We know from personal experience that there are worse things in life than losing your job but not many. It’s usually not just a blow to your finances but also to your ego. No matter whether you’re told, “you’re fired,” “sorry but were downsizing,” or it’s not your fault, it’s just corporate restructuring,” it still represents a rejection almost as bad as when the person you loved more than anything else in the world told you to get lost.
Being unemployed means having to search for a new job, which can also be very stressful. You will need to market yourself against competing candidates and try your best to keep up with all those daily job search tasks. It’s enough to make even the most jaundiced professional squirm. Add to this the fact that you now have another stressor and that is your personal finances. Of course, you’ll be in relatively good shape if you have built an emergency fund over the years, especially if it’s the equivalent of six months worth of your living expenses. However, if you are not able to do this, sit down, take a deep breath and as Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently said,
“R E L A X”. There are things you can definitely do to keep your personal finances under control and even get them back on track.
First, take an honest look at your finances
If you’re not careful it’s easy to start rationalizing. You could be telling yourself, “I can get an odd job if necessary” or “I can always borrow money from my IRA or 401(k)” or “I can hit up the relatives for a short-term loan.” But this is a case where it’s much better that while you’re hoping for the best you’re also preparing for the worst. It’s critical that you be realistic and truthful about your finances and face them head-on.
Sadly enough if you’re typical you’ve don’t have a budget. It’s probably just one of those things that you always planned to do but never did. The good news here is that making a budget is pretty simple. All you need to do is write down all your revenue sources and all of your expenses. Then do a quick add and subtract and presto! You will know how big is the gap between the money you have coming in and going out. This will help you determine how and where to allocate your money each month.
File for unemployment
If you were let go by your employer, which is probably the case, and you weren’t fired due to misconduct then you should file for unemployment insurance. If you believe you would be eligible, don’t procrastinate. Contact an unemployment office in your state immediately. While unemployment programs vary from state to state you can generally count on getting benefits for at least 26 weeks. In some states your benefits can extend up to 73 weeks. Do understand that how much you receive weekly will depend on your income and how long you have been unemployed.
Decide what’s most important
For the next 30 days write down everything you spend money on excluding your regular monthly bills. This would include movies, eating out, drinks with friends, clothes, food – everything. If you just buy a paperback or magazine or a soda at your favorite fast food restaurant, write it down. Do this and you may be shocked at how much money you’re spending. Next, consider the items that you’ve enjoyed in the past but may not be necessary until you again have a job. Be realistic. Decide what you absolutely need and what you can do without. Then eliminate those things you could do without until you get a job. We’d be willing to bet that if you really put a sharp pencil to those expenses you’ll be able to slash them by 20% or even better, which would make it a lot easier for you to meet your fixed obligations such as your mortgage payment, auto loan(s), student loans (if appropriate) and utilities.
Get started right away
When you first start thinking about your job search plan set aside some time to review your personal finances. If you take control of them early on in your job search, you can put the issue aside and keep focused on what is important, which is finding a job. Plus, if your finances are healthy this will give you much greater control over your job situation – meaning that you won’t have to take the first job that’s offered because you’re so worried about money
Treat credit cards like Ebola
The simple fact of the matter is that credit card debt is very destructive debt. This is because of their interest rates. Some credit cards have interest rates as high as 20%. It may not seem like a very big deal if you’re buying necessary items on a credit card while job searching but beware! You need to pay the full balance at the end of every month and not just the minimum amount required. If you make just those minimum payments, you’re most likely headed for a downward spiral in your finances. The best tactic is to treat those credit cards as if they had Ebola – except in case of an absolute emergency.
Again if you’re typical you don’t have a financial advisor. You probably feel you can handle your money yourself or you may be worried that the advisor won’t be looking out for your best interests. While these justifications might be valid, your bank or other financial institution has a vested interest in making sure you don’t default on your payments. Check with your bank or brokerage as it might have a financial advisor you could talk with — free or at very low cost. If so, do it. That person could help you put together a financial plan that would work with your current situation. And when it comes to financial planning never be afraid to get a second or even third opinion.
Don’t clean off your financial slate
If you are lucky enough to receive a severance package or if you have other assets available you may be tempted to use the money to pay off your credit cards, your car loan or other debts. However, this is a case where you might be much better off if you pay just the required or minimal monthly payments. This will help you stretch out your cash and meet your living expenses in case you are unable to find a new job within the first several months.
Harm not your retirement
If you have a 401(k), an IRA or some other employer-sponsored retirement plan you might be tempted to cash it out and use the money to help cover your living expenses. There’s one word for this– don’t. If you do this you’ll not only jeopardize your retirement you’ll probably be required to pay a lot in penalties and income taxes. If you have money in a 401(k) a better option is to roll it over into an IRA or just leave it in your previous employer’s plan. Don’t tap any of your retirement funds except as a very last resort.