My Unemployed Life: Single Mom Learns to Cut Corners and Get Creative

My name is Tonya, I am a 39-year-old single mother of three daughters and I am unemployed.

My life in the unemployment line began in October 2009, just over a year ago. I was a hotel manager at a local resort for two years when the economic recession hit. Our resort took the hit quite hard and I was one of a few managers who ended up being laid off permanently, in order to make way for newer employees who would be paid only a third of my salary.

Frankly, times had even been tough while I was working, with three children all having different needs. I found myself struggling to pay for essentials like day care, always driving one place or another to take my children to their school-related functions and never having enough time in a day.

Times were tough while I was working, but they were about to get even tougher.

For the first six months of my unemployment, my days were filled with job searches. I posted my resume on job sites, made phone calls, wrote cover letters, and filled out applications. Nothing. No jobs anywhere.

My bills were slowly getting behind because my unemployment compensation was barely enough to pay them and still cover our food and other expenses. At times I found myself so stressed out over bills, birthdays and trying to find a job that I was ready to throw in the towel.

It was time to reevaluate my life.

Living on a lot less

The essence of being a cheapskate had been embedded in me by my parents, so it wasn't that hard to learn how to cut corners. Our local food bank supplied us with the necessities that we couldn't afford ourselves, including personal hygiene items, various meats and a lot of cereal -- which during the times we had very little food, often became our breakfast, lunch and dinner. Depressing as it may sound, sharing a bowl of cereal for dinner with my children actually turned out to be a fun experience for all of us.

Through all of these trying times, my children never once complained about not having the things that other kids their ages had. And when invited to birthday parties, they'd even help save a few dollars by making the birthday cards themselves.

Beginning in February 2010, I took up an interest in gardening. By springtime, my girls and I had learned a whole new way of living. We began planning out our garden, where we could grow a lot of vegetables and fruits for our own consumption. We planted rows of green beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, peppers and even corn.

Each morning we could be found walking through our garden to see what else had sprouted. Every evening we sat on our back porch and looked at the fruits of our labor. Every day we would pick something from our garden to have with our dinner. Our new way of living almost had a 'Little House on the Prairie' feel to it.

When the school year began again in the fall, we went to thrift stores. We found quite a few items that looked pretty new and the girls had a blast getting all of their "new" outfits.

A simpler life

Our simplified life actually helped to relieve a lot of stress. Since I had stopped all unnecessary driving, I found that I had much more time on my hands. No more running around here and there wasting precious gas. No more stopping at the nearest fast-food place for a quick bite to eat. No more fund-raiser pressure to give money to every niece and nephew in my family, since they all knew I couldn't afford it anyway. No more money wasted on frivolous things that we just didn't need. We were no longer a family that indulged in extra conveniences.

If we didn't have it and didn't need it, we didn't get it.

I still haven't found a "conventional" job, but I have found a way to live life to the fullest and teach my children the values that our parents and grandparents knew long ago. We have learned some of the most valuable lessons in life -- ones that in a conventional world would have gone forgotten -- all thanks to my unemployment dilemma.

Together we have baked our own bread, we've canned our own garden-grown green beans and made our very own grape juice. And no paying job could ever compensate for the smiles on their faces when they tasted pumpkin pie made with our pumpkins.

Now I'm not saying that everything in the past two years was just peaches and cream. There have been times when we didn't have cable or Internet, and my cell phone was shut off more than once. But, this was the life I had always wanted and this was how I had always wanted my children to grow up. Since losing my job, I have adapted to a life without the frills, and I've done it happily.

A new beginning

Although I am still receiving unemployment benefits due to the extension passed by Congress, I find myself reevaluating my life for the second time. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania, my home state, is still hovering around 8.8 percent, and the struggles of the lower and middle classes seem to be on the rise; so I have, once again, started scouring the want ads, in search of the ever-elusive job. A career change seems unavoidable, but imminent.

But does my new-found life have to change too? Is there some "perfect" job out there just for me that would enable me to raise my family and be able to provide not only the essentials, but also a few of the luxuries? If there is, I have made it my mission to find it. I believe that I will find a way to juggle a new job AND still have the lifestyle I've created for me and my children.

My plan right now is to start my own business doing light landscaping, for that is work I love and still allows me to be readily available to my children. Wish me luck!

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hello, for those unemployed that have access to the internet, here is a survey site to make easy money and get paid every 15th and last day of the month. You cant get rich but its something to make a little money while looking for work. i usually make about $50 to $100 every pay day.this is the only survey site i know of that pays good for each survey you complete and you dont have to buy anything.After you sign up(its free) do your profile, do the surveys under the studies tab, and also click the video tab to view videos for a little more money.payments sent thru mail, also paypal. if you choose paypal you can transfer that money to your debit card for free. GOOD LUCK TO ALL

September 26 2011 at 6:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hope you and children have found your place in life but if not I need someone to help out around the house for room and board

June 15 2011 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It amazes me that all the comments that had "praise" for this woman got lots of stupid stars. But the comments that had a slight objection to her article only got 1 star or maybe 1 1/2. I would love to know who is "rating" the comments.....I to find myself unemployeed, with a 12 year old child. No unemployment, no funds from unemployed father. I have cut back on everything. My church helps with food and some utilities which is great. I do have a small amount of income due to helping a friend which I use for gas and food. I could go on and on but I will not. My main point that I wanted to say was that I do not think anyone should "judge" or "star" anyone until they have walked in that persons shoes...and not even after that because everyone has their free agency to make decisions for themselves!

January 29 2011 at 7:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Must be nice to be able to sit around on your behind all day without even trying to find a job. I'm glad that my taxes are supporting this woman's lack of drive to find work. Why don't we all just stop trying to provide for our families and let the government take care of us. The most upsetting part is when AOL (like most media outlets) make this type of story out to be a good thing. Yes she lost her job and needed help to get back on her feet, but she is so comfortable living off the government handouts, she stopped looking for a job. At least now she is looking for the "perfect" job. I wonder how long she will continue mooching off those who have enough self-respect to take that "not so perfect" job to support our families (and hers.)

January 25 2011 at 12:28 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I know exactly how you feel. I also was a Manager of a Hotel. I have been unemployed since April of 2010. Placing my resume on 3 sites, still nothing.
I have over 14 years of experience in the hospitality field. I have 3 interviews, and still can not land a job. I feel that companies are just useing this resession as an excuss to make more money for them selfs.

January 25 2011 at 12:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Trying to get child support from a jerk that doesn't want to pay it is a joke. You can take him to court to make him but the only one that will make money there is the stinkin attorneys who will encourage you to try and force him. But in the end, the money you waste in court is better used on the kids. Don't follow the attorney's advice who is only in it for you to pay him!

January 24 2011 at 10:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

For those of you who think she is being lazy, it is hard to find employment in Pennsylvania and she doesn't have the money to exactly to move to another State unless she saves some of the unemployment checks. My friend who lives in Pennsylvania was out of work almost a year until she found something. It's not that easy to find a job there when the unemployment rate is so high.

January 24 2011 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There has been people living like this for over 100 years. It's called being smart. Do you really need cable, internet, and a cell phone to live? No, it's called greed. No one is better than anyone else.

January 24 2011 at 7:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tonya, you have done wonders for you and your kids. You can make a business out of helping people simplify their lives either as a consultant or by writing a book about your experiences. Another business you can start is to help people with their gardens since you love to garden. There are a lot of people who would love to have a garden, have room for a garden but don't know how to start one, and how to keep one. You could charge them for starting their garden, and then go check up on it once or twice a week with the understanding that the owners would water and harvest, and call if there is a problem. This may give the girls a chance to make a little money as well as you could have them help weed and things. good luck

January 24 2011 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a great story. I too have had to learn how to shop at consignment shops, purchase "reduced" meat, and other products for "quick sale" at the grocery stores. I learned Bus routes, bought day passes for the bus. Used canvas bags to put all the other bags in and carry them home. Now I am trying to save for those earthboxes to grow squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, strawberries, blueberries and herbs on the patio. Most of all my hope is America will bounce back, but I hope we keep the lessons learned that "It is nice to have things, but don't let those things have you".

January 24 2011 at 6:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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