Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prepping for Unemployment: Food, Money, Mind

While I’ve been fortunate enough to be pretty consistently employed, my line of work often involves long breaks between projects. These fallow periods can last days, weeks, or months, and there’s a lot of job turnover in the industry because of the instability. It’s a weird, unpredictable way to live, and my co-workers and I are always somewhat prepared for the possibility of unemployment. Thus is the life of a freelancer.

Come Friday, I’ll be on one of these breaks, which is a polite way of saying, “I ain’t got no job.” It’s happened before, and usually isn’t a big deal, since freelancing preps you for this stuff the second you finish interning. Ideally, there will be other gigs on other shows with other nice folks. And in the downtime, hopefully no one takes my stapler. Or my health insurance.

Last time I was jobless (Winter 2008), I fell into a routine that seemed pretty productive at the time. I:
  • Awoke at the same time I’d get up for work, so as not to lose momentum.
  • Created a loose schedule of blogging, applying for jobs, and building up my resume.
  • Took on most of the housework, since the Husband-Elect was working.
  • Became the world’s most efficient shopper, thanks to Money Saving Mom and other such blogs.
  • Made it a point to leave the house at least once a day, because all apartment and no play made Kris a dull girl/clinically insane.
  • Spent quality time with friends and family I hadn’t seen in awhile.
  • Drank profusely. (Er … kidding, mostly.)
  • Went to bed at a reasonable hour, so my life’s work didn’t become beating Lego Star Wars on XBox.
For money, I drew from my emergency fund (thank YOU Dave Ramsey), collected unemployment, and went on extreme austerity. No luxuries were purchased in those three months, and I scaled my social life back to revolve around home-oriented activities. (Granted, it was probably much easier being February and all.) Ultimately, the ordeal didn’t make a heavy dent in my finances, and I avoided going into debt. Which was nice.

To maintain the same equilibrium this time around, I’m trying some new things, and attempting to build upon the old. Some of these will be heavily dependent on food and budgeting, fitting nicely into this whole blog-type thing. Others, not so much.

Readers, if you have any additional suggestions for maximizing unemployment situations, please fire away in the comment section. I’d love to hear ‘em.

In the meantime, I’m:

…drawing up a budget.
This will involve both actual and projected expenditures, potential income, and emergency planning, should my joblessness last into the fall. My goal here is to remain financially solvent and avoid becoming a drain on society/crack addict.

…banking as much of my current paycheck as I possibly can.
Since I knew this was coming, I’ve been saving for a few weeks, just to have some extra padding. This will be doubly useful with summer weddings and long-planned family vacations coming up. These things happen so rarely, and I don’t want to miss them because I didn’t think ahead.

…searching for deals.
Speaking of weddings and holidays, I’m using my downtime to score the best possible bargains on plane fare, car rentals, and gifts. What I learn should be wholly applicable in the future, and’ll save a couple hundred bucks in the present.

…creating a stricter schedule.
Though I had the best of intentions during last winter’s break, there were those afternoons filled with Days of Our Lives and Judge Judy. This time around, there’ll be a definitive set of concrete goals with deadlines. This should keep me on track with certain responsibilities, and allow for plenty of research time for what’s to come.

…cooking my face off.
Food tends to be my biggest expense when I’m not spending money on anything else, so I’ll be attempting to cut costs more drastically this time around. The stovetop and grill will see frequent use, as well as the slow cooker – any vessel that’ll keep the kitchen cool and our bellies full, actually.

…learning to run a household more efficiently.
One of the strangest, greatest side effects of my most recent bout with unemployment was the opportunity to figure out how to best run my home - creating operating budgets, devising chore methodologies - that kind of stuff. It’s a weird combination of making up for the past (when I was too busy working) and preparing for the future (when, presumably, I’ll have a job again, and there might be kids involved). By the end of this, who knows? I could become Real Simple magazine in human form.

…researching inexpensive entertainment options.
If you can brave the humidity, New York summers allow for wonderful sports and cultural experiences. The trick is keeping costs down, especially when friends have disposable fundage. This year, I’ll be looking into cheaper, constructive ways of socializing. And with luck, there’ll be food involved.

No excuses, man. I’m over 30, and it’s finally time to get on the boat, lest I start seriously compromising my health. I’ll begin by walking, and take it from there. Who knows? Sweat might even be involved.

…monetizing the blog in the most unobtrusive way possible.
When expected avenues of income just aren’t performing, it’s time to find other, creative ways of supporting oneself. In this case, it’s CHG. After two years of ad-free goodness, it could be a viable source of cash. The issue is doing it simply, and with integrity. Oh, capitalism.

…planning a wedding.
As a native Long Islander, I’m used to nuptials that would make the House of Windsor blush. My goal is to go with emotion over opulence, and maybe have some pie. The time off should be ideal for researching this.

Reading this back to myself, it’s fairly indulgent. But I hope it’s worth something – I hope it keeps me on track, and helps y’all plan for/look on the bright side of whatever might lie ahead. Unemployment isn’t the end of the world. In fact, sometimes it’s just the beginning.

(P.S. Check back with me in three months, when I’m eating cat food and ranting to Husband-Elect about the iniquities of Plinko. My tune might be different.)

Readers, what do you do to make the most out of unemployment?


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