Any period of unemployment is fraught with stress – both personal and financial. While landing that formerly-elusive new job can be a relief, it is only the first step on the road to recovery from unemployment. This transition time is akin to breaking the surface after being underwater for several minutes. It’s a relief to be breathing again and feel the sun on your face, but it’s no time to relax. You must start swimming right away to get back to a healthy financial shore.
Here are four steps you can take to help make sure your recent unemployment doesn’t cast a long shadow across your future financial health.
1.) Continue to live lean. More likely than not, you weren’t buying $4 coffees while unemployed. Five star restaurants were out too. Hamburger may have replaced steak. You may want to continue to follow that pattern. We tend to grow into our incomes, our budgets bloating along with our salaries. Fighting that urge will help with the rest of the steps to unemployment recovery.
2.) Protect yourself ASAP. The longer your unemployment lasts the more important basic survival becomes. Someone who is unemployed may let life insurance, disability insurance or health insurance policies lapse as they try to keep current on the mortgage, pay utilities and put groceries in the pantry. Sometime during the first few days of your employment you should enroll in whatever benefits you need your company offers. If the new firm does not offer the coverage you need, make an appointment with an insurance professional and use part of your first paycheck to protect you and your family. Remember, the income from your new job won’t benefit anyone if a catastrophic illness, disability or death suddenly takes it away.
3.) Develop a plan to pay down your debts. When you have a job, debts are a nuisance. When you don’t have a job, they may become a threat to your future financial well-being. While it’s normal to hope you never have to go through unemployment again, you must start preparing for the possibility.
If you are behind on your mortgage, call your lender to let them know of your new job and to work with them on a plan to catch up on your payments. If they are unwilling to work with you, consider using a Federal resource such as those offered by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Administration.
While there are fewer similar programs for car loans, calling your lender and trying to develop a plan for a loan you’re behind on should be your first step.
All too often during unemployment, credit cards may be used to get by when cash is low. While your interest rates may have been low when you initially signed up for the card, new legislation has caused a spike in credit card rates.(source) Rates of 20% – 30% are not uncommon as banks react to new rules. Paying down these balances should also be a primary goal.
4.) Remember to start paying yourself. Whether you call it a rainy day fund, a nest egg or emergency cash, slowly, paycheck by paycheck, begin paying yourself a fraction of your salary. Some experts will argue a family should keep six months to one year’s worth of expenses in the bank for unexpected events such as a blown car engine, the roof caving in, or another round of unemployment.(source) For many families, that may feel like an insurmountable sum. But as the old joke goes “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer: “One bite at a time”. Paying yourself has to be done paycheck-to-paycheck, little by little.