I was bustling around the house, getting ready to fix breakfast one morning when my husband walked in the door. He’d left for work four hours earlier, and I didn’t expect him home for another five.
My husband got right to the point: “They let me go.”
He was the manager of a commercial tire retreading plant. Sales had been down for about six months, and the plant hadn’t had enough tires to do its job.
The news wasn’t completely unexpected, but I still felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach.
He had been employed for nearly 17 years in the commercial tire industry, except for a three-year period when he ran his own business. He’d steadily climbed the corporate ladder into a management position.
Suddenly, it felt like he had been pushed off the ladder and hit the bottom with a resounding thud.
We found a few surprising things as we started on the long road back to employment. Here’s a guide to navigating the first month after you receive the news of a job loss.
My husband lost his mother less than nine months before he lost his job.
In many ways, the grieving process is the same.
We still work through some of the same stages, such as shock, anger, denial and depression. However, the acceptance stage comes with time, just as it has with the loss of his mother.
The first day after he lost his job, we spent a lot of time just holding one another without speaking.
During times of stress, it’s easy to turn on those you love the most.
Our household routine was upset, and all kinds of emotions boiled under the surface.
We knew it was important to support each other’s feelings. I had to respect when he felt depressed and inadequate while assuring him his worth to us had not changed at all.
He also had to respect my schedule and career and step into roles he’d never filled.
We made the decision to get through this together.
One of the first things my husband did was file for unemployment.
In our state, the process was frustrating and convoluted. Unemployment is something his company paid into, so my husband felt perfectly justified in claiming it while searching for his next job.
Since his job loss wasn’t a performance issue, his last paycheck also included several weeks of severance and vacation pay.
While the idea of not having a paycheck after a few more weeks was still unsettling, we found the situation wasn’t as bleak as we first feared.
Thankfully, we were more prepared than we initially thought. We had no debt besides our house, and were sticking to a reasonable budget plan.
We’ve always felt we have a duty to give back first, so our budget included giving 10% off the top to our church and local charities.
We prefer things simple, so we had our house payment, utilities and insurance all in one category dubbed “bills” -- 42% of our weekly income.
We then budgeted about 12% for groceries and 7% for gas and car maintenance.
We had saved close to 15% each week, so we had enough to cover basic living expenses for a few months. After accumulating our $1,000 emergency fund, this percentage just went into a general savings account. Before the job loss, we used it for large purchases, such as our minivan, bulk food purchases, vacations, gifts and our kids’ school curriculum, as well as unexpected large expenses.
The other 14% of our budget had gone toward miscellaneous purchases and fun money for my husband and me. We didn't completely eliminate this category, but we brought it to a minimum.
We have four children in kindergarten through eighth grade.
They’re home-schooled, so they had front row seats to the drama playing out when their dad came home before breakfast one morning. They knew their father lost his job, and I’m sure they felt some of our fear and uncertainty.
We spoke to them honestly about it, letting them know that his company couldn’t afford to pay him anymore. We didn’t try to hide our fear, but we approached it as an adventure we would weather together.
We just added four more members to our team.
The younger kids drew pictures of how their dad would look when he got his new job. The older ones wrote him notes about how they loved him just the same whether he had a job or not.
Without giving specific amounts, we spoke with our oldest about how we had enough savings to last us for a few months until dad got a new job.
My husband has always been a great employee and built relationships with a network of people during his career.
The first week he was unemployed, his job search mainly involved calling his network. It was amazing how many people were prepared to make contacts for him and pass along opportunities and ideas.
The job offers he received generally paid much less than his former job or required relocating -- both of which threatened to drastically change our lifestyle.
The savings cushion we’d created bought us a little time, so we decided to explore other options.
Losing our primary source of income caused us to reevaluate “putting all our eggs into one basket,” as the old adage states.
As the primary caregiver and educator of our children, I was already working in a variety of part-time ventures from home.
At the time of the job loss, I was teaching piano lessons and occasionally freelance writing. I added in some virtual assistant work and started researching how to expand the businesses I already had.
In the meantime, my husband began working a side job with a lawn care company and doing some of his own research into other side ventures.
We understand these income sources are less steady than a full-time job, and his lawn care job is seasonal. However, with both of us working together in multiple ventures, we are able to average the same amount he was making on a weekly basis.
Our future is still a bit uncertain. My husband continues to submit applications and he answers phone calls a little more quickly than before.
However, having the right attitude during the first month of being unemployed has opened a world of opportunities to us.
We’ve learned so much about ourselves, our talents and our work. Maybe we’re finally employed in things that really matter.
Your Turn: Have you weathered a job loss in your family? What are your tips for getting through it?
Jennifer L. Self is passionate about living well at home. When she’s not spending time with her family, she writes to simplify and enrich life for the work-at-home, homeschooling mom.