Building An Emergency Fund Trumps Early Debt Pay-off
In December 2017, I was excited to pay off the last $3,000 on our auto loan with my husband’s annual Christmas bonus. I almost jumped the gun and transferred the money a few days early, since we had cash saved up in our emergency fund. Luckily, I called my husband to get the “okay” before making the final decision. He suggested we wait. I reluctantly agreed. The next day, my husband received news he would be laid-off at the end of the year. It was two weeks before Christmas- so that was awesome. Nothing like getting the gift of unemployment for the holidays.
Thankfully, my husband received his bonus, along with 2 weeks of severance pay (so an extra paycheck). Our biggest concern was finding health insurance coverage, so we negotiated for them to include an extra 2 months worth of COBRA insurance premiums (which are insanely high, so we used that money to instead pay for 4 months of more affordable health insurance). In exchange for this, they made his official last day December 31st, instead of the original January 2nd. It made his resume look a little worse (worked at so-and-so place from 2017-2017), but I think we benefited in the long run. After 5 long months of unemployment, my lovely husband starts his new job next week! We are pretty excited.
To learn more about how we negotiated the severance package, click here *coming soon*.
All in all, unemployment was stressful. I never knew how messy our house could get! You would think having two adults home would reduce mess, but it just made it SO much worse. Now that Hubby has a job offer, though, our house has never been cleaner! So maybe it was just the stress weighing us down, which reduced our cleaning ability for some reason? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Here is how our official budget was while we were unemployed (REAL numbers, people). Our family has 2 adults & 2 kids (a toddler, and a breastfed baby just starting to eat solid foods). I’ll break it down below.
|Tithes & Fast Offerings:||$265|
|Rec Center (Gym):||$36|
Where is that income coming from??
Before this lovely experience, I had no idea that full-time employees could receive “unemployment benefits” aka: you get a fraction of your paycheck for 26 weeks, if you are unemployed through no fault of your own, and if your employer pays unemployment taxes (most do, unless you do contract work). Therefore, unexpectedly to me, we had some sort of income! Hubby had to apply to 4 jobs per week, and file with the state workforce services every single week, not to mention the occasional in-person interview/meeting, but that was not bad at all.
We decided to have taxes automatically withdrawn from the payments. We figured my husband would not be unemployed for too long, and we did not want to get hit with a big tax fee at the end of the year, so we opted to have our expected future tax amount withdrawn. You can opt to not have taxes withdrawn, or only a fraction of taxes withdrawn. If we did not have any emergency savings, we would have probably chosen to accept the full amount, and postponed the taxation.
All in all: we had an income. It was such a relief to have a buffer zone on top of our savings.
Why Tithes and Fast Offerings?
This will make more sense to LDS members: I had always thought the poor and needy (and unemployed) were supposed to be the receivers of tithes and offerings, and they were not expected to pay anymore. But, I learned that even if one is not earning an income, one should at least offer fast offerings (especially if you fast). So we maintained our usual fast offering amount (we actually increased it at the end there when my husband started fasting every week), and paid tithing on our gross unemployment benefits. It is a personal decision, to be sure, but we would rather err on paying too many tithes than too little.
For those of you who are not LDS, I would find a charitable cause you would like to contribute to. Many- if not all- financial gurus recommend charitable giving as part of any healthy financial plan. For more tips on effective charitable giving, read this Forbes article here. Even if it is simply $5 a month, keep the spirit of giving alive in your own life. Good works beget good works.
Even during unemployment, we gotta pay the bills. These are the recurring payments that happen every single month. Most of them are automated. I always made sure I had enough money in the account that paid the recurring transactions. We switched our rent payment to come out of our Emergency Savings account and began paying online, because we don’t have checks for it, and it was the account receiving the unemployment benefit payments.
*Side note: this particular bank charges a monthly fee to have an account open, unless a monthly direct deposit is set up! (I was outraged when they changed their policies). Instead of closing the account (it is too convenient, since they have branches and ATMs open all over the USA), we set a portion of Hubby’s paychecks to automatically be deposited (yay! for automated emergency savings!), and later we had the unemployment benefit payments deposited into it. Be wise in how you avoid unnecessary fees!*
Our rent is actually advertised as $875, plus $15 for property taxes. Another $25 flat fee is tacked on for water & sewage expenses. However, they are all paid in one transaction, so we consider them all collectively as “rent.” That last $1 is the fee they charge for paying online. We were usually able to avoid the fee by paying with checks. My husband would drop the check off on his way to or from work. However, since he lost his job, we don’t really pass by the office anymore.
I calculated the cost of gas it would take to drive there ($.50), plus our opportunity cost and wear on the vehicle of having to take the time out of our day to drive 5 minutes there, 5 minutes back, etc. We decided it was worth the $1 to pay online. [In addition to not having checks for this particular bank account, and everything mentioned in the side note above].
(Yes, you still need insurance when you face unemployment! Insurance is something you should ALWAYS make a priority!)
-Auto & Renters
Our auto insurance is $130 for 2 cars, and 2 drivers. This price also includes renters insurance (it is like $15/mo, and very important, even if your landlord does not require it).
This health insurance is one we found on healthcare.gov. For the love of everything sane and holy do NOT fill out an online quote for private health insurance. They will sell your information, and then it will be non-stop calls and emails from every single health insurance sales agent in your county. Everyone who called us was selling coverage that would not even count as health insurance on our tax returns. So, we went the safe route and purchased the cheapest insurance on healthcare.gov. This policy only covers my husband and the kids. I am under the age of 26, so I am still on my father’s health insurance.
We filed for medicaid a few times, but paperwork kept preventing us from moving forward, and it was a huge hassle. We wanted to have solid insurance coverage in the meantime. If you cannot afford health insurance, definitely power through medicaid, but we did not feel compelled to do so. Also, you may want to look into health share programs. I found out about health shares the month before my husband was offered a new job (with excellent health benefits), so we decided to just continue our healthcare.gov coverage until he began his new job.
Life Insurance! SO important! Especially during unemployment. Coverage offered by my husband’s previous employer was sparse, so we purchased our own life insurance policy. Thank goodness, because it was one less worry we had during the whole unemployment process.
We will maintain our policy with them until it expires in 20 years, even though his new employer offers inexpensive life insurance. Because, you just never know. We may find ourselves unemployed for some reason, and suddenly, we will need life insurance again. (But we will pay the tiny bit extra through his employer to have extra coverage)
This private policy covers my husband ($500k), myself ($100k), and our two kids($10k each).
Cell Phone Bill
This is how much our unlimited everything plan costs. We are part of my parent’s family plan, so we pay them every month.
Family Rec Center (Gym) Membership
I know, I know, this may seem like a frivolous expense, but it kept us sane during our months of unemployment. We went to the pool and/or played racquetball at least twice a week with some friends. I also took advantage of my husband being home to watch the kids while I attended yoga class, ran the track (it was winter), and swam laps a few times. For our family, the $36 was definitely worth it. If you never go to the gym, or have other subscriptions you are better off doing without, then definitely cancel them.
I may do a blog post about how our family survived a month only spending $94 +WIC on groceries, but that was because we had blown past our budget every month (it was hard to tone down spending and get in the “unemployment mindset”). Mint added up all the “leftover” amounts in our grocery budget, and told us we only had $94 dollars to spend in March. So we stuck with it. We started using cloth diapers, got creative with our meal plans, and I only sent my husband to the store (I have a really hard time sticking to my grocery lists!). We even went on a roadtrip and baked bread, made cheese, and packed everything for sandwiches and snacks.
After that month, sticking to our grocery budget got MUCH easier. (We also stopped going to Costco, and started buying WalMart diapers). If you keep blowing
past your grocery budget, I want to challenge you to live under $50 per person, then see how you can implement a bit of what you learned into your monthly habits.
Unluckily, most of our unemployment was spent during the winter. And we are renting a house built in the 70s, and the furnace is original to the house. And yes, it has actually broken down and stopped working (yay for 2 weeks of no furnace during Christmas break). In short: our heater is SUPER inefficient. I think we should have just turned it off, and donned coats and space heaters instead of trying to put up with it. Oh well.
The most we paid for utilities (only electric, gas, and trash- water & sewage is a flat fee we include with the rent) was $210 for February. The least was $121 when our heater broke down, so we turned it off and used space heaters our rental management provided for us. My family was also in town (7 extra people), so they kept our little 2b/1b pretty warm.
Our consumption of gas went down considerably since Hubby was not driving to work everyday. However, we kept the budget amount the same and used the extra to fund our road trip. We knew that we wanted to go on a 3 week road trip before he started his new job. It was nice to not worry about vacation days and such.
Due to our reduced date budget, we tried to find less expensive, but still enjoyable activities. We save on babysitting by swapping kids with some friends. We watch their kid one day every other week, and they watch ours the other week.
I will add that dates are essential to make it through the struggles that come from unemployment. Especially when you are both “stuck” at home with the kids all day. It is nice to take a step back and focus solely on your relationship and enjoying each other.
As always, there is a miscellaneous budget. This catches the unpredictable things that go on. For us this included haircuts, new shoes, random baby items, etc.
Now Go Get Your Own Unemployment Budget in Order!
So that’s it! That was our budget! I hope you never experience the stress and struggles that come from prolonged unemployment, but if you are going through this, you now have another tool in your armada of knowledge! You know what the average expenses are for our family of four, and now you can see how to apply these categories and mindset to your own circumstances.
My next few posts will be about how my family of four only spent $94+WIC=~$140 in a 30 day period (this includes diapers, but we did have to drag our old cloth diapers out of storage). Hopefully I’ll get my gestational diabetes posts published soon so you can enjoy the realistic, easy, do-able free 7-day diabetes meal plan I created!
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Lots of love,