Category Archives: Unemployment

Unemployment Series: Preparing for the Unexpected

It is hard to be prepared for something that you are not expecting.  But, in this economy, with unemployment numbers through the roof, why not just expect unemployment and put a few things in place to better protect yourself in the event unemployment becomes a reality?  I recently adopted this mentality to prepare for the unknown in my own life.

Last year is when I finally took the reigns on my finances and began to look at the big picture.  Among all of the other changes that come along with being newly married, since we were now a military family, I was unsure of what my employment situation would be moving forward as we changed locations.   For much of last year, we faced what is very common for military families, not knowing exactly where our next duty station would be.  While this is very exciting for me, at the same time, it was a little scary.  I am an attorney in the consulting field and although I felt like I’d be able to work wherever we went inside the U.S., I didn’t know what the nature of that work would be (consulting or law) or what type of salary I would have coming in, if any.

Since so much was unknown to us at the time, I decided to assume the worst case scenario – that I would not be working at all after our move during the summer of this year – and do as much as I could to ease my financial burdens and put us in a better financial position.  If I were out of work, my husband would have to carry the weight and we would have to make a lot of changes to our lifestyle. Since I am the one in the relationship who carries most of the debt, with student loans, a newer car, and more consumer debt, I felt like I needed to do as much as I could to reduce my debt and contribute to our savings while I was still making a salary.  At the end of the day, if I remained employed this year, the steps I took would only put us in a much better place financially. 

Here are the things I did over the past year, as we moved closer toward the unknown:

Paid Down Debt

At the beginning of last year I made a commitment to myself to pay down my credit card debt and be more aggressive with paying on my other commitments such as the car and my student loans.  At the time I had about $20,000.00 in credit card debt.  I put myself on an aggressive payment schedule and paid about $1200/mo. toward my credit cards.  I also paid at least a hundred dollars over the minimum amount due for my car loan and my student loans each month.  My husband’s salary also helped to offset my payment schedule as well, as he took care of most of the large purchases that we made toward the renovations to our house last year.   He also took care of most of our social activities.  

By yearend, I had paid down my credit card debt to $5000.  I also moved the remaining debt to 0% interest credit cards by taking advantage of 0% balance transfer offers I found.  I had also paid down my car loan by $6000.   In December, I took myself off of the more aggressive payment schedule temporarily in preparation for our travels during the holiday season and for my husband’s deployment this year.  But, overall, it felt really good to see the progress I had made throughout the year.  It also added momentum and made me want to continue being aggressive.

Since my husband left for deployment at the beginning of the year, I have had to modify how I am handling my finances.  I have modified my payment schedule and now also have to account for some expenses, such as social spending, mostly taken care of by my husband when he was here.  While I am still being more aggressive with my debt payments, I have redirected my most aggressive payments toward my highest interest debt, my car loan at 6.75%. 

The change in my behavior toward debt repayment was initially triggered by the insecure future I envisioned short-term, but it is something that will stay with me in the long run.  My forward-looking goal now is to continue the aggressive repayment of my debt while being a lot more responsible with the assumption of debt.

Made Consistent Savings Contributions

Putting money to savings has always been an area of weakness for me.  I seemed to ignore the mantra about paying yourself first.  My priorities were paying on my debt, while also living a comfortable, yet no so frugal lifestyle.  Somehow, savings was always sacrificed.  My husband entering my life was definitely a positive for me.  Before him, living on my own as a single woman, I didn’t have a big picture perspective.  I lived for the day and paid as I went.  I always had enough, if only barely, and I didn’t consider much about the consequences of catastrophe if one ever occurred.  I planned well for the moment, but I didn’t have a plan B for the unexpected. 

My wake-up call came when my husband once called me ‘reckless’ with my money. This stung because I’d always considered myself to be responsible because I never had trouble with money, but he was right.  My plan was a day-by-day plan, not a forward-looking one.  Many people caught up in the current economic crisis became that way for failure to adopt a forward-looking plan.  

So, last year, I began to save on a routine basis.  Before, I would put money into savings, only to spend that money and then replace it with new money later on.  So, I could consider myself saving, but I never really accumulated much cash saving this way.  Now, I have money automatically debited from my checking account and deposited to a savings account at another bank.  This is better for me because the money is not as accessible.  Since I started saving this way, I have opened other savings accounts at banks online to take advantage of higher interest rates.  The immediate inaccessibility of these accounts makes me less impulsive with the money in those accounts. 

At the beginning of this year, I doubled my automatic savings deposits.   Now, I have twice as much money deposited into savings.  This also increases the momentum of my plan.  The more money can see accumulating, the more money I want to add to keep amassing cash.   I also try to contribute to savings whenever I have a little extra money.  The difference now is that I have a certain amount of my money designated for savings every month and I can make a budget that excludes that money.  It is like that money was never paid.

Increased Contributions to 401(k) from 10% to 12% of My Salary

I have a 401(k) retirement plan with my job.  Every year, we can change our contribution amount.  I have increased my contribution amount every year for at least the last three years.  This year, I increased it again.  Even though this had been something I was doing every year, it is also a part of my forward-looking plan.  If I were to become unemployed this year, we would be in a better financial position for retirement by the middle of the year than we would have been if  I had not increased the contribution.  It may be a small step, but it is something.   

Every Small Step Is Still a Step

Over this past year, I made the assumption that I would not be employed after our move to Mississippi.  I took some small steps to put us in a better financial position in the event that we would become a one-income family.  I certainly could have done a lot more, but every little bit counts.    Even if I am able to keep my current position, I have taken steps to create the momentum to keep working toward our financial security.  

If you could prepare to become unemployed, what small steps would you take?

MAKE MONEY MONDAYS is usually a forum to discuss ways in which you can create additional sources of income. In light of the current employment environment, however, I am using this forum to write a series of posts focusing on unemployment issues.  This is the last post in the Unemployment Series.  If you missed the previous posts, please go here to find them.  If you have any questions, or would like to have another unemployment issue discussed in this series, please let me know in the comments below.  You can also email me at suprieta@gmail.com.

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Benefits of Unemployment

Last week, I started this series with a discussion about Unemployment Benefits and information about being eligible to receive benefits. This week, I’d like to continue the discussion by talking about some of the benefits of being unemployed. Although unemployment is an unfortunate occurrence, there are quite a few things that you can do to be constructive and productive during those times when you are out of work. While seeking and obtaining unemployment benefits and looking for another job may be your number one and number two top priorities, why not use some of your time and energy to do things for the benefit of your mind and wellbeing?

What is one of the most important benefits of being unemployed? Time.

Relatively speaking, it may not seem very beneficial to have all of this extra time thrust upon you. Only you can decide how you will spend your time. While much of your time may be spent finding a new job, including answering job postings, networking and cold-calling potential employers for work, you should still take some downtime for yourself that doesn’t focus on being unemployed.

Idle Projects

Completing some of the idle projects that you may have sitting unfinished may work to boost morale with a sense of progress – a sense of moving forward during periods of employment stagnation. Idle projects might include house projects such as cleaning out the garage or basement, painting the extra bedroom, hanging the family pictures in the living room or [insert your unfinished house project here].

Exercise

A fitness routine is good for your body and your mind. If you have got some extra time on your hands, why not take the opportunity to start an exercise routine. You don’t need a gym membership to get into shape. You can take a walk or a run outside to clear your mind and work your cardio fitness. You can also exercise at home with stretching and repetitive exercises to work out different muscles groups. Overall, your physical fitness will go along way to also maintain your mental fitness and wellbeing.

Back to School

Another way to boost your morale might be going back to school to earn a degree or other credentials that would make you more marketable in the workplace. Many Americans have been returning to school under programs funded by the federal government for retraining and reentry into the workforce. Some receive booster training for skills that will move them up through the ranks of their existing career path. Still others seek a drastic change in their career, obtaining entirely new skill sets altogether. You can contact your state university or local college about these and other federally funded education programs.

Start a Business

Maybe you have had some great business ideas for quite a long time, or maybe you have a talent or skill that, if marketed, could lead to alternative income sources. Now that you have the time on your hands, why not go into business for yourself? Sometimes all you need is a computer and the Internet. If start-up funding is required, you may use some of your time to research and write a business plan to present to potential investors.

Volunteer

Helping others in your own time of need takes a special kind of character. Sometimes such an unselfish act is its own reward… and sometimes it can place you in the right place at the right time to take advantage of an employment opportunity with the possibility of killing two birds with one stone.

In my opinion, employing any of the foregoing activities during unemployment is better than doing nothing at all. In addition to putting forth the effort to find another job, you will have pushed yourself into constructive and productive behavior. At the end of the day, it may be disheartening to think only about your employment situation. Being able to say I accomplished ‘X’ today can offset some of the negative thinking you may be having.

If you have any additional suggestions for staying productive during unemployment, please share your comments in the comment section below.

MAKE MONEY MONDAYS is usually a forum to discuss ways in which you can create additional sources of income. In light of the current employment environment, however, I am using this forum to write a series of posts focusing on unemployment issues. If you have any questions or would like to make a contribution, please share your comments in the comments section.

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Filed under business, Make Money Mondays, Self-Development, Unemployment

Stagnation Series: Unemployment Benefits and the Benefits of Unemployment

With unemployment abound, I have noticed an increase in inquiries regarding information about benefits and other resources for aid.  There are a few topics that I’d like to discuss on unemployment, so I am creating a series of posts to cover each topic.  In this post, I provide some general information about unemployment benefits and where you can find additional information.  In future posts, I will discuss some of the benefits to unemployment and ways some families are preparing for such an unfortunate event. 

Unemployment benefits are based on a duality of federal and state law.  The Federal-State Unemployment Insurance program provides eligible unemployed workers with financial assistance in the unfortunate event of forced unemployment.  Your individual state defines ‘unemployment,’ determines your eligibility, and determines how much money you will get and for how long.

The Federal Department of Labor provides general information about the Unemployment Insurance Program and provides a link to state unemployment insurance websites.  If you would like to receive unemployment benefits, start with your state’s program website. 

Eligibility

DC Unemployment Insurance

Since I am located in Washington, D.C., I will use Washington, D.C.’s unemployment insurance program to demonstrate the type of eligibility criteria that may be required in a given state or locale.  According to the DC Department of Employment Service (DOES)’s website:

1.            You must meet the following wage requirements:

·      You must have wages in at least two quarters of the base period**

·      You must have at least $1,300 in wages in one quarter of the base period**

·      You must have at least $1,950 in wages for the entire base period**

·      Your total base period wages must be at least one-and-a-half times the wages in your highest quarter, or be within $70 of that amount.

**Depending on when you file your claim for unemployment benefits, the base period is the 12-month period ending on the day specified by the DC DOES

2.            You must also meet the following requirements:

·      You must be unemployed through no fault of your own.

·      You must be available for work. This means that you must be ready and willing to accept work considered suitable for you because of your past training, education, or experience.

·      You must be physically able to work. You cannot collect benefits while you are sick, injured, or disabled.

·      You must make at least two job contacts each week.

·    You must make a personal and continuing effort each week to attain gainful employment, using methods that are customary for your occupation. (You may be asked by your Employment Services Center to demonstrate your work search activities, so you should keep a record of such efforts.)

Additional Benefits

Emergency Unemployment Compensation 08 (EUC08)

The EUC08 program is a federally-funded program providing payments to certain eligible unemployed workers that have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits.  Unemployed workers that are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits in DC, another state, the federal gov’t, or Canada may be eligible for EUC08. New applications for EUC0 will not be accepted after March 28, 2009. More information about EUC08 can be found here.

Is there anything I am missing?  Are there other benefits available for unemployed workers? 

MAKE MONEY MONDAYS is usually a forum to discuss ways in which you can create additional sources of income.  In light of the current employment environment, however, I am using this forum to write a series of posts focussing on unemployment issues.  If you have any questions or would like to make a contribution, please share your comments in the comments section.  Thanks.  

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Filed under Make Money Mondays, Unemployment