one girl’s guide to surviving unemployment

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the tips for saving category.

everything old is new again

The first economy was based on bartering: I’ll trade you something of mine for something of yours.  This is a perfectly applicable framework for getting the services that you need when you’re facing unemployment.

Talk to your service providers, whether they’re your hairdresser, doctor, babysitter, massage therapist, gym, whatever. Before you give up the services that you need in order to remain happy and sane through this time, see if you can’t strike a bargain.  

A few samples from my own life:

  • I’m doing some Web work for my acupuncturist in exchange for discounted treatments.
  • I have a friend who owes me money.  There is no way that he can pay me back right now as his economic circumstances are not great.  However, he just finished cooking schools, so is working with me to prepare some healthy, reheatable meals so that I’m not subsisting on cereal or frozen dinners.

Need some ideas as to what you can offer?  Check the list below.  Chances are you can do AT LEAST one of them.

  • Cleaning / laundry
  • Errand running (dry cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.)
  • Transportation
  • Babysitting
  • Pet sitting / dog walking
  • House sitting
  • Yard work
  • Cooking
  • Filing, organizing and office work
  • Data entry
  • Tutoring

It never hurts to ask whether your service providers can work with you on a reduced scale.  Bartering services shows that you value the time it takes them to do what they do, and illustrates that you’re willing to meet them half way.


don’t pay for what you don’t need

Or, more aptly titled “you don’t need to pay for a resume.”

I was browsing a great jobs Web site the other day and it heavily emphasized the site’s resume critique service.  Now, coming from a recruiting background (and playing a role in hiring for my previous company), I’d like to think that I know what does and does not work from a hiring manager’s perspective.  However, curiosity got the best of me, and I submitted my resume for a “free” critique.

Free is rarely free.

I received some feedback from the service, which was, ostensibly, a form letter with various parts of my resume cut and pasted into fields.  While some of it was interesting, it lacked any real-world understanding of not only the type of work that I’m looking to do, but the field in which I am looking to do it.  Essentially, my summary statement, success highlights and skills listing were not “up to par” with industry standards.

Whose industry, I ask?  The resume writing industry, I suppose.  And they offered to rewrite it for me . . . for $700.

$700?  That’s at least two weeks of unemployment checks spent on something that is getting me interviews already.

Look, I’m not denigrating the value of having some professional guidance on your resume.  It can be, and in many cases is, a valuable service to understand what the outside world is seeing.  But it’s not something that you need to pay $700 of your precious pennies to do.

Here’s some better ways to get the guidance and feedback you need.

1. Check into best practices for resumes.  See my previous post on the subject for places to go online.

2. If you’re working with recruiters, staffing agencies or headhunters (which I highly recommend you do – more on that later), ask them for feedback and suggestions.  They see hundreds of resumes, and are often hired by companies to weed out candidates.  It’s their job to make you look as good as possible — because when you get a job, they get paid.  They can, should, and will help you.

3. Do you have that friend that’s always getting the best interviews and jobs?  Ask to see hers.  Look, a resume is a standard template with modifications based on industry and role.  You don’t need to get creative or reinvent the wheel.  Her resume is landing her interviews? Steal formatting, structure and language ideas.

4. Ask friends, colleagues, family, HR managers, or contacts in your industry for feedback.  Ask what’s working — and more importantly what’s not.  Revise accordingly.

5. Not comfortable reaching out?  Professional organizations in your field can help take a look as well.  Most will do it for free.  Look specifically at mentor programs with these organizations.

6. While this may seem a bit contrary to my overall advice, take a workshop through a related professional organization in your field.  HOWEVER, do not pay anything anywhere near three figures for this.  Workshops should give you a top-level view.

7. Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone do a wholesale rewrite for you.  You are the one who will have to speak to every single thing on your resume.  If you don’t write it, how can you do that effectively?  

If you are having problems putting into words what you want to do (or what you have done) invest some serious time in learning how to articulate your goals, accomplishments and skills.  You’re going to be asked to speak to all of it, so your resume is a good chance to learn how to do that.

a girl’s gotta eat

Repeat after me: I love coupons.  I love coupons.  I love coupons!

Coupons are an amazing tool for saving money on the things that you buy.  In addition to giving you a sweet 30 cents off, most stores will double any coupons that are under $1.  Plus, coupons are easy to find.  Plunking down $1.50 on the Sunday paper is a great investment: not only do you get the little money-saving gems, but the Sunday paper also lists jobs, and is generally an interesting read. 

The Sunday paper also has the store circulars.  Which store has the best prices on most of what you need?  You will also want to check out the circs for CVS, Wal-Mart, Target and the like.  They often run specials on dry goods and medicines and they take coupons.  (Wal-Mart recently had Tide on sale.  And I had a coupon.  My bottle came out to $2 and I was way too happy about that for a few days.)  Those customer savings cards that most stores offer?  Bite the bullet and sign up.  The savings they can offer can make a major difference at the register.

Besides looking through all that paper, there are other places to acquire coupons.  Start by checking the Web sites of the brands that you usually buy.  Many major brands are now offering coupons (and samples and tips for stretching your food dollar).  Proctor and Gamble’s site offers some great deals.  Also, don’t immediately pitch your junk mail.  I used to toss those Val-Packs and Smart Shopper mailers.  I’m now a nut for those.

In addition to coupons, it’s time to give more thought to what you’re buying, as well as where you’re buying it. 

Do you do all of your shopping at Whole Foods / Wild Oats, etc.?  Perhaps it’s time to consider a standard grocery store until you’re firmly back on your feet. 

I’m going to get a TON of flack for this, but organics are EXPENSIVE (and yep, I get all the reasons why, trust me).  Can you live with the conventional alternative for a few months?  That’s a call you need to make for yourself.

Regardless of where you shop, pay a trip to your local farmer’s market. The produce still has the dirt on it (so you know it’s fresh), you’re supporting your local economy, and many items can be much, much cheaper than the grocery.  Same goes for food co-ops.

While frozen meals can be a bore (and rather unhealthy), they’re cheap.  There are some decent ones out there.  There is a great site called Heat Eat Review that offers reviews if you’re struggling with the idea of microwaving.

Cooking and eating at home is a wise idea.  Stuck on how to cook?  The library offers numerous healthy, easy cooking guides.  Cooking for one?  Your library has that. Same with vegan, gluten-free, low carb and what ever else you eat.  There are also fantastic cooking tutorials online, many with video guides.  Use those awesome coupons to get reusable plastic containers, as many recipes yield up to six servings and you don’t want to waste anything.

Also, when you’re buying ingredients — especially fresh ones, hit up the salad bar for already cut veg.  Buying the portion that you need can save you time and money.  Same goes with spices.  If your grocery store is rad enough to offer spices in bulk, a tablespoon is certainly less than purchasing the entire jar.  (Flour, sugar, etc. fall under this as well. 

In addition, ask around and see if any friends, family members or the like have a Costco / Sam’s Club / BJ’s membership.  For the things that you use frequently, bulk may be the way to go.  This is also a smart option if you have mouths to feed other than your own.

The last thing I want to discuss is the difference, in my opinion, between necessities and luxury.  Take coffee for example.  Coffee for me is an absolute necessity.  I am grumpy, mean and monosyllabic before I have my first cup.  But a venti extra shot with whip raspberry mocha?  That’s a luxury.

Am I advocating not going to Starbucks?  No.  I just needed to ask myself “Self, the first month that I can’t pay my rent am I going to regret all these little purchases?  It’s not as though I’m spending money doing something nice with my friends or family. I can make coffee at home.”

More on stretching the dollars to come.  In the meantime, you need to get rocking on your job search.

counting pennies

Seriously.  This should go without saying, but if you’ve been living high on the hog (or even medium on the hog) you’re used to spending.

Get un-used to it.  It will take discipline and will force you to make choices, but it will save you considerable heartburn when you need to pay bills.

The money diet will be easy at first – chances are that in the first week or two, you’ll be too petrified to spend anything.  The key to success in this endeavor is to be stringent for the long term.

An easy way to do this?  Write down EVERYTHING you spend money on.  If possible, take out a small amount of cash from your bank account for incidentals. When it’s gone, you’re done.

Also, watch out for what I call the “creepers:” cups of coffee, songs on iTunes, magazines at the grocery store, etc.  Yep, they’re low-cost purchases.  But they can get out of control VERY quickly.  (Two lattes, one People, two new iTunes: about $15.)  Read the mags at your public library, make coffee at home, and write down all the songs  you want to buy and then reward yourself with a kick-ass music collection to listen to when you get your new job.

And hang in there.  You’ll be employed soon, I promise, and then you can go back to spending as usual (although with the economizing habits you’ll adopt during this process you will likely spend less when you do have the dough again).  

Next up?  Controlling spending on food, without subsisting on Ramen noodles.

creative spending: options for health care

The drug companies have done a nice thing and issued a discount card for their meds – it’s called Together Rx Access.  It provides good savings on most medications.  Also, many major retailers including Target, Wal-Mart, Safeway and others are now offering $4 generics.  These discounts don’t cover ALL generics, only a certain subset, so be sure to check their sites or at the pharmacy to see what’s eligible. 

Along the lines of generics, consider that store brand antacids, pain relievers, antibiotic creams, allergy medications contain the EXACT same active ingredient as the brand name.  Flip both over and compare side by side.

In addition, talk to your doctor.  Does he/she have any samples that could help offset your prescription costs?  I know that many physicians are cutting back on the freebies they take from the pharmaceutical companies, but it’s always worth a phone call to your doc. Is there a generic alternative to anything you’re taking?  Can he/she work on a sliding scale?  Can you get on a payment plan for any ongoing care?

As far as immediate care is concerned, look for low-cost options for the things that aren’t major: sinus infections, colds, sore throats.  CVS has a discount clinic that may offer a considerable savings in comparison to a traditional doctor’s visit. Wal-Mart has a health clinic as well.  Planned Parenthood is an amazingly low-cost resource for womanly issues: PAP smears, vag infections, UTIs, etc.  If you’re just not comfortable with Planned Parenthood (no judgement here), there is likely a women’s clinic in your region that can help you for cheap.

Lastly, definitely check out an organization called FACT.  The membership is nominal (less than $10) and they offer fantastic discounts on medical, dental, vision care and more.  

caveat shoppor: I’m not a doctor.  Nor do I play one on TV.  Only you can determine what makes most sense for you and your fam.

Post-publishing update: Apparently Target has a few medical clinics as well.