Coping with job loss

A few weeks ago, I lost a freelance job. I won't dish the details, because it's not relevant to this post, and I'm still friendly with my contacts there.

What is relevant to this post, however, is that I've had a big change in income. I went from being able to stash away more than enough in retirement and medium-term savings to barely being able to pay my monthly expenses. Today, as I contemplate low-paying gigs and wonder what else I can slash from my budget, I'm at least thankful that my past self was thoughtful. When I was earning a decent income, I knew freelancing was unstable, so I chose to save rather than inflate my lifestyle. Today, my finances are intact and I have a healthy emergency fund. This gives me options and at least some peace of mind.

But it's still been a challenge. Here's how I've learned to cope with job loss, both emotionally and financially.

Reevaluate the budget

The first thing I did when I finished up my last bit of work was downgrade my Internet. I was paying an extra $20 month for the fastest speed, as I needed to upload large files to my client's server. Hopefully, I'll need to boost my Internet speed again in the near future. But in the meantime, there's no need for it, so it was the first item in my budget to get slashed.

From there, I listed all my expenses and contemplated where I could cut the fat. Restaurants and shopping were the obvious answers. While I was living below my means, I still gave myself room for fun. But now, I need less room for fun and more room for money.

Surprisingly, it hasn't been tough to cut back on dining out and shopping. I've always been tempted at the thought of spending money when I have it; the thought of spending money when I don't have it, on the other hand, is just depressing.

Other areas that were slashed?

  • Coffee: I gave myself a monthly coffee budget so I could write from my local coffee shop and not be cooped up in the house all day. I'll just have to find a cost-free way to avoid going stir-crazy.
  • Grooming: I was spending ten bucks a month on eyebrow threading and thirteen on a pedicure. Yes, I now have Fred Flintstone feet and Martin Scorsese eyebrows, but, for the time being, those expenses will have to go. When I start earning more, I can reinstate those little luxuries.

Tell people

I dreaded telling people I lost my job. Not only because I was embarrassed, but also because I hate seeing the pity in someone's eyes as they struggle to find something comforting to say. It's awkward and uncomfortable.

But if you don't tell people you've lost your job, you won't have anyone to offer you help. Since putting it out there, I've had amazing colleagues, friends and clients who have helped me find whatever work they can and, for that, I'm beyond grateful.

Reevaluate worth

When I lost that job, I grieved not only the loss of money and work, but my own loss of value too. “I'm not good enough,” was my first thought upon hearing the news. For someone who has put work before most things in her life, this has been tough on my self-esteem. Work makes me feel valuable; it's probably an unhealthy attitude, but it's one I developed in college. Having less work makes me feel, well, worthless.

And it doesn't help that, in my job hunt, one business offered me a whopping $5 per article and another $0 per article. It's not their fault, I suppose they have a budget too. But when you've worked your ass off for years to earn a decent living and build a respectable portfolio, stuff like that really makes you feel worthless. So I had to reevaluate my worth, monetarily and emotionally speaking.

Monetarily speaking, I remembered my words from a year ago: “You're only worth what someone is willing to pay you.” That made me feel like shit, so I remembered my amended viewpoint from a few months ago: “You're worth what you can offer,” and that felt better. While I do feel I have a lot to offer a company, I can only control how much they're willing to pay me to a certain point. In the job market, I'm a commodity, and now there's more supply than demand. Logically, I can't demand to be paid what I was previously earning. At the same time, I know that I have a lot to offer, and I don't want to undersell myself. So I've been learning to find a balance between “You're worth what someone is willing to pay” and “You're worth what you can offer.” Hopefully, my demand will increase, and I'll go back to earning the amount I once was. In the meantime, I've had to bid a little lower on projects; I've had to accept lower-paying jobs.

In finding balance, it's also important to set limits. I've had to ask myself: What's the lowest per-hour or per-word payment I'm willing to take? Five bucks for 500 words? Yeah, that's too low.

And emotionally speaking, I've had to learn that I'm worth more than a job. My life is more than what I do for a living. I've had to remind myself of all the things I'm good at that don't involve freelance writing. I made a pot roast for my friends. I spent an afternoon tending my garden. This isn't to say I'm neglecting my other gigs or not searching for a job or giving up, but I've had to occupy myself with other things in my life to keep from going crazy and feeling worthless.

Come up with a game plan

I'm lucky that I still have some income and can make ends meet, albeit by a hair. For the time being, I don't have to dip into my emergency fund. Upon hearing the unhappy news, I did everything I could to stave off emergency mode.

1. Consider emergency fund

Some might argue I should go ahead and use my emergency fund; that's what it's there for. “Just keep searching for your dream job,” a friend suggested. “You have money saved up. Just live off of that.”

That's an option, but it's just not me. I've been broke and poor, and I have no desire to revisit those days. To me, an emergency fund is a last resort, an I-have-no-choice type of thing. I have choices. I can search for and accept smaller jobs. I can deflate my lifestyle even more.

Then again, would I rather get a full-time job that I hate and dread every morning, or live off my emergency fund until I find more writing work? In that case, I'd probably choose to dip into the EF. So I had to come up with a game plan for finding more work and deciding when it was time to use the emergency fund.

2. Create goals

We say it a lot here, but everyone's situation is different, so the important thing was to come up with a plan that worked for me. My game plan essentially consisted of two goals. One goal was about money, the other happiness:

  • Find smaller gigs, fun or not, to help with my monthly expenses
  • Find a job I really, really love. If I never reach my larger goal, at least I'm making ends meet while I'm striving for it.

Set a schedule

For the first couple of weeks of losing my job, I wasn't too depressed. I stuck to a schedule. For the first few hours of my day, I would hunt for jobs. Then, I'd have lunch. After lunch, I'd complete work for other clients or work on my own personal creative projects.

Recently, though, I grew anxious and worried. So I threw my schedule out the window and started looking for jobs all day, every day. Weekends, weeknights — my job was looking for a job, and I was working overtime. I'd refresh job sites constantly, hoping something new would pop up. I'd obsess over job hunting, eating dinner in front of the computer and mumbling, “I'm fine” in a sleepless stupor, when my boyfriend got out of bed to ask if I needed anything. Job-hunting is important, but for me, it was also important to give it a rest. Constantly refreshing a page only to see the same, unpromising postings wasn't doing much for my psyche. And being in front of a computer 12+ hours a day wasn't doing much for my well-being. I became depressed, and I started feeling really sorry for myself. Depression and self-pity aren't great ingredients for success. So I put myself back on a schedule and reminded myself, again, that I'm more than a job.

When I became a freelancer, I knew things like this were likely. Still, it sucks. For me, coping has involved coming up with a financial game plan, giving myself a routine and reevaluating both my self-worth and my worth in the job market.

More about...Budgeting, Career, Psychology

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Beth
Beth

I went through a job loss earlier this year and experienced a lot of what you described above. An emergency fund and severance package helped, but the loss of confidence was the worst part. It was a long time before logic finally won out over the grieving process. I found it helped when I was telling people to be upbeat about the situation — that it was time for me “to move up or move out” anyway and I’m ready for a new challenge. Could they keep their eyes open for me? Did they have any suggestions for professional development… Read more »

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body

I couldn’t imagine having job loss at this point in my life. I would imagine one of the best things you could tell people is to just be honest with them about your financial situation. Seems that people would be the most understanding that way.

Erica W.
Erica W.

Kristin, you’re my favorite writer on GRS. I appreciate the topics of your posts as well as your writing style. You come across as honest, sincere and non-judgmental towards others. And I love your stories about your mom! What about starting your own blog? Is that a money-maker or just a time drain?

We’re none of us “worth” what people are willing to pay us. You’re not “worth” $5.00 for a 500 word article any more than Kim Kardashian is “worth” $10,000 to wear someone’s designer clothing. Where did you get that crazy idea? You’re great and people love you 🙂

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong

The kind words and support are very much appreciated, Erica. I HAVE thought about starting a blog! If nothing else, just for fun. I used to have a fun little cheap cooking blog, but at the time, I was transitioning careers and I didn’t have time to keep up with it. Maybe I’ll give it another go. Yeah, the whole “I’m worth X amount” is quite silly. I’ve just heard people say, “I’m worth [insert net worth or salary here],” and I think subconsciously I’ve been taking it a little too literally. Self worth and net worth/earning potential are two… Read more »

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets

Good luck with your job search! I work in technology and in this area you are not a real “techie” unless you have been laid off a couple of times. I worked in one place that “downsized” 5 times before I got caught in the 6th round of layoffs. I saw many reactions to job loss and I think the one thing that stuck with me was (in a layoff situation) “don’t take it personally”. Companies do what they think is best for the company at the time – it’s strictly a business decision – so you need to take… Read more »

Pauline
Pauline

Sorry about the lost contract. If I was in need of cash I would take a low paying full time job that is not intellectually demanding so I would still have time and energy to look for a job that fits my requirements. If you freelance at a low rate, between the time spent to look for a job and trying to get the contract you barely get minimum wage.

MoneyAhoy
MoneyAhoy

Good advice, I’d probably also consider doing this if the same happened to me.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

Oh, good to see the comments working again, they were invisible an hour ago. ANYWAY, damn! Sorry to hear about the job loss but I’ll say (with no pity in my eyes) that equating one’s worth with one’s income is a terrible philosophy. Consider narcotraficantes. Consider the value of those who do not work. Consider that values are non-economic, and economics is simply a system of tradeoffs. Consider Bernie Madoff. What you need is to spend a day in bed doing absolutely nothing and valuing yourself regardless. Go ahead, give it a try. It will be worth it. The other… Read more »

Simon @ Modest Money
Simon @ Modest Money

Freelancing is rocky ground! One month you have more than you can ever handle…the next you can barely cover your living expenses! Losing your main gig however has to suck mega-time, because now you have to do double work to just cover your expenses. In my experience, I’d say share the news with some others, yes they might pity you and all but they also might help you in securing a job. I don’t think losing a job is anything to be ashamed of. It happens to almost everyone at one point in the careers. Whatever you do though…never lose… Read more »

Ruth
Ruth

Dear Kristen,

It just means there is something better waiting for you right around the corner. Been there, so I know.

Laura
Laura

Great article, Kristin. I really appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your low moments.

Carol C
Carol C

Thanks for being so open in sharing your less-than-wonderful news. Having an emergency fund certainly takes some of the stress out of the situation. You’re a diligent person ~ it will all work out.

Daniel
Daniel

I’m looking for a writer for my company’s blog, how much do you know about tech?

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong

Hey Daniel! I’m no expert, but I’m a fast learner. Perhaps we should email? The editors probably wouldn’t like my turning this into a personal job forum-ha!

Daniel
Daniel

email me at my work email: daniel . sisson @ mansasys.com

Jane
Jane

Five dollars an article is content mill rates, a.k.a. slave wages. Going down that path will only lead you towards bitterness and burn-out. In order to pay your bills, you will have to churn out tons and tons of articles quickly, which will make you less sharp for your higher paying gigs. If I were you, I would seek a part-time income stream outside the house before I resorted to content mills. At least that way you could get your “out in the world” fix and fight the stir crazy. Of course, I come from the position of a freelancer… Read more »

SAHMama
SAHMama

I’ve got a Masters degree and 10 years of experience in my field. I started freelancing for a “content mill” in 2009. I quit my full-time job in 2011 to stay home with my kids. I continued freelancing as a way to fund my Roth IRA, the kids’ 529 accounts, and to pay for “extras” like swimming lessons and yarn. I still write for the content mills and I write with a high level of quality. I know I’m going to get paid every week, I don’t have to go out hunting for trustworthy clients, I can choose as much… Read more »

Mrs. B
Mrs. B

Nice articulation. I still struggle with some of that after my job was eliminated over 2 years ago and now I am facing the end of my current contract come mid-December. Fortunately I have contacts with many agencies and we have Hubby’s income, so I am not worried about the basics. But it is still hard not to equate my worth with my salary or the importance of my work…

EMH
EMH

Being laid off is a huge ego blow. I have been there and I felt like I lost a loved one and definitely grieved. I don’t know if this is something that interests you, but when I was laid off I temped. It was usually very boring and mind-numbing work but there was so much downtime at the temp jobs that I had time to work on my own personal things. Maybe I was lucky, but the employers didn’t mind if I read, wrote, or worked on personal projects as long as I was answering their phones and filing things… Read more »

Brian
Brian

Best of luck Kristin on the job hunt. I think your “Tell People” point is so important. You need to make it known that you are available and looking for work. I’m sure submitting online typically generates low success rates. I bet this post helps generate some movement for you.

Scondor
Scondor

While I was in and just out of college I signed up to be a movie extra. You can’t live off the pay, but since you can multi-task, you can get paid essentially for sitting around reading homework or writing articles – working two jobs without putting in any extra hours. I had a female friend who almost never went to the beach without getting paid to, and she just read her classwork there instead of the library.(Baywatch was big back then) Bonus: Craft Services will give you free coffee and you get out of the house, network with other… Read more »

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong

Thanks very much for the support, comments and advice, all. I definitely don’t mind sharing a low moment if someone can get something out of it! I shied from writing about this for a while, just because I didn’t feel like I was in a place to share what I learned (I was too blah about the whole thing). Like others have mentioned, as a freelancer, this happens and will probably happen again. It’s just my first time, and it was a big one, so it’s been daunting! So yeah, hopefully this post helps those going through something similar. Really… Read more »

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life

Unemployment is an inescapable reality of my industry (acting). “Trimming the fat” is essential. I pluck my own eyebrows and paint my own nails. Haircuts are free from beauty schools. It sounds trivial, but it’s amazing how it adds up.

Being open about your change in income is also shockingly helpful. Friends and family will come to YOU with deals and opportunities when they know you’re in need. And hopefully, they’ll understand if you can’t come to happy hour every night (or they’ll pay for your drink 😉 )

Done by Forty
Done by Forty

“Yes, I now have Fred Flintstone feet and Martin Scorsese eyebrows…” Too funny!

I appreciate the candid post on a tough subject, and I’m glad you planned ahead so you can deal with the transition well. Please let us know when you find the next gig so we can congratulate your success.

Paul
Paul

I know how you feel. My boss and an HR rep came into my office on Sept. 30, and informed me that I was being let go. The contract on which I was working had come to an end, and there was no more work for me. The company I worked for does over 90% of its business as a Defense Contractor and the current atmosphere is not very good for business. My wife says she’s angry about the situation, but there really isn’t anyone with which to be angry. We have a small emergency fund and I am retired… Read more »

mary w
mary w

I’m glad to see that you immediately cut the extras from your budget. I’ve seen so many people who got laid-off and wanted to keep things “normal” – especially if they had kids. They used their emergency fund for things like pedicures, eyebrow waxing, entertainment, etc. But then one day they ran out of money. A very ugly day.

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am

Sorry to hear this, Kristin. I don’t have any constructive advice, but good luck to you!

Jamie@SoyMilkMustache

I’m so sorry to hear about this, Kristin! But you are a wonderful writer and I’m sure you will find a rewarding job soon. In the meantime, I wanted to offer the idea that you are coming from a very beneficial viewpoint for your readers here– What to do if you lose your job, How to prepare for financial loss, How to look for work, How to cut back on expenses, etc, etc. I don’t remember GRS having anyone write from this perspective, and with unemployment and underemployment plaguing our friends, families, and selves, I am on the edge of… Read more »

Samantha
Samantha

Kristin – I just wanted to add that I love your articles on GRS and not to give up on your dreams.

Practical Cents
Practical Cents

I went through a layoff a few years ago and had similar feelings. Having an emergency fund was a great relief though. It made me feel good that I had saved for a rainy day. I also dedicated time to hobbies that I enjoyed with my new found time.

Teinegurl
Teinegurl

Thanks for sharing your story! i also agree that i would love more article from this point of view. People could learn a lot from your experinces.

I know it can be hard but try to have fun and enjoy the time off. you may be back to work as soon as you know so take a little take for you during this time. It will def. help with stress.

Good Luck to you!

Marie
Marie

I don’t get what you mean by zero dollars an article. Are you saying that they were trying to get you to write for free? I have come across some truly atrocious pay as a freelancer, but nobody has ever had the cojones to ask for a handout!

I have struggled with the balancing act of “money is money when you’re unemployed” versus “my talent is worth more than that”. How have you determined that line?

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong

Yep-zero. I try not to take that stuff personally, because sometimes you’re just on a different wavelength. I was looking for a job; they were looking for a collaborator on a fun side project. They could’ve mentioned that in the ad, though-ha. For me, finding that line really just depends on the job and how desperate I am. Ideally, I want a high-paying job that highly values my skills and allows me to do what I love 100% of the time. Jobs like that are scarce, though; usually you have to sacrifice something with a job, right? Maybe it doesn’t… Read more »

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}

I think a happy medium on the pay thing is a good thing. I’m worth far more than some people were willing to pay when I was job hunting. For example, while I looked for a full-time job, I did a LOT of babysitting, Generally I got paid a little less than a lot of sitters can command, but I worked for families who were flexible, easy-going, and had fun kids, so it was a win-win. One family, however, wanted to pay me less than minimum wage, and they wanted the most work. Look, the family had a budget, but… Read more »

Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions
Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions

I’m so sorry about your job loss. Unfortunately, everything you wrote echoes with me, although I did not want to tell anyone when I got laid off. One solution for getting out of the house and doing work without paying for the space (via buying a coffee) is to go to the library. I’ve found that pretty useful. Also, using my own tweezers is nice because I can just pluck when the mood strikes me; I don’t have to wait for an appointment 😉

Penny
Penny

Thanks for writing this blog; unanticipated unemployment is something I think we’ll all face or have faced at least once in our adult lives. And having your perspective is really helpful. We’re all in this Life-thing together. Keep the articles coming!

Tom
Tom

Kristin,
Why is it you don’t have stocks that pays you a steady (monthly/quarterly) dividend? You need to get that sorted quickly

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong

I do, but I don’t touch those dividends. I consider it part of my savings, because I’m still trying to save up for a house or something.

I still want a job, man!

Esther
Esther

Kristin, Thank you for the article. It certainly helped me. I was working in Tax at a Big 4 and I lost my job in October of 2012. It brings a sense of relief that someone else can understand my current situation. I am still unemployed. I had a few consulting assignments. My last assignment was scheduled to end in December, but it ended early. The first thing I did, I trimmed all the fat. My budget has never been so lean. 🙂 I am able to pay off my monthly bills without touching my EF. What I ‘ve done… Read more »

Georgina Goosen
Georgina Goosen

Keep advising and teaching us because I have learnt such a lot from reading your posts. Unfortunately I am not able to advise you but I am rooting for you for the best for your future

Vuppala
Vuppala

Freelancing is a ride with lots of ups and downs. I do not know how it feels to be laid off but I can only imagine. Your post however made me realize the first thing about freelancing “Its a dynamic environment” where there is no consistent income. I have been blessed with a full-time job and a part-time projects in tech and I hope you find something you enjoy and can pay bills soon.

Please just stay positive and don’t give up.

This is probably my first reply on GRS so please excuse my grammar.

-pVuppala

jackie
jackie

Dear writer, thank you for your post for people who are coping with job loss. It was one of the most heart felt post I have read. I just want to say thank you because it kept me from Losing it. I was right at the edge and your post brought me back to my purpose and why God has me here.You gave me a whole new perspective on what it is I should be doing right now. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

Sheri
Sheri

Kristin, I agree with several readers who applaud you for speaking out about your current situation. Doesn’t it become easier to talk about when you share with others? I think that is a sign that you are being proactive, rather than reactive. Celebrate the positives in your life like good health, your relationship with your boyfriend and supportive friends/family. These things are worth far more than any job. I am currently separated from my husband of 25 years and facing a home foreclosure, but I don’t let those negatives define me. I almost lost one of my kids to a… Read more »

John
John

If you are jobless and cannot absolutely get a job, start going online and do some research on what you want to do, go to job listings and make some calls. Don’t like doing that, find a way to get yourself together online and make plans. Start a blog, join some affiliate sites, use the Ref Ids and go to forums and link them to your signature and contribute mind to the forum topics. Also don’t want to do that,fine.. Go to a traffic exchange or Ptc site and click ads for money. Once you accumulate a certain amount, cash… Read more »

MIU MIU
MIU MIU

Americans continue to say the country is headed in the wrong direction, and they are split over whether the nation is headed into another recession. Nearly four in 10 say they are worse off financially now than they were four years ago.

Suki
Suki

Getting fired sucks – but it’s not the end of the world!

Jay
Jay

Losing your jobs sucks, but most of the time it can be the change that most people need. It’s great to read your story and the steps you are taking. Well done.

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