The list of approaches to minimizing the unemployment fallout continues. Find a job, give yourself instead of stuff, reuse and recycle whenever you can, and find a good used bookstore as a backup for your local library – what more can one do? Well, return to the coupon approach I used when the kids were little and I was a stay at home mom. There doesn’t seem to be the rampant double and triple coupon days they used to have. Now it really is a science. Finding coupons is more challenging now that we read our news online. Now I have to consider the sale prices at various stores, the amount of gas expended to get to said store, and the value of the coupon. Another thing I’ve noticed is that some prices go up right before the sale ads come out. It really is a case of knowing what you buy and how your local stores operate.
And then the more difficult values to discern. Is this something my family will eat? Is this something my family should eat? Can I add some form of filler and keep it healthy? These are all valid questions and concerns. I’m trying to save money, not create new health expenses. I’ve also adopted more of a European view on my shopping habits. I go to the store more frequently and buy less at each visit. Don’t be alarmed, the three stores I generally frequent are less than one mile from my home and are also conveniently close to the library. The results? Our cupboard and fridge are not overstuffed like they used to be. I can actually see what we have and remember what leftovers are in the reused sour cream container. The foods we eat seem fresher. We also seem to have eliminated waste with this new habit.
At first I was concerned that our limited food funds would really put a damper on the meal planning. I foresaw a sea of macaroni and cheese. With thoughtful shopping this turns out not to be the case. I’ve learned how to cook an inexpensive pot roast old school like my grandma used to. Turns out some searing and a dutch oven work wonders on a cheap piece of meat. Add a few vegetables, on sale this week, and you have a meal. A really good meal for a family of four adults for under $5 is actually possible some weeks. I’ve also had a great time entering some of our favorite foods, items I have on hand, into a Google search with amazing results. Our favorite base recipe for chicken curry soup was discovered this way.
While all of these things have been born out of a new necessity, we have reaped some unexpected benefits. Home cooked meals seem to naturally encourage our family to sit down to eat together. Our sons frequently have their girlfriends join us, so we are getting a chance to know these wonderful young women in a relaxed and comfortable setting. My husband and sons also take the apron occasionally and with practice are becoming decent chefs. We gave up restaurants and take out, but we have gained so much more.
Most people have a weakness. Are you the shoe goddess? One of my sisters is eight years younger than me and is the proud owner of more pairs of shoes than I hope to own in a lifetime. Shoes make her giddy. What about Starbucks? I know a woman that doesn’t consider her day complete without stopping in at the nearest Starbucks. I don’t know if she ever frequents competitors or if she buys Starbucks coffee beans to make at home in a pinch. I do know that she has physical symptoms if she doesn’t get in that visit and happy relief if she does. The list of possibilities is easy to create if you think about it. My weakness? Books.
Ever since I can remember I have been a book lover. I was young enough when I learned to read that I don’t even remember learning. My mother claims that I had been reading for quite a while by the time I started public school. I think it was a natural fit for someone that spent her first eight years as an only child. Unlike people in your life, books are always willing to make themselves available. You might have to sneak a flashlight under the covers but they will stay up all night if you just invite them along. I was that nerdy kid with her own library. Incredibly protective of my wordy friends, you had to fill out a lengthy check out sheet to borrow them. It seems that I equated the number of books on the shelf in some way with the friendships they could foster or perhaps more honestly, as my multitude of secret friends.
So where does this sad obsession lead to in adulthood? It leads to a BA in English, memberships to various book clubs, and really packed bookshelves. While this habit I have isn’t as expensive as a pair of shoes or a daily visit like Starbucks, it is one that my unemployment status can no longer afford. Giving up my regular book purchases was one of the first overwhelming realizations I had about the actual state of my finances. The first remedy I found was a local used bookstore. No, I didn’t figure out a way to fit used books into my budget – well, not exactly. What I did find was a way to let others share my beautiful books.
I am thrilled that the Oasis Book Store in Lafayette, Colorado allows me to bring in books and then issues me a credit. This way my books have a chance to be read by a new person rather than sitting on a shelf and hoping a visiting friend asks to borrow them. My reward? I get to use the credits to bring new to me books home. I didn’t even stop there! Now instead of creating a library I am visiting one. This has been a wonderful way to keep my reading active. When you own books they are willing to sit on the shelf and wait until you make time to read. When you borrow a library book you are given a deadline. I know that I can extend the due date but so far I haven’t wanted to. Now instead of hoarding my secret friends on shelves all over the house I reflect on the amazing secret lives they lead. I wonder where they were before they stopped by my house and what secrets they might be keeping.
Due to a late dinner guest and unexpected technical difficulties this is the extent of today’s post. The rant that ensued once technical difficulties were discovered had no redeeming value. Be glad you missed it. Back tomorrow….
Isn’t it crazy when you are young and can spot all the silly things your elders are doing? I remember being that youngster. Where did it go? Or rather, where did I go? What I have learned as I have begun the precarious hike to the top of the crazy hill is that the younger I was, the more limited my view. As I check my footing and stop to look around, I realize the world is so much larger than I understood it to be when I was younger. I don’t know that I can see further now, but I can see from this spot on the hill that there is much beyond my view. As my father loves to say, “I don’t know what I don’t know”. I can honestly say that I do know there is hidden wisdom in this odd saying. The other blessing? I am aware that there is an incredible abundance of things I do not know. The older I get, the more there is to learn.
Perhaps these seem like obvious observations but this unemployment gig has caused me to reassess just about everything. It’s time to revisit some of the assumptions of my youth. I’m thinking that wisdom might have been hiding underneath crazy. Let’s consider bread bags. Growing up I thought these were what you should throw out with the heel of the bread. My in-laws always kept them for reuse. Not to save money necessarily but to keep from wasting. They served as free doggy doo bags before they started offering free bags at our local trailheads. While they are not pretty or trendy, they are the perfect size for lunches on the go. And Ziploc bags, turns out that these are sometimes reusable too. I’m not ready to begin sewing a new seam on them when they wear out, but I’m also not so inclined to label the practice “crazy”. Over the years my Tupperware has slowly left the building. Now I have some less expensive Glad containers that are being squeezed out by empty sour cream cartons. I feel good about this. In fact, my father-in-law looks sort of pleased when I send him home with leftover casserole parading as generic vanilla yogurt. So why is the wisdom suddenly evident?
We now have something in common. Yes, I’m finally reaching the age of adulthood and it has been a long haul. I also finally have kids of my own I can try and pass these nuggets to. The real common ground is the realization that life is fluid and not really in our control. Before this enlightenment I figured there would always be more – more bread, more bags, & more containers. Now I have experienced a strong feeling of uncertainty. Will there be more? These elders have lived with the memories of several recessions and even the great depression. They have faced the uncertainty and learned that there is not always more. It’s time to get creative and get more out of what I already have.
While finding a job is probably the strongest solution to unemployment there are additional actions that can help considerably. Now that you have some extra time on your hands you can really think about how you are approaching your day-to-day life.
Have you been purchasing gifts for people instead of making time for them? While my own children are grown, I am lucky to have several little ones that are important to my daily joy. These children remind me to get caught up in the moment and demand that I remember how to laugh out loud. Prior to my unemployment gig I was falling into the trap of buying myself some silence. I did say silence, not peace. When I was lucky enough to find time to spend with the children in my life I made sure not to show up empty handed. The gifts were not elaborate or even outrageously expensive. Usually they were some little gimmicky thing that bought me time with adults and didn’t break until shortly after I departed. I didn’t realize at the time what I was missing out on. I silenced the happy voices and joined the adult crew with rehashing the day. The kids weren’t reflecting on their day, they were enjoying the moment and looking forward to the next. Now that I have been forced to remove these items from the budget I’ve made it a point to rejoin the kid group and spend some time on the floor. Funny how bringing little tokens gets you invited back but joining in lands you on the kids’ list at birthday parties.
Children weren’t the only ones that made it to the gift list. When I was still employed and we had a healthy duel income, how much we cared for people was directly connected to our gift giving practices. The perfect gift purchase could take days if not weeks to discern. Love your sister but don’t know how to talk to her? An expensive gift seems like an easy way to manage it. Want your friends to know that they are at the top of your list? Better top the gift their other friends gave them. Newly invited to the neighborhood wine club? First impressions are lasting impressions, so go for broke. Now I find value in the creative alternatives. I’m trying to learn how to talk to my sister. I still screw it up but it is slowly improving. Now I look for extra opportunities to tell my friends how much they mean to me. The incredible result? They are sharing the same sentiments, I feel like the Grinch with a heart ready to explode. The wine club? Well, I can’t afford the luxury yet but when I do it will be with a wonderful wine within my budget. I’m going to the discount wine store and ask their specialist for a recommendation. I hope the impression it gives is that while my contribution is modest, it is heartfelt.
When the economy is strong the playground is lots of fun. Even the merry-go-round isn’t half bad if the money is good. Some people climb on the jungle gym trying to out maneuver those around them so that they can be first to the top rung. King of the mountain, they guard their post once they reach the top. Others like to swing free with the wind in their hair and their eyes at the sky. When the economy takes a turn the playground begins to feel a bit more threatening. Dodge ball takes on a whole new meaning when it is a pink slip being thrown around. Sometimes the person handing out the pink slip is the next one to get hit. Just like a playground game of dodge ball, nobody seems to have enough padding these days and lots of people head home bruised.
While bruises don’t keep you from getting up each morning, they sure can slow the process. You begin to rethink your past performance, doubt your worth as an employee, and if unemployment drags on long enough, as an individual. Each morning you get up and try to ignore the bruises and hope that they will quickly fade away. Every small triumph, an answered email, a call back, the coveted interview helps the healing. Unfortunately, many of us begin to beat ourselves up again if there are too many days in between. We retreat into our minds and rethink each effort until we are no longer sure we are qualified to even search for the seemingly elusive job. As time continues at a healthy clip, the ideal job isn’t even on your list. Any job that will pay the bills will do. Ever successfully convinced someone that the job you really don’t want is the one you are the perfect fit for? Me neither.
So how do we pull ourselves each day to the new battlefield that is our playground? We get up and put on the borrowed optimism our friends and loved ones have lent us. We dress for the playground, not stay in pajamas. We check all the area sources: job boards, local companies, past business associates, the businesses we still frequent, and any other ideas anyone offers up. We go to that playground and stare down that incredibly high slide. We take the first step up the ladder and then the second one which feels much the same. Just keep climbing. Don’t get distracted or look down, just climb. Some days we reach the top and enjoy the ride down. I consider these the days when my energy is waning and a friend drags me out to treat me to a cup of coffee. Or the moments when I invest in myself, like writing this blog. The slide is my respite. When I get to the bottom I catch my breath and run back to the ladder.
So much for check back tomorrow. I’m still figuring out this blog stuff and while I have always attempted to be a woman of my word, I have been sorely lacking in this realm. My intent with this blog is to be consistent. Requiring daily writing from myself is an incredible way to keep my head clear and my thoughts somewhat organized. So when I got side tracked starting up a business website I figured the daily writing was still covered. What I had not planned on was having an unknown follower that would call me to the carpet. This is a good thing, particularly for the unemployed. I need schedules, requirements, and deadlines to keep me honest and to give me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. So, to that no longer unknown follower, thank you David for being supportive and encouraging. To everyone else, a reminder: don’t let age fool you – some young people do know a lot.
So back to the simple math I started to explain yesterday. When your bills are higher than your income, there’s a problem. There are plenty of solutions. My first thought, get a replacement job. Easier said than done.
A curious thing seems to be happening in this economy. With layoffs increasing and competition for every job increasing, employers have found it to be a wonderful opportunity to redefine the jobs they are hiring for. Suddenly, entry level means a minimum of 1-2 years of specific experience. Think that degree is going to help? It might, if it is the specific degree that is now required for most mid-level jobs. Greater competition in the employment realm also means lower base salaries and more dependence on the variable bonus structures. Not very reassuring when people are buying less and saving more. I’m not faulting employers, I actually think what they are doing is good business. There seems to be an evident restructuring going on across America, in homes and corporations.
Even what searching for a job entails is changing. Frequently, on-line personality and IQ tests are the first cut of the overwhelming pool of applicants. Be sure you are well rested, relaxed, and ready. These tests are not for the faint of heart. Often they are timed and include math equations, story problems, word associations, and finally a lingering feeling of dread. So far I’ve made it through this first cut. They don’t share your score with you so I don’t know if they even grade these tests. Perhaps they are setting up hoops to see if you really want the job. Most of my doubt is due to none of my previous employers having required me to solve algebra equations on a scrap piece of paper. Perhaps these companies are considering bucking the computer system trend in order to save more money?
Once you get through your on-line testing don’t be surprised if you find yourself leaving a scripted audition message on someones voice mail. No, I’m not trying to become the new voice of Minnie Mouse. This is for office, sales, and administrative positions – jobs that require you to speak over the phone. The applicant pool has reached levels that now make this a viable means of determining employability. It’s never been more important to take your allergy meds first thing in the morning. Who knew that warm tea could become a job search staple?
Eventually you will find yourself back on familiar ground, phone interviews and multiple in person interviews. These are where I get stumped. How should I answer to comments of being overqualified and underqualified? Why am I a better choice than the other 8 finalists vying for this 1 position? Maybe I should tap dance? This would show them that I am coordinated and probably not a safety risk to myself or others. Maybe I just need a better suit in the latest spring colors. And so my job search continues. It’s the first solution that comes to mind, just get a job. Too bad the economic slide doesn’t stop while you are searching. Other solutions? Check in tomorrow.
Like too many Americans, I have spent much of my adult life living paycheck to paycheck. When things are good I put some extra cash on the bills and allow myself some fun. Fun, like movies, new clothes, lunch with friends, a romantic dinner out, the type of fun you don’t get to enjoy when something unexpected happens in your paycheck to paycheck life. Sometimes unexpected is really the poorly planned, like the need for a new roof. Other times it can be missing your monthly bonus because another department decides to issue all the refunds on the last day of the month to make their balance sheet more impressive and you didn’t push through extra sales in anticipation. Maybe that is a planning issue too. Then there are the mostly unexpected things in life. In my case, a company meeting where the CEO explains that everyone is getting a paycut in order to keep everyone employed for the next year, followed a month later by a layoff of half the employees. I guess I should have realized that it was merely a revision. With half as many employees they should be fine for two years, right? Glad I could be of service and welcome to unemployment.
This is the point in my story where the brutal readers prepare to bury me in personal insults about my lack of planning and the sensitive readers tell me that I am not alone and am part of a suffering nation. And in my head I begin to hear a whiny voice mumbling that it is not polite to share your worries.
Unemployment insurance is a curious beast. If you qualify to use this insurance, the payment amount you will receive is determined partially by what you made previously. This sounds good in theory but in practice can be painful. The more you made, the greater the deficiency presented by unemployment. An hourly wage of $12 dropping to $10 means going generic. An hourly wage of $25 dropping to $10.50 means no longer living paycheck to paycheck but making some incredibly difficult decisions. So how does all of this unfold? What part is attracting the wrath of some and sympathy of others? Check back in tomorrow if you want to hear more. This opening alone has left me exhausted.