Last week, on May 8th, Lazy Man and Money turned one year old. In that time I have received nearly 1000 e-mails, but none like the one I received on that day:
Hi Lazy man, tell me how do you create a blog to get help to pay my bills. I was recently layed off work because of budget cuts with a non profit organizations that I was working for and I just purchased a home, and would like to keep it. I have been applying for job but have not be successful just yet need some help. Thanks, [Joyce, the made up name that I will call her to protect her anonymity].
I don’t possess the writing skills to explain how this impacted me emotionally. The desperation in the e-mail just oozed into all my waking thoughts. That night, I ended up getting about 4.5 hours of sleep instead of usual 6.5. I have mentioned this a couple of times in passing, but I’ve been pretty close to this situation. No, I didn’t own a home, but I was nearly at the point where my checking account was down to zero. I would have had to start withdrawing from my retirement accounts to pay the rent. It was back in the dot-com boom in 2001. I went 2 years without finding steady work as a software engineer. I had found three or four short-term contract jobs during that time – the longest being one month. I had been employed at another company for three months, before they cut their headcount from 100 people to 6 (I had made the first several cuts, but not the last one). I was not one of the 6.
Here are some thoughts I had after digging up the pain of that experience:
It’s incredible hard to have any kind of social life when your friends typically want to go out to a fancy restaurant. I remember one time getting invited to dinner amongst friends, and, in not one of my better moments, wrote a pretty scathing response, questioning why society dictates that we must go out and spend 10 times the cost for food at a restaurant (I still feel that way, but things change considerably when you have money in the budget for the experience). It was even harder trying to date.
If you don’t have an income, there’s a constant process in your head that calculating costs. With the dot com bust, everyone talked about “burn rates.” And now it wasn’t my company having a burn rate – it was me! Even today I count every cost. The skill I needed to get by back then, has become a habit that I can’t drop. Today, I often annoy myself with ultra-frugal thoughts.
Everything can easily spiral downward leading you into a deep depression. Not having an income is terribly depressing in it’s own. Not being able to do things with friends and getting angry at the situation doesn’t make things better. Whenever someone buys themselves something nice, it draws resentment from deep inside. It doesn’t get much worse than being alone and pennyless.
The story for me has a happy ending. I found a part-time job in the autumn of 2003 that paid more than many full-time jobs. In Feb. 2004, a contact from the old dot-bomb asked me if I was available to work at a new start-up. Knowing the people, I jumped on the opportunity and made more than average person, but still a disappointing salary for a software engineer. In the same month, I met a woman whom I would eventually ask to marry me. Last year, she got a big promotion to move out to Silicon Valley. As a software engineer, I saw my salary jump when we got out here as well. Now that things are moving in a much more positive direction, I’m taking action by trying to grow my alternative income sources. If put in a similar situation, I’ll be much better equiped to handle it.
So what did I learn that I can pass on to Joyce… these survival tips.