The Lowdown on the Layoff

It's happened to all of us. Or at least, we've heard of it happen to someone we know. It's not the worst thing in the world, but for a time, it sure does pack a punch.

Getting laid off — for any reason — stinks. It puts a dent in your wallet, your plans, and certainly, in your ego. Even though it's all too common these days for companies to downsize, relocate, eliminate positions or just plain close up shop, for the employee who's lost employment, it's not the circumstances that matter but the end result.

Still, the situation doesn't have to put you in the poorhouse. If you knew this time was coming, you should have been able to start looking for work, and possibly put away some extra savings. If that pink slip arrived suddenly, then take a deep breath, size up the situation and buckle down for the long haul. For if you do — and a great new opportunity does come your way — you won't have lost any momentum in terms of your budget and your lifestyle.

Here's some advice from someone who's husband went through this situation earlier in the year:

· Stash that severance. If you did receive a severance, or any kind of lump-sum payment, immediately bank it. Place it where you keep savings that get the best return, and then, forget about it. This is "found" money, and unless it's the only funds you have to live on for the next few months, it shouldn't even be counted into your spending account.

· Make a budget. If you've never done this, it's really not that hard. Create a spreadsheet and mark down your regular monthly bills, plus the amount of cash used each month. This way, you'll know how much is going out, and how much you need to make ends meet until a job comes along.

· Give yourself an allowance. Go to the ATM once a week, and live off that cash supply. When it runs out, so do you; stay home, or invite friends over to play cards or watch a favorite reality show. This little trick can work well even after you find employment; it keeps your outflow to a minimum, and gets you thinking out of the box in terms of cheap entertainment.

· Declare a shopping moratorium.Now is not the time to crave a plasma TV or diamond earrings. Now is the time to focus on résumés and networking — on putting your energy into gaining interviews, not material goods. You do not need new shoes; polish up the old ones. Borrow an accessory from a friend to perk up a business suit. Better yet: Go through your wardrobe meticulously and rediscover what you already own.

· Eliminate any unnecessary line items. If you see that you're paying $200 a month for cable, re-evaluate your needs. Could you live with basic standard for a while, and cut that bill in half? You can always sign up again later, but the instant savings will come in handy, and who can afford to be a couch potato when you're supposed to be out job-hunting? The same goes for air-conditioning, heat and excess telephone features; cut back, and watch your bills steadily decrease.

· Ditch the takeout.You may have some time on your hands now, so start to cook. Or at least learn to put together some inexpensive meals. Restaurant and takeout items are pricey, and they can certainly be put on hold until you're bringing in more money. Moreover, you're bound to lose a few pounds in the interim, and you'll inevitably wind up eating healthier since you're now in charge of exactly what goes into your meals.

· Clip coupons. This is one of the easiest things to do. Buy a Sunday newspaper, grab a pair of scissors, and go to town. It is not beneath your dignity to hand a pile of paper to a grocery-store clerk, and it will automatically save you cold cash. As for the time to clip, you have that now; in this instance, time is indeed money!

· Discover the dollar store. Okay, so you like fancy soaps and shampoos. Well, for the short term, you can do without the name brands. You can even get two greeting cards for $1 at most of these stores, in addition to reduced-price household products like tape, pens, candles, paper towels, certain food items. Remember: Less is more.

· Rent movies. Stay out of theaters for a while. Because by the time you're done with the tickets and snacks, you've spent a small fortune. Visit your local video store or, even better, go to the library, where most documentaries are free, and other films cost a buck or two.

· Save your stamps. And your fancy résumé paper and envelopes. These days, job-hunting can be done almost solely online. Even though many business expenses can indeed be deducted come April and tax time, why not just keep the dough put and log on.

· Avoid the dry-cleaners. Now, if you must look pressed to the hilt for an interview, by all means, get the power suit or dress professionally cleaned. But with modern-day washers and dryers, most clothing can be laundered at home just fine, and then ironed by hand, if necessary. When you add up how much dry-cleaning you do but don't have to, you'll be surprised.

· Leave the car in the driveway. This one will raise eyebrows. But think of it: Gas is exorbitant, and many errands can be done by foot, bicycle or public transportation. It may take more time, but time is what you've got. Car-pooling or car-sharing can also help eliminate unnecessary trips. Plus, you'll get health benefits from anything that gets you moving — and doesn't keep you in the driver's seat.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that it takes about three months to find a new job after a layoff. Three months is not forever, and if you can tighten the ship without radically affecting your lifestyle, you'll be just fine.

You might even keep up with the changed routine; if you do, be sure to invest those extra savings in the right place: your future! 



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