|Naughty Boy by Brandi Milne|
Near the end of 2009 I was fired from my job. It wasn't anything specific that I did or didn't do, it was just that the recession hit my company pretty hard and they had to downsize by about 35%. I was one of the newer people there at the time so I'm surprised that I lasted as long as I did but in the end. I lost my job.
At the time I received the maximum unemployment benefits allowed which I believe was $400 per week or $1600 per month. Depending on what part of the country you live in that might be more than enough to get by, but in San Francisco, that's not a whole lot. After I paid all of my fixed bills such as mortgage, HOA fees, utilities, internet (I still had to look for a new job so the internet was an absolute must). I was left with about $300 to spare for all of the other stuff.
Keep in mind that I said, all of my "fixed bills" I hadn't counted food for the month yet. For me, $300 is plenty to get by for a month, but if I wanted to do more than eat then things got a little dicey.
Because of the recession everyone was a bit scared of losing their jobs, it didn't look like employment was going to be picking up anytime soon, for me it took about 10 months to find a new job. At the beginning of my (f)unemployment I wasn't particularly worried about my financial situation, I had some money saved so I thought I would be okay for a while.
The first thing I did was.... Well, file for unemployment benefits, I think that only took me like 20-30 minutes to complete but after that... Well, after that I called up my brother and friends and invited them out to drinks on them on a lovely Wednesday evening!
It was time to celebrate, I didn't really like my boss there so getting paid to leave was a blessing (there were a few people I did miss though, some of my coworkers were cool and one of the owners of the company was a great guy). But after all of the immediate things and taking a little time to unwind from the frantic pace that I had been working at to try to keep my job. I settled into my new life with a fixed income that didn't look like it would go very far in the city that I lived in.
Even though it was only a fraction of what I was getting paid previously I found that it wasn't too difficult to get by. In fact, I found that I had a little extra left over while living off of unemployment checks by themselves. Oh wait, I hadn't paid for taxes on my unemployment checks yet so I was probably in the red by the time all was said and done.... But that's not the point of this story, the point was that despite only having a fraction of what I made before I could still live my life, and I didn't feel like I was sacrificing much.
Live like you're UnemployedI learned what was actually important to me. Before I was unemployed I was an avid art collector, that was the first thing that stopped. It was an expensive hobby but it was 100% discretionary spending. But since I suddenly had lots of time on my hands and not a lot of money to spend I learned to cook for myself.* When I did go out to entertain myself I found myself going to the free days at the museum or street fairs. Being able to go places during the middle of weekdays (instead of work) really helps you hit the free/cheap entertainment.
Sometimes it's hard to see the upside to things while they are happening. Losing a job is definitely up there as one of those things that might not have a silver lining for most people. For me it ended up both good and bad, the bad was that after 10 months I ended up settling for the first job that came my way, you stop getting picky after a while. Luckily, I've moved on since that job. But the good thing was that I learned that I was still happy living off of only a fraction of what I was before. When I got a new job and had a similar income again I did have a little lifestyle inflation from my unemployment days, but it wasn't that much.
I think that was really the initial start to my more extreme savings. When I got back to work I suddenly saved about 35% of my income instead of the 12% I was before. Eventually I learned to crank it up a lot more but even if I stayed at 35% that would be a solid savings rate to be proud of.
Being fired was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It taught me about what I actually needed versus what was truly discretionary spending. It also taught me about what I thought was still worth spending money on even if I didn't have a lot of money to get by on.
I don't want you to get fired and learn this lesson the hard way, but if you can, try to live like you're unemployed. Even if it's just for a short time it might teach you a thing or two about what's important to you.
*When I say cook for myself I meant easy stuff like pasta and .... other types of pasta dishes, I'm no master chef!
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