Thursday, April 19, 2012

So You're Unemployed

I have gone through three rounds of lay-offs in the past five years so I decided to share some wisdom and experience to the unemployed masses. Some of these tips are Massachusetts specific and some are universal.

Make Sure You File Your Unemployment Claim ASAP - sure take some time for freaking out and a tidal wave of emotions but the sooner you get your claim started the better. It takes 4 - 6 weeks to get your first unemployment check and those first two weeks are unpaid. It's a weird buffer rule. If you are on hold forever on the phone, it's totally worth it to go to an actual unemployment office. The staff are sympathetic and courteous now (in the past they used to treat us like idiot losers). Here is a list of walk-in centers.

You need to become a numbers person - I happen to be a finance person so this comes naturally to me. If you're not a numbers person, you just need to make a list of your monthly expenses and total that up. Then total up your unemployment compensation. Of course there is going to be a huge gaping hole of money. You're unemployed now, so you don't need the best cell phone plan or HBO. I was able to cut my TV payment down to $33.00 just by switching to Dish's most basic package. You can also get a free cell phone here. My other major expense was heating oil. In my town, there is a community action program that provides heating assistance. In just one appointment, I qualified for assistance this winter.

Defer/forebearance - if you have student loans, make sure you call and defer payments due to financial hardship. I know it sucks when you think about it and I know I'll be paying my loan off when I'm in my 60's. Short term relief is definitely needed when unemployed. If you think you can swing it. you can try to sign up for the income based payment plan. That way, at least you're chipping away at the loan however slowly.

Be smart about food - eating out has to basically be eliminated. If you have friends/family who take you out, enjoy and bring home a doggie bag. The quick runs to the grocery store to grab miscellaneous items have to be curtailed too. Those add up! Plan your shopping around sales and shelf life. Frozen foods are your friend and are usually on sale someplace. Stocking up on staples like rice or beans can last for a while. Coupons can be handy but you have to be smart about them. $1.00 off on 4 pints of yogurt sounds like a bargain but can you eat all that yogurt before it expires? Trader Joes actually has some great grocery bargains! I'm still figuring out this aspect. Ugh, I had to throw out wilting/rotting bagged salads I hadn't gotten to eating this week! That's flushing money down the toilet.

Credit cards aren't your friend anymore - my lack of attention/denial in this area caught up with me this year. Those recurring charges or just using the card for gas actually gets pretty expensive! I got myself in a pretty bad hole so I sought assistance from this place. It was upsetting and yet helpful to air my financial dirty secret. The representative helped break down my options and negotiate better APR rates. Now, I am able to sleep easily rather than waking up at 2:00 AM with finance nightmares. Seriously, I would bolt upright and find a calculator which would only prove that I was in deep doo doo.

Healthcare sucks - COBRA is insanely high and yet individual plans are pretty expensive too. I have the crappiest Blue Cross plan and I pay over $300 per month. Luckily there is the Medical Security Program which can provide financial assistance. Getting qualified is fairly easy but getting monthly reimbursements is a pain in the butt. It depends on who opens your submission: if they have basic reasoning skills or reading comprehension. Don't get discouraged if you constantly get requests for resubmission with instructions that make no sense. For example, you send in copies of the bill, and proof of payment. God forbid you use e-bill. That sends the MSP program into a tizzy. Basically, they just want to see a cancelled check and bill. Okay, enough ranting. It's worth it to get up to 80% financial assistance.

Be creative - look around your place and figure out what you would be able to sell. Luckily, there is a booming used items market out there. I have made a tidy sum being an Amazon reseller. Seriously, do you need a complete collection of all Buffy episodes? No you don't when you can make $80 selling them. Also Craigslist has a ton of random ways to make money from paid focus groups to medical studies. If you are smart, skinny, and healthy donating eggs/sperm is an awesome payday. Sadly, I'm just smart so my fabulous genetic material is just mine. If you are crafty in any way, set up a shop on Etsy.

Pride is your enemy - you don't need the latest shoes, makeup, haircut, or clothes. Make do with what you have or sometimes consignment shopping reveals amazingness. You know that checkout clerk you chat with while grocery shopping? She has a job, you don't. No one is above or better than anyone. Visiting a food bank isn't an admission of failure. In fact, nowadays a huge variety of people seek food assistance. I am growing out my hair basically because it's cheap and when I need a trim, I do it myself. Supercuts is good in a pinch too. Also, asking for help getting a job is now called networking. That sounds better than begging, right?

Beware of scams - don't let money anxiety override common sense. There are a lot of shady people out there willing to take advantage of the desperate and unemployed. I detailed here my run-in with shipping stolen goods for the Russian mob. I have also come across a new scam. Con artists trying to rent out someone else's home while claiming that they are working abroad. Basically, if it sounds too good to be true, like most work from home ads or paid poll sites, you won't see a dime. Thanks Anonymous commenter for reminding me of this deplorable side of unemployment. Yeah, sell your scam elsewhere.

I have no idea how I'm still positive while I'm on my last unemployment extension. It's probably equal parts denial and medication. I'm lucky that I don't have kids, just two cats. I can't imagine the pressure of unemployment with kids. I don't know, it has to get better right? I bet after November, things will pick up. I feel like businesses are holding their breath until after the election.

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