What I Learned From A Year Of Unemployment

year of unemploymentWhen Veronica first lost her job in March 2011, she had no idea she was about to embark on 360 days of unemployment. She spent that year searching for new jobs, finding ways to cut costs and stay socially connected, and figuring out how to survive, emotionally and financially. (To protect her identity, we're using Veronica's first name only.) In March 2012, Veronica, 28, finally landed a new job with a university on a government-funded research grant in her field, mental health counseling. The job comes with retirement benefits and paid vacations -- elusive benefits for many young workers. Veronica, who lives in New England, shared her survival strategies with U.S. News. Excerpts:

How did you survive financially?

I had about three to four months of emergency funds to get me through until the beginning of the summer. Once I got to the point where the fund was dwindling, I prioritized my bills. The "must" pay bills were health insurance, car insurance, my phone bill, and my gym membership. I paid at least the minimums on my credit card bills every month. I paid my student loan bills for as long as I could.

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Once it became clear that I wouldn't have the money, I paid Sallie Mae a $150 forbearance fee every three months to avoid paying $240 a month. My Perkins loans were put into unemployment deferment, meaning interest would not accrue.... I suspended my Netflix membership when the price was increased.

I also had a pretty good mechanic who knew I was only going to fix things that really needed to be fixed. He was a godsend when my car failed inspection. He was able to epoxy my dangling license plate back in the holder instead of making me pay $300 for a new piece of plastic.

What about emotionally -- how did you manage?

That was the hard part. Last year, I had three weddings to attend. It became incredibly difficult to feel joy for my friends when I felt like the loneliest person in the world. We don't realize it when we're working, but work provides a good chunk of our social interaction. Sitting at home, looking for jobs online is not very socially stimulating -- in fact, it's incredibly isolating.

I also had no patience for friends who complained incessantly about work. I would have gladly taken their "horrible" job or their "horrible" boss and given them my unemployment check of $204 a week, after taxes. I volunteered at an animal shelter one morning a week, and that provided much needed social interaction, plus all the free animal affection you could want.

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Were there any specific financial strategies that helped you get by?

Aside from living at home, I forced myself to save 10 percent of my unemployment insurance checks and stash it in my savings account. Believe it or not, that extra $80 a month helped me out down the line. I also had some savings bonds that I cashed in. I delayed upgrading my cell phone; I'm still using the one I bought three years ago.

Did you ever feel like you were never going to find another job?

I did give up hope of finding a relevant job. It would be very disheartening to make it to the second and third round of interviews, only to hear that they went in another direction. I had lost most of my hope when I resorted to working retail during the Christmas season.

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What's your advice for others dealing with extended unemployment?

Everyone's situation is different, but the best advice is to just keep swimming. Sooner or later the sun does come out. I also think it's important to earmark 5 to 10 percent of the unemployment check to "fun." Nothing will make you feel worse that not finding any joy in life. The one nice part about my year not working is that I had a lot of time to do things that I can't do now that I'm working, like volunteering at the animal shelter and visiting my grandparents. I also tried very hard to go to the gym at least three days a week; I found that 45 minutes of cardio made me much happier.

How do you think back on your year of unemployment now?

Going through that year was worth it because my current job is perfect for me in so many ways. I have an employer who treats employees well, I have co-workers who genuinely enjoy their work and respect each other's opinions. I actually have energy when I leave work at the end of the day. I also have a new-found appreciation for a balanced life. I'm very happy to be working, but am also happy to leave that work at work and focus on myself at the end of the day.

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Ok, this article is annoying. She had unemployment insurance, enough to be able to still afford rent, her car, and insurance. And she had a gym membership?! Why not just run around the neighborhood? That's insane. Her experience sounds like a mild inconvenience, not a harrowing grind. I know people who are homeless, couch surfing, with no interviews after hundreds of resumes, without insurance of any kind or unemployment benefits. This woman had it easy compared to most.

August 26 2012 at 12:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well I been looking for a job for 7 months now and still have found nothing.....I totally went through all of my savings and now im just trying to stay afloat . I have filled out so many applications it's rediculous and i've had 3 offers for part time work at 15 hours a week for 8 bucks an hour . Im like give me a break , I clearly cannot accept a job for 15 hours a week at 8 bucks an hour because then all Ill be doing is putting gas in my car to get to work . I could take 2 of those jobs but, then they wont work around each others hours because you have to be available all hours plus weekends . I will continue to look and I refuse to give up hope because I know there has to be a job out there for me somewhere . It coud be worse and some people are worse off then me . So , here's to keeping the faith !

August 01 2012 at 1:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Must not have kids... if you can save 10 percent of your unemployment, put 5-10 percent toward fun, and afford gym membership and insurances.

July 31 2012 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow this article is great it reminds me of the situation I was in only a number of months ago . Looking for work paying of student loans . Living from partial savings trying to support my lifestyle then someone introduced me to the marketing world and helped me start making full time income for part time work . This is my hand stretching out to you like my friend did for me . My email is mayerandzeek@gmail.com

July 24 2012 at 9:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

fantastic veronica! way to think ahead and save for 6 months ..alot of people dont save for those rainy days!and alot just dont make enough but to live week to week..its really ashame that people dont see living pay check to paycheck is just surviving and not really living .....we need to demand more compensation for the hard work we do and we need to pay attention to our purchases and do our best to buy american when ever we can...i'm sure people will piss and moan about what i typed cause everyone on aol has their own company and they are all millioniares yadda yadda...but as for as this young lady glad you found employment ..way to go !

June 18 2012 at 11:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Gym membership as a "must pay" bill during unemployment? Hmmmm What's scary is being without a job without the benefit of unemployment each week and not having health insurance. I have survived on zero income for a short period of time but the idea of not finding a job within 3 months scared me to death. The tiny bit of savings I did have was eliminated after rent, utilities, and car insurance. Don't even think about getting sick or having car problems. It's easy to say to plan for disaster but with rising expenses and cost of survival, sometimes even your savings can't help you. And how exactly do you save when you live paycheck to paycheck? Someone needs to write a working class version of this article that alot of people can relate to.

June 18 2012 at 9:20 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jrodriguez904's comment

I kept my gym membership when I was unemployed for 6 months (it was $10/month membership at Planet Fitness). It really kept me sane. It was a place to go and a routine to follow. Honestly, it was the healthiest period of my adult life.

August 22 2012 at 3:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Population can suddenly be crippled by a outbreak of disease or other disaster spoiling unusually high gains of productivity setting back goals for indefinite periods of time. Read history you might find population can suddenly be wiped out or crippled for long periods of time.

Plagues are not just a thing of the past.

June 18 2012 at 8:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The world's people are getting older eventually the young cheap labor will be unable to maintain productivity requiring the proper use of machines to ease the work loads where harder labor is used. As people get older they should be able to rely on the proper equipment to carry the weight not their backs!

June 18 2012 at 8:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They got you coming and going fall off and they will just keep going like your not there.

June 18 2012 at 8:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Youn can't just toss Internet and PC etc because the communication such as email, fax and searches are needed in this shrinking news paper job advertising world.

June 18 2012 at 8:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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