. ;)

    LOL yes, Kosmo, very true. Thanks, buddy. :)

  4. robyn says:

    SOMETIMES downgrading skills help. so does eliminating graduate degrees and the years of experience you have acquired. i got tired of being told i was overqualified and therefore not suitable. smartest thing i did was take my MBA off my resume.

  5. […] [Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article you can read more of Liz's "unemployment adventures": How I Could Have Been Prepared for a Layoff] […]

  6. Mori says:

    I’ve been unemployed twice since 2008. The honest truth is no matter how much you saved it will be enough. I was fine for a year on my saving but that ran out. My saving grace, the fact I had no debt. Being a scientist I never thought I would ever have to worry about not having a job. I did join a job club which has helped me with my resume and networking. I joined LinkedIn but the honest truth is I know this will not help me. I’m debating on whether to go back and get my masters not a PH’d because that would be useless. The problem is how to pay for this after being out of work for a year again?

  7. […] Note: If you enjoyed this article you can read more of Liz's "unemployment adventures": How I Could Have Been Prepared for a Layoff, Unemployment Adventures: Shall I Ditch This or Keep It, and Unemployment Adventures: Jobs Aren't […]

  8. Julie says:

    I had been laid off twice since 2009. The first time I saw my job go to Toronto where 5 people took over what I used to do for the people in the USA. I was able to find a temp job for 4 months until a slightly better paying job came along (making $25k less & losing 1/2 of the benefits from my first lay off), yet I was still over-qualified. Nearly 2 1/2 years later, I found myself unemployed again because the company decided to lay off more than 1/3 of the employees. My boss was demoted to my position because of his longevity with the company. About 4 months later I found a temporary consultant position. It last just 6 months. I just lost out on a great paying contract position in NYC only because of an internal employee referral but they may refer me to another position they have coming up. (Of course I am not going to way for that phone call.) I met with a recruiter who views me as a great fit for a position nearby. The pay seems good as do the benefits…contract to hire. I will give him a day or 2 to get back to me. I have another potential job offer to review. This is better than where I was in 2009 & earlier in 2012 where the jobs were not so abundant even if I did send out or apply to more than 750 jobs.

    What had me in a bind was my health situation. I have Cystic Fibrosis. My out-of-pocket expense for medications & treatments prevented me from putting away money…not even for a vacation. Had I made less than $40k I could have received financial help. I literally had to rely on unemployment benefits to pay bills. I racked some money on my credit card bills ($2500) to cover medical expenses during my 4 months on unemployment. The last 6 months working as a contractor for less money than I was used to & only paid for days worked (Hurricane Sandy left me without a week’s pay as did holidays). It was the first time I was living paycheck to paycheck. I always had enough to be one month ahead; not this time. I hope to start a new job within a week or 2 so I do not have to rely on unemployment yet again. I have decided to not spend money for 2 months strictly to stash money, like a rainy day fund. Then I will pay myself a small allowance for socializing every other week. The rest will be to pay off the credit card bills ($2500) and put more money away. This will be my first time I land a position where I will earn a 6-figure or close to it. No more paycheck to paycheck.

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