How We Got Through 5 Months of Unemployment

Posted by Amanda on September 2, 2014

Last fall I received a text from my husband telling me that he was being let go and would be home soon. To be quite honest, he went through a lot of turmoil in the five years he was with his previous company, surviving a buyout by a larger corporation, several bosses, and less-than-ideal working conditions for sure (such as spending the night at the office several times and coming home just for Christmas).

So it’s not like we weren’t a little happy that he was finally relieved of this job and had proper motivation to look for another. The tricky part, however, was that he had also started college full-time last fall and was loving it. Classes were as close to night as he could get, which meant 4:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays and 5:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with no classes on Fridays-Sundays. So we needed him to find a job that was okay with him continuing with classes if at all possible.

How to Survive Unemployment Financially

Fast forward five months, and Paul is now gainfully employed. While this job is not ideal either, in that he is quite underemployed as far as pay is concerned, we are happy he is back at work with a company that is flexible about his classes (score!).

Now that we are on the other end of a stint of unemployment, I wanted to discuss how it was that we were able to survive the five months financially.

Cut Back on Expenditures

Instead of living in denial about our change in circumstances (you see that a lot on financial TV shows such as Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s ‘Til Debt Do Us Part and callers on The Suze Orman Show), we immediately made drastic cuts to our spending. We knew it could be awhile before Paul was able to find a job that would suit him (and of course, technically he’s still in the job market), so we took our personal spending money down by 50%, lived off of free entertainment such as free museum and zoo days, and used all of our frequent flyer miles to travel home for free for Christmas.

Severance Package and Unemployment Compensation

We were a bit hesitant about unemployment compensation, but when we found out that each company has to pay into the state’s unemployment fund in accordance with how many people they let go, we were fine with it. On top of that, Paul received a small severance package.

Fully Funded Emergency Fund

I know you hear about the importance of setting aside money until you fully fund your emergency fund, but I hope that you take this advice to heart. One of the biggest reasons why we didn’t freak out during this 5-month stint was because we had a fully funded emergency fund. This meant that in the good times, we diligently saved our money so that the bad times weren’t that bad at all.

In fact, since we paid off our non-mortgage debt in 2010 (another great reason why we survived our unemployment financially) and we live so frugally, we actually did not need to touch our emergency savings at all! What a relief that was.

We Paid Off All of Our Non-Mortgage Debt

I am a huge proponent of paying off your debt early. In our case, we paid off all of our non-mortgage debt a full ten years before our creditors wanted us to be out of debt. And thank goodness we did; we were sending in $950 per month when we were in debt payoff mode, and that would have been enough to have us running to our savings each month to cover our living expenses and not get behind in our creditor payments.

Our Home is Below 30% of Our Take Home Pay

I know that financial gurus tell you to keep your home mortgage costs to no more than 30% of your take-home pay. While lenders would have enabled us to take out a mortgage that is twice as large as we did, we simply didn’t want that anchor around our necks. So our mortgage plus escrow payments are lower than 30% of our take home pay, which helped a lot when our monthly cash flow took a dive.

We Worked Together

If there were extra things that came up, such as a medication or even kitty litter, we took turns buying these items from our individual spending money (the one we cut to 50%) instead of taking more money out of our account. This really helped, even though it meant that sometimes we didn’t have much to spend. Since we took advantage of some great free activities in our city, we were never bored. It was also a great amount of time that we got to spend together (gotta look on the bright side, right?).

Have you ever been unemployed? For how long, and how did you survive it? 

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Comments to How We Got Through 5 Months of Unemployment

  1. I too was laid off last fall, it was very unexpected but also a relief as it was a horrible job situation.

    My husband had recently started a new job with great benefits and he was able to work some overtime. Between his usual paycheck, back pay and overtime we were in a pretty good place financially. We did not need to touch our emergency fund and I went back to work after three and a half months.

    While thankful to be back working I am making 30-40 percent less than previously and no longer have a company car and gas card. I do receive a car allowance and since I drive a 12 year old Toyota this covers my expenses and I still have additional car related tax write offs. I am however MUCH happier and more relaxed in my new job. I’m still not sure if it’s a long term fit but it is working for now.

    We are always frugal but used our pantry, garden and anything I could glean.. we live in the country and sometimes have opportunity for free produce. We almost always wash in cold water and hang our clothes to dry, cook all meals and enjoy working in our yard for entertainment.

    I also walked to meet up with friends for lunch, the weather was lovely and who can’t benefit from some extra exercise!

    I downsized our cell phone plans, cable TV etc.

    Since I was not working over Christmas I wanted to do a more themed holiday as I had more time. Since I was not about to spend any money I did a rustic decorating theme and almost everything was free. I did spend about $10 at the craft store but other than that gathered pine cones, moss, branches etc and dried citrus from our tree.

    My sister in law said “Martha Stewart has nothing on you”!!

    We continue to live modestly as both our incomes fluctuate and I just took a side job as winter time is the slower work season for both of us.

    We may not feel as secure as we once did but we did not have to go through the pain of selling our home or bankruptcy as so many of my husbands coworkers did.

    It just shows frugality pays off!


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