How to save money while unemployed

Top 10 ways to save money on reduced income

This week, 37,000 long-term unemployed in North Carolina will stop getting unemployment checks. Because the state’s unemployment dipped just below 10 percent, it doesn’t qualify for the extended benefits program to help the long-term (more than 79 weeks) of unemployed.  I am one of those individuals.

Many previously middle-class families will be facing tough choices about keeping their homes and even feeding their children because of the end of this program. I received the maximum weekly benefit – about $460 – for almost two years.  There’s no question that the loss of this benefit will hurt my family, but because of decisions we’ve made since I lost my job, it won’t devastate us.  I wanted to share suggestions and advice to those unemployed about how the loss of this income doesn’t mean you have to go into financial ruin.  Here are some tips on how to cut expenses that led us to save money during the last two years.

  1. Cut the cable cord.  When our one-year special deal with Time Warner ended, we cut cable and are saving about $60-80 a month. We bought a digital antenna and watch about 30 channels over the air, and stream Netflix videos, music, news & weather channels, and other movie channels through our previously-purchased Roku box (which cost less than $100).
  2. Cut the cell phone habit.  What irritates me is seeing people at the unemployment office checking their email on their 4Gs, Droids, and Blackberries.  This is one of the biggest expenses we cut after I lost my job. By ditching my smartphone, we saved another $70 a month by purchasing a cheap TracFone where you can buy prepaid minutes. When I want to check email I do it the old-fashioned way: I check my computer. Now that unemployment benefits ran out, I may just get rid of the cell phone entirely.
  3. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines and mail-order services.  When I lost my job, I immediately canceled a 90-day supply of vitamins that cost more than $200.  While I kept the weekend newspaper subscription, I read most of the news online now. If you can, cancel all recurring monthly subscriptions for music services as well. You don’t need the iPod.
  4. Get rid of your trash hauler. Seriously.  We saved more than $200 a year by canceling our contract for our curbside removal.  Since we don’t generate a lot of household waste anyway (about a tall kitchen garbage bag’s worth), we dump the bag at our church dumpster or another nearby dumpster.
  5. Stop shopping at the higher-end grocery stores. We get most of our groceries at Wal-Mart, Aldie’s, Sam’s (when we purchase items in bulk), or Bottom Dollar Foods, which all have fresh foods.  Use coupons each time you shop for groceries along with your discount card. You can save about $200 a month by shopping at the discount grocery stores.
  6. Grow your own food.  Even better than the discount groceries: plant your own garden.  Some of the best veggies we’ve ever eaten have come from our own backyard: squash, zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli are some of the veggies we’ve grown.  Not only does a home garden cut down on your food bill, it’s better for you.
  7. Don’t fly. The only time I purchased an airline ticket this year was a flight to Texas to see my parents, and since I had a job interview there, the amount was tax deductible.  (I never heard back from the company but I got to see my parents).
  8. Postpone large purchases until you’re out of debt and can afford them.  We would love to buy a lawnmower for our yard, but have found a neighbor that gives us a discount to cut our yard twice a week.
  9. Don’t buy expensive health insurance plans. This is a tough one. I’ve been without health insurance for myself since my COBRA benefits expired eight months ago, but haven’t needed to go the doctor in that time. Our son is covered by a supplemental school health insurance policy and my wife gets her health insurance for free through the VA.  Another option for those who qualify: state high-risk pools or free health insurance programs for children are available for those families whose income is equal to or less than 200% of the federal income limits (still available until the Republicans cut them).

10.  Save money.  I was fortunate that I was able to save more than half of my severance pay in a CD. When it matured we paid off all our credit card debts.  Getting out of debt is the most important thing you can do to get control of your finances and take charge of what you spend. Because our credit scores were excellent, we were able to refinance the mortgage for our house and save another $260 a month in mortgage payments, and at a lower interest rate.

I read that in 2010, nearly one in eight families now include an unemployed person, the highest proportion since the Labor Department began keeping track in 1994. All these families have to deal with rising food and gas prices, sporadic income from part-time jobs, and keeping their children happy.  It can be done through some discipline, persistence, and new-found frugality in the way you spend, and the way you live.

Children of the unemployed

CHILDREN OF THE UNEMPLOYED

Unemployment not only affects the individual who’s lost his or her job, but also that person’s family. Despite being home almost every day, I realized this week that I haven’t spent quality time with my 7-year-old son. Oh, sure, I go to his ball games and drive him to his summer camps, but don’t play with him like a child yearns for. Why? I always feel guilty if I’m not spending my weekdays plowing through the job boards & the social networking sites, or writing letters to potential clients. The pervasive feeling that I am not providing for my family rubs off in my behavior with my son and wife, and that negativity shows. My responses to my son’s questions are often too cryptic or caustic, because I get that nagging feeling that I’m wasting time if I play games with him. It’s as if I forgot how to have fun – forgot to let go of the financial and career pressures that are with me every day.

Yesterday was the first full day I’ve spent alone with my son in a long time. We started the morning with errands at the bank, hair salon and auto shop, but then ended up in the comic book store looking at Star Wars toys and baseball cards. Then we had a rare lunch outing at a Japanese restaurant before heading home. At home, I introduced the “Go Fish” card game to him and he took to it like a – well, like a fish to water. He loved the game. What he enjoyed more, though, was having his daddy’s undivided attention in play. We must have played five games before I convinced him to write some more in his summer diary if he wanted to practice hitting fly balls in the backyard. For the first time, he wanted to pitch to me, so I used our fence as the backstop. When the sun became too hot we returned inside to finish his book about the pitcher named Nelson in “Haunting at Home Plate,” a rare baseball mystery I’ve been reading to him for the past several nights. This time, we finished it.

My son doesn’t realize that daddy’s job is to find a job. In his mind, I write for the Internet, which isn’t far from the truth as I write cover letters, job applications, and business proposals that so far have yielded no income. The stress of job hunting and preparing and performing on job interviews the last year-and-a-half has meant my health and family have suffered. No more. This is the last week before school starts for my son. I will make it a week his dad gives him his undivided attention.

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