The last several months have been quite stressful for my family as I have been looking for a new job. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to stay home with my kids and we need my income to help support our family. I have been very fortunate to have only been without pay for two months, but it seemed like forever. Let me preface this post with the fact that I am not a career-planning expert, financial planner, or accountant. However, I thought I would share some lessons I have learned this past summer (and really for the past year while our finances have been tighter than ever).
As soon as you are out of work, file for unemployment! I assumed that because I was a teacher, that I would not be eligible for unemployment. I was wrong and missed out on a month of benefits I could have had. The process is quite easy if you do it online, so don’t delay!
Don’t wait until you have pennies in your checking account to ask for help. Find out what services are available in your community such as food pantries, loans, utility assistance, etc. Make use of a consumer credit agency to get help with credit card consolidation or budgeting tips.
Have an emergency fund. Money experts recommend that you have a savings account with 6 months of emergency funds. That is not always possible, but a great goal!
Prioritize your bills. Find out which bills have the highest reactivation charges or late fees so that you can plan accordingly when planning which bills to pay first. Yes, due dates are important, but having to pay those extra fees when you have to get services reinstated can really add up! Be sure to let companies and service providers know your situation and ask for help. Sometimes they will not be able to do anything, but other times you might be surprised. It is always worth asking!
Be creative with your meals. We used to shop for items we needed for the week as well as stocking up on items on sale. During tough months, we would challenge ourselves to just shop for necessities on some weeks and make a menu with as much as we have in the house. My husband has become an expert at making menus with very little shopping needed. See my previous blog post: “Stretching your dinner dime… dollar.”
Research. Now is the time to reevaluate your spending and really dig deep to see what you can cut, how you can save more, etc. Don’t assume you have all the answers or have already done everything you can. Keep looking. Magazines, websites, books, friends, and social networking sites can all be good references. That is why I started this blog. I wanted to share the ideas I already was using and research even more!
Talk to your kids. It may be hard to do, but be honest about your children about why you cannot buy certain things or go certain places like you used to. This will be a valuable money lesson for them and help them appreciate important things. Just tonight my older son realized that he would rather us spend money on letting him do after school activities than buying more magazines for his school fundraiser so he could earn prizes (that he said are only going to break fast anyway). Sometimes they do listen!
Keep up with your coursework, certifications, paperwork, portfolio, resume, and letters of recommendations. The more you have ready before you need it, the easier your job search will be. It is best to have a letter of recommendation from each employer you have worked for. Make sure to get these before you have been gone too long, because you may not be able to get them later.
∞ Job applications: To receive unemployment benefits, you have to document jobs that you apply for or make contact with. Keep a careful record of this. I keep a chart on my computer of the websites I have been regularly checking, what I applied for, status, etc.
∞ References: I also keep a file of references (with current information on all references I might give for a job application). Some places will ask you to enter this into a paper or electronic form, while others may ask you to just print out your list.
∞ Past jobs and education: I keep a file on my computer with the following information on each employer I have worked for since being able to file a W-2: name of employer, job title, job duties, address, supervisor name, telephone, email address, dates employed, pay, and reasons for leaving. With all of this information handy, it makes it so easy to fill out job applications. At the bottom of this file I also have a list of colleges I have attended and the following information: name of institution, dates attended, degree program, date earned degree, credits earned, and GPA. If you have only attended one college, this might not be much to keep up with, but if you are continuing your education or have lived in more than one place, this will be helpful.
∞ Cover letters: Save your cover letter files so that you can easily reuse them for other applications. You will just need to change a few things and then resave under the new employer name. Why reinvent the wheel for each employer that requests a cover letter?
Keep up with past colleagues and employers. Of course, I do this just because I want to keep in touch. However, in job hunting this can be crucial. A friend told me that a majority of jobs are filled by knowing someone. Your past coworkers can be great for references, job leads and moral support.
It is going to take us quite a while to recover from our financial woes, so my prayers go out to anyone also facing money or job struggles. May things turn around soon for us all!