About a month into my job search I found myself sitting across the table from my church leader. My wife was with me and we were asked to meet with him because he was concerned about my unemployment. We had put this meeting off for weeks because we didn't think we'd be out of work very long.
By the time we met with him I had come to terms with the idea that our job search would be long and painful. We didn't need any financial help, yet, but we thought we'd let him know where we were at. One of the first things he did was to ask us what our expenses were. He wanted to understand how many months we could go on with the savings we had.
Initially, having someone else look at our finances felt invasive. I wouldn't have welcomed it at any other time, but we were ready for another set of eyes. This experience helped me critically look at each expense to determine what expenses were critical, and what we could shed. Here are some Monday morning quarterback thoughts:
Cable TV: There is no reason to keep cable TV if you are in a serious, long-term job search. This can cut about $100 a month (no kidding - some people pay that much) that can go to other things, like FOOD.
Internet: I would suggest you cut this only if you can get access somewhere else, like a library or friends house. You need to be plugged in, but you might not have to pay for it. This can cut $50 - $100 a month.
Cell Phone: My dad got me a cell phone when I got laid off because he wanted to make sure I didn't miss any calls. You need to cut costs but you must be accessible. You can get an inexpensive cell connection on a minute-by-minute, no-contract basis, or you can get a low-cost monthly plan (without internet/data), or maybe you can jump on an existing family plan as another phone? Maybe add $20 a month to your expenses?
Food: Prepared meals and canned food are expensive. Cooking from scratch is a passion of mine, so cutting food costs and buying ingredients instead of meals and convenience was an easy way to trim dollars from a monthly budget.
Eating out: Restaurant expenses can sneak up on you. When you are unemployed each trip to the diner takes up a significant amount of your limited cash. I joked with our church leader that we spent $700/month on eating out (we didn't!), and that was the first thing he was going to cross off the list!
Clothes: I'm not a clothes buyer (my favorite jeans are OLD) but I know some people are. Shopping for clothes during a job search should be held to a minimum, perhaps when you need something for an interview or for networking, but not as a leisure activity.
Medical Expenses: I hate to suggest that you cut medical expenses, but you should know that you don't have to pay full price for everything. Our family doctor found out we were unemployed and he waived all fees (our kids still got sick, rascals!) We had some hospital visits coming up (birth of a baby and a surgery) and we found out the hospital and doctors will give you a discount if you pay in full before the procedure. We saved 50% on all bills (hospital, doctors, service providers, etc.) because we knew that and took advantage of it.
Savings: We had grown accustomed to putting money in savings and having a relief fund build up. When I lost my job I didn't want to lose momentum but I had to get over the habit and realize that it would be a long time before I put any savings away.
Entertainment: When you have a steady income it's easy to justify normal entertainment and, once again, have the costs sneak up on you. We found we could still go to the movies, although it was the dollar theater. What could have been $30 at the movies became $4 (combine the savings of going to the dollar theater with not buying any concessions and you save a bundle!) You will be tempted to cut every expense but realize there is still stuff you can enjoy -- and you can't put date night or time with your kids on hold until you land on your feet again.
Transportation: Because my commute vanished I saved about $400/month just from gas. If you cut out a long commute call your insurance agent and ask if the premium can go down since you aren't on the road as much.
If you are really interested in learning how to get your budget controlled, especially as your income decreased, check out The Simple Dollar.