panicking over a lay off
December 5, 2011 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Husband laid off in time for Christmas, now what?

Ok. Assume we've got the message of find a new job.

Husband was only breadwinner. I am a stay-at-home mother of an autistic child and parental caretaker for my legally blind mother using a rollator. We have saved half our rent and that's it.

Suggest long lasting cheap stuff for the pantry and steps we can take to survive until one of us gets a new job.

Cheap but still healthy dog and cat food too?
posted by FunkyHelix to Work & Money (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
File for unemployment benefits ASAP.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:16 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is there a food bank where you live? Take advantage of that, it's for people like you. Get unemployment benefits stat. There's also programs to help you with your rent. The unemployment people can probably help you with that.
posted by amodelcitizen at 11:18 AM on December 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

First, take a giant breath.

File for unemployment benefits if you haven't already done so, and start the process to get your child covered by your state's health insurance for kids (in Georgia, this is PeachCare, for example). Pet food from the local dollar store.
posted by jquinby at 11:20 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Along with unemployment, find out if (or when) you qualify for WIC, TANF, and food stamps.

See if any local CSAs have partnerships with food banks.
posted by griphus at 11:22 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

For the pantry: beans and rice are cheap. Ethnic groceries (I'm thinking specifically of the Latin places around here) have other tasty things that are pretty inexpensive, so don't feel like the local big-chain supermarket is your only bet. I know lots of folks who shop at Aldi, too.

Cancel or re-adjust everything that you can get buy w/o for the time being: club down (or eliminate) cable, adjust cell phone packages, internet service, etc.
posted by jquinby at 11:31 AM on December 5, 2011

Sorry, here's the link to your NJ's CHIP program: NJ Family Care.
posted by jquinby at 11:33 AM on December 5, 2011

...actually, it looks like you can apply for everything in one place.
posted by jquinby at 11:36 AM on December 5, 2011

Already mentioned - file for unemployment asap.

Food - beans and rice. Try different kinds. A hamhock, red beans, onion and celery, bouillon, a side of rice and cornbread. Them's good eats. Split peas makes great split pea soup. Red lentils with Indian spices makes great masala dal.

Other items to have on hand that are versatile -
Onions, garlic, celery, chicken bouillon, smoked ham hocks, slab bacon, whole chicken or value packs of chicken thighs or drum sticks (you can also make your own stock), lemon (keep refrigerated to make them last longer)

Apples, potatoes, pasta, flour, sugar, salt, tomato sauce/crushed tomatoes, oatmeal

Also, look for the meat that's about to expire that has to be frozen or used right away. Look for beans, rice and grains in the bulk section, that's also the best section for spices.

Start clipping coupons, many can be downloaded, read the inserts you get in the mail.

If you have a Costco membership - their 40 lb chicken & veggie dog food is only $25. Or go with a friend that has a membership (take cash). Friskies is cheap there too.

Pay rent first, then food and medicine. Utilities can wait - also see if you qualify for utility assistance/low income programs (electricity, gas and phone). Most places don't allow power to be cut in the winter.
posted by shoesietart at 11:36 AM on December 5, 2011

Shop around for your normal expenses such as car insurance or try to renegotiate with your current company. I had no idea we were paying $50 more/month than we needed to.

Defer student loans if appropriate.
posted by desjardins at 11:38 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you to those asking about paypal, I think you're really good people. I don't have one, and I'm super uncomfortable taking money like that from the community. Links to CENTRAL jersey/Mommeth place that help, and suggestions for things we can do are invaluable. Thank you, thank you.

Ps Husband is on the phone trying to file unemployment now.
posted by FunkyHelix at 11:40 AM on December 5, 2011

Do you have a slowcooker? Do you have the time to cook much?

If you can make it to an immigrant grocery store, you can usually find things much cheaper, especially fresh vegetables.

When broke, there are two categories of things to get--one is staples, and the other is things that make the staples edible without you being completely miserable. The latter varies from person to person but I'll include ours.

Plain oatmeal (put it in a ziploc inside the cardboard tube)
Vegetable oil
Boullion and/or chicken and beef broth (see what's on sale)
Roasted deli chicken (we get at least 5 servings out of one, and could make stock w/bones)
Peanut butter
Yogurt (full fat is more filling)
Bread, put it in the freezer

Cheap hot sauce--get a few so you can rotate
Honey/brown sugar
Generic kool-aid
Garlic salt, seasoning salt, etc.
Generic canned fruits

Caution: (these kill your budget)
Fresh berries
Drinks besides water--I have a weakness for vitamin water but it's $$
That's all I can think of right now.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:49 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, take a breath. You will get through this. It's scary and it sucks, but you will get through it.

This time of year a lot of churches try to really step up their giving to people in need. If you won't have enough for presents for your kid (or yourselves) there may be people willing to help out. Talk to a pastor or priest about getting onto a giving tree. Please do this if there's anything you need or might need but can't afford.

As far as long-lasting staples go it's hard to beat rice & beans. Buy them dry in large quantities and learn how to cook them if you don't know already (soak beans overnight &c.). A big container of salt and another of hot sauce will also help a lot.

Figure on making a lot of soups: they fill you up and warm your body and they are super economical. We were poor and italian-american, so it was a lot of pasta dishes: pasta fagioli; pasta e ceci; and something called "lentils & lagana" which was basically garlic and red lentils served over lasagne noodles. Again, the basics are beans and a starch.

See if you can find a food reclaimation charity someplace around you as well: these are places that salvage all that perfectly good food that America wastes and give it to people in your situation. I'm not talking about the uneaten half of an apple, here, I'm talking pallets of sacks of potatos that were accidentally shipped to the wrong store and it's too expensive to ship them back. Perfectly good food that would otherwise rot. Around here it's FoodShare but these sorts of organizations are everywhere.

Don't go crazy thinking about it, because that won't do you any good. If you're canceling the cable, maybe dust off a board game or puzzle to do together instead.

If you need clothes, go to the Goodwill or Salvation Army shop that's in a nicer, more upscale town nearby. We save so much and dress like kings and queens doing this. You can get books, puzzles, games, and so on through these kinds of places as well.

Good luck. You can do this. It will be a challenge but you can do it. MeMail me if you like; I have a lot of experience being broke, lately.
posted by gauche at 11:50 AM on December 5, 2011

There are pet food pantries out there too--if this one doesn't serve you, call 311 or your local shelter or ASPCA chapter to inquire.
posted by availablelight at 11:53 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, with respect to other answerers who are probably better cooks, I never found onions, garlic, or any kind of produce that was primarily for flavor vs. calories to be a good use of money. The powdered versions are often the same price and they keep much longer.

I also abandon meat almost entirely when broke. You can find good deals, but the best deal on meat is usually not to buy it at all, or to use it very sparingly for flavor. This is totally a sanity vs cheapness thing, though; I have been totally vegetarian before and I'm not too attached to meat.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:00 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I went through this about 18 months ago. My wife was pregnant at the time. It's been a challenging time, but things are looking up for us now, and I got a job recently after 8 months in school. It will get better.

You're thinking about the right things. Starting with your grocery budget is good, but take a step back and cinsider the bigger picture, too.

Thinking about your taxes isn't pleasant, but it might be really necessary. I was able to delay payment of some of my severance until the following year, and it saved lots of tax. You may be going from a higher income year to a lower income year, and there's tax planning that you can do that might help a lot.

Also, if your husband is still working for a few more weeks before the layoff takes place, now is the time to apply for a line of credit, HELOC, etc. Be disciplined about using it, but you may need it.

Take another look at cable, phone, cell phone internet bills, and see about cutting them.

If you pay for 'balance protection' on your credit cards, some of these insurance policies will make minimum payments on your behalf while you're unemployed. See if you can take advantage of that. The balance will be nearly the same when he's working again, but the interest is taken care of.

I've used to help take a good look at my spending habits, and was able to make good choices about spending.

Good luck.
posted by thenormshow at 12:04 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do not go out and buy apocalypse food right away. Get a notepad and inventory your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Eat what's about to go bad. Go through the rest and make a plan, including a side list of inexpensive items that would complete a meal using 2-4 existing ingredients. Don't buy any food without a meal plan to justify the purchase. Do not buy six months worth of beans unless it is cheaper than two weeks (or a month, depending on unemployment pay periods) worth of beans.

You have to economize like a poor person. You don't have $100 to spend at Costco, you have $20 to get you through to the first unemployment payment or paycheck.

You have half of December rent, or December is paid but you only have half of January's rent? Rent's the hard one because it really has to be cash; even if you have credit cards you generally can't put rent on them. So your cash priority has to be rent. Food can be obtained - day by day, if necessary - in other ways, but hundreds of dollars at one time is hard. You may need to earmark all of his first unemployment payment for that. Don't pay any bills this month until you have rent in an envelope (real or virtual, but not in a bank account that might be affected by overdrafts).

There's pretty much no bill you can lower today that's going to matter this month. Which is not to say you shouldn't pursue those things, but don't prioritize lowering your car insurance over getting assistance with your electric bill.

And, obviously, it's Christmas. There is a little seasonal work out there (it's the best time of year to be overqualified, too, because the employers don't necessarily care that he's going to be out of there the second he starts a new "real" job).

As reluctant as you may be to do this, you need to tell everyone you know that your husband has been laid off and needs to find a job pronto. That is most likely the way he's going to find temporary work or his next job. Email your friends, put it on Facebook, tell your mail carrier, tell your vet.

On the dog food, you want to watch portion to price. If your current food is 1C/day/dog and you buy slightly cheaper food that's 2C/day/dog, there's no win. But do also just watch portions - I know I sometimes overfeed my dogs because the recommended portions of high-end food just seem so small and they eat so fast, but my dogs are hardly skinny so I'm pretty sure they would survive. And the dogfood maker has a vested interest in recommending portions on the high side anyway. If you've been free-feeding, you should switch to 2 mealtimes a day.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:06 PM on December 5, 2011 [11 favorites]

Seconding desjardins on defering student loans if you have any. It should only take one easy phone call.

Would it be possible for your husband to get any sort of holiday job? Or would that limit your unemployment benefits? Plenty of retail places hire extra help for Christmas and just after. It'd at least bring in a little bit more money while he's looking for full time work.

I don't have a mortgage or other types of loans, so this may not be possible, but do call your other loan people and see if they can defer or reduce payments on those loans for a time. Generally banks & the like are more than willing to work with you if you get in touch with them, especially if you do it before it gets to late payments & default.

Depending on your comfort level, look into local church programs as well. Often you don't necessarily have to be a church member or even a religious family to get help from them. And if they don't have services to offer you, they may have staff who can point you to other things.

Forgive me if you've already done this, but do look into whether your county or state offers any programs relevant to special ed kids or disabled adults to get some additional help for your family. I will try to find you some real links later this evening when I'm not at work.

Try out your library if you are having trouble finding aid programs or figuring out how to apply. If there's a reference librarian on staff, he or she can help you search.

I'm sorry this is happening to your family; please don't hesitate to ask for help any time if things become more difficult.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 12:11 PM on December 5, 2011

The Cook for Good website and book have cheap, delicious and healthy recipes for food stamp budgets. Check them out, they're brilliant.
posted by rubbish bin night at 12:23 PM on December 5, 2011

Oatmeal for breakfast is cheap and keeps you full until lunch. I lived off the stuff for weeks when I was unemployed in my early 20s.
posted by dobie at 12:35 PM on December 5, 2011

A few years ago, my husband lost his job right before the holidays, with me home taking care of our almost year-old daughter and no benefits or unemployment for either of us. He quickly signed on with temp agencies, which really helped as a stopgap measure. I babysat, and dog walked and dog sat wherever I could for cash - I ended up making more hourly than when I was traditionally employed, yet could be flexible for our kid.

We were really careful about not incurring stupid wastes of money, like parking tickets and ATM fees. I've always sold antiques, but I sold a few things that I'd stashed away for rainy days. If you have stuff to let go of, and the time to list it on Craigslist or Kijiji, it's always nice to "find" even twenty bucks, if you can.

One thing that I did was to call all of our utility providers, our insurance company and any place where we had regular payments to make and explain the situation. I asked questions such as "Do we have the best plan for our needs?" and most of the time, they were able to give us a better offer (we do this regularly now). In some cases I was able to switch the billing dates so that not everything was due at the same time. I noticed that motherly women were the most sympathetic to me in helping with this, and did find that sometimes calling back a time or two until I could reach one, asking generic questions while feeling them out, made a big difference in the juggling. YMMV.

If you have a community centre, check their bulletin boards for any sorts of assistance programs (job opportunities, networking meet-ups, foodshares) and check the little local and neighbourhood papers and any news groups for community groups that may help with your mother and son. At our school, the ASD students' parents have started a club for sharing resources, strategies and even sympathetic sitters. The Lion's Club in your area may have recreational activities that help you with your mother, and give you a little breathing space. If you can find some help from the Department of Health and Senior Services, you may be able to free up some of your time to devote to getting things in order.

This is hard, I know - and a rotten time of year for this to happen. I hope that soon the roughest roads are behind you.
posted by peagood at 1:19 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is your husband on LinkedIn? If he's not he should sign up. He should make sure he's connected to as many friends / coworkers / old classmates there as possible. He should ask his coworkers for recommendations. If some of his coworkers have also been laid off, you might consider setting up a plan to work together to share contacts and job leads. Make sure you contact temp agencies and recruiters in addition to prospective employers. If you would be comfortable mentioning your husband's profession here, I bet there are MeFites who would also be willing to share info on job leads with you.

My husband was told he would either have to accept a layoff or an impossible relocation at around this time last year. He had a new job in a month. Mostly because we looked under every rock for one. Don't give up! I hope you'll be lucky like we were.

Your mother, if she is old enough, may be eligible for community senior services. Check local city hall / municipal websites. In my community, seniors are eligible for free rides to the doctor, the pharmacy and the grocery store (which could save you gas money, assuming you regularly drive her anywhere). It looks like your state also offers services to seniors.

Also, when you go to the food bank (which you should definitely do and not feel bad about), be sure to mention you have pets. Some food banks also collect donations for pet food; others may be able to direct you to an animal shelter or other organization that gives away free food. Food banks will also often provide you with toiletries like toothpaste, soap, etc. upon request.
posted by BlueJae at 1:21 PM on December 5, 2011

Things have been tight around here for a couple years.

Different climate, but I was able to build a 24 sf green house for less than 200 bucks and it drastically reduced our food bills. If you are in an apartment, can you use the roof? Or join a co-op?

Can't help with the cat, but dogs can get by pretty well on soybeans and corn. You may have to wipe when they come in.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:26 PM on December 5, 2011

If you have a south-facing window you can plant some salad and other greens (swiss chard, yum!) in pots now. Fresh food is so expensive in the winter!

Have you looked into getting Social Security for your child? Does your mother receive any kind of disability check? If you are caring for her you may be entitled to some funding, since your help is, presumably, keeping her out of a nursing home. Do you have siblings who can help?
posted by mareli at 2:12 PM on December 5, 2011

Honestly, I found the way unemployment works, it wasn't worth my effort to get a low-level position. I don't know how much your husband was making, but if it was enough to max out unemployment, saving money by not going to work (thereby not spending on travel and having the time to do money-saving type things) and focusing all my effort on applying for commensurate positions is really a better option (even if some people get huffy about it). Also, for office jobs, you think applying over the holidays would be terrible, but it worked out pretty well for me last year, so don't just assume there is nothing. (If that helps with the worry.)
posted by dame at 3:02 PM on December 5, 2011

This is a page of resources which are located near you which may be of help.

Don't be afraid of going to a soup kitchen for a hot meal when you need it. Most of them are run really well and work really creatively with limited supplies to feed a lot of people. It may be a way to stretch your budget if things get tight, or even just to keep things from getting tight to begin with.

Also, a really cheap tasty meal is ramen with a handful of stir-fry veggies thrown in and an egg stirred into it when you take it off the heat. The egg and veggies will add enough to the ramen to actually make it nutritious.
posted by hippybear at 7:06 PM on December 5, 2011

Make soups without meat. Cheap food, flavorful, easy to make, keeps well and just good eating.
posted by resurrexit at 8:31 PM on December 5, 2011

The only thing I can help with is cat food. Please, please avoid cheap cat food in which real meat (not "meat by-products") is not the first ingredient. Yes, it is cheaper in the short term, but cats will eat more of it, they will use the litter box more often (and more stinkily), and it will inevitably lead to health problems that will cost you much more in the long term. idb's comment here is excellent, the main takeaway being "for every dollar you spend on canned food, you have the potential to save $10-12 in medical bills." Speaking from my own experience, I was totally surprised by how much healthier and happier my cat was, for less money over time, on more expensive cat food (Orijen and Acana make excellent dry foods with high-quality proteins). If you buy them in bulk, they can even be less expensive up-front than Friskies-type stuff. And yes, absolutely do ask the food banks, as well as nearby animal shelters. You'd be surprised how wonderfully generous shelter people are with animal owners who need help... when I was dangerously poor a few years back, I was able to get vet help at drastically reduced prices thanks to shelter-OK'd reductions with area veterinarians. I imagine they'd do the same for food (I didn't have the heart to ask at the time, I was single and just had my one cat).
posted by fraula at 1:36 AM on December 6, 2011

Thank you so much everyone. Thank you, thank you.
posted by FunkyHelix at 4:48 AM on December 6, 2011

And my car is now making disturbing thunking noises when put in drive. Would the person poking the voodoo doll of me stop it with the pins already?

Anyway, thanks again for the help.
posted by FunkyHelix at 7:37 AM on December 6, 2011

Some people have been so kind to offer help, but I really cannot accept money or gifts. But if you are looking to do good then I do have a suggestion.

If you, your business, or a charitable group you're with wish to make a much needed donation to a truly worthy cause, or perhaps adopt a school, then please consider this school. They are doing amazing things, and I personally consider them miracle workers.

The Shore Center for Students with Autism

From their website:
[...] The Shore Center for Students with Autism receives no state, federal, or local tax money...

It would make me feel good knowing this school is in the black. If can give, thank you so much and happy holidays.

And to end on a good note, my husband has three interviews lined up for before the New Year.
posted by FunkyHelix at 8:06 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just to be completely up front too, this school is the one my Agent K attends.
posted by FunkyHelix at 8:07 PM on December 11, 2011

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