[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.
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.
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.
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.
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