How to Survive Unemployment

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According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mass Layoffs Summary, 1,032,764 people have been laid off so far this year – and that’s just the reported numbers.

If you’re one of the recently unemployed, I feel for you. I’ve been there.

It’s a scary thought to realize you just cashed your last paycheck and don’t know where the next will be coming from. But you’ll survive. I once went unemployed for six months, and did so without spending my weekends at home alone or eating ramen for dinner. I lived well and you can too. Watch the following video, then follow the steps below…

1. Apply for unemployment benefits

You can claim unemployment benefits if you lost your job through no fault of your own. The U.S. Department of Labor says it takes two to three weeks to start receiving benefits after you file a claim, so start the process the instant your job ends. Some states allow you to apply over the phone or online, while others require an in-person visit. To find out what your state offers, check out the DOL’s list of state unemployment offices.

How much you’ll receive is determined by formulas that vary by state, but typically is based on what you earned over the previous 52 weeks. For example, one common formula pays half of what you used to earn, with a cap that’s tied to your state’s average earnings.

In most states, you can receive benefits for up to 26 weeks, but there are programs that can extend it. For example, a federal program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) offers additional benefits, but ends on Dec. 29, 2012.

There’s also a combined state/federal program called Extended Benefits that provides 13 to 20 weeks of additional benefits to those exhausting state compensation. But this program is only available in states where the unemployment rate is above an established threshold. Your state employment office can tell you if your state qualifies.

And don’t get caught off-guard regarding income taxes: Unemployment compensation is taxable.

2. Go on an unemployed budget

Before the Great Recession, financial experts recommended saving three to six months of expenses as an emergency fund, naturally assuming you’d find a new job in that time. And while you might, times have changed. In August, the U.S. Department of Labor said people who have been unemployed long-term made up 40 percent of the total unemployment rate. Given those statistics, you might have to stretch your emergency fund out longer than you wanted to, so put your money on a survivor’s diet now. Here’s how to pull it off:

  1. Tally up your savings and unemployment benefits and then divide the total into several months of “income.” This is how much you can spend in a month and survive. (How many months you’ll need is impossible to tell, but play it safe and aim for close to a year or more.)
  2. Update your budget and look for savings. For example, when I was first laid off, I went through my bills and realized I could downgrade my cell phone and Internet packages, saving myself $45 a month.
  3. Take a hard look at your spending and see what you can cut without losing your quality of life. For example, you don’t really need cable if you have Netflix. In You Don’t Have to Pay for Cable TV, we figured out that the average cable subscription costs $900 a year. Netflix costs about $120 a year. Switch and save $780 year.
  4. Be smarter, don’t pinch pennies. You probably can’t spend as much as you used to, but you don’t have to make yourself miserable watching every penny while you’re unemployed. Just use a few easy money-saving techniques, like buying things when they’re on sale, using coupons, or buying generic. We’ve got loads of helpful advice on this site, like: 30 Tips to Save on Food, 7 Things You Should Always Buy Generic, and 205 Ways to Save Money.

3. Start the job hunt

There are jobs out there, but competition is fierce and the job hunt takes time. Follow these steps to get the ball rolling.

  1. Update your resume. Check out 10 Tips to Writing a Resume Better Than Yahoo’s CEO for some modern ways to write a resume. Then read 12 Totally Ridiculous Resume Mistakes and make sure your resume doesn’t feature any.
  2. Post your resume online on job sites like CareerBuilder and Monster. Potential employers may see it and contact you.
  3. Network. Facebook is a great place to start. A Jobvite survey says the social networking site helped more than 18 million people find a job this year. Check out LinkedIn as well. On it you’ll find old colleagues, college classmates, and potential employers who might help you find a job. If you don’t have a profile there, create one and start networking. Twitter is also worth exploring.
  4. Clean up your online presence. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that you can’t be fired over a Facebook comment, but that doesn’t mean potential employers aren’t looking you up. Check out Using Social Networking to Land a Job? 4 Things NOT to Do, then hide or delete anything you wouldn’t want your future boss to see.
  5. Check out local resources. Your local workforce office has a ton of resources to help you land a job. Stop by in person or check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s

4. Look for temporary work

Sure, you may have to hold out for your dream job, but there are plenty of part-time jobs you can do now to bring in a little cash. For example:

5. Boost your savings

Take inventory of everything in your house and see what you no longer want, wear, or use. You can sell it all and make some extra cash.

For pricier items like electronics, jewelry, and collectibles, I suggest selling online. Check out 5 Best Websites for Turning Junk Into Cash. For bigger stuff like furniture, a garage sale is your best bet. Check out 13 Tips for a Super Yard Sale.

6. Keep to a schedule

The first few days after I lost my job, I still woke up early and got a lot done, but then I started to slip. Not two weeks later and I was sleeping until noon, watching too much TV, and feeling frazzled because I wasn’t on any kind of schedule.

Now, I’m not saying sleeping in isn’t one of the perks of unemployment, but you’ll feel a lot better (and have an easier time returning to work) if you keep to a schedule. Once I got my act together, I spent five set hours a day looking for a new job, ran every morning, and worked on projects around the house at night. It took me a few days to get back into the groove, but I stopped wasting time.

7. Don’t stop having fun

You may not realize it, but a lot of your socialization happened at the office. As a freelancer who works from home, I can tell you that being home alone all the time is isolating. To keep from feeling disconnected, I keep a busy schedule outside of the house. For example:

  1. Volunteer. Not only is volunteering rewarding, it is also a free way to socialize, network, and keep yourself entertained. I still volunteer at an animal rescue three days a week. It gets me out of the house and around other people.
  2. Start a walking group. A few of my neighbors work at home. A few months ago they started a walking group. They walk together every morning. Start a group with your friends and neighbors, and you’ll get yourself out of the house and burn calories.
  3. Find free fun. Just because you’re looking for work and on a fixed income doesn’t mean you can’t go out and have a good time. Look for free ways to have fun, like taking the kids to the park, catching a free concert, or going to an art show.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you get out and mix. Not only will it keep you happy, you might get some networking in as well. Who knows? You could find your next job walking around the park with your neighbors, or visiting an old friend for coffee.

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