Let me give you a little background so you understand our year of unemployment. My husband graduated in Law School in April of 2017. He had started looking for a job in the Fall of 2016, the semester before he graduated. About half of his graduating class had job offers by the time they graduated in April. That left the other half that, like us, would have to find jobs over the summer while studying for the bar. We weren’t really that worried.
Summer came and went. He took the bar in New Mexico, where we were living with my parents at the time. He had been looking all summer, and the job market in New Mexico just wasn’t great. We discussed our options, and ultimately decided to move to Texas. We knew that his bar score wouldn’t transfer, but it seemed like a better job market for the type of law he wanted, so we took a chance. Thankfully, we had a few thousand saved, so we used it to pre-pay a lease on a small apartment and moved our little selves out to the Dallas-Fort Worth area! And then… we waited, worked, and lived more frugally than we ever have before.
It sure was not easy, but we managed. He got his New Mexico bar results in the week we moved (he passed, yay!). While job hunting, he also registered and began studying to take the Texas bar in February.
He eventually did find a job, but after a few short weeks we could tell it wasn’t going to last. He had to study for the bar, but we figured he’d start looking for a new job as soon as he finished the test.
In the end, the firm beat us to the punch and my husband lost his job to downsizing, along with a few others from the firm. He had only been employed for 3 months!
He went back to what he knew – job hunting full time. By April, he had found a job that would support us. He started just a few weeks before his graduation “anniversary.” It took a whole year for him to find a steady job!
It was a really hard year, but we made it without racking up any credit card debt! Unemployment is all about mindset. Here are some of the strategies we used to stay positive and scrape by.
Fix it up, wear it out. Make it do or do without!
This quote from Boyd K. Packer became our motto! If a shirt ripped, I fixed it instead of buying new. When my sandals broke, I didn’t replace them (I have plenty, anyway). We learned to do lots of our own repairs.
My of my favorite “make it do” stories were some shelves my husband made for me. Our apartment had almost no storage. We watched on craigslist until we found free lumber. My husband picked it up, brought it home, and made a few shelves for the closets so we could use the vertical space better. The wood was particleboard, so it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. We made do!
If something broke that we couldn’t fix, we went without. We learned to treat things more carefully, since we were unable to replace broken or lost items.
Shrink your grocery bill
I used my meal planning method to help me come up with a grocery list each week. We ate basic foods, nothing fancy! Any meat we had was parceled in with lots of vegetables and grains so it would go farther. I cut our grocery bill down to $50 a week. It was painful, but with coupons and swagbucks, I learned to make it stretch.
When I made a grocery list, I priced out each item. I kept a price book, so I knew which stores had the best price on meat, rice, milk, and other staples. After making my list, I’d look for coupons and specials in the local paper. If my list total was too expensive, I would remove or find a substitute for expensive items.
I love to bake cookies, especially chocolate chip cookies. But chocolate chips and real vanilla are expensive! I started buying imitation vanilla (oh, it was hard!) and stopped buying chocolate chips. Instead, I made sugar cookies and snicker-doodles. I learned to make biscuits, cornbread, and rolls from scratch. I started making home-made bread regularly, so we had bread to supplement our meager groceries (flour, sugar, and yeast are cheap!). We stopped buying box mixes – we made pancakes, cupcakes, and frosting from scratch.
Treat every dollar like it’s your last
We were living off of a very limited savings, so we knew that the money was going to run out fast! Every dollar we spent was very carefully planned for. If we needed to spend money, we talked about what we were buying and if it was wise to buy it when we didn’t have a steady income.
We had a few splurges, but it didn’t take long for us to become extremely disciplined. When your running out of money, every penny is precious! When you don’t have an income, saying “No” is a vital skill. Especially during unemployment, it is critical that you only spend on absolute necessities. Which leads me to…
Cut extras mercilessly
No renting movies, going out to eat, shopping for anything besides groceries, no cable. We had a very basic internet plan so that we could earn money online and apply to jobs at home, and that was our only “extra.” We never spent money on entertainment- instead we did free things like going to the local park or library activities.
As it happened, my husband was unemployed over Christmas. However, we didn’t have to go without! Because we had planned ahead and amortized our Christmas budget over the previous year, we had a savings fund set aside for Christmas gifts. We still kept it small, and used some of the saved money to help pay bills that month, but I was so grateful we had money set aside so our kids could still get a few fun toys on Christmas morning!
Amortizing is also how we managed to make our insurance payments. You can read all about amortizing yearly expenses here! Having money set aside for those yearly expenses was a huge relief when they came due. Otherwise, we would have had to cancel all our polices because we certainly did not have the income to pay them!
Finding a job is a full-time job
Instead of sitting around all day, you can bet my husband was out working! He would go to the local library so he had a place to work where the kids couldn’t distract him. He set application and email quotas for each day that helped him measure progress.
Besides actually apply, he also grew his network online and started attending networking events in the area. He spent at least 4 hours a day job searching (most days it was about 6). Whatever time he had left in his day he spent doing odd jobs. Which brings me to my next point….
Get by with creativity
We did anything and everything we could to earn money during my husband’s period of unemployment. We took odd jobs off craigslist – I sang in a mall choir and my husband was an extra in a music video (be VERY careful about video/modeling gigs… there are lots of “acting” jobs for women that are porn calls).
My husband is handy, so he offered his services on HomeAdvisor and TaskRabbit. I was religious about using swagbucks, and that paid about a third of our grocery bill each month. We also put everything on our cash-back rewards credit card (and then made sure to pay it off every month!). You can read all of my credit card reward strategies here!
We joined a mystery shopper program and earned a few bucks that way, but mostly it got us free meals out every now and then. It wasn’t much, but it was nice to feel like we got a treat!
Anything extra or valuable we had, we listed on ebay, craigslist, and letgo. Only about 50% of it sold, but we were grateful for the income.
We did not do uber or lyft because we still had out-of-state licenses, but I would highly recommend this as a side gig during unemployment if your license and car meet their requirements.
My husband also got a part-time retail job. It was a great help, as the hours were flexible so he could still do networking and interviews. Additionally, he didn’t feel the need to stay or work out a certain commitment, so when a job came along, he was able to quit without burning any bridges.
You can find tons of creative ideas for making money on my Ways to Earn pinterest board! Not only can these ideas help get you through unemployment, but they can also turn into side hustles after you career gets back on track.
When you do get income, save it!
During the three months my husband was employed, we put everything extra away. We were tempted to splurge or treat ourselves, but we realized we had depleted our savings. Money from each paycheck was set aside to replenish our emergency fund, our Christmas gift fund, and our insurance payments savings. We kept our cost of living low, which ended up being a good thing because we needed that money when he lost the job.
Even if you don’t lose your job so quickly, it’s important to plan carefully and recover savings accounts as best you can. Pay off any debt and put money away!
Unemployment can be the darkest, most miserable experience for anyone experiencing it. It leads you to question everything you planned for the future, and it can quickly strip you of happiness and hope if you let it.
We struggled, just as anyone would, with unemployment. I learned to pray daily for strength from the Lord, and to learn to treasure the little things. Reading a book with my kids, or taking a walk on a beautiful day.
It’s actually been a really good thing for us to break out of the mold of buying and spending! Experiencing unemployment helped encourage us to look at alternate sources of income and taught us what we really needed to get by.
Most importantly, have faith in yourself and your spouse. You can do it. You might have to get creative, like we did. I also eventually took a part-time job. My husband and I both had planned for me to be at home with the kids until they were all in school, but life doesn’t go according to plan! Thankfully, we always had enough to meet our needs.