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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