Living Well While Unemployed
The current economy has spread the pink slip like a virus. Unemployment has become commonplace, but it still affects us in the same manner; when you or a partner receives notices of unemployment, it throws every financial transaction into sharp relief. The panic of having debt, rent/mortgage, car repairs, and other major bills is worrisome, but the thought of all those little, daily, adding-up-all-too-quickly expenses can be the more frightening concern.
Take heart! All is not lost the moment your income drops. It takes a bit more creativity, ingenuity, and probably some previously purchased time, but with a little planning and foresight, you can drop your daily spending to little or nothing. Take charge, buck the system, and learn how you can purchase products for pennies, for free, or even make money at the register!
Through focusing on just a few areas of expense, you’ll be able to save hundreds each month—hopefully enough to live comfortably while you search for the next great job. While expenses like debt, housing, and cars often cannot be altered, you can change what you have the most control over—your daily spending habits. First, get your hands on the coupons from the Sunday paper; even these you can often get for free from your local library, neighbors, or friends. If that fails, a Sunday-only subscription costs $2.00/week or less at an introductory rate, or $3.50 at the standard rate, either of which you’ll more than recoup in savings.
Money-Saving Principle No. 1: Shop the Drugstore System.
You think CVS, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid are just as—if not more—expensive than the generics at Market Basket? Look closer. The CVS “Extra Care Bucks” print out at the bottom of your receipt and are often thrown in the trash, smashed at the bottom of your purse, or simply forgotten. These slips are money. There are plenty of blogs that do the next (and most important) step for you: matching up the coupons from the Sunday paper with the deals from the drugstore flyer. Here’s an example of a real CVS deal:
Buy two Neutrogena Suncare products, and get $10 in Extra Care Bucks (ECBs) back.
The 1-oz. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock Tubes are $1.99
Buy 2 at $1.99 each
Use two $2/1 any Neutrogena product printable coupon
Final Price: Free plus $10 ECBs after coupons
You just walked out of the store with two tubes of sunscreen for free, plus $10.00 in ECBs to use towards your next transaction. Simply keep accumulating more and more Extra Care Bucks, stock up when the deals are good, and you won’t pay for most necessities again. Often on sale, free items are nearly always those we all need: toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouth wash, shampoo, conditioner, hair care products, body wash, soap, cleaners, razors, vitamins, and dish soap, to name a few. Even if they’re not free, you can often find products for only cents or a few dollars. It’s the everyday-have-to-buy expenses that take up a large portion of your expendable income after bills; if you purchase your consumable goods on-sale at your local CVS/Rite-Aid/Walgreens, you can easily save hundreds of dollars over the course of a month.
Money-Saving Principle No. 2: Stack Deals at the Grocery Store
Apply the same principle of combining coupons with store sales to your grocery shopping strategies. While you won’t find as much for free, you can still cut down your total bill by quite a large margin. Getting the very best grocery store deals requires a bit more work since they often involve “stacking”, or combining, coupons and deals.
If your family loves Doritos, a store sale on Doritos for 2/$4.00 is a good start, since they often sell at Shaw’s for $3.99/bag. This deal becomes even better when you combine it with a manufacturer’s coupon for $1.00/2 (these will say “Manufacturer’s coupon” on them—no guesswork); it becomes an absolutely stellar buy if there is also a store coupon (which will often have a note to the effect of “Good only at Store X”) for $1.00/2. You can combine the store and manufacturer’s coupons to get two bags for $2.00—a savings of $5.98 over the average price. These rock-bottom deals are called “stock-up prices”; if you buy a large enough supply to last until the next time this price comes around, you’ll have saved that $5.98 many times over, multiplying your savings in the months ahead.
A bit of judiciousness is required when it comes to grocery sales; if your family runs through Doritos at an amazing rate, this is the perfect deal for you. If no one will touch them, well, it’s not such a good deal now, is it? Knowing the produce, deli, generic store brands, and base-line prices can also help you on the weeks when you need items that don’t have coupons available. Which store has the cheapest prices for those types of items? Unfortunately, coupons are often for processed foods; there are coupon blogs out there for Whole Foods, organic goods, and produce/natural items as well, so by keeping a sharp eye out, you should be able to stock up on healthy foods even without coupons.
By keeping track of the circulars (those grocery store flyers that come in the mail or paper), you’ll also tune into the store “cycles”; for example, Market Basket rotates sale-prices on Hood and Cabot dairy products every month. Learn to identify an average, good, and stock up deal; keep track of what the “good” prices are and set your own limits on what you’re willing to pay!
Money-Saving Principle No. 3: Keep the Entertainment Line in the Budget
Job-hunting, adjusting your budget, and implementing new shopping strategies is stressful. Now is not the time to cut back completely on all the fun things you enjoy. If you do, you’ll just overspend later to give yourself a (no doubt deserved) treat. Plan and prioritize now in advance of some moment of crisis. What can you live or not live without? Perhaps you’ll find you can cancel your cable package as long as you keep Netflix. Perhaps it’s the other way around. Perhaps you don’t need either, as long as you can keep golfing—and why not? Call and find out when the discounted tee-times are.
While unemployment is no time to be spending without heed, it is a time to keep yourself sane. There are plenty of ways to enjoy life and have fun without spending too much. Think outside the box; museum-passes from the library, Swagbucks.com gift-certificates, and googling free community events are all ways to experience some new forms of entertainment while keeping your budget on track.
Unemployment is never fun, but there are ways to combat the stress and cut-backs you’ll have to make. Planning and effort go a long way towards stretching your family’s budget to the farthest it can go; lift a little bit of the financial pressure off of your shoulders as you become a smart and savvy shopper.