Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prepping for Unemployment: Food, Money, Mind

While I’ve been fortunate enough to be pretty consistently employed, my line of work often involves long breaks between projects. These fallow periods can last days, weeks, or months, and there’s a lot of job turnover in the industry because of the instability. It’s a weird, unpredictable way to live, and my co-workers and I are always somewhat prepared for the possibility of unemployment. Thus is the life of a freelancer.

Come Friday, I’ll be on one of these breaks, which is a polite way of saying, “I ain’t got no job.” It’s happened before, and usually isn’t a big deal, since freelancing preps you for this stuff the second you finish interning. Ideally, there will be other gigs on other shows with other nice folks. And in the downtime, hopefully no one takes my stapler. Or my health insurance.

Last time I was jobless (Winter 2008), I fell into a routine that seemed pretty productive at the time. I:
  • Awoke at the same time I’d get up for work, so as not to lose momentum.
  • Created a loose schedule of blogging, applying for jobs, and building up my resume.
  • Took on most of the housework, since the Husband-Elect was working.
  • Became the world’s most efficient shopper, thanks to Money Saving Mom and other such blogs.
  • Made it a point to leave the house at least once a day, because all apartment and no play made Kris a dull girl/clinically insane.
  • Spent quality time with friends and family I hadn’t seen in awhile.
  • Drank profusely. (Er … kidding, mostly.)
  • Went to bed at a reasonable hour, so my life’s work didn’t become beating Lego Star Wars on XBox.
For money, I drew from my emergency fund (thank YOU Dave Ramsey), collected unemployment, and went on extreme austerity. No luxuries were purchased in those three months, and I scaled my social life back to revolve around home-oriented activities. (Granted, it was probably much easier being February and all.) Ultimately, the ordeal didn’t make a heavy dent in my finances, and I avoided going into debt. Which was nice.

To maintain the same equilibrium this time around, I’m trying some new things, and attempting to build upon the old. Some of these will be heavily dependent on food and budgeting, fitting nicely into this whole blog-type thing. Others, not so much.

Readers, if you have any additional suggestions for maximizing unemployment situations, please fire away in the comment section. I’d love to hear ‘em.

In the meantime, I’m:

…drawing up a budget.
This will involve both actual and projected expenditures, potential income, and emergency planning, should my joblessness last into the fall. My goal here is to remain financially solvent and avoid becoming a drain on society/crack addict.

…banking as much of my current paycheck as I possibly can.
Since I knew this was coming, I’ve been saving for a few weeks, just to have some extra padding. This will be doubly useful with summer weddings and long-planned family vacations coming up. These things happen so rarely, and I don’t want to miss them because I didn’t think ahead.

…searching for deals.
Speaking of weddings and holidays, I’m using my downtime to score the best possible bargains on plane fare, car rentals, and gifts. What I learn should be wholly applicable in the future, and’ll save a couple hundred bucks in the present.

…creating a stricter schedule.
Though I had the best of intentions during last winter’s break, there were those afternoons filled with Days of Our Lives and Judge Judy. This time around, there’ll be a definitive set of concrete goals with deadlines. This should keep me on track with certain responsibilities, and allow for plenty of research time for what’s to come.

…cooking my face off.
Food tends to be my biggest expense when I’m not spending money on anything else, so I’ll be attempting to cut costs more drastically this time around. The stovetop and grill will see frequent use, as well as the slow cooker – any vessel that’ll keep the kitchen cool and our bellies full, actually.

…learning to run a household more efficiently.
One of the strangest, greatest side effects of my most recent bout with unemployment was the opportunity to figure out how to best run my home - creating operating budgets, devising chore methodologies - that kind of stuff. It’s a weird combination of making up for the past (when I was too busy working) and preparing for the future (when, presumably, I’ll have a job again, and there might be kids involved). By the end of this, who knows? I could become Real Simple magazine in human form.

…researching inexpensive entertainment options.
If you can brave the humidity, New York summers allow for wonderful sports and cultural experiences. The trick is keeping costs down, especially when friends have disposable fundage. This year, I’ll be looking into cheaper, constructive ways of socializing. And with luck, there’ll be food involved.

No excuses, man. I’m over 30, and it’s finally time to get on the boat, lest I start seriously compromising my health. I’ll begin by walking, and take it from there. Who knows? Sweat might even be involved.

…monetizing the blog in the most unobtrusive way possible.
When expected avenues of income just aren’t performing, it’s time to find other, creative ways of supporting oneself. In this case, it’s CHG. After two years of ad-free goodness, it could be a viable source of cash. The issue is doing it simply, and with integrity. Oh, capitalism.

…planning a wedding.
As a native Long Islander, I’m used to nuptials that would make the House of Windsor blush. My goal is to go with emotion over opulence, and maybe have some pie. The time off should be ideal for researching this.

Reading this back to myself, it’s fairly indulgent. But I hope it’s worth something – I hope it keeps me on track, and helps y’all plan for/look on the bright side of whatever might lie ahead. Unemployment isn’t the end of the world. In fact, sometimes it’s just the beginning.

(P.S. Check back with me in three months, when I’m eating cat food and ranting to Husband-Elect about the iniquities of Plinko. My tune might be different.)

Readers, what do you do to make the most out of unemployment?

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pat1755 said...

I wish I had exercised more. Seriously, I had the time, but I just...didn't.

Amanda said...

I am not unemployed, but work an unusual schedule that allows for A LOT of free time (16 hour shifts, 2 shifts per week). I have similar problems with maintaining motivation, avoiding insanity/depression, and not becoming a fat slob. Thank you for sharing your strategies for success. My strategies (or lack thereof) have led to weight gain, a thinning pocketbook, and general disorder. Primarily, I think it is very important to have a plan. It is those idle hands that get you into trouble.

Geoff K said...

I think you've mentioned lots of good ideas - getting up at the same time as when you worked is a goodie.

I'm unemployed too at the moment, due to the end of working season in the job I work in.

I think putting ads on CHG is a excellent idea. You put effort in to give your readers a great resource, why not get some loot from it? However I have a dark and harrowing story to relate of the type of ads to avoid. A couple of days ago I innocently perusing something online when an ad darted out from the side of the screen and starting moving in front of text I was reading. Scared, I summed my courage and went after the ad with my pointer. It was a effort of coordination to hit it's tiny close area. But eventually I prevailed and the ad went back to it's lurking hole.
Some may call me a hero but really I'm just a guy who did what he had to.

Anyway just avoid those types of ads and you'll be fine.

Kelly said...

I recently went through a seven-month bout of unemployment for which (despite its downsides) I remain grateful. From the beginning, I knew (no matter how long this period was going to last) that I would someday be employed again, so there was no need to worry about not getting another job.

I thought I was a pretty good saver before I lost my job, but I found that I could indeed live on less without too much discomfort. Which I expect to serve me well in the future, as my new job pays quite a bit less than my last one. It's also half a mile from my house and considerably less stressful, which gives me the temporal and mental space to consider creating income in interesting and creative ways.

kittiesx3 said...

Hey Kris, I'm coming up on 18 months *wince* of unemployment. You nailed a lot of the strategies I've ended up incorporating and I will give a hearty AMEN to exercise. I work out six days a week, about an hour a day. Why not? What else are you going to do with that time, watch junky TV?

I also make a point now to put on make up every day so if you wear it, keep doing so. Ditto for any jewelry.

Also consider wearing real shoes instead of slippers. I didn't for a few months and now that I am again, it seems to help my mood. Crazy, huh.

Oh and for wedding stuff? All you need is you, him and someone with the legal ability to marry you. Everything else is optional.


Megan said...

I don't have any advice on how to deal with your time when you're unemployed (in fact, I'm looking at your advice and thinking I could use some of it when I have my next "break from work."), but I did want to comment and say this:

If you need any advice on an inexpensively, lovely wedding, and don't feel like allocating your time to searching through website after website. I just went through it all and I have a bunch of ideas. If you'd like to get in touch (mzumtaylor [at], I'd be happy to converse with you about it.

Morta Di Fame said...

You are taking the impending doom very well. Most people just freak out. Watch Tokyo Sonata and see how the Japanese handle unemployment...they don't. The continue going to work in their business suit like nothing ever happened! You have a great plan ad with a great plan you will be fine. A friend also got engaged then was out of work and she is doing ALL the wedding planning and she has time to come up with some really creative make-it-yourself things, like her table centerpieces, etc, that she would pay a fortune for someone else to do. Thanks for all the tips. I think the employed should take them seriously as well. And remember to unplug your microwave and toaster when not in use as it still uses up the juice when plugged in. I will be looking forward to daily blogging with ads now...

Anonymous said...

About a year and a half ago I quit my job to stay home full time. Despite the lurking temptations of Oprah reruns and daily home pedicures, my biggest challenge was not forgetting that just because it doesn't result in money, doesn't mean it's not work. I take care of all the laundry, cleaning, cooking, finances, gardening (extensive at our house), shopping, sewing, etc, etc. I felt like such a bum at first for not being employed, until my lovely husband pointed out that we could never afford to pay someone(s) to do all these things; my time was valuable not for the money I made but for what I accomplished. It's not always necessarily to equate time and money. Just a thought, and best of luck to you.

Don't forget as you plan your plan your wedding that all the people around you have talents they'd love to contribute. Hit up your musician friends, your event-obsessed sister, your baking-goddess of a great aunt. Not paying for things that your friends and family would love to contribute not only saves you cash but also results in a wedding more intimate and personal that you could have "purchased." And no need to feel weird about asking. The worst that could happen is someone would rather not, and says so, and you carry on to plan B.


Calidaho said...

I work in politics and sometimes, when your boss loses re-election or retires, you have some down time. I was unemployed for a few months about 4 years ago. I worked out a lot, cooked amazing healthy meals, painted my china cabinet white, took on some sewing projects, organized things, read lots of books, then got really depressed because I wasn't finding a job! It is fun to be a "housewife" for a little while but, eventually, it's time to get back to the daily grind!

Daniel said...

I've been in not-working mode for not quite a year, and the key source of wasted time for me turned out to be the television.

Just the temptation of just clicking on the thing and "seeing what's on" could kill 45 minutes to an hour before I even knew it. And the caliber of the programming (especially during the daytime) is so pitifully bad that wasting time in that way is doubly painful. That's why we finally decided to cancel cable entirely, saving both the money *and* the time.

Really insightful post, Kris.

Casual Kitchen

Anne said...

My advice for exercise is to set out your clothes, shoes, etc. the night before, and to try to exercise during a set time each day so that it becomes a habit. I can't count how many times I've skipped running because I couldn't find my socks (OK, so if I were more motivated this probably wouldn't be an issue, but when it's really hot and you're not feeling like it anyways, well...)

Anonymous said...

Two words: Winter Wedding. I'm saving a ton and actually going to be able to book I place I love that I could never afford in the spring / summer / fall. It's the only off-season for weddings.

As far as unemployment? I wholeheartedly believe that you need to cut yourself some slack. You can't be doing stuff all day every day. If watching a little TV or taking a nap in the park is part of your day, so be it! I was unemployed for 5 months and would have gone batty had I stayed regimented the entire time. It's not like at work you are going nonstop all day. Case in point: I'm responding to your blog at 3pm on a Thursday :)

Best of luck!

debbie koenig said...

I had no idea you were in television--so's my husband. Two freelancers should never be allowed to marry, I must say. We're just coming off 6 months of unemployment for him. Like you, we knew it was coming (though we were hoping for 3 months, not 6) and did most of the things you did to prepare. It went well, I'm thrilled to say. He found a new gig just as our reserve fund was running out, our marriage didn't suffer from both of us being around all day, and now he's gainfully employed again but we're still living pretty frugally. It's a nice skill to have, that pennypinching/unemployed thing.

DRosa said...

Your rubber chicken - with the recipes right there and the shopping list created, was a godsend to me. If you want to monetize the blog - I'd pay for menus with recipes and shopping lists.

You could do it as an email subscription list. $X for three months of weekly menus with recipes and shopping lists.

SCS said...

Thank you for this...I was just laid off this past Friday, so this provides a bit of solace (for now).

Lorena said...

I'm not unemployed (yet), but we're looking at diminished returns pay-wise (hours cut, furloughs, etc.). But, one of my favorite forms of entertainment comes from my local library -- I've been able to read TONS of books and watch many movies thanks to our local system. All for free!

And, since my local library is a short walk from my house, I'll get outside, take a walk and return/pick up new books/DVDs to enjoy. Also, if you get stir-crazy at home, you can always take your laptop to the library or partake of their computer lab to while away some of your blogging and job searching time.

Jessica said...

Ohhh...I love your blog! I just googled an image of Real Simple magazine and your blog was the first one with a pic. I will be reading this from now on!

Amanda said...

Unemployment can be a tough thing to swallow, but there's a few things you can do ahead of time to prepare yourself for the worst.