How does one go for months without a job and avoid homelessness?
January 26, 2011 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I'd love to hear some strategy for keeping life together when you're out of work, looking for a job.

On Monday, the company for which I work announced that it was being sold. The following day I was told that there was no place for me at the new place, and that my job would end next Monday, no severance. I anticipate a lengthy job search before something suitable comes along. I'm eligible for unemployment insurance, which should just cover the rent.

I hear these stories of people who've been unemployed, unable to find a job for months and months. How do they do it? I can't imagine they can make it on unemployment alone, what with rent, utilities, food, gas, insurance, blah blah blah. I need some help with strategy here to keep house and home together with little or no income. I can do without the NetFlix and the Hulu; I suppose I can do without the high-speed Internet access, but what about the other stuff?

So I would be grateful for some general advice from those who've been through it (or are still going through it): what can one do about things like iPhone contracts (18 months to go) and health care (I'm diabetic)? What and when do I tell the landlord?
posted by DandyRandy to Work & Money (31 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
My strategy: Temp agencies, Craigslist odd jobs, generous family help (YMMV) and food stamps/public assistance.
If you used to commute by car, call your ins agency and let them know you're not commuting any more, that should reduce your bill.
posted by amethysts at 7:04 PM on January 26, 2011

No severance? Have you ever worked more than 40 hours in a week for them?
posted by rhizome at 7:12 PM on January 26, 2011

Savings. Cash out retirement money (not recommended, but people do it). Live off equity in home (not so much today, but 5 years ago it was a very popular strategy). Run up credit cards. If you had good credit you could easily have $50K available on your credit cards. Again, not a recommended solution, but if the choice is that or sleeping on a park bench...Move back into mom's basement. Call the companies that you have contracts with and tell them you just got laid off. Many will suspend you contract for at least a few months, but they'll eventually expect to get paid.

None of these options are good (other than having the savings to ride out unemployment), but it's what people are doing to get by.
posted by COD at 7:26 PM on January 26, 2011

First of all sorry that you have to go through this; it sucks.

This is a long shot, but is your landlord a private party or a real estate company? It it's a private party, do you have a good relationship with them? Have you been there awhile and always paid your rent on time? I ask because I was in a similar situation 10 or so years ago. I couldn't make my rent but I'd lived there for 4 or 5 years. Much as I hated making the call, I called my landlord as soon as I realized that I wouldn't be able to make the rent fully expecting that I'd have to move out and stay with friends. He was remarkably understanding and for months I only paid half. When I finally got a job, I paid 1.5 to 2x my monthly rent until I was caught up. When I moved out, he said he'd be honored to be a reference. I fully admit that I lucked out and this was a pretty unusual situation, but if I had just let things slide rather than tried to work things out with him up front, who knows what would have happened. On the other hand, if making your rent isn't going be a problem, there's no reason to tell your landlord that you're unemployed.

If that doesn't work, can you put your stuff in storage and move in with friends or family?

As for how other people do it, most of my friends who are currently or have recently been unemployed for long periods have relatively inexpensive apartments and had a fair bit of money in savings (not a crazy amount but in the range of $10,000). They live in cities where they don't need cars so car payments and gas weren't an issue. My friend in Chicago bikes everywhere, even in the middle of winter so she doesn't even spend money on public transportation. Definitely cut back on all unnecessary expenses, although you might want to keep Internet access as you'll need it for your job search.

If you had some stuff that you don't use that you were thinking about selling, now's the time.
You can also try to find some odd jobs to make enough for some of your bills or at least groceries (depending on where you live, some states allow you to make a small amount of money each week and still be eligible for unemployment). One friend does light IT stuff (installing software, checking for viruses, troubleshooting problems) for friends and another is a part-time dog walker.

Good luck!
posted by kaybdc at 7:28 PM on January 26, 2011

You should be eligible for COBRA medical coverage. Apply for unemployment immediately. Get as much documentation from your employer as you can before they disappear.

Don't give up your internet connection, you're going to need it to search for and apply for work. Make a list of all your current regular expenses and figure out ways to cut as many as possible. No more eating out! Can you move somewhere cheaper? Do you have anything valuable you can sell? If you have a car and public transportation is available consider getting rid of the car. Reach out to friends and family for support and job leads.

Make some kind of schedule and stick to it. Get plenty of exercise. Go to the library, borrow books and DVDs, and use whatever job search resources they have. Borrow books about eating well on a tight budget.

Good luck.
posted by mareli at 7:29 PM on January 26, 2011

Sorry for your woe! First of all, don't panic yet. Many states allow you to work under, say, 20 hours per week and not affect your unemployment benefits. Find something part time, but check the unemployment benefits in your state to make sure you stay under that amount of hours. Also, start networking to death with every person you know everywhere. The Craigslist idea is excellent, too.

You can apply for COBRA benefits to keep your diabetes supplies and medical expenses covered. It extends your insurance for (18 months I think) a while after you leave your job. It's sort of expensive, but you need it.

Regarding spending: You basically need to go into careful frugality mode until you find something (like: only buy food on sale/in bulk/with coupons. From the cheapest places. Drive less. Don't eat out. Don't get coffee out). Don't dip into the credit cards if you can avoid it because that's a fresh hell all of its own. Read up on living frugally; there are lots of online resources that have decent ideas.

If it gets more dire, sell some stuff. DVDs, CDs, electronics, clothes. Keep your phone; you'll need it for callbacks and connection to the world. You could downsize your apartment to something smaller. Many landlords are understanding about leaving a lease early in a situation like this. Or ditch an apartment altogether and put stuff in storage and hit up friends/relatives for crash space.

It's just a new challenge. It sucks, but you can do it.

(on preview, what mareli says!)
posted by clone boulevard at 7:36 PM on January 26, 2011

COBRA eligibility is going to depend on where the OP lives. Here in VA, companies under 20 employees don't even have to offer COBRA. I was laid off in Nov from a company with less than 20 employees. So I'm currently uninsured, and my wife is diabetic. You have to be uninsured for six months to be eligible for the high risk pools that are part of health care reform, so that won't help the OP either. I wish I had something encouraging to offer on the health care front. But I looked into every option I could find, and the bottom line in the great old US of A is that if you are a diabetic, you are screwed without corporate health insurance.
posted by COD at 7:41 PM on January 26, 2011

I've been unemployed since November. I am making it on unemployment and the occasional freelance gig. It looks like in the coming weeks, if I still don't have anything stable, I might get a part time thing selling potatoes at the farmer's market. How Great Depression Redux can you get?

Certain things make it easier. I don't have children and I rent. I also live in a very walkable city with great public transit - though one of my ways of cutting back is to minimize how often I use transit (no more monthly unlimited metrocard). So no car note, gas, or insurance. I'm also a vegetarian and I love to cook, which makes life a little easier on the grocery front.

Aside from those basic facts of my life, it's a matter of cutting down to the wire. The only monthly bills I deal with are rent/utilities (which are bundled into my rent) and my phone. I have an iPhone contract, which is the big thorn in my side right now. Lots of beans and rice, lots of evenings in, lots of torrenting.

Healthcare has been one of the saddest losses - my answer so far is "don't get sick" - obviously not an option for you.

Because I'd go mad if I never got to have any fun at all, I make certain deals with myself. If I absolutely have to go to the movies, I'll go to a nearby arthouse which has a $7 matinee on weekday afternoons. Because I can't afford to drink in bars anymore, I at least splurge on good beer at home. A pound of good coffee is $8, but it'll last a month if I'm exact about measuring it out. An $12 6-pack is still only a third the price of the same beer in a bar. I was picking up a few things at Ikea* yesterday and allowed myself to get a few fancy delicacies in the grocery section: smoked salmon, dill mustard sauce, good chocolate. I spent like $6, but it'll make at least a week of very special meals when incorporated with dirt cheap.

*Another good strategy - I have a running list of things I need (and I mean actually need) for the house, and when I really feel the need for retail therapy I'll go to Ikea. Even if I get something fun that isn't on my list, it'll be like $5.
posted by Sara C. at 7:42 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You will need Internet access from home. It's important for three reasons.

a) job search, e.g., job boards, newspaper classified ads
b) networking, e.g., LinkedIn, email, Skype, webchat
c) entertainment

Do not slow down. Use the next few days wisely to

1) spruce up your resume and profile.
2) Pin down folks who are willing to give good references
3) Seek out support groups. Colleagues in the same boat? Also , begin to share news with your family and friends. You will need all the support and encouragement you can get

I highly recommend . Sign up for their premium service, which is like $20 a month. It's very useful for

i) seeking out friends and past colleagues.
ii) finding job leads
iii) samples of other peoples resumes
iv) connections!!!

Finally, I cannot emphasize how important that you square away your medical needs before the end of the week. Sign up for CORBA. Seek out low-cost care immediately, especially if there's a change in doctors and care facility. Diabetes require constant care and monitoring. Do NOT let your health suffer!!!

Remember to give yourself time. Take a few mins, relax, clear your mind. Exercise is good, the free kind like taking a walk, jogging, or cycling...

It will be a change, but you will manage. Job-wise... You hit your bottom on Tuesday... Henceforth, things can only get better, not worse.

Very shortly, you will get a job, look back and reflect how much you have grown during this period. :)

Good luck! :)
posted by jchaw at 8:14 PM on January 26, 2011

I was unemployed from 2001 through 2003. I could never afford COBRA, but I do have several health conditions that needed medication and follow-up care. I was able to get what I needed from a local free clinic, a teaching hospital, and (eventually, when I went back to school) my school's student health center. If you're in a city with a university that has a med school or dental school, chances are they will offer free healthcare. It won't be fancy, but in my experience it never was much worse than any HMO insurance I had. Also, I think some of the pharmaceutical companies have assistance programs if you take their meds - I've never had to do this but have heard that it's not that difficult.

Back then unemployment only lasted 6 months in my state. When that 6 months was up, I went to grad school and lived on student loans, which in all honesty will never be paid back in this lifetime - so, I'd call that a last resort. But, it kept me from being homeless or a burden on friends, and even before I finished grad school I had acquired some new skills that made me more employable.
posted by chez shoes at 8:19 PM on January 26, 2011

It's tax season--do you have a refund coming up that can get you by for a month or two, on a bare-bones budget?

So far the comments have addressed the finances, but not as much the "keeping life together" bit. I would try to set up some type of routine or structure to your day. Maybe you check craigslist, careerbuilder, and local newspaper listings (available online for free many times so you aren't buying the paper) when you wake up for one or two hours, and call and apply to positions that fit. Spend an hour a day in some combination of thinking of contacts and networking opportunities, updating your skills and resume, and practicing interviewing.

Eat regular, healthy, cheap, home-cooked meals. I like to mix one can of fat-free refried beans with one can of black beans and dump about a cup of it over a big bag of micowaved frozen veggies with salsa, about $2 for a big healthy meal. Eggs and oats are cheap and healthy for breakfast.

Fit exercise into your day--it will help to keep you strong and happy, even just walking. Maybe create a personal goal related to fitness, so that you are working on a goal toward improvement that is not dependent on being hired. Push-ups are free, and so is walking another block or mile.

Shower every day. (I saw that not as a snark--I work in the school, and go a little batty without structure in the summers.)

Make a list of free things you can do to enjoy--use your parks and libraries, read books, watch hulu online, see if there are free events in your town to go to, just go outside and walk. Add to it as you think of more things.

Financially, cancel everything that is not essential. For me, this means rent/utilities, gas/car insurance, food, internet, cell phone. That's it! Cancel cable and watch hulu. Cancel any magazine subscriptions--you'll be refunded the remaining balance. Call and ask about cheaper rates with internet. Yep, car insurance will be cheaper if you aren't commuting and you inform your company of the change. Use grocery flyers and match coupons to make your own cheap meals--really spend time doing this, as every dollar counts until you have a more steady income. (I used to look in the big paper recycling bins at Walmarts and such places for coupons others had left behind, but I have high germ tolerance.) Walmart will price-match grocery sale flyer items from other stores, as long as it is an exact match, not a "buy one, get one," and doesn't need a store discount card (like a Kroger card). Keep your heat a little lower than normal, say 65, use a bit less water, and unplug electronics.

Some places have free discount pharmacy cards available if you don't have insurance and have prescription meds. (My local library had some--you might be able to ask the pharmacy or call the social services office.) If you happen to be at your doctor's for an appointment, ask for samples and tell them your situation.

You won't be working, so you're time will either be spent taking care of yourself (which IS essential!), looking for a job, or looking for ways to cut down your bills or increasing your income with temporary jobs, such as freelance, dogsitting, selling stuff you don't need, or craigslist gigs.

Good luck to you. I'm not too far out of being a poor grad student, and I'm cheap if you want to memail me to vent or if you think you need a cheapskate in your corner.
posted by shortyJBot at 8:38 PM on January 26, 2011

Do'h! That sounds like I'm charging cheap rates to memail me. I meant that I might be able to offer some advice on being frugal. Oh dear.
posted by shortyJBot at 8:54 PM on January 26, 2011

I just got off a 6 month stint of unemployment, and I also have chronic medical conditions that require medication. If you can possibly swing the COBRA, I'd highly advise that you do so. If not, I'd contact your doctor and/or pharmacist to see about pharmacy programs to get your meds for free or at a greatly reduced cost.

I also did a lot of cooking at home.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:02 PM on January 26, 2011

A lot depends on where you live and what you do with your free time.

I've been rich and I've been poor. When there is too much sunlight in the house, I get headaches. When my room is full of untidy stuff I get depressed and crabby. When I plan my time badly so I am late for meals I get cranky. When I have people I can laugh with and talk about interesting things and they don't snark at me I feel content and secure. Being worried and stressed and dreading meals because I'm thinking they will be disgusting and not knowing how to deal with looming health problems all make me unhappy. All of these things are separate from living well under the poverty line or way, way above it. Being rich and having lots of spare money for luxuries makes pretty close to zero impact on my happiness. If being poor frightens and stresses me then I'm going to be more unhappy. Now that I am no longer afraid of being poor I don't get frightened and stressed and I'm as content either way. Whoever said, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better," had the wrong friends and was dependent on spending money to have status.

I say all this to let you know that in my experience you can thrive on extremely little and given a toss up between flexible time and flexible cash I'd go with the time.

So on to basic maintain-quality-of-life strategies:

Learn to enjoy preparing food and eating very basic simple food. Baked squash for example is a really delicious thing. Rice and lentils are another. Convenience food like yuppie TV dinners, take out food, restaurant meals and highly processed packaged food all have painfully low nutrition compared to cost. Don't buy anything that has empty nutrition in it that you can possibly avoid. So a number one thing to do is to take the time to make meals the pleasures they are meant to be instead of waiting until you should have eaten an hour ago and throwing something quick but greasy into the micro. You might be able to reduce your food budget by a huge amount this way. But while you are at it with the switch to non-convenience food be aware that in many parts of the country "fresh" fruits and vegetables are not fresh at all and frequently do not have high nutrition. Many financially comfortable people spend a lot of money on salad fixings, but if your lettuce grew 1,000 miles away and has been preserved in a plastic bag for a week and a half to get to you there is a good chance the nutrients have all decayed out of it long enough even if it is crisp and perky. So your best choices in fruits and vegetables should be the winter keepers: hard apples, carrots, cabbages, onions... your other source of f&v should be frozen since ordinarily things like frozen broccoli has more nutrients than the stuff sold fresh since it was frozen by the time it had to go through any appreciable amount of shipping and storage. A slow cooker and a beef shank can be parlayed into food that your dinner guests think is gourmet cooking. Peasant style cooking and eating in season are your friends.

Learn to enjoy going out and running errands on foot or on bicycle. Yes, on foot in the depths of cold winter, or in the rain. With a backpack and a couple of full bags on the way home. People who train to run races go out in all kinds of weather and stay out for a good chunk of time. They enjoy it, make it part of their routine and reap health benefits. You just don't have to run. This may not work if you live in a huge sprawling mega-city or suburb where the nearest store is the other side of three highways and you have to choose between getting mugged or committing suicide by fleeing into heavy traffic where the drivers want to kill you out of spite for invading their road but this has worked for me in bedroom suburb Boston and several areas of Canadian cities.

If you can do enough walking so that the only car use you have is minimal do the math and see if it is cheaper to own a car or take taxis the few times you must have one, such as when buying bulk purchases. If going with taxis is cheaper get rid of the car.

Learn to enjoy being resourceful. Is there a library near you? If so they normally supply books through inter library loan, computer access, research possibilities, a couple of intelligent social groups and a quiet warm place to go so you don't end up sitting at home staring at the wall. Is there a local university near you? If so find out if you can use their library or any of their other resources without a student card. It could be that they have some outdoor sports facilities you can use, such as a running track or ball courts and ball fields. They might even have information for making ends meet on a tight budget, as many students are poor and in debt. Find out if there are local co-ops and clubs and plans to help save money. Where I live there is a food purchase club that provides two large bags of produce for twenty dollars.

Check out the Y. They often waive or reduce membership fees for people with low incomes. They also often have pools and weight rooms and exercise machines.

Do not scrimp on maintenance medicine and taking care of your health. Check your blood pressure at the pharmacy and take advantage of their free clinics that do things like give you free blood tests. Talk to your doctor about being poor. Many doctors get so many free samples of medication from the drug companies that they can keep you in the medicine you need for free, or at least provide a month of it as a free sample. Check out your dentistry school for dental work, or your dental hygienist school for teeth cleaning. Take the absolute best care of your teeth and your feet that you can. If you need medical care talk to the practitioner about making payments and what they feel is the minimum care you need.

If you eat healthily and exercise enough -such as doing a lot of walking- you can make major improvements in diabetes and save money on prescriptions and health care.

Wear the best, most impact protective shoes you can get. Foot and back and teeth problems seriously erode your happiness and can be hard to correct once they start happening. So do whatever you can to make sure they don't happen.

Cultivate urban shabby chic as your style. An eclectic style in clothes paired with well kept hair means low income is almost impossible to tell apart from high income. Don't try to follow latest fashions in anything and be a snob about not doing it. The electronic toys are really cool if you like them, but when somebody asks you for your contact information on the latest social networking/gaming electronic raise one eyebrow and tell them, "Everybody has a *****, so I don't." Or have the kind of friends where you can say cheerfully, "Can't afford it." But seriously, don't join new trends until they have been around long enough to prove their worth and longevity and drop a long, long way down in price.

Make sure you stop all your auto debit payments. Double check on your next statement. And then triple check that they haven't been resumed. Find a bank that has no bank charges for your daily cash needs and bill paying. Credit Unions are a good bet. In Canada the President's Choice Bank offers free banking and money back in groceries on money spent in their store using their bank card. But don't close your other bank accounts if you can help it in case such moves effect your credit rating.

Get out of debt. Fast. No, faster than that. Debt with spiraling interest and late payment charges is an emergency and reason enough to use your emergency cushion of money, if you have any. If you don't have an emergency cushion try to build one up.

Be grateful and cheerful to receive any second hand stuff your friends will give you. If they give you two bags of used clothes and only one item in the lot is going to work for you, you are ahead and they have helped.

Learn to do lots of stuff for yourself. You should never have to discard clothing because you have lost a button. You can refill an ink cartridge and save money over buying a new one, but chances are the only things you need to print is your resume and even that can be kept to a minimum because you are probably sending it around electronically. Are you the kind of person who can trim your own hair? How about trimming your partner's hair while they trim yours?

Before buying things wait a week, or a month to see if they go on special, you forget you wanted them, or you can do without them. Learn how to shop wisely. Did you know that a lot of thrift stores sell used dollar store merchandise for the same price as they cost new, and sometimes for more?

Use the free time that has opened up with the job termination to do something you have always wanted to do but never had the time to do. Like go out in the very middle of the night and see stars or check out Wicca, or join 4chan and troll them silly, or take up listening to Hawaiian music. Start learning the stuff you never had time for. You should be able to learn things like yoga or playing the recorder or sketching for virtually free. Need a yoga mat? Fold a comforter or blanket in half lengthwise and use that. Need sheet music for the instrument of choice? Try the library again.

Look at the stuff you already own and start trying to use it up to simplify your life and possible down sizing. That means don't hang onto those two bags of clothes minus one shirt that your friend gave you and which don't fit you. But if your hard drive is full of jpg's you meant to turn into artwork, and your cupboard is full of Indian spices and you have three more model airplanes that you never even took out of their boxes let alone assembled and there is an unopened "Settlers of Catan" game it's time to assemble those planes without painting them (so you don't have to buy the paint), inviting a couple of friends over for a gaming afternoon, and experimenting with adding curry to your diet. (Soak garbanzo beans overnight.)

If you think you have to get something you don't already own think hard about alternatives. Make do, do without, use it up, wear it out. Can you use something else? Can you get it second hand? Can you borrow it? When is it sold most cheaply? (January and July are the usual big clearance months) Where is it sold most cheaply? Would it make sense to get the more expensive version and never have to replace it? What happens if you do have to replace it or it breaks? Can someone who already owns one give you some information that might make you look at the need differently?

Look into the old fashioned way that people managed things. For example hair care. Women wore long hair so it didn't need to be cut every four to six weeks. They didn't wash it with shampoo every day but they did brush it with a natural bristle brush to move the natural oil out of the scalp and if it got dry and full of static they put a little oil into it. Often something like a hairband or scarf was worn to control the hair so it stayed neat. Decoration was a secondary function. There was no expenditure on gel, mousse, conditioner, fixative or other products. You can use any oil that has a decent scent or lack thereof, so olive and canola oil work quite well. You are not being exposed to carcinogenic chemicals like parabens. And you know what? This particular routine produces sleek strong and shiny hair like you see in magazine photographs of hair products much better than whatever most of the women I see in offices use because they have dry frizzy that looks like elderly straw. If you think olive oil is expensive try pricing hair beauty products!

Call the iPhone people and ask them about breaking, reducing or otherwise modifying the contract. Ask them if you can speak to their manager to see if their manager can help if they say there is nothing to be done. Consider if you have a friend who needs an iPhone and would be willing to take on the payments and the phone from you? (You better trust them not to stiff you, though. Someone like your money-reliable sister is ideal.)

Try to connect with people in your new income bracket who have good management skills and either live in your area or a similar one so that you can find out about all the resources that are available. You probably know of people who live on the cheap and are deeply frugal so that they can save up six months money to go back packing for the other six months in Nepal or Indonesia or somewhere. These are a good kind of people to emulate, except that after six months with luck you plan to be going back to work instead of overseas.

There are generally places that will supply free birth control, if that is an issue. Look for a sexual health center.

If you have any minor addictions such as lattes or a weekly manicure or a beer after doing your weight routine now is a very good time to end the addiction. Again, your mileage may vary but in two of the Canadian cities where I have lived I have observed that the difference between living comfortably on social assistance and having to go to the food bank every month, not to mention going hungry the day before the food bank is usually an addiction or two, and usually either cigarettes or social contact facilitated by a cell phone. Pop is another addiction that does you no good whatsoever and if you are diabetic is a major contributing factor. However it is usually not something that throws a welfare budget into shortfall because it takes the place of food. What it does is destroy the health of poor people who buy it.

Don't every work from the assumption that there will be more money later. There probably will be, but the last thing you want is to set yourself up for paying off 13 different bills that total $2,700 when your tax return comes in, but your tax return is going to be $483.00. You want to work at keeping daily expenses less than daily income so that whenever money outside of the routine comes in it is a windfall and can be hung onto until the next unexpected bill comes in.

Don't think of reducing your expenses as being unable to get things, think of it as choosing not to get things. After all there are jobs you would not be willing to take: call girl/boy, drug dealer and housebreaker all spring to mind. If you were not picky about the jobs you take you could probably afford all kinds of toys and frills and addictions... You could also choose to rack up all the credit cards you could get until they were maxed out and then declare bankruptcy. But none of these ideas are the way you want to cope. Doing without the latest tech toy is a choice you are making so as to keep yourself comfortable. And you can be comfortable, remarkably comfortable.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:21 PM on January 26, 2011 [361 favorites]

Re: Cobra - I've been unemployed since July of last year and my state (MA) provides a subsidy to pay for Cobra insurance for those receiving unemployment benefits. I think Massachusetts is the only state that has this benefit, so hopefully you live here. The cost for Cobra for me would be $648 a month, but the subsidy reimburses me $480 per month. It's called the Medical Security program.

Other than that - get a roommate, keep your internet connection to look for jobs, get up and out of the house or you'll go nuts. Also, be careful about accepting part-time work. If you run into the unfortunate situation of being unemployed for more than a year and you've been working part-time during that year, your unemployment will be recalculated after 52 weeks and it will be based on your part-time earnings only. Under the table is best.

Luck to you!
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:21 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The great thing about renting instead of owning is you can move. Do so. Break your lease and live somewhere cheaper. People who take jobs in other cities break leases. You can work with your landlord to give him some notice to be fair, but absolutely don't live in a place that eats 100% of your unemployment if you can avoid it.

A library card and a bike will give you something to do.
posted by oreofuchi at 9:22 PM on January 26, 2011

I agree with the suggestions about considering getting rid of your car. I realize this may be easier said than done - and it depends on how easy it would be for you to walk/bike places where you live, and how good the public transportation is. And this is coming from someone who still has a car, but that's mainly because I live in Western New York and am a total wimp about biking in cold weather - next year I may get up the courage to start doing that. (If people in Chicago can do it, I guess I should be able to.) But during spring/summer/fall, I bike almost everywhere.

I recently read the book "How to Live Well Without Owning a Car" and it made some interesting points. I remember it showed a cartoon of a guy driving to work, saying "I hate driving, but I need to get to work." Then at work, it showed him thinking, "I hate my job, but I need to pay off my car." So the basic idea is that car ownership can get you into a vicious cycle of needing to work more to pay off the car, therefore you need the car to get to work, etc. It made the point that if more families became single-car families, then both spouses wouldn't necessarily have to have full-time jobs, as they often do nowadays.

Even though my car is paid off, I calculated my annual expenses for gas/maintenance/etc. for a year. For 2010, it was about $1500, but the year before it was more like $2500 due to repairs. If you are still making car payments, then getting rid of the car could save you quite a bit of expense during this time.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 6:06 AM on January 27, 2011

//It made the point that if more families became single-car families...//

Even the 2nd car is a freaking BMW, $500 car payments still only work out to $6000 a year. I don't think many people are working to afford the car payment. Substitute "child care" for car payments and you have something. When we had our 2nd kid way back in the 90s, I calculated that we were going to net about $200 a week from my wife working full time. She quit to stay home with the kids. I made up the $200 a week in about 10 hours of delivering pizzas each week as a 2nd job.
posted by COD at 7:21 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow - thanks so much for all your comments and suggestions; it's exactly what I'm looking for.

To fill in a few gaps:

The car is paid for. I live in metro Los Angeles, so the car is pretty much required.

The insurance question has been wonderfully settled by a friend who is 'hiring' me into their company and picking up the tab for the insurance. A miracle...

Cutting out the non-essentials leaves me with rent (the biggest expense, and I'm thinking about the logistics of moving into a shared situation), utilities, car insurance (good idea about telling them I'm not commuting), phone, internet (I can downgrade to the slowest speed to save a few bucks), auto fuel, daily meds and food. That's about it, can't really cut any more.

I can't file for UI until Monday, but I hear the max is $440/week - I have no idea what I will be awarded.
posted by DandyRandy at 11:14 AM on January 27, 2011

a friend who is 'hiring' me into their company

Is this going to pose a problem for your unemployment?
posted by Sara C. at 12:45 PM on January 27, 2011

Also: buy a cheap used musical instrument, or pick up something you used to play. There's a reason Roma kick ass at making beautiful music. They spend a lot of time doing that instead of lending themselves out to a boss for their waking life.

This is your chance to develop a real talent and express yourself. It's an awesome opportunity.
posted by notion at 12:52 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, some of your expenses may be tax deductible as well. For example your internet. Are you using that for job searching or to make yourself more employable? Should be tax deductible. Obviously it still costs real money, but perhaps not as much as you think. And you will be paying taxes on your UI income, so having some deductions doesn't hurt. Think Schedule C instead of Schedule A if you don't itemize.

No, I'm not a tax professional (is there a standard abbreviation for that?)

Do have a routine. I agree with whoever pushed for showering everyday, even if you aren't planning on leaving the house. Bake bread.

Good luck
posted by jindc at 1:07 PM on January 27, 2011

Make expense cuts sooner rather than later. When you apply for unemployment, see if you should be getting severance; maybe state law requires it. Make sure you get paid for any vacation owed.
posted by theora55 at 1:45 PM on January 27, 2011

Be a producer and not a consumer. Create stuff. Build Stuff.
posted by jasondigitized at 2:51 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

This could be a good time to get rid of clutter - profitably. Sell unneeded books on Sell unneeded appliances, furniture, doodads on kijiji and craigslist. Sell collectibles on ebay. Sell all the above plus unneeded clothes at a garage sale.
posted by storybored at 5:04 PM on January 27, 2011

Start volunteering. Join a Meetup group. Make sure you still interact with people.
posted by soupy at 5:28 PM on January 27, 2011

(late to the party, here, but...)

I was (fortunately) only unemployed for two months before finding a new job - but every day of those two months was tough because I didn't know at the time when I'd be getting a new job. So, the depression was definitely there.

My advice to you in the first few days of unemployment is to still get up every morning, take a shower and get dressed every day. Every day. No matter how hard and bleak the outlook of the day is. I tried to be up in time for The Price is Right (10am my time back then) - an arbitrary enough reason to get up in the morning, but it worked. Just getting showered and dressed helps so much for your outlook of the day. And you can't make excuses later in the day that you aren't dressed so you can't go out.
posted by jillithd at 7:57 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

When/why do you use the internet? Do you have a laptop? Then head to a library: free WiFi, no lure of small costs that will add up. If you have a desktop computer and you're moving into a shared living situation, you'll be splitting the 'net costs.

But if you're living alone, you can call the Cable Co. and tell them you'd like to cancel your service. Chances are they'd like to keep you paying something, because the "introductory rate" is still more than nothing. (I have an otherwise "upstanding" friend who does this every time they try to increase his monthly rates, and they keep the monthly bill at its low rate.)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:15 PM on January 28, 2011

Just as a warning to you & your friend, if your health care costs are high and his business is small, I've heard that health insurance companies may decide to suddenly increase the rates for the entire company, so it may be better to exhaust Cobra and other options first.
posted by alexei at 1:28 AM on January 29, 2011

Whoever said, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better," had the wrong friends and was dependent on spending money to have status.

I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better.

Rich is better, other things being equal. With the same friends, the same attitudes, the same wisdom, the same values in both situations, rich is better.

Of course having lots of money never automatically made anyone happy or fulfilled. And having little money doesn't have to make anyone miserable, at least up to the point where you can't afford to eat, keep a roof over your head, keep warm in the winter etc.

I have coped with long periods with no or little income. In my case it was possible because of a mixture of having savings, being able to move in with family or friends, and many of the things other people have mentioned for keeping costs down.

I'm also vegetarian which means I could get a lot of nutritional bang for my buck when that was important to do.
posted by philipy at 10:07 AM on January 29, 2011

Jane had a lot of great ideas, except this one:

The electronic toys are really cool if you like them, but when somebody asks you for your contact information on the latest social networking/gaming electronic raise one eyebrow and tell them, "Everybody has a *****, so I don't."

Don't be That Person.

Just a shrug and a "Sorry, I'm not on there. But here's my email."
posted by canine epigram at 9:51 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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