This post also appears over at Unemploymentality, my other favorite unemployment blog. Be sure to check in with them often as they find new and exciting ways to talk about everyone’s favorite feel-good topic.
Some talking heads say that consumers should spend money to push the economy out of this recession. But what are these college professors and thinktankers doing with their own money, when they venture off campus (aside from looking for tweed)? Probably keeping it in their pockets. Consumers as a group drive the economy, but the group is made up of individuals who act in their own best interests. And because people want safety in uncertain times, they’re cautious about spending.
Most of us don’t live in Theoretical Land, where tuition hikes can always outpace inflation and earnings growth and economics textbooks are correct. We live in Actual World, where jobs are disappearing and s**t is going down.
I’ve spent a good chunk of my life being cheap out here in Actual World. I blame (read: credit) my parents, who had to make do with less in times of unemployment and still support a family. One benefit of my miserly ways is I’m always ready for the next layoff. My life doesn’t stop just because the paychecks do. Here are some tips to save a little cash and ease the job-loss worrying.
My first recommendation is to get on the Bed, Bath & Beyond mailing list. Once you do, the store will mail you a 20%-off coupon about every 20 minutes or so. They just keep coming, quicker than Chinese food menus under your door or fad diet flyers under your windshield wiper. It’s truly amazing. Hold onto these coupons, because while they carry an expiration date, the store never abides by it. I used a coupon the other day that expired in mid-2007. The result is that everything at BB&B is on sale everyday. Keep in mind that this isn’t a license to spend money on frilly throw pillows and shiny espresso machines. Only buy the stuff they sell that’s truly essential (toiletries, cleaning products, certain types of food).
Macy’s treats its credit card holders like BB&B treats its mailing list subscribers. So sign up for a Macy’s credit card, and when it arrives, put it away (no need to be tempted). Very soon, Macy’s coupons will start filling the mailbox too. The offers vary, from a $15 discount on a $50 purchase to a $25 discount on a $100 purchase to some percentage off of a day’s purchases. Using coupons on a sale day compounds the savings. When a need arises, pull out the card and make the purchase. Then put it away again. A new credit card isn’t an invitation to accumulate a balance, unless it’s for interview clothes that you’ll promptly pay off when gainfully employed. It’s a way to spend less on necessities.
Fatwallet.com is a cheapskate’s wet dream. The ways to save money are endless, provided you’re already looking to spend money. (Again, therein lies the danger.) I just found a deal offering a year’s worth of Chipotle burritos for $995. Unfortunately, the break-even on that is about one burrito every 2.5 days. At that rate, my heart would explode sometime in mid-July. Otherwise I might give it a go. There’s also a forum entitled “Free Stuff” with all kinds of crazy threads. The entertainment value alone makes it worth a visit – to think that people want some of this crap. But a lot is worth finding – free coffee, free movie passes, free iTunes tracks. There’s currently an offer of a free Whopper in exchange for ten Facebook friends. Everyone has at least ten Facebook friends that they’d readily sell out for a hamburger. I know I do.
Public transportation is the earth’s friend, and your friend. But maybe it can be a better friend. While employed, I’m always enrolled in a TransitChek-type program that lets me buy my monthly unlimited subway fare card with pretax money. There’s no reason not to enjoy this savings, and if you’re employed and not enrolled, do it now. Travel needs change with employment status though. So it’s worth tracking this expense for a month of unemployment to gauge your needs. Maybe a monthly unlimited card isn’t needed, given that you now ride the train twice a week. Get a fare card with a balance that can be drawn down. Should a day or week of heavy travel come along, buy an unlimited day or week card to cover it. This approach may not end up saving money. But it’s worth the exercise to find out.
These are some good ways to save some cash. There are plenty of others – like hitting all the happy hours that offer free food – for those with the (ahem) stomach. The goal is to make what money you have go further, and to avoid digging into the 401K (hands off!). And even if you don’t do anything I’ve written, spend wisely. That’s the best possible advice. Unemployment and the fear of unemployment really do suck. Maybe these tips will make them suck a little less.