Career, Featured, Income

How I Strategized The Messy Financial Aftermath Of Being Laid Off

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In June 2015, I was laid off from my job during a massive layoff of over 100 people. Luckily, I already had my coding bootcamp lined up (read about my experience here) so it just launched me into unemployment about 2 months earlier than I had prepared for. Even so, I had a more difficult time than I thought I would when it came to prepping my action plan to make money last. I was also surprised by my own emotional reaction to the lay off even though I was already preparing to leave. This is what I learned.

Tactical Action Plan

The biggest consequence of being laid off is losing your source of income. With that said, it becomes VERY important to assess your expenses and spending as well as your money situation.

Assess Fixed Expenses

Fixed expenses include anything that is a recurring expense you’ll have to pay a fixed amount for:

  1. Rent/Mortgage payments
  2. Bills/Utilities/Health Insurance
  3. Credit Cards with balances on them
  4. Loan payments

Thankfully I didn’t have any loan payments, but at the time I was laid off, I did have credit cards that had a few hundred dollars on them. I had rent for an apartment I was splitting with 1 roommate that was $975 a month. I had some fixed services like internet/utilities that was about $25-$50 a month. My circumstance was a little special in that I knew I was moving soon, so I didn’t bother to move to a cheaper place or try to partially AirBnb my room on weekends, though that would have been something I considered doing if I was really worried it would take me a while to recover from the layoff.

Assess Variable Spending + Budgets

We all have things we spend money on whether it’s coffee every morning, eating out for lunch and dinner, a little bit of shopping here and there. This is when you need to double check your average spending in each category and try to cut down. You don’t have to stop completely doing things that genuinely bring you joy, but now is a time to reduce if possible. Prior to being laid off, I ate out maybe a couple times a week on the weekends. This dropped to maybe once every other week or eating out at only places below $10. If I wanted to eat out with friends, I just defaulting to the cheapest thing on the menu.

Assess Money 

This is when your emergency savings might come in handy. If you have emergency savings, great! It’s the perfect place to start. Now is the time to assess EVERYTHING. Every possible penny you can access even if it’s at a point in the future. At the time I was laid off I had roughly the below:

  • 2 paychecks severance ~$3000, 1 month’s salary – available on the usual pay schedule
  • $1500 in Checking Account – my first line of defense against bills
  • ???? In Government Unemployment Insurance – Had no idea how this worked but I knew it was free money
  • $9000 in Savings Account – my next go to for expenses not covered by Checking
  • $1500 in 401k – back up to my emergency savings
  • $975 Security Deposit + $488 Half Month’s Rent for Moving Out Mid-Month – available August when I moved out

I generally spent $1025 on fixed expenses, and I generally spent ~$1000 a month for other living expenses like groceries, shopping, eating out, various other life things that would come up. At the time, I believe I did reduce spending a little so my spending per month was closer to $700-800/month.

Total Potential Money / Total Living Expenses = #Of Months Your Savings Will Last

($3000 + $1500 + ?? ($0 for now) + $9000 + $1000 (Simple estimation after tax/penalties) + $975 + $488) / ($800 + $1025) = ~8.75 months

Resolve Unknowns As Soon As Possible

There are quite a few big unknowns that really throw us for a loop when we lose our job.

  1. How long will I be unemployed?
  2. How do I get unemployment benefits?
  3. How can I make sure I stay afloat financially while looking for a new job?

Above, I talked about assessing your money, but I left out the Unemployment Insurance portion because that was not something I could easily calculate off the top of my head. As for the question how long will I be unemployed? That one is really difficult to say.

How Long Will I Be Unemployed?

I knew that the coding bootcamp I was attending was 3 months, and I needed maybe 1-2 months of money after that to live on while I was job searching after the coding bootcamp. So that put me at 2 months pre-move + 3 months bootcamp + 2 months job searching (super optimistally!) = 7 Months Living Expenses. I also knew moving out of New York and putting things in storage and moving everything else across the country was going to at least cost a few hundred.

In my mind, I had about 8 months runway. I was REALLY cutting it close. The other issue was my living situation wasn’t settled in SF so I had no idea what was the bottom of the barrel rent + commute I could get. The 1-2 month job search was completely optimistic but at the time Hack Reactor’s statistic said that 99% of grads found jobs within 3 months.

I attempted to do a rough estimate of how much runway I really needed, and I tried to be realistic about it.

How Do I Get Unemployment Benefits?

So the biggest unknown for me was government sponsored Unemployment Insurance. Of course, government websites kind of suck, so it was VERY difficult finding the information I needed. I was completely naive to how the system worked. Some questions I had about the whole process below:

  1. Where/How do I register for unemployment?
  2. When am I supposed to register for benefits?
  3. How will I receive benefits?
  4. How much will I receive?
  5. How long will I receive benefits?

Research

I started at my state level unemployment benefits page which is part of the NYS Department of Labor. A lot of the information was there. There are actually pretty good sections indicating How to File, Filing the Claim, Claim Weekly Benefits. They’re very clearly labeled, but if they aren’t on your government website, I would suggest doing a google search with those keywords.

It turns out in NY, you create an online account, file your claim through there, then you’re able to manage your entire unemployment through there. The NY Department of Labor will send you private messages about your claims, but all in all it’s an anxious period of waiting to see if the claim goes through, etc.

A great place to find out upfront (before filing your claim) how much money you can expect is on your state’s Department of Labor website FAQ page, or just google it because that’s how I managed to get to the page in the first place. Check out the NYS Department of Labor FAQ as an example.

The calculation they use is your highest quarterly total earnings / 25 (which is generally the length of time NYS provides unemployment benefits). So I was expecting something like (2800 * 3) / 25 = $336/week in unemployment benefits which would have covered rent and then some! It’d prevent me from having to totally wipe out my savings.

Before You File Your Claim…RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH MORE.

According to NYSDL under the “How to File” page, the FIRST sentence is:

Promptly file your claim, in the first week that you lose your job. You must serve an unpaid “waiting period,” equal to one full week of unemployment benefits, before you receive payments. A delay in filing may cost you benefits.

To me that sounds like, wait one week after lay off to file. And it also sounds like: FILE ASAP.

But then when I actually made an account and started filling out the online form to file my claim, I encountered a question that went something like:

“Will you be receiving severance from your company?”It seemed like a harmless question because there was a box following it that asked for the date the last severance check would be issued. It seems obvious by having those 2 together, you’ll just start receiving benefits after the severance cuts off. Even so, I was a bit worried so I put off applying for a while. Then literally the day before I got my last severance check, I applied and marked myself as still receiving severance.

BIG MISTAKE. The fact that I applied before my severance ended (ugh, by ONE day) totally botched my application. My application was “pending” in the portal for probably 2-3 weeks when I had applied in mid-July. The whole time I was anxiously checking without any auto-notification about the fact that there was this rule.

Then one day I got a message in the portal saying my application was on hold because I had applied before my severance ended. Yet, nowhere obvious on the website did I see such a disclaimer. Seriously, don’t rely JUST on the government website–ask friends who may have been laid off what their experience was, check with Quora, check on forums for that extra bit of information to optimize your application.

To fix my application, I had to call the NYS Department of Labor on the phone, navigate a really confusing and convoluted phone tree, just to make it to the end of the wrong part of the tree and have to call back and start over. It was one of the most frustrating experiences.

Not only that, but multiple times I would dial into a part of the phone tree that would just ask me to “file my app online at the website”. I got to the end of the correct phone tree line 3-5 times only to be hung up on because all their representatives were busy (seriously, no phone queue?!). I went to the NYS Department of Labor building in NY in person to resolve the issues only to have the woman at the front desk literally hand me a piece of paper with instructions to file online and the URL I had already applied through. She told me they don’t handle any claims in person or by phone anymore. WTF? I actually just cried outside the building after I left.

Because of that 1 timing mistake in my application, my benefits came through 6 weeks later than expected. They also got discontinued within one or two checks because I had moved out of the state and in order to maintain the benefits I had to attend some job search training in person in NY. If I had applied on time, I could have gotten $1200 more.

How Can I Make Sure I Stay Afloat Financially?

Whatever runway you have, what’s your plan when you run out of it? You don’t have to make a full fledged plan, but what is your ultimate backup plan. Can you move out of your apartment and crash with a friend while subletting/AirBnb it? Can you find a temporary job to cover major bills/expenses while also looking for a job?

When I first moved to NY unemployed, I didn’t have much money, probably something like $500 in my bank account. My second day there, I found a job selling shoes paying $10 an hour. It was something to get me going. Even with a side job, I’d recommend only taking it if it’s not going to detract from your primary job search. There were many times when life and my survival side jobs were the priority when finding a career oriented position should have actually been my priority.

Start Looking For A New Job

I was lucky. I had my bootcamp going for me so I didn’t need to immediately jump back in to another job search. This is a top priority, obviously, if you’ve just been laid off, you NEED to get your job search started as soon as possible.

Emotional Action Plan

This one’s short and sweet. When I was laid off, even though I had something lined up, I felt strangely insecure and shocked. I had never expected it to happen to me. I asked my friends at work if they thought I did something wrong, and all of them responded with “I’m pretty sure it was just about the company bottom line.” At the end of the day, I don’t really know if they said this just to console me since it was so fresh, but in the end, I still had trouble believing them.

Remind Yourself It’s Your Employer, Not You

It’s not your fault if you were laid off. Lay offs occur all the time in companies that aren’t performing well or companies that are moving in a different direction and want to spend their money on other staffing needs. It’s not personal. And even if it is, it’s not helpful to your self esteem right now to obsess over whether it was you or your performance.

You Will Find Another Job

There’s no reason at all that you shouldn’t be able to find another job. Take what you learned from your previous employer and market the hell out of it because your skill set is absolutely desirable to other companies, they just need to know why it is if it’s not obvious upfront. Focus on the job search. Apply, apply, apply, and you will have yourself another job.

Do Something Every Day That Isn’t Job Search Related

It’s really important to stop plugging through applications and prep work during a job search. Take some time to hang out with friends or go to the gym. During times of unemployment, I’ve generally gone daily to the climbing gym which is a great way to focus my brain on other problems. Finding a job is a full time job, but you’re also allowed to clock out.

Have you ever been laid off and what was your experience? Did it come out of the blue, and how did you deal with it? I’d love to hear your story!

Jing is currently a software engineer based in Oakland, CA. She left her job in New York, moved to San Francisco unemployed, and more than doubled her salary in 4 months.

8 thoughts on “How I Strategized The Messy Financial Aftermath Of Being Laid Off

    1. Yes, I’m so happy I’m at a more stable place in my career now! But I think being laid off really showed me how at the end of the day, you’re just a number to a company.

  1. I’ve never been laid off. There was one company where they had done several rounds of layoffs. I was unhappy at that job and hoped I’d get folded into one of the rounds. Didn’t happen. So I had to quit on my own. The NEXT DAY they did more layoffs!

    This administration all sounds like a huge mess, and the whole benefits mix-up seemed beyond frustrating! However, I’m so glad you got a better situation going after you moved!

    So wait, in case I get laid off in NY, do I have a full week after my last severance paycheck comes?

    1. That reminds me of my friend who wanted to be part of the mass lay off, but ended up having to quit 2 weeks after I was laid off. She had been planning to leave forever and thought I was so lucky to be getting severance (if only the unemployment benefits part had worked out, it would’ve been perfect!)

      Yeah the administration behind it is so scary, I cannot imagine people who do not have any financial backup and are trying to move through the system for unemployment benefits.

      I would highly recommend doing that! I’m pretty sure they count severance as being part of “still working” which by normal people definitions…does not make any sense at all.

  2. Holy crap that is messy!
    Great *real* advice on navigating unemployment!

    It’s probably pretty normal to cry outside the unemployment / any government office!!! My friend works for NY government housing and she gets a huge kick from her job when she can be bossy boots and she actively participates in screaming matches with the applicants (for government subsidized housing.) It’s sadistic and…I think it works for her. It’s like her life calling and dream career.

    1. Yeah right?! It’s so stressful dealing with admins who literally just stonewall you and are completely unhelpful…or who actually derive pleasure from stonewalling people who actually need some financial help (I mean…what else am I paying taxes for…I paid for these benefits, I don’t need the attitude!!)

  3. This is a great gameplan (What a nightmare with your unemployment benefits, though, sorry you had to deal with that). When I was laid off back in the day, I didn’t qualify for benefits because I was technically an independent contractor.

    I created an “emergency budget” at the time, which was just a reaaaaally bare bones version of my budget in which I (tried to) cut out pretty much anything that wasn’t a necessity. I also had freelance work, which helped me stay afloat and made me realize the value of multiple streams of income.

    1. A lay off as a contractor is so stressful I’d imagine! I was actually contracting for a while twiddling my thumbs waiting for a full time offer, but I got so anxious from potentially losing employment at any moment that I just cut the contract short after I found a full time job.

      I think being laid off has really incentivized me to value multiple streams of income too. I don’t have any freelance clients, but I’m definitely working on developing a go-to work flow for finding clients quickly. My friend did the same thing when her startup went under!

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