Six months ago, I gave my two weeks notice at a reasonably ‘safe’ job I had held for a year and a half. I was about to take a risk and start working remotely for a small, startup company that offered me a higher salary. Although I knew it was a bold move, I knew it was one I had to make. More money, the freedom to work from wherever I wanted, the ability to do what I loved as a career. It would be stupid to not take the risk.
Before starting my new job, I booked a last minute 5-day getaway to the Caribbean with my then-boyfriend (we’re engaged now, so am I supposed to say fiancè because I haven’t even said that out loud yet, help) and put the vacation on my credit card. I figured I would pay it off immediately once I started making the ‘high salary’ I was looking forward to.
I traveled to the office for my first week of work and stocked up on a few new items beforehand – some shirts, a pair of shoes, a necklace, another pair of Lulu yoga pants. Travel essentials. I wanted to look good and feel good as I took the next step in my career, and I knew even if I was putting things on my credit card because I couldn’t afford them now, I was going to be able to soon, so why not start the spending party now?
A week after starting the job, my rent was due. I had taken a week off from getting paid, and I wasn’t going to be paid from this job for another two weeks. My bank account held exactly enough money for rent, but once that was gone, all I had was enough money on a credit card for a week full of grande iced coffees from Starbucks. I kept telling myself the money would come soon, and I was only going to have to struggle for a little longer.
Eventually, the money came. But as it came, it went. Less than two weeks after starting my new job, I was laid off.
You know how some people tell you they have no money and can’t do something, but then you find out later that they went away for a weekend or attended a concert and you’re like, wait, you definitely have money – you just didn’t want to spend it on our plans, you wanted to save it for other plans. Well, after I was laid off, I legitimately didn’t have any money. After I started making unemployment (which ended up being half of what I made at my previous job – not the new job), I had money, but not enough to ‘selectively plan’ with. Like, if one friend wanted to get dinner and another wanted to go to brunch in one weekend, I couldn’t decide which plans I liked better to spend my money on. I couldn’t spend my money on either. I had to say no. With the small amount of money I did have, I had to use it for rent, my car, food, my phone, and other bills, including the credit card ones I had racked up prior to starting the job that failed me.
It wasn’t just not having a job that was the hardest part of being unemployed for me. It was not being able to spend money, something I had spent my entire life doing without thinking. It was having to say no to plans. It was spending each and every day alone. It was the roller coaster of hope that was constantly shattered by silence or a rejection email. It was sitting on the couch for hours (sometimes days) on end watching Netflix because everything else I could think of doing involved spending money. It was the struggle of trying to explain my situation and realizing a good chunk of the people I interacted with didn’t seem to have to worry about money and/or had never been in a situation where they had to look and interview for jobs before. It was feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, desperate, and embarrassed. It was having nothing to look forward to and worrying that life would continue on like that forever.
For almost five months, I dealt with the horror that is being unemployed. It took 10 weeks for me to actually receive my first unemployment check (this is how slow the outdated process can be), so for that time I had to live off of the money I made in my two weeks at my former ‘job’ and my savings, which I tried not to touch as much as humanly possible. I attended mandatory seminars full of personable, well-dressed twentysomethings like myself and smiling, eager-to-learn middle-aged men and women where I realized I was not the only person who had ever been laid off. I spent hours searching and applying to jobs every day and spent the rest of my time trying to turn this website and other writing gigs into something I could live off of. Doing those things full-time would have been a dream, but I was no where near ready to pursue that as a career path yet – it was too soon and I was getting lonely at home. Not to mention, I had to get my own health insurance. I promised myself I wouldn’t settle. I had left my safe job for a position I knew was not safe so I could do the opposite of settle and push forward to achieve my dreams. I wondered if this was the universe’s way of telling me I didn’t deserve to achieve those dreams, especially since even when I was unemployed with so much ‘extra time’ in the day, I still wasn’t able to make those dreams happen.
Finally, I received a job offer – okay, I received 3 job offers at once after months of no offers – and before I knew it, I signed an offer letter, passed a background check, and filled out my I-9 forms. I was no longer unemployed. I felt wanted again. I felt passionate about something. I felt appreciative. I felt ambitious. I felt happy. All of the feelings I feared I was losing over the course of my five-month unemployment stint came back. I was myself again.
But although my positive personality was back, I didn’t want to bring to my bad money spending habits back too. Although I want to believe that my new job and every job I will hold after it will be safe, getting laid off has taught me that anything can happen, and if ‘anything’ happens again, I want to be ready for it.
After I received my first unemployment check, I didn’t touch my savings. I lived off of less than half the amount of money I am making now. No, I didn’t save, but I learned how to be thrifty, and I learned how to say ‘no.’ I didn’t shop. I didn’t eat out that much. I stayed in a decent amount, and hey – guess what? My friends stuck by my side, helped me out when I needed it most, and didn’t forget about me like I feared they would in year’s past if I said no to plans. My biggest social achievement was taking a trip to California to visit friends, but I had two free flights from my JetBlue points, which helped. Basically, I lived, but I stopped living as much as I was before, and life still went on.
I am confident that I will actually be able to save money now, and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to realize that my spending habits were getting ridiculous and that I can save money and live at the same time if I just cut back a little. I have always believed that everything happens for a reason and although it sucked, I learned valuable life lessons after getting laid off that I believe have already helped me to become a better person. The biggest lesson of them all: I am not special and not everything (re: money, jobs, and success) is going to be handed to me without a little sacrifice and hard work. I just can’t give up when going after things that I want. So that’s what I’ll continue doing. Not giving up, no matter what.