Coping With a Layoff or Other Financial Setback

Reviewed Apr 11, 2017

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Summary

  • Track your spending.
  • Figure out which expenditures you can cut.
  • Raise some cash by selling assets.

You may have lost a job. You may still be working but have taken a cut in pay. Or you may be worrying that your job could be the next to go. Whatever your situation, it’s wise to play economic defense. You need to strengthen your finances as a bulwark against hard times.
 
Where do you start? That depends a lot on what you’ve done already and how serious your problems are right now. Here are some steps recommended by financial-planning experts for containing the damage from the loss of a job or other income.
 
Take stock of your income and expenses, then trim the latter to fit the former
 
This may require some work, along with tough decisions. You might have to pore over several months of checkbook entries, bills, and sales receipts to figure out how you spend your money. But, says economist Gwen Reichbach, there’s no better way to start crafting a game plan. Once you know exactly where your money is going, you can figure out which expenditures you can (or must) cut.
 
Reichbach says you need to find out exactly where the money is going—“and I mean the little money. People can nickel-and-dime themselves into the poorhouse.” She says it’s also essential to know your income. This can be a bit complicated if you’re facing cutbacks in overtime or shrinking revenue from self-employment. With overtime, for instance, you have to figure out exactly how much of your recent paycheck has been base and how much overtime pay.
 
Build up liquidity
 
Planners typically advise clients to set up a rainy-day fund to cover three to six months of living expenses. This should be in liquid investments such as money-market mutual funds or a money-market savings account at a bank. Building up this cushion is a lot easier to do before you lose that job or that overtime, of course. But if you’ve already been hit by a downturn, you still might be able to raise some cash by selling assets.
 
Gary R. Smith, a fee-only financial planner in Pleasanton, Calif., says he would advise clients to look at non-retirement investment accounts to see “if you can easily generate some additional cash from the investments.” This might be done by selling stock and buying a liquid, income-producing asset such as a money-market fund. If one member of the household is still working when you’ve lost your job, Smith says it may make sense for that person to stop—temporarily—making contributions to a 401(k) or other retirement plan.
 
Ease your debt burden
 
Again, this is easier to do while your income is still rolling in—all the more reason to do it if you still can. The most direct (though not necessarily the easiest) way to do this is to start paying off your balances on credit cards and other consumer debt. If you have more than one creditor, experts suggest first paying off the debt with the smallest balance, in monthly payments. Then, once that balance is paid off, apply those monthly payments to the loan or credit card with the next smallest balance.

Reichbach warns against putting so much money into debt relief that you leave too little in your rainy-day fund. “Who knows when that next car repair is going to come?” she says. Sometimes it also makes sense to consolidate debts to get a lower interest rate and improve your cash flow.
 
But be careful here, she says. Some cards have low “teaser” rates that lure you into consolidating and may leave you with much higher interest six months later. And consumers who haven’t brought their borrowing under control may only make their problems worse by restructuring their debt, especially if the new debt is backed by their home. “If they consolidate their credit card debt into a home equity loan and continue their spending patterns, they’ll just run up those debts again, and this time their house is on the line,” says Reichbach.
 
Resources
 
To get a handle on your spending, you can add up your expenses the old-fashioned way, with pencil and paper, or you can use home-finance software such as Quicken or Microsoft Money. Both of these programs make it easy to produce reports—if you’ve been recording all your checks—and to group them in categories. To get the most accurate estimate of average monthly expenses, you need to look at three or even six months of spending, to cover bills or special expenses that you pay infrequently. For the greatest accuracy, try to track your cash spending as well.
 
You also can use web-based calculators to record your monthly spending, by category, and compare it to a target amount. 

By Tom Gray
Source: Gwen Reichbach PhD, former director, Center for Economic Education, Eastern Michigan University; Gary R. Smith, CFP

Summary

  • Track your spending.
  • Figure out which expenditures you can cut.
  • Raise some cash by selling assets.

You may have lost a job. You may still be working but have taken a cut in pay. Or you may be worrying that your job could be the next to go. Whatever your situation, it’s wise to play economic defense. You need to strengthen your finances as a bulwark against hard times.
 
Where do you start? That depends a lot on what you’ve done already and how serious your problems are right now. Here are some steps recommended by financial-planning experts for containing the damage from the loss of a job or other income.
 
Take stock of your income and expenses, then trim the latter to fit the former
 
This may require some work, along with tough decisions. You might have to pore over several months of checkbook entries, bills, and sales receipts to figure out how you spend your money. But, says economist Gwen Reichbach, there’s no better way to start crafting a game plan. Once you know exactly where your money is going, you can figure out which expenditures you can (or must) cut.
 
Reichbach says you need to find out exactly where the money is going—“and I mean the little money. People can nickel-and-dime themselves into the poorhouse.” She says it’s also essential to know your income. This can be a bit complicated if you’re facing cutbacks in overtime or shrinking revenue from self-employment. With overtime, for instance, you have to figure out exactly how much of your recent paycheck has been base and how much overtime pay.
 
Build up liquidity
 
Planners typically advise clients to set up a rainy-day fund to cover three to six months of living expenses. This should be in liquid investments such as money-market mutual funds or a money-market savings account at a bank. Building up this cushion is a lot easier to do before you lose that job or that overtime, of course. But if you’ve already been hit by a downturn, you still might be able to raise some cash by selling assets.
 
Gary R. Smith, a fee-only financial planner in Pleasanton, Calif., says he would advise clients to look at non-retirement investment accounts to see “if you can easily generate some additional cash from the investments.” This might be done by selling stock and buying a liquid, income-producing asset such as a money-market fund. If one member of the household is still working when you’ve lost your job, Smith says it may make sense for that person to stop—temporarily—making contributions to a 401(k) or other retirement plan.
 
Ease your debt burden
 
Again, this is easier to do while your income is still rolling in—all the more reason to do it if you still can. The most direct (though not necessarily the easiest) way to do this is to start paying off your balances on credit cards and other consumer debt. If you have more than one creditor, experts suggest first paying off the debt with the smallest balance, in monthly payments. Then, once that balance is paid off, apply those monthly payments to the loan or credit card with the next smallest balance.

Reichbach warns against putting so much money into debt relief that you leave too little in your rainy-day fund. “Who knows when that next car repair is going to come?” she says. Sometimes it also makes sense to consolidate debts to get a lower interest rate and improve your cash flow.
 
But be careful here, she says. Some cards have low “teaser” rates that lure you into consolidating and may leave you with much higher interest six months later. And consumers who haven’t brought their borrowing under control may only make their problems worse by restructuring their debt, especially if the new debt is backed by their home. “If they consolidate their credit card debt into a home equity loan and continue their spending patterns, they’ll just run up those debts again, and this time their house is on the line,” says Reichbach.
 
Resources
 
To get a handle on your spending, you can add up your expenses the old-fashioned way, with pencil and paper, or you can use home-finance software such as Quicken or Microsoft Money. Both of these programs make it easy to produce reports—if you’ve been recording all your checks—and to group them in categories. To get the most accurate estimate of average monthly expenses, you need to look at three or even six months of spending, to cover bills or special expenses that you pay infrequently. For the greatest accuracy, try to track your cash spending as well.
 
You also can use web-based calculators to record your monthly spending, by category, and compare it to a target amount. 

By Tom Gray
Source: Gwen Reichbach PhD, former director, Center for Economic Education, Eastern Michigan University; Gary R. Smith, CFP

Summary

  • Track your spending.
  • Figure out which expenditures you can cut.
  • Raise some cash by selling assets.

You may have lost a job. You may still be working but have taken a cut in pay. Or you may be worrying that your job could be the next to go. Whatever your situation, it’s wise to play economic defense. You need to strengthen your finances as a bulwark against hard times.
 
Where do you start? That depends a lot on what you’ve done already and how serious your problems are right now. Here are some steps recommended by financial-planning experts for containing the damage from the loss of a job or other income.
 
Take stock of your income and expenses, then trim the latter to fit the former
 
This may require some work, along with tough decisions. You might have to pore over several months of checkbook entries, bills, and sales receipts to figure out how you spend your money. But, says economist Gwen Reichbach, there’s no better way to start crafting a game plan. Once you know exactly where your money is going, you can figure out which expenditures you can (or must) cut.
 
Reichbach says you need to find out exactly where the money is going—“and I mean the little money. People can nickel-and-dime themselves into the poorhouse.” She says it’s also essential to know your income. This can be a bit complicated if you’re facing cutbacks in overtime or shrinking revenue from self-employment. With overtime, for instance, you have to figure out exactly how much of your recent paycheck has been base and how much overtime pay.
 
Build up liquidity
 
Planners typically advise clients to set up a rainy-day fund to cover three to six months of living expenses. This should be in liquid investments such as money-market mutual funds or a money-market savings account at a bank. Building up this cushion is a lot easier to do before you lose that job or that overtime, of course. But if you’ve already been hit by a downturn, you still might be able to raise some cash by selling assets.
 
Gary R. Smith, a fee-only financial planner in Pleasanton, Calif., says he would advise clients to look at non-retirement investment accounts to see “if you can easily generate some additional cash from the investments.” This might be done by selling stock and buying a liquid, income-producing asset such as a money-market fund. If one member of the household is still working when you’ve lost your job, Smith says it may make sense for that person to stop—temporarily—making contributions to a 401(k) or other retirement plan.
 
Ease your debt burden
 
Again, this is easier to do while your income is still rolling in—all the more reason to do it if you still can. The most direct (though not necessarily the easiest) way to do this is to start paying off your balances on credit cards and other consumer debt. If you have more than one creditor, experts suggest first paying off the debt with the smallest balance, in monthly payments. Then, once that balance is paid off, apply those monthly payments to the loan or credit card with the next smallest balance.

Reichbach warns against putting so much money into debt relief that you leave too little in your rainy-day fund. “Who knows when that next car repair is going to come?” she says. Sometimes it also makes sense to consolidate debts to get a lower interest rate and improve your cash flow.
 
But be careful here, she says. Some cards have low “teaser” rates that lure you into consolidating and may leave you with much higher interest six months later. And consumers who haven’t brought their borrowing under control may only make their problems worse by restructuring their debt, especially if the new debt is backed by their home. “If they consolidate their credit card debt into a home equity loan and continue their spending patterns, they’ll just run up those debts again, and this time their house is on the line,” says Reichbach.
 
Resources
 
To get a handle on your spending, you can add up your expenses the old-fashioned way, with pencil and paper, or you can use home-finance software such as Quicken or Microsoft Money. Both of these programs make it easy to produce reports—if you’ve been recording all your checks—and to group them in categories. To get the most accurate estimate of average monthly expenses, you need to look at three or even six months of spending, to cover bills or special expenses that you pay infrequently. For the greatest accuracy, try to track your cash spending as well.
 
You also can use web-based calculators to record your monthly spending, by category, and compare it to a target amount. 

By Tom Gray
Source: Gwen Reichbach PhD, former director, Center for Economic Education, Eastern Michigan University; Gary R. Smith, CFP

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