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How I Dealt with a Dwindling Bank Account During My Job Search

A piggy bank at the top of a pile of coins.

Being out of work can take its toll in many ways: feeling a lack of purpose, social isolation, and diminishing self-esteem are common job seeker maladies. But perhaps the most fundamental of all unemployment woes is tied to the reason we seek livelihoods at all: money.

If you’ve been on the job hunt for a while and are starting to see the repercussions in your bank statements, take heart and try out these tips I employed during my jobless days of yore:

  • Use it up, wear it out. Remember this old adage that ends in “make it do or do without”? Now’s a good time to employ it. When I was job seeking a couple of autumns ago, I channeled my inner Macklemore and hit up thrift shops to update my interview wardrobe. I gave up dinnertime food delivery in favor of firing up the stove—the Internet is a font of recipes that only require cheap ingredients, are easy to prep, and will keep you in some semblance of nutritional order. I wanted a new desk, but instead of trekking to Ikea, I got industrious and gave my existing one a makeover (not as good as any of these, but they’re good for inspiration!). Get the idea? However you aim to wring the most out of the free/cheap resources available to you, one tangential benefit will be the creative juices you’ll feel flowing when you exercise your craftiness muscles.

  • What don’t you need (to do) anymore? This is an ideal time to examine your spending habits and make some cuts or adjustments. You might find substantial savings just by making a list of your regular expenses every month—for example, if your phone bill is $100 but you realize you never use all your minutes, why not slim down to an $80 plan? Or maybe you’re not really using that Spotify Premium subscription, or can ask your car insurance provider if there’s any way to reduce your monthly bill. But what I found even more helpful was to keep a spending diary: every day for a month, I kept a log of exactly what I spent and what I spent it on (I did it on paper but online tools also abound). I was shocked at what I was spending at happy hours (embarrassing but true), and resolving to be more disciplined in that one category alone saved me enough dollars to make a noticeable difference in just a few weeks.

  • Don’t spend money in an effort to feel better. Retail therapy is a classic feel-good fix for a reason (who doesn’t smile when they get a shiny new toy?), but it’s also a sure way to empty your pockets (and possibly feel regretful later). When you’re feeling lonely, stressed, or sad, aim for self-care that’s free or low-cost. It could be as simple as taking a nap or a shower, or allowing yourself a break with a book and mug of coffee for 30 minutes. Once when I was frustrated about a botched job interview and felt myself on the brink of splurging on gourmet ice cream, I sat down in a park and called a friend on the phone. The soothing conversation was free, and I’m sure I felt better afterward than if I’d scarfed three scoops of Dutch chocolate covered in whipped cream instead.

  • Get stopgap work you don’t love. This is usually a last-ditch effort, as it makes sense to focus your time and energy on landing your dream gig, not on working at something you don’t really want to pursue. But if you’re seriously looking at not being able to pay rent next month, it might make sense to widen your net and just try to find something for now. Consider nighttime or part-time work, a paid internship, or a few days or weeks of temping—all will leave you available to network and interview, at least on some days of the week. And if you can find something that relates to your chosen field, so much the better. When I was looking for writing work, I got a temporary contract job helping an organization to plan a big fundraising event. While it didn’t last long and wasn’t my dream job, I did have to do a bit of writing for it, which of course I reported on in my resume.

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by April Greene

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