How I dealt with a dwindling bank account during my job search

Photo credit: solarseven, Shutterstock
Photo credit: solarseven, Shutterstock

Being out of work can take its toll in many ways: feeling a lack of purpose, social isolation, and diminishing self-esteem are common job seeker maladies. But perhaps the most fundamental of all unemployment woes is tied to the reason we seek livelihoods at all: money.

If you’ve been on the job hunt for a while and are starting to see the repercussions in your bank statements, take heart and try out these tips I employed during my jobless days of yore:

  • Use it up, wear it out. Remember this old adage that ends in “make it do or do without”? Now’s a good time to employ it. When I was job seeking a couple of autumns ago, I channeled my inner Macklemore and hit up thrift shops to update my interview wardrobe. I gave up dinnertime food delivery in favor of firing up the stove—the Internet is a font of recipes that only require cheap ingredients, are easy to prep, and will keep you in some semblance of nutritional order. I wanted a new desk, but instead of trekking to Ikea, I got industrious and gave my existing one a makeover (not as good as any of these, but they’re good for inspiration!). Get the idea? However you aim to wring the most out of the free/cheap resources available to you, one tangential benefit will be the creative juices you’ll feel flowing when you exercise your craftiness muscles.
  • What don’t you need (to do) anymore? This is an ideal time to examine your spending habits and make some cuts or adjustments. You might find substantial savings just by making a list of your regular expenses every month—for example, if your phone bill is $100 but you realize you never use all your minutes, why not slim down to an $80 plan? Or maybe you’re not really using that Spotify Premium subscription, or can ask your car insurance provider if there’s any way to reduce your monthly bill. But what I found even more helpful was to keep a spending diary: every day for a month, I kept a log of exactly what I spent and what I spent it on (I did it on paper but online tools also abound). I was shocked at what I was spending at happy hours (embarrassing but true), and resolving to be more disciplined in that one category alone saved me enough dollars to make a noticeable difference in just a few weeks.
  • Don’t spend money in an effort to feel better. Retail therapy is a classic feel-good fix for a reason (who doesn’t smile when they get a shiny new toy?), but it’s also a sure way to empty your pockets (and possibly feel regretful later). When you’re feeling lonely, stressed, or sad, aim for self-care that’s free or low-cost. It could be as simple as taking a nap or a shower, or allowing yourself a break with a book and mug of coffee for 30 minutes. Once when I was frustrated about a botched job interview and felt myself on the brink of splurging on gourmet ice cream, I sat down in a park and called a friend on the phone. The soothing conversation was free, and I’m sure I felt better afterward than if I’d scarfed three scoops of Dutch chocolate covered in whipped cream instead.
  • Get stopgap work you don’t love. This is usually a last-ditch effort, as it makes sense to focus your time and energy on landing your dream gig, not on working at something you don’t really want to pursue. But if you’re seriously looking at not being able to pay rent next month, it might make sense to widen your net and just try to find something for now. Consider nighttime or part-time work, a paid internship, or a few days or weeks of temping—all will leave you available to network and interview, at least on some days of the week. And if you can find something that relates to your chosen field, so much the better. When I was looking for writing work, I got a temporary contract job helping an organization to plan a big fundraising event. While it didn’t last long and wasn’t my dream job, I did have to do a bit of writing for it, which of course I reported on in my resume.

Job seekers, what are your best money-saving tips when times are tight?

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April Greene was an editor at

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    • Derek Floyd
    • July 10, 2014

    These are great suggestions, and I am currently using just about all of them. I would also add that it can be a good time to go through all of your “things,” the material objects we collect over time. Perhaps there is something that you haven’t used in a while and no longer has value to you, but rest assured, it may well have value to someone else. Ebay is great for this.

    With regard to finding part-time work not in your field, if you have a car, you might consider driving for Lyft or Uber. You can set your own hours, and you’ll get to meet a lot of great people in your community. I recently started driving for Lyft, and it’s been a great help with income. If you’d like to check out Lyft, below are two links:

    1. DRIVING for Lyft, use this link, which is my driver referral code. And if you sign up and complete 20 ‘Lyfts’ – you and I will both get an extra $100!

    2. If you haven’t used Lyft before, try it out as a passenger. Use this link and your first ride will be free up to $25!


    • Carl
    • July 10, 2014

    Public assistance such as WIC (Women, Infants and Children) or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) should also be an option, and people should not be ashamed of using these options when truly needed. These programs are designed for individuals and families who are falling below the poverty line and are in need of help. Regaining one’s career should always be the goal, but in the short-term one should never go hungry or lose one’s home because of a gap in viable employment.

    • Kristin Summers
    • July 10, 2014

    Thanks for the ideas and “permissions.”

    I live in NYC and the last time I was between jobs, I tried to be strategic about my transportation dollar–consolidating errands, figuring out how to get two transportation trips for the price of one (subway down, bus back up) — or better yet, walking!

    In the summer, I cut back on air conditioning by using fans and also going to the public library with my laptop during the heat of the day. It had the added benefit of keeping me from being too isolated.

    Instead of dropping a dollar or two for bottled water or a candy bar, I brought my own snack from home and re-used my water bottles. I would fix a picnic breakfast (milk in water bottle containers. What a concept!) and go to a park to read the news on my iphone.

    I also used my downtime to reach out to older neighbors–grocery shopping for them, inviting them over for coffee, etc. It was a win-win. A neighbor and I teamed up on food buying, to take advantage of sale prices but keeping cash flow in check. Older people with fixed incomes are penny conscious, too.

    • J_Mo
    • July 11, 2014

    Anyone have any experience with PMI for their mortgage? My understanding is that one thing it will cover (temporarily) is job loss. I lost mine back in December (thank goodness for temp agencies and unemployment!)

    I have not yet needed to do this, so I wanted to ask if anyone has managed to successfully work with their mortgage company during a time of joblessness to avoid losing their home? Wanted to ask before I even contact my bank. (You know how they can be!)

      • Robin
      • July 14, 2014

      If you’re having problems paying your mortgage, because of unemployment, do contact your mortgage company. You may qualify for a temporary forebearance progam and/or a loan modification due to your unemployment. (I know, because I’m going through this currently)

    • Myndie F
    • July 11, 2014

    I have made a lot of changes, but the long-term diagnosis feels helpless. My twins are starting college in Sept 2015. Their father is a salaried worker. I have been the primary breadwinner and my position was eliminated last month. It has been very very difficult to even get responses, let alone interviews. I do not take taxis – I eat home 20 out of 21 meals! I started a small home business. It breaks my heart that I am going to have to take money from my IRA to live and support my kids. It is very sad – but I will continue to have hope because there has to be a plan out there for me!

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