How to Survive a Layoff (or Two) Based on Real World Experience

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By Brittney Morgan

In the past two years, I have had the unfortunate experience of being laid off not once, but twice. And as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s not the most fun thing to go through.

I wish I could tell you that losing your job isn’t that bad, or that it gets easier the second time around, but the fact of the matter is, unless you have a huge savings account as a cushion, it doesn’t. Even if you secretly wanted to leave anyway, it’s different when it’s unexpected and not on your terms. I hope that you never face losing your job, but if you do, here’s my advice on what to do.

(I should start this by saying that, realistically, your first step will probably be to stand frozen with shock on the sidewalk a block away from your now-former office holding all of the things you just cleaned out of your desk and cry while you call your mom. I know that can’t be just me, right? So, you know… here's what to do after that.)

Figure Out Your Budget (and a Plan)

The first time I was laid off, I understandably panicked. Although I eventually calmed down and was able to handle things, I didn’t have a plan for a while. Going through it the second time around, I felt that same wave of panic and anxiety (honestly, there’s no avoiding that part) but this time I knew what steps I needed to take.

Do the Math

So, first things first: Take some time to sit down and figure out your finances. Go through all of your usual expenses (utility bills, rent, food, personal items, memberships, whatever you spend money on every month) and determine what is a necessity and what you can do without. 

Next, add up everything you’re considering a necessity. That total will be the minimum amount you need to make each month in order to survive. 

If you’ve been given a severance package or you have savings set aside, divide that up by that minimum amount and see how long you have before you absolutely need a full time job. 

For example, if you know you need $1,500 to survive a month and you have enough to last you two months,  that gives you time to find a part-time job or do freelance work while you search for a more permanent position. It also buys you time until your unemployment benefits to kick in.

Filing for Unemployment

If you’re eligible for unemployment, make sure you file for benefits ASAP. In most cases you should be, even if you get severance — although you should note that that might delay your approval and benefits. 

Your employer might give you information on applying for unemployment, but if not, you can find the information you need on your state’s Department of Labor website with a quick Google search. Benefits and rules may differ from state to state, but regardless, it’s important to apply as soon as you’re able to. Reason being, it takes at least a few weeks before you’ll hear back about being approved.

Deal With Your Debt

If you’re in a position where you don’t have any debt and you lose your job, you can skip this step. But if not, read on.

Student and Personal Loans

I’m still making payments on my student loans, so the first time I was laid off I had to figure out how to deal with them. If this happens to you, call your loan provider and find out what you need to do to defer payments. Note that it’s different for each lender; you might just need proof of unemployment, like a severance agreement or you might need to wait until you apply for and qualify for unemployment benefits. (The latter was the case for me, but since I received a severance, I didn’t qualify for unemployment right away and had to continue making student loan payments.)

In any case, your loan provider should be able to walk you through the paces and give you your options. I wound up switching to automated payments because my provider offered me a discount that lowered my payments by $100 a month, so even though I couldn’t defer them, I was able to pay less.

Credit Cards and Other Debts

The second time I was laid off I had credit card debt to deal with, thanks to the first time I lost my job. In that case, you’ll also want to call your credit card companies and see what your options are. 

They might be able to lower your minimum payments or help you consolidate your debt in a way that can help you. If not, factor in your minimum payments into your budget and make those.

Taking Care of Yourself

The most important step is also the thing that tends to fall by the wayside first when you’re dealing with unemployment: self-care. And I mean this in every sense of the phrase.

Health Care

In some cases, your former employer may cover your health insurance for a short while after you’re let go. In that case, take advantage of it. Make any important doctor appointments you may otherwise need to put off, and stock up on necessary prescriptions if your insurance will allow it.

If not, and your insurance is terminated right away, there are a few things you can do. If you’re on prescriptions you need to take regularly, call your doctor — they might be able to help (at the very least, they can renew your prescription for a longer period of time if it’s about to run out). You can also ask your pharmacist about coupons for expensive medications or use apps like GoodRx to get a discount on prescriptions when you pay out of pocket.

Check in With Yourself

Suddenly losing your job can be emotionally traumatic, and the stress of not knowing where your next paycheck is going to come from can be overwhelming. Be sure to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling regularly, and don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and loved ones when you feel yourself struggling — having a support system helps a lot.

And while you should dedicate most of your time to applying to jobs and finding part-time or freelance work to keep you afloat in the interim, make sure you’re not spending all of your time in your apartment scrolling through job boards. Continue to see friends (there are plenty of free things you can do together), be social, and get outside. The first time I was unemployed was during the summer, for example, I spent a lot of time reading in the park and at the beach, since both were free to visit. It served as a much needed break from all those job applications.

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