Coffee heat rising

If next payday doesn’t come…

Oh, but of COURSE our esteemed elected representatives will pass the state budget before the whole joint has to be shut down, right?

Right. Well, come July 3rd, we shall see.

While we wait, let’s consider an important question: Are you prepared if your employer can’t pay your next check? Are you prepared for a lay-off? Are you prepared to be canned outright? Not to harp on this issue (well, yes, to harp): emergency fund, emergency fund, EMERGENCY FUND!

There are only two ways to prepare yourself financially for hard times: one is to get out of debt as fast as you can, and the other, IMHO the most important, is to lay in enough money to tide you over a spell of unemployment or disability. I say building an emergency fund is more important than getting out of debt because you have to eat. If you quit paying credit card and student loan bills, all that will happen is your credit will tank and you’ll have nuisance bill collectors nagging you. If you quit paying on your car, it’ll be repossessed, but there’s always the bus, a bike, or Shank’s mare. If you quit paying your rent or mortgage, eventually you’ll be evicted, but it takes a long time to evict someone. But if you can’t buy food, you’ll starve before the landlord or the bank can toss you into the street.

In good times, the strategy should be to build the emergency fund and pay down principal, dividing snowflakes and snowballs between the two goals until you have at least six months’ worth of living expenses stashed in the bank. As the economic clouds roll in, focus on the emergency fund. Make your regular debt payments; quit charging on the cards, so as to avoid running up any more debt; but put all of your spare cash or sidestream income into accumulating enough cash to keep you going through a really bad stretch.

How much should you set aside for the proposed rainy day?

Opinions vary, from three months to a year or more. Personally, I think an emergency fund should cover at least six months of net pay. If you’re out of work, your income tax will drop to zilch, and so you ought not to need six months’ worth of gross pay.

That said, my emergency fund actually represents a year’s net income. In the first place, at my age I don’t have a snowball’s chance of getting a job comparable to the one I’m in. And in the second, it won’t be that long before I can collect full Social Security. I’m eligible for less-than-full SS right now, so if push came to shove, I could start collecting early. In effect, at age 62 Social Security itself becomes a kind of emergency fund for those of us who persist in doddering in to the office. For you younger pups, remember this rule of thumb: a laid-off executive can expect to spend a month searching for a new job for every year of job experience she or he has.

Alternative Emergency Funds

If saving extra cash is difficult or you don’t think you can stash enough before you’re likely to be laid off, here’s a secondary strategy: get check-bouncing protection from your bank or credit union. This is actually a line of credit. If you overdraw your account, the institution lends you the amount of the overdraft, protecting you from bounced check charges. The interest isn’t cheap. However, it’s less than a credit card costs and it could save you in a pinch. I have overdraft protection in the amount of one month’s net income.

Another strategy is to start developing other income streams now, while you’re still employed. If you have a hobby that can be monetized, start monetizing. If you have a skill you can ply as a side job, start finding customers now. If you’re thinking of starting a service business, consider whether you can begin offering the service in a small way, on a moonlight basis. While this income may not support you, it certainly will help, and often such work can be expanded to full-time equivalent when you can devote 40 or 60 hours a week to build it.

If you’re fairly confident you’re going to be laid off, then in addition to starting the job search right now, here are some things you can do to prepare:

  • Apply for credit now, since no one will lend you a dime while you’re unemployed. Get a line of credit at the bank; get another credit card. Don’t use either of these instruments, but have them at the ready in case they’re needed.
  • Pare back your spending. Streamline your budget so that you’re living much as you would if you were out of work. Put the savings into the emergency fund.
  • If you have a freezer, fill it with food.
  • If you don’t have a freezer, lay in extra nonperishable items such as beans, rice, flour, and canned goods. (Remember that whole-wheat flour must be refrigerated — it will go rancid if left for a long period at room temperature.) Clean out your refrigerator’s freezer and organize its contents so you can max out the space. Buy meat and frozen products to fill it up.
  • Plant a garden. Squash and tomatoes grow handsomely and cheaply in the summertime. If you live in a temperate climate, you can grow lettuce, kale, carrots, and beets during the summer. Least expensive strategy: grow from seeds. Learn how to can, preserve, or freeze vegetables and fruits.
  • Keep your gas tank full. At four or five bucks a gallon, it’s a lot better to buy gas while you’re earning than after you’re laid off.
  • Consider how you will get around with minimal use of your car. Know the bus routes, and if your area is safe for bicyclists, get a bike at a yard sale, thrift shop, or sheriff’s sale and fix it up so you can bicycle to nearby destinations.
  • On paper or on disk, prioritize your spending obligations. Write down the things you will need to spend on, in descending order from the most to the least important. Consider how you will cover these expenditures with the emergency funds or side income you already have in place.
  • Find out how to apply for unemployment benefits and food stamps, and see if you will be eligible for other forms of public assistance. Don’t get “proud” about this: you’ve paid for it with your taxes, and you get to use it when you need it.

None of us is ever fully prepared for an unplanned job loss. Expect to be psychologically stressed and possibly depressed, no matter how carefully you’ve laid plans and stashed emergency money. Knowing how you will feel (it doesn’t take much imagination), think in advance about morale-building activities to fill your suddenly free time. Scheduling a block of time for exercise will help your outlook a great deal, as will volunteering a few hours a week for a charitable cause. Also plan to attend meetings of trade groups or professional groups-join now, especially if you can get your employer to pay the dues. Regular exercise such as walking, running, or work-outs will protect your physical and psychological health, and activities that bring you into contact with people will raise your spirits and build business and job-searching contacts.

1 Comment left on iWeb site:

Anand Dhillon

Keeping an emergency fund is always a good idea. I also advise that people have multiple streams of income so that ifthey do lose their job, it’s not totally the end of the world.They take a lot of work to setup but extra streams can provide much needed financial security.

Thursday, July 3, 200810:27 AM