From Employed to Unemployed: Surviving a Personal Financial Disaster
It’s happened. You’ve just found out the main breadwinner in your family is now unemployed or maybe their hours have been cut. Either way, you’ve joined a growing club of Americans who are dealing with a loss of income, and all the hardships and stress that come with that membership. On one hand, you aren’t alone facing this financial disaster, but on the other, this isn’t a club that anyone wants to join!
Or, maybe in your case, it’s the discovery that health insurance premiums have tripled or, perhaps, an unexpected medical crisis has left you with a mountain of bills.
Whatever the cause, you’re facing a financial disaster.
Once the shock, tears, and other emotions have had their turn, it’s vital to search for solutions and put into place an action plan. Your family’s well-being and nothing less than its future depends on this.
If you find yourself in a panic mode, give my 16-Second Survival Breathing technique a try. If it works for the men and women in Special Ops, it can certainly work for you in a moment of panic!
It’s so important in this process to remain calm when the kids are around. I don’t recommend lying to them about your financial situation, but kids, especially young ones, cannot completely understand something as complicated as a family’s finances. They often take things literally and worry needlessly, like the time my kids found out that friends of ours had lost their house.
“How do you lose your house?” was a question I had to answer!
So, when the family is together, breathe your 16-second survival breath, if you must, but do your best to not give in to tears or a panic attack. You don’t want to add fearful children to your list of problems to solve, and at the end of the day, it’s solutions you need.
Income and out-go
I always feel better when I’ve taken some sort of action. It beats fretting and digging into a gallon of Blue Bell ice cream! If you’re dealing with a financial disaster, you, too, must take action, and developing a Family Financial Plan is part of that.
Check out this worksheet from my book, Survival Mom. It’s ready to download and print out.
A Family Financial Plan doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t necessarily need the assistance of a professional. You just need to take a look at the 2 main components of your situation: income and out-go.
How much money do you have coming in?
How much money is going out?
The first answer is likely the easiest one to answer. If you’ve lost a job, your income takes a dramatic plunge! However, there may still be severance pay and/or income from unemployment, disability, and other sources.
Write it all down, no matter how pathetic those numbers might appear. Somehow, when something is written down, it loses its power of intimidation.
The next step is to determine your family’s expenses, or, if you’re single, your own personal expenses. If you use a debit card for most of your purchases and for paying bills, this step is very easy with an online session at your bank’s website. Every single expense is listed there for easy categorization. If you haven’t gone through your monthly expenses in a while, you may very well be shocked at how quickly unnecessary expenses add up.
What if you don’t use a debit card but rely mostly on cash and checks? You aren’t off the hook, but it will take a little more effort to go through the checkbook and any receipts that you’ve kept.
If you use cash for expenses, keep track of those for at least a couple of weeks in order to get an idea of where that money is going.
If you haven’t guessed, the next step is to separate necessary expenses from those that are not truly necessary. This step takes a lot of guts because it may involve favorite activities, family traditions, and some of the small luxuries that so many of us take for granted.
Eliminating these expenses may be painful, but there’s also the possibility that the loss is temporary. I remember having to cancel my children’s music lessons because the extra money just wasn’t there, but the loss wasn’t forever. And, admit it, you’ve probably become accustomed to little luxuries that you won’t miss one bit once the initial pain has gone away.
Some folks call this, “living simply.”
Opening up streams of income
Believe it or not, even in the toughest of economic times, it’s still possible to earn a living, and sometimes, a very, very good one. The concept to begin applying is to look for multiple ways to earn money. I explain this in more detail here.
After you’ve cut every expense you possibly can and you’ve researched creative ways to prepare yet another meal of rice and beans, it’s time to consider how your family can bring in extra income, and it doesn’t involve a paper route!
The easiest way to bring in some extra cash is through selling anything of value that you don’t want or need any more. Ebay, Craigslist, and local yard sale websites are an easy tool to use. If you love yard sale-ing, you might consider looking for yard sale bargains and re-selling them online or add them to your own stash of yard sale items. If you’re a smart shopper, you might turn a very nice profit.
Direct sales companies are enticing, but be careful about signing on the dotted line unless the initial investment is very, very low and you have at least 10 friends who have committed to being your first home party hosts. I spent 18 years in the direct sales industry, know every trick in the book for booking parties, recruiting new sales people, and up-selling, and I can tell you, it’s not all that easy to maintain this type of business, much less getting started.
What about mystery shopping? Well, I’ve done that, too! Generally, there’s a lot of effort involved with highly detailed reports required within a very tight time frame. This is best left to those with lots of time on their hands, a reliable vehicle, and plenty of gas money. You’ll need all 3 to turn even a small amount of profit.
A part-time job can bring in enough extra cash every week for groceries, and if your kids are teenagers or older, they can earn money for their own expenses, including that cell phone service that just wasn’t a necessary expense in the Family Financial Plan! And, two part-time jobs isn’t a bad idea, either.
Behind all of these suggestions is the critical notion of constant movement. You may start out working part-time at Waffle House or washing windows on the weekend, but doing something is energizing. Sitting at home, watching TV and playing video games is a sure route to more of the same: countless hours watching TV and playing video games. Neither of those activities will ever result in the solutions you and your family desire.
Assess your own skills and knowledge
There’s one more strategy for bringing in extra income, and it involves the bank of skills and knowledge you’ve acquired.
There are a lot of people who want to learn how to can food, make jelly, speak another language, or learn CPR. If you have mastered just about any skill, you can teach it. If you can produce a quality product, you can sell it, and the internet makes this easier than ever.
If you’re a walking encyclopedia of herbal remedies, you can turn that into a side business by offering classes or writing articles for websites and magazines and ebooks. Learn how to quilt and you can not only sell your quilts but you can teach others to quilt. Start a quilting blog and earn money from advertisers and affiliate sales.
One woman in Phoenix has turned her lush suburban homestead into a very successful business, delivering organic vegetables, goat cheese, and fresh eggs to upscale customers who happily pay her prices.
Are you an expert hunter or fisherman? Have you considered advertising your skills as a hunting guide or fishing instructor?
All these skills and hundreds more can help add income to your budget when you teach them! Offer classes to a homeschool group. Call a community college or a community center to find out how to teach
There is no limit to where your skills and knowledge can take you. Here’s my master list of practical skills. See which ones you have mastered, or could become an expert in a short amount of time and consider how they could be turned into an income source.
Do accept help when it’s offered
If your child or grandchild suddenly collapsed in a busy mall, would you refuse help offered by a doctor or nurse who happened to be there that day?
Of course not! In a crisis, you need all the help you can get.
Well, a financial crisis is no different. I encourage you to accept all offers of help from unemployment payments to EBT cards, food banks, and anything else your community, church, and circle of friends has to offer. Most people who offer help see it as a privilege and a way to pass on a blessing.
If you’re uncomfortable with this, and most self-reliant minded people are, then look for ways that you can help others.
Attitude is everything
Everyone experiences a setback, sometimes many setbacks in their lives. If your attitude about this financial setback becomes one that brings your family together as a tighter unit, and you find yourself able to focus on the good things that life brings with it every day, you’re already on your way to recovery.
Attitude is everything, and a common refrain heard from those who lived through the Great Depression, “We didn’t even know we were poor,” illustrates the difference attitude make. Your attitude is contagious.
Saving money and cutting back on expenses can become a game, with everyone wanting to get involved. When I serve a home cooked meal, I tell my family, “There’s $40 we didn’t spend at a restaurant!, and we all cheer.
Our culture continually tells us the lie that we must constantly be acquiring in order to be happy and successful. Face that lie with the truth: it’s not STUFF that is most important in life.
What if the financial disaster hasn’t hit yet?
There are communities around the country where unemployment is relatively low and, perhaps, a bit of true economic recovery has occurred. If your family is still enjoying a stable income, it’s nevertheless wise to begin thinking, “What if…?”
Here are a few tips from my book, Survival Mom, that will help you prepare just in case there’s an income loss in your family’s future:
1. Cut back hard on unnecessary expenses now.
2. Begin living as though your income were cut by one-third.
3. Pay extra on your utilities each month. Try to get 3 or 4 months ahead. This is money in the bank should the worst happen.
4. Use coupons and store sales to stock up on several weeks’ worth of food, toiletry items, and cleaning supplies.
5. If your job is currently secure, put in extra effort to make yourself indispensable. Figure out how to make your boss look good!
6. If you have credit card debt, make minimal payments, for now, and stash whatever you can in a savings account.
7. Learn a new skill or brush up on old ones that might be useful to bring in another stream of income.
A financial disaster doesn’t have to mean the end of the world if you keep your wits about you and focus on what can be done to keep your family thriving.