If you are unemployed, you need to financially survive this trying time.
Your new full time job is to find a job. Unfortunately, looking for work is a “job” doesn’t pay anything.
Not having any income is a serious problem. And a major cause of stress.
How are you going to keep a roof over your head? Or food on the table?
Making your finances a priority matters now more than ever.
Over the last several years, I’ve unfortunately found myself unemployed on 3 different occasions. Thanks to a lay-off, my mental well-being, and getting fired thanks to a horrible boss.
I know all too well how hard losing your job and facing long-term unemployment can be. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and of course, financially.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to survive financially while you are unemployed.
How to Survive Financially While Unemployed
1. Apply for Employment Insurance
Also known as unemployment benefits, unemployment insurance, job seekers allowance, and social security, employment insurance is a government operated program that is specifically designed to provide short term support to help people survive financially while they are unemployed.
This is the most obvious place to start.
There are requirements you need to meet to file for unemployment and be eligible to receive these benefits. Such as having a certain number of insurable employment hours, the current unemployment rate, and that your job loss was through no fault of your own, such as an involuntary layoff due to changes in the labor market. You also can’t be receiving severance pay at the same time.
However, many people don’t realize that qualifying for unemployment benefits is possible even for people that lost their jobs from quitting or being fired.
In Canada, employment insurance pays 55% of your average insurable weekly earnings, up to a certain amount. (As of January 2018, this amount is $547 per week.) Meaning if you made $800 a week at your job before deductions, you will receive $440 a week while collecting E.I.
Surviving off of roughly half your income is not great, but it really can help you face a difficult time. Some income is a lot better than no income.
2. Cut Back Everywhere Possible
If you follow a budget, now is the time to re-evaluate it and make it as bare-boned as you can. If you don’t follow a budget, now is the time to sit down and make one.
Either way, you need to cut back on your spending as much as possible.
You need to be spending money on the things you need. Unfortunately, your wants have to come second, and might not make the cut at all. There may even be things that are “needs” that need to be cut, too.
This is a survival budget. Not your forever budget.
It’s designed to make sure that you and your family can survive financially while you are unemployed.
You can survive without cable or Netflix. Just like you can survive eating rice and pasta instead of steaks and lobster.
If you are in debt, there is even more financial pressure on you. Especially if you can’t make the minimum payments.
In this case, reach out to the places that you owe money to. Explain your situation. Tell them that you are currently experiencing financial hardship. Many companies already have systems in place for situations like this, and will do what they can to work with you.
For example, if you live in Canada and have student loans, apply for Repayment Assistance. If approved, your monthly payment will be reduced to something you can afford, based on your current income. I’ve had my student loan payment reduced to $0 when I lost my job, which was a huge relief and took some of that financial pressure off.
3. Work Part Time or Temporary Jobs
If you are actively looking for full time work but are struggling, looking for jobs that are part time or temporary might be a fallback plan worth considering while you are out of work.
It is possible to still collect employment insurance and work part time, depending on where you live. (If you’re in Canada, you’re good to go!)
This program actually helped me get an amazing job, that started out as a casual position and quickly turned into full time.
Working part time will also look better than having gaps on your resume. Even if it doesn’t really have much to do with your career path or goals.
Remember, it’s a survival job designed to help you survive financially while you are unemployed.
After getting laid off, I spent 2.5 years working 3 part time jobs all in the childcare field. It helped supplement my income, gave me something purposeful to do with my time, and I met some wonderful people of all ages along the way.
And who knows? You may decide that you prefer to work part time, seasonally or temporarily instead of a full time one, if you can make it work for the long term.
4. Make Money Online
If you Google “make money online” there are over 4 billion hits! So clearly, there are plenty of opportunities to make money online if you can’t find a new job.
As a blogger and website owner, I can use this space as a way to make money. There are a lot of very successful bloggers out there, after all. That said, in my first 4 years of blogging, I only made $2,772.67 after expenses. Which is less than $700 a year. So don’t expect to launch a blog and start racking in 6-figures a month.
Of course, you can make money online without running a blog or website.
You can find work freelancing, coaching people, tutoring online, offering consulting services, creating an online course, writing an ebook, selling your advice or expertise, selling your photos or graphic designs, transcribing audio, proofreading or editing other’s work, testing websites, answering surveys, doing data entry, or becoming a virtual assistant.
You can even find traditional occupations that can be done remotely. Meaning you can work from anywhere that has an internet connection, and are no longer limited by what new jobs there are in your community.
5. Side Hustles & Gigs
The term “side hustle” usually refers to paid self-employment that you do outside of your full time job. But it can also mean any type of job where you work as an entrepreneur, freelancer or independent contractor (opposed to being a company employee).
Often it’s a hobby that you can make money from. Like blogging, writing, designing, and photography.
But this type of work isn’t limited to what can be done online (as per my last point).
There are many offline side hustle and under the table jobs like house sitting, babysitting, pet sitting, dog walking, yard work, handyman work, tutoring, teaching music lessons, delivery driving, and selling your crafts, cooking, or baked goods.
We are living in a gig economy, after all, which has created all sorts of new jobs. This can be beneficial for anyone who finds themselves without a traditional job. And for those whose dream job isn’t a traditional one, too.
Gigs and side hustles are great because you have more control over what jobs you accept, and how much time you devote to them.
And of course, they can really help your finances survive your unemployment.
However, they don’t tend to pay a lot. And some have upfront costs associated with them, which may not be feasible for you at the moment.
So think about what skills and interests you have and see if there’s a way you can make some income from it.
6. Learn Something New
Even if you follow the whole “your full time job is to find a job” thing, it’s unlikely that you will spend a full 40 hours a week looking for a new job. Particularly if you live in a smaller community with a weak job market or high unemployment rates, or you work in a specialized field where there aren’t many open vacancies.
Don’t be afraid to take advantage of this free time.
You need time to decompress, regroup and readjust to your new normal. Especially if you are coming from a job where you were overworked or that had a toxic environment.
But be mindful of how you are spending your time.
It’s far too easy to waste your time instead of doing something that will help you survive financially while you are unemployed. Something that will help you get out of this tough situation.
Learn something new.
Upgrade your skills.
Take a class that will help you advance in your field or help you break into a new one.
There are so many free courses available online – here are 30 Places to Learn New Job Skills for FREE!
Check out your library, community centres, and schools to see what training courses are available to you locally.
Or, volunteer your time. It’s a great (and free) way to learn new skills, network, and give back to your community. And it also looks great on resumes.
7. Sell What You Can
Since you are now spending more time at home, why not use some of that time to get organized and declutter?
I bet there are things laying around your house that you no longer want or need that you can sell for a bit of extra money instead.
You can have a yard sale. Or sell your items through Kijiji, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or eBay.
For your more unique or specialized items, try places like Etsy, Poshmark or any local consignment shop.
If all else fails, you could always try a pawn shop.
Do you have any unused gift cards? If you can’t use them, you could sell them too to free up some cash instead.
8. Use What You Already Have
When I was unemployed, I learned to survive financially by making do with what I already had. I cut my own hair. I super-glued my winter boots back together. My husband reattached a broken windshield wiper using a hair tie and a bobby pin. We became so much more resourceful than we ever were before. Because we had to.
I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities for you to do the same. They just might require some creative thinking.
An easy place to start is by eating your pantry. Which is really just a fun way of saying eat the food you already have in your house (between your pantry, freezer and refrigerator). Chances are you have a lot more food than you realize.
Another easy one is to put that change jar or piggy bank to work, if you have one. Even if you don’t often use cash, any loose change you do have could add up.
Otherwise, it’s as simple as watching the DVDs you already have. Reading the books from your bookshelf. Wearing the clothes that are hanging in your closet. And playing the games you already own.
9. Borrow What You Can
When you’re unemployed, you can’t afford to buy new things. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go without.
Consider asking your friends, family and neighbours to borrow what you need. Especially for things that are rarely used, like tools and specialized equipment. Or that are only needed for a short time, like entertainment (movies, books, games) or professional looking clothing (say for a job interview, perhaps?).
You can also use your local library, where you can borrow more than just books. Most libraries also lend out DVDs, audio books, games, and magazines. And certain libraries also lend out different things like toys and puzzles, tools, cake pans and bakeware, sports equipment, musical instruments, gardening tools, and art supplies. (I had no idea!)
Libraries also offer a lot of free programming that you could take advantage of, such as storytime and crafts for the kids, and film screenings, lectures and computer classes for adults.
10. Use Your Points
I’m a points hoarder. Or I should say I used to be. Because when I was first unemployed, those points really helped us survive financially. I was able to turn those points into $250 cash and $145 worth of groceries.
So check your point balances and store loyalty cards to see if you have any points you can redeem.
If you haven’t already, sign up for cash-back apps like Checkout 51 or Ebates to start earning cash-back. (And get a $5 sign-up bonus!)
11. Find Freebies, Discounts & Coupons
There are numerous websites out there where you can find coupons, discount codes and free samples for all sorts of things. Some of my favourites include Free.ca, RetailMeNot, Freebies.com, Free Stuff Finder Canada, and Reddit’s Freebies.
You can browse these websites to see if there are any offers you’d like to take advantage of. Or if you are looking for something specific, search “free shampoo” or “free cat food” and see what offers there are.
Usually the freebies are sample-sized products or promotional items, but who cares – it’s free! And right now that means one less thing that you have to spend money on.
Sites like Cragslist and Kijiji also have free sections, where you can find all sorts of things like used furniture and household items, locally.
If it’s your birthday, there are even more freebies and discount offers available.
You could also try your luck by entering contests and giveaways. There are tons of these online, too. Usually they require you to sign up for newsletters, follow their social media accounts, and/or ask for your email and mailing address. So, you might get some junk mail or spam in the process. But if luck is on your side (or if you’re simply persistent enough), you can win some really amazing prizes.
Personally, I’ve won $750 cash, $50 gift cards, and a few books by entering online giveaways. Not bad, huh?
If you are not comfortable sharing your mailing address (which I completely understand), there are many digital freebies out there too. You can get things like ebooks, apps, games, software, videos, printables and programs all for free.
Another option is to reach out to the companies you love, tell them that you love them, and ask if they have anything they can send you – like a coupon or free sample. (Which is a much more honest approach than complaining to companies just to get free stuff.)
12. Ask for Help
Asking for help can be humbling. But if you need help, please ask for it. Don’t let your fear or your pride stop you.
Ask for help with your job search.
Do your friends, family or colleagues know of anyone that’s hiring? Can they proofread your resume and cover letters for you? Or attend a networking event with you? Is there an employment centre in your community that can go to and work with a career coach?
Ask for financial help.
Depending on your circumstances, you might need to ask to borrow money. Or you might need to apply for a loan or credit increase through your bank. You could get help from a credit counselor with creating a budget or payment plan. Or speak with a financial advisor. You may also be eligible for other government support programs (besides employment insurance) or charity support (like housing supports, food banks and clothing assistance).
Ask for mental health and emotional help.
If you are struggling, you don’t have to struggle alone. There are numerous supports available to you – whether you are in a crisis or just looking for information. Turn to your partner, family members and friends. Contact your local counseling centres to see if they offer (or know of any) free or low-cost service. Or check out the resources available at the following websites:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
Kids Help Phone
The Lifeline Canada Foundation
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Provincial Mental Health Helplines
Your Life Counts
You can also reach out to me, any time. Full disclosure: I am not a mental health, finance or employment professional. I’m just someone that has far too much experience being unemployed or underemployed, whose knows what you are going through, and is willing to listen and offer my support. Please contact a professional if you need to.
13. Use Your Emergency Fund or Savings
If you have an emergency fund or other savings account, now might be the time to use it.
In most circumstances and for most people, being unemployed is an emergency that you need to survive financially.
If you were saving for a dream vacation or a down payment on a house, you might have to reassess your plans for now.
As someone who has always been a saver, I know how scary it can be to watch your savings account dwindle away. So of course, it’s better to avoid using your savings altogether if you can.
14. Use Your Credit Card
Please don’t think of your credit card or line of credit as “easy money”. Sure it’s easy to rack up those bills, but paying it off can be a long, brutal and incredibly expensive process.
We ended up with $25,000 in consumer debt after I was laid off.
Because I was unemployed or underemployed for 2.5 years.
We didn’t have much choice but to rely on our credit cards to survive financially for that long.
5 years later, we are still paying off this debt. And have also had to pay over $17,000 in interest alone on this debt – so far. Meaning those initial charges have already cost us almost 70% more.
So yeah, I do NOT recommend relying on your credit cards unless you absolutely have to.
Which is why I purposely put this point near the end of my list, because it should be your last resort.
However, Champagne & Capital Gains makes a really good argument as to why using your credit card is better than using your savings or emergency fund. Especially if you are single and have no back-up financial support. I strongly suggest checking it out too, so that you can make the best choice for your specific circumstances.
15. Take Care of Yourself
You may not think that taking care of yourself has any financial implications, but it really does.
Although “your full time job is to find a job”, you still need to maintain some balance in your life. Finding a job takes time.
So much of our identity and self worth are tied to our jobs and career paths. Not having the structure, purpose or sense of security that a job provides only makes being unemployed that much more stressful.
Too much stress can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health. And too much anger, anxiety or depression will only make job hunting that much harder.
You need as much confidence as you can muster to help yourself stay positive, focused and calm during this trying time.
That being said, it’s totally okay and normal to feel depressed, angry and upset about being unemployed.
But try your best not to dwell over how it’s unfair, or beat yourself up over what you could have done differently.
Instead, take the time to focus on yourself and your own well-being. Allow yourself to process how you’re feeling. Give yourself time to adjust. Again, ask for help, if you need it.
Use this time to start a new project or hobby. Reconnect with friends. Take up meditation. Explore your community.
Do something for YOU.
Even if you’re not at your best financially, you can use this time to become your best mentally, physically and emotionally.
It’s easy to waste your time and energy worrying about all of the things that you can’t control while you’re unemployed. But you’ll be better off if you can focus on what you can control, instead.
By following these tips, you can financially survive being unemployed.
YOUR TURN: If you’ve been unemployed, what did you do to survive financially? Is there anything that I forgot to include? Please leave a comment below.
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.