Q: I've managed to dodge a few layoffs at my company, but that won’t last forever. I have eight months left on my apartment lease. How can I cut costs when money is already tight?
A: Back in June, I offered tips for staying afloat while helping the planet. Since then, the unemployment rate has continued to move skyward, meaning that millions of Americans face the same tough decisions.
In an uncertain job market, looking over your shoulder only causes more stress. Starting today, focus on the future and take steps toward a new job opportunity. Here are a few tips from those of us who have traveled the same uncertain path.
Drastically downsize — now
To get there, it’s time to make aggressive cuts such as raising insurance deductibles or lowering your 401K withholding until you have money saved. Avoid peer pressure by letting friends and family know that you are trying to cut costs. Movies and dinners are out of the question right now.
It also pays to slash big-ticket items in your household. If you are making car payments, perhaps it’s time to sell the car and opt for a smaller model that you can buy outright, which would lower your insurance premium. If you live in a two-car household, perhaps it’s time to sell one car and invest in public transportation or the carpool lane.
As an apartment dweller, you may be able to request a smaller unit if your account is in good standing. That saves the landlord from having to deal with losing a tenant. Honesty is the key. Another option is to take in a roommate.
In this era of digital excess, you probably also have a few electronic outcasts taking up space. Check current rates on Craigslist or eBay and liquidate items that still have value. This will bring in some additional lunch money, even though you should be brown bagging it these days. I’m also a big fan of vintage and consignment shops. If you have old clothes that are in good condition, it’s time to give them a new home.
Get real about your finances
Take an honest look at your bank statements and look for hidden money zappers such as dry cleaning or worse — late fees. Be diligent about paying on time, and call service providers to see if you qualify for lower rates.
Luxuries like cable service probably should be a thing of the past. These days, you can watch reruns of your favorite shows online. If you are making payments on multiple credit cards, resist the urge to accumulate more debt by cutting up all that plastic. Keep one card for emergencies and focus on reducing your balance while bolstering your savings account. Six months’ worth of expenses is a minimum savings goal, especially if you think the axe is about to fall at work.
Work the 'Net
Don’t be a sitting duck. Use social networks to find the next job opportunity. Let your friends, mentors and trusted colleagues know that you are looking for a new opportunity. That means using Facebook for networking rather than status updates about your favorite TV show. Get an eagle-eyed friend to review your resume, then build or bolster your professional profile on free networking sites like LinkedIn.
Use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to seek out professional groups in your area. In addition to networking opportunities, many of these sites also post job listings on a regular basis. I also suggest frequent visits to sites like Mashable.com, which offers a wealth of advice on how to build and enhance your digital brand — and yes, you are a brand. When the right opportunity does present itself, make sure you have what it takes to stand apart from competitors.
Build your skill set
If you do have a little money set aside, look into courses that will expand your skills. Or, chart your own course like young entrepreneurs who have decided to forgo 9-to-5 jobs in favor of their own digital start-ups.
To get free life lessons and enhance your resume, consider volunteer work. It’s a great way to connect with people and network for a new job. Sites like VolunteerMatch.org allow you to type in keywords based on your interests or skills.
Take advantage of simpler and less expensive things in life. Check out the latest release at the library, where it’s free! Gather your friends and family for potlucks or long walks together — and remember that this, too, shall pass. Eventually, Mother Nature will reward you for shrinking your carbon footprint.
All the best!
— Morieka Johnson
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