You wonder how transparent to be on a blog (I highly respect some of these transparent bloggers (Matt, Phil and Janet), especially since they don’t tell me what they ate for breakfast but put other things right there on the table), but I just couldn’t let go of this post. This is possibly one of the most difficult parts of unemployment, especially if the unemployment lasts for a while. So here is some very personal information from a guy that usually doesn’t go there 😉
I have received counsel to have at least three months of income saved in case of “an emergency.” But, like most Americans, I didn’t have that. I had a little over $1,000 in the bank when I got laid off.
Losing my job wasn’t a huge surprise – I wasn’t totally blind-sided. As a matter of fact, a few weeks before the phone call in which I was told it was final I had told one of the owners “if you make me do [that thing] then I’m quitting.” It wasn’t an unethical thing but I thought it was a really really dumb decision, and since I was the General Manager I figured I should make the decisions, not a board that didn’t even know what our products were about. But even with this foresight I still hadn’t been tucking money under the mattress.
So I was told on Monday that I’d work one more week to help transition the new CEO in. It was a weird week, to say the least. I knew that I’d have a little bit of severence to help tide things over (enough to replace 6 weeks of salary), and I had my $1,000 in the bank.
Until Saturday. That’s when I decided to take my Toyota into the shop to see why the oil light flickered (it was rare, but every once in a while it flickered, and I thought something was wrong with the control system or something). Well, $450 later I rolled my Toyota out of the mechanic (it was actually the dealership) thinking – wow, that $ went fast! It is a long story (the mechanic offered to buy my car for $800) and scary, and it made me think about the last time I had maintenance on my other car. Yep, you guessed it, that was another $450. So my $1,000 savings went to $100 within 5 days. So much for having grocery money.
My wife and I called our parents to let them know what was happening. We didn’t approach them with a hand out, as we figured that we’d have a job within a few weeks (two months at the latest). But they were very quick to offer to help with our bills until we could get back on our feet. It was a real blessing to have parents who (a) were in a position financially to really help, and (b) willing to share. My dad had gone through a tough time right out of law school back in the 70’s and was very supportive. One thing that he told me that surprised me was “I will expect you to be out of work for at least six months.” I didn’t expect to be out for 6 months! But he had a different perspective of what it takes to get a job. And my father-in-law mentioned something that I hadn’t heard before which was “it takes one month for every $10k that you need to make.” So there you go, it would be at least six months! Darn!
So they both chipped in to pay for mortgage and car payment (one car was paid off already). Their concern was that they didn’t want me to lose the house or a car, and it sure was nice to get help “unconditionally” and with the idea that I wouldn’t have a job as soon as I thought I would.
My wife actually picked up her first piano student the day I got laid off, which was a nice coincidence. By the end of the month she had 19 students. She only has 10 now (9 months later) but has consistently brought in over $300 a month from that, which paid all of the utility and other bills.
Food was the other concern, and we got help in various ways. I went to my church leader just to tell him what was going on (and it was my intro to networking, as church leaders know lots of people and want to be helpful, and maybe could have gave me ideas or hooked me up with someone). We went over our monthly expenses so that he could be sure that we’d be okay. Even though we seemed to have enough for bills and food, he offered to take care of our food for a while, so that if an emergency came up we would have the cash to handle it. This again was quite a blessing as we didn’t have to see our cash dwindle immediately just to survive.
Unemployment didn’t kick in until my severence ran out. Even though I got it as a lump-sum, the state government determined that it was enough to last through February, so my first UI check was in March. That was about $333 per week (you have to apply weekly, and if you don’t meet the requirements then you don’t get the money that week). That was a far cry from what my income used to be, but when your broke, it is great. Not enough to live on but enough to help you through. That lasted, I think, for six months. By then the state expects you to have a job… if not, then figure something else out. Here’s a note on unemployment: if you have or have had a personal business this may impede you from getting UI – as they think that you are already self-sufficient. I encourage you to have a business on the side but you need to understand what this might mean as far as getting that extra $333 per week (which ironically is taxable!).
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the generosity of neighbors and those in my congregation. We were showered with “charity,” whether it was cash, gift cards for the local grocery store, clothes, or boxes of food. This really was one of the most amazing things to watch as people came “out of the woodwork” and shared with us. Many of these people had their own unemployment experiences and shared with us those dark times. Some people “donated” anonymously and others did so in person. One family in particular had been out of work for about a year (a while back). The wife remembered how frustrating it had been to want to cook bread (pizza crust, etc.) and they didnt’ have enough money for yeast. So, when we were at their house one night she gave us 4 pounds of yeast! Remember, this is such an emotional time that you remember the weirdest things.
One of the greater gifts that we got was from a local woodworker in our neighborhood. He takes his company (mostly family) to a local theme park and the invited us to go with them. They actually paid for our entrance, parking, and gave us some food money. Note that this made us feel really uncomfortable, as we would never expect this kind of generosity from anyone. And, when you are “looking for a job” you feel that if you go have fun you are doing something wrong, because you should be looking for that job!! But we went and had a great time – it was a great stress relief and helped us understand that there is more to this stage in our life than just being down about not having an income. In my job search I didn’t allow myself to have fun as I had an important job to do!
So, there you go. That’s how we “survived.” It was a very humbling experience, but we had lots of allies in our corner helping us. The expectations were realistic (we didn’t get any “we’ll help you for 30 days, but then you better…”). As I mentioned before, this was very difficult. We are proud people, and have been proud that for our entire marriage we never really went to our parents (or anyone else) for help. If we got help we paid it back immediately. But this time was different. We had to look at reality and accept the gifts and help – and that was not easy. One thing that I took away from this experience is the deep desire to help other people (that’s one reason why most of JibberJobber is free) during times like this, and to not judge them as to why they “don’t take the job at Pizza Hut” or take longer than I think they should take to find a job.
So, what’s your story? If you lose your job today, what’s your plan? How are you going to make ends meet? I wouldn’t counsel anyone to bank on the kind of generosity that we saw, because you can’t count on it. Do you have a savings? Do you have family that can and will help you for as long as it takes? How long can you last, assuming your job search doesn’t end soon?
Not stuff anyone wants to think about, but definitely something that everyone needs to think about. May your job search be shorter than mine was.
By the way, here’s my deal now. JibberJobber is fully funded, and I’ve actually changed my status from UNemployed to SELFemployed. I’m not looking for a job right now, and am working JibberJobber LLC full-time. All assistance has ended (we told our church leader that we are going to do it on our own, and the state cut it off after six months), except help from parents, but they see this as a business investment, not a supplement during unemployment.