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.

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Recruiters and HR directors don’t get you jobs

After spending nearly two years unemployed, I may join the ranks of those long-term unemployed individuals who ‘give up’ on their job search.  After this long struggle, I now understand why qualified professionals reach the end of their ropes.  I may be at that point.

In this blog, I’ve highlighted some of my frustrations with the way employers treat prospective candidates.  I’m lucky. I get calls back. I get interviews.  I’ve networked with colleagues, friends and associates. I’ve filled out hundreds of applicaitons and sent more than 600 tailored resumes. For a long time, I felt it was something I did or said in those interviews that was the reason I did not get an offer.  The reality is that employers already have someone in mind for these jobs, and there’s nothing the candidate can do to overcome that mindset.

Let me give two examples.  Late last year, I had a recruiter call me back about a management job in Colorado. During our conversation, she said I was a “perfect match” for this job and she would be in touch after looking at other candidates for the employer.  She called back and conducted a long interview.  We emailed each other several times and she indicated to me that I was a top candidate.  Finally, she said the employer would select the top four canddiates to fly them in for an interview. 

A few days later, I receive this curt email that job seekers are all too familiar with:

     “Thank you for your interest in the XXXX position at XXXX.  Your resume and accomplishments are impressive, and have made the selection of our initial candidate pool a difficult choice.  At this stage, only a limited number of candidates for the position will be moved forward in our process.   The client is focusing on candidates who are in Colorado or have a connection to the area.  Should that change, I will be in touch to discuss next steps. I have enjoyed our conversations and hope that you have found them productive as well. I look forward to working with you again in the future.”

Of course, I felt like responding: “No, I did not feel our conversations were productive, and why did you waste my time?  Why didn’t you know that your client only wanted local candidates?  Is it because you’re paid to select a certain number of candidates to present to your client?

A few weeks later, I receive a call from an HR director of a local company (in a nearby county). She schedules a phone interview with me and conducts a very detailed, extensive interview.  She calls me back and wants me to interview with the hiring manager.  Excited, I research the company, prepare my portfoilo, and arrive at the facility, where the HR director conducts another interview with me. She tells me the pay scale and gives me the company’s benefit summary for managers and directors. Now, all I have to do is seal the deal with the hiring manager.

When I meet the hiring VP, I discover she hasn’t even bothered to look at my application in depth. Instead, she spends the first few minutes asking me to wait until she looks over “my file.” She takes two phone calls during the interview. She focuses more on why I was let go of my last job  (I was downsized in a corporate restructuring effort that included the CEO, COO, and CFO), so I try to discuss my achievements and successes and what I can bring to the table. I know my chances are lost when she says ‘Well, we were really looking for someone who does not have experience in this field because we want this candidate to think out of the box.”  Uhh?  She wants someone who is NOT qualified?  Clearly, she already has someone in mind for this position.

All job searchers read about “expert” advice from headhunters and recruiters designed to get you in the door; to get noticed by the employer.  But the rules of the job market since the recession have changed. It doesn’t matter if you get your foot in the door, because in this economy the hiring manager has someone else in mind for the position.  I had one recruiter conduct an extensive background check on me; interview my references at length; interview me twice, and pump me up about my candidacy, only to fail to get me “in the door” to interview with the hiring manager.  What’s worse, she wouldn’t even let me see the results of the reference checks so I could use them for future job searches: she said that was “proprietary” and not releasable (I later had a reference fax me the sheet she said was “confidential”). Why do recruiters go through this exhaustive process of background checks and reference interviews if they fail to land you the real job interview?

I understand why people are giving up their job search in this market.  To read what it feels like for older, experienced workers to be ignored by hiring managers, see this poignant letter in the Dallas Morning News:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/localvoices/stories/DN-stanfield_15edi.ART.State.Edition1.14be30f.html

New York Times to older workers: bad luck

NEW YORK TIMES TO UNEMPLOYED OVER 50: IT’S YOUR OBSOLETE SKILLS
 According to the New York Times, the main cause of long-term unemployment among the over 50 crowd can be attributed to two things:  out-of-date job skills and bad luck (see “For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again,” in the September 19 edition of the New York Times, at  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/business/economy/20older.html ).
In her stark assessment of unemployed workers over 50, NYT reporter Motoko Rich does recognize that many of these “older” workers are college-educated, but writes that they have “rusty” job skills that are not in demand anymore.  “Many of these older people may simply age out of the labor force before their luck changes,” she writes.
Now, most economists and labor experts see this group not with empathy, but as a potential “policy problem,” as one Rutgers professor said.  Rich indicates that since many of these older workers do not possess adequate computer and software skills, they are passed by in favor of younger applicants.
Rich does give a sympathetic portrayal of a 57-year-old Seattle woman who lost her job as an auditor four years ago and can’t find full-time work, but she fails to realize that the major problem facing “older” workers is not their job skills, but age discrimination, and a desire by employers to hire younger workers they can pay much less.
For example, my wife is an expert in QuickBooks, used for business accounting, and has more than 15 years’ experience in accounts payables and receivables. Yet she is often passed over by companies seeking less experienced workers who can be paid less. She finally took a part-time accounting job that pays half of what she made before as a comptroller.
My problem is not “rusty” job skills – I keep up with changes in my field daily and work for free for a marketing publication in hopes of greater exposure to employers. Recently, a recruiter told me that the main obstacle in hiring me for a marketing position was my copious, broad experience – the company might see me as “overqualified” for a marketing director role that required no management of staff (though I managed only a staff of two for three years and don’t want another position that supervises employees). The recruiter hinted that the employer might think I’ll jump ship once the economy and labor market improves. She suggested I confront that issue directly in my upcoming interview by asking the hiring manager if there were any concerns about my background.  That didn’t help — the hiring manager rushed my interview and was clear she wasn’t interested in me as a viable candidate.  Apparently, she had already made up her mind that I “wouldn’t be happy in that position” for long (according to the recruiter, who said the person they hired “actually was not as strong a candidate” as I was).  I’ve also applied for jobs that required management of staff, but usually don’t get an interview because of the strong competition. So I’m stuck: I can’t land responsible director jobs because of the competition and I can’t get manager or coordinator jobs because I’m seen as “overqualified.”
What I’d like to see reporters investigate is how many mid-managerial jobs have disappeared and how many college-educated individuals with solid experience in their fields are finding it difficult to find work.  Is it right that employers are hiring less qualified candidates because they don’t want to bring in a worker over 50? It’s not just the over 55-crowd, but the 45 to 55-year olds, too, who are finding extremely difficult to find work in their fields. Just how many individuals with college degrees and more than 15 years of experience have been let go in this market?   How many of them are applying for jobs that are perfect matches for their skills and experience, only to be seen as “overqualified” and not hired?  How many newspaper ads like this one below will we continue to see because experienced workers are seen as a liability instead of an asset?
I WANT TO WORK
I’m intelligent, Honest and
Hard-Working!
I have a MASTERS IN FINANCE, wife, 3-month old daughter, and a mortgage!
PLEASE CALL!
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