First things to do when you are unexpectedly unemployed.

These are the PRACTICAL things to do.  There are all sorts of other things that you will probably do first (crying, staring into space, sitting in shocked disbelief, marveling, or perhaps cheering, clapping & jumping up & down in celebration).  I consider myself to be a very organized, logical, rational person (live long & prosper) and financially conservative for the most part, but 6 months into being unemployed, I’m seeing things that I should have approached differently.  You must assume that you will be out of work for 6 months or more (which is the average I’ve heard & seen around SE WI).  This is a hard pill to swallow, especially when friends & family are telling you to “take it one day at a time”.  I’m somewhat “lucky” (that’s a WHOLE OTHER future post) because I’m single, so I don’t have to worry about providing for anyone besides myself.  But that also means I don’t HAVE anyone else providing for myself.  So that’s the perspective I’m coming from. 

1.  Mortgage/Rent:  if you have a mortgage, contact them about doing a loan modification.  Do it NOW.  DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU CAN’T MAKE A PAYMENT.  Do not wait PERIOD because it takes the lender a long time to even process the request.  I initiated this conversation with my lender 3 months ago, and it takes about 2 months for them to evaluate your situation & get back to you on whether or not they will consider an adjustment.  Then I was put on a trial program to pay a reduced rate for 3 months, if you do that sucessfully, they they give you an actual proposal with terms & conditions that you can either accept or reject.  There are alot of other sticky details that I won’t get into here, but please GET ON THIS.  Immediately, if not sooner.  If you rent, I would recommend being forthcoming with your landlord about your situation so they can set up a payment plan if necessary. 

2.  Health Insurance:  If you take COBRA, thanks to the economic stimulus package, you pay about 1/3 of the regular rate for the first 9 months.  So I’m paying $135/month roughly, but come 2010, I’m looking at $405/month, which means I’m looking at no insurance.  Check into other options like Badgercare or free clinics & dental schools, but remember how dangerous it can be to be uninsured if you have a major medical expense come up.  Most doctors offices are willing to to take monthly payments if you can take care of the whole bill in a year’s time.

3.  Utilities:  check with your power/gas, & phone companies to see if you can get assistance or get a payment plan. 

4.  Car stuff:  check with them too – maybe this is one bill that you won’t be able to negotiate, that’s why you need to check with all your lenders.  AND talk to your insurance agent – now that you aren’t driving to work, you may be eligible for a discounted rate due to your reduced mileage.  I was able to save about $12 a year, not huge, but it’s something.  Why give that $ away?

5.  Unemployment:  get all set up with your unemployment benefits – I recommend having the direct deposit.  It’s not good for my ego to stop by the local bank branch & deposit an unemployment check when I used to be coming in with BONUS checks.  But that’s just me.  And the money comes quicker – I file electronically on Sunday morning, and the money is in my account Tuesday.  Prepare to be irritated & frustrated – you may will have a hard time trying to reach them on the phone sometimes, and you might not get the same answer from 2 different people.  I try to do most of my research online & that has worked well for me.

6.  Finances in General:  sit down & figure out all your monthly income v. expenses & see how far your “emergency fund” (my WHAT?) will get you.  I did receive my paid out vacation/sick time & a small severance package – that plus my savings is getting me thru 9 months of not working (plus a computer & printer that I purchased).  But after that point, it’s going to come down to selling my old wedding rings & dipping into the 401K.  ***HERE IS MY BIG LEARNING POINT*** :  establish a budget of how much $ you can spend a month on luxuries/entertainment & stick to it.  I am in the situation where my monthly unemployment benefits equal my monthly mortgage payment, so in my mind, everything else just came out of savings, and it’s going to continually decrease each month.  So although I track my bills on a spreadsheet, I don’t have an idea of how much I’ve been spending on incidentals – that’s a mistake whether you are working or not.

7.  Discretionary income / cutting the luxuries:  I was already living a semi-spartan lifestyle:  no cable, no computer, no internet, no land line.  So I really had no place to cut.  OK, OK, I get my nails done every 2 weeks, so I switched to every 3 weeks.  It’s something that I consider an important part of my professional image, so I wasn’t going to give it up.  What you can’t give up (IMHO) is the money here & there to network & meet people for coffee or lunch (professionally and friends/family too).  You can’t cut yourself off from the world & hide behind your computer all day surfing job boards, you need to GET OUT.  Where else can you get therapy or career advice for $4/hour?  But remember – keep it within that budget I mentioned in #6.  Or else down the road you might realize that you overspent in these areas, and now you are short a month’s expenses. 

Here are some good links to find what help is out there for you:

ACCESS – find out if you are eligible for health & nutrition benefits, energy assistance, prescription drug plans, or tax credits.

United Way of Waukesha or Milwaukee counties:  check out the 2-1-1 service, a number that you can call for assistance in finding help with food, housing, employment, healthcare, counseling & more.

The Center for Workforce Development at WCTC has a free class called Managing Resources that will provide you with additional contacts for assistance in Waukesha County.  If you go to their website, they have a ton of links that you can check out.

If you are having trouble locating a specific resource, let me know & I’ll help if I can.

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