Did your furlough turn into a layoff and now you find yourself unemployed? Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a cushion of a few months’ savings to fall back on, panic can set in quickly. According to American Psychological Association, around 64% of adults report that finances are “a significant source of stress” in their lives. I’ve been in your shoes. Take action quickly to lessen the emotional strain.
First, file for unemployment. Yes, file immediately even if you are waiting on a severance package or other pay to come. The Employment Security Department has been overwhelmed since March. They have paid out $11.9 billion in benefits from March 8 to Oct. 24. While 70% of unemployment claims are turned around within one week, it takes an average of 13 days before you will see your first payment after submitting your first weekly claim. Worse yet, it can take an average of 9.1 weeks to resolve a claim with issues! Also, some of the federal benefit programs (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Unemployment Extended Benefits) are set to expire at year’s end. (Visit the ESD Benefits data dashboard at esd.wa.gov/unemployment/dashboard for more fun facts like these.)
Next, take a close look at your budget. What? You don’t have a budget! (Don’t be too hard on yourself, I don’t either.) Now is the time to create one. Call it your “unemployed” budget. Start by writing down all your monthly bills; don’t forget any student loan payments or automatic deductions. This exercise will help you better understand and then address your financial challenges. You might even figure out ways to reduce expenses and save a little money. For example, can you change your cellphone plan? Postpone getting the new iPhone? What about Netflix? Yes, you will need the internet for job search but you could cancel Hulu, etc.
There are lots of online budgeting programs. I like are Mint.com and YouNeedaBudget.com. These help you figure out where the money is going and stay on track. WorkSourceWA.com also has a very simply budgeting tool that’s quick. You enter your expenses and it gives your annual and monthly expense totals so you can determine what you need to stay afloat. Go to: worksourcewa.com/BudgetCalculator/BudgetCalculator.aspx. This barebones unemployment budget might not be easy, but it will help stretch your dollars a little further. And studies show it takes about 90 days to follow a budget, so don’t give up.
Unemployment usually only amounts to about 60% of your former wage. This means you can’t overlook any opportunity. You might want to take a job paying less than you used to make or out of your regular field of employment. Consider temporary work. Gone are the days when you paid an employment agency to find you work; now you register and they help you find work and the employer pays the fee. Check out BBSI, Express Employment and Elwood Staffing. It’s always easier to look for a job when you have one — just don’t let that new employer know you are looking and sabotage yourself.
This one isn’t fun but it’s necessary. Contact your creditors to discuss your new situation. Some lenders offer special hardship payment plans because of pandemic. You may be able skip payments depending on the type of loan. Keep in mind that most of these programs won’t forgive debt. They will continue to charge you interest but it takes some pressure off.
Really tight on cash? Apply for SNAP (basic food assistance) and other government-funded benefits. Check out washingtonconnection.org. It offers a fast and easy way to apply for public assistance. If you lost your insurance along with your job, visit wahealthplanfinder.org. You may be eligible for free or low-cost Apple Health.
While it’s not fun to be unemployed, with the right budget and patience, you can hopefully be back in the workforce in no time.