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Layoffs: How to Save More Money After Losing Your Job

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A green and yellow toned illustration of a crouched figure holding massive expense sheet that's as big as they are, while a number of other objects swirl around them.
After an unexpected job loss, knowing how to start saving money fast can feel overwhelming. We asked an expert what to do. (Anna Vignet/KQED)

This guide is part of the KQED News series What to Do After a Layoff.

After a layoff, some of your friends or family members may start quizzing you about your “next moves” around job hunting. And in some cases, a person can use this next period as a chance to take a break — especially if they’ve been offered a severance package.

But for many folks, the primary concern after a layoff is still around how to save money — as fast as possible — without a regular source of steady income.

KQED spoke to money-saving expert Andrea Woroch — whose personal finance advice for families has appeared on CNN and Good Morning America and in The New York Times and Forbes — about the various ways Bay Area residents can lower their household spending.

Keep reading for the practical steps you can take immediately to cut your expenses after losing your job — including some you might not expect. The advice below might look like a lot — or feel especially overwhelming when you’re also trying to deal with other practical and emotional fallouts that come with losing a job. But remember: Hopefully this period will be a short one. Try tackling one tip or approach at a time.

White woman and African American man sit at kitchen counter working together with a pen, paper and laptop.
One recommendation from experts: If you can track where your money is going every month, you’ll be better able to identify the areas where you could start cutting back immediately. (Lock Stock/Getty Images)

1. Take stock of your spending

“A lot of people really don’t have a dialed-in budget” for their household spending, said Woroch. If that’s you, and you’ve been affected by a job loss, “the first step you really need to take is to assess your spending,” she advised.

By figuring out where your money is going every month, you’ll be better able to identify the areas where you could start cutting back straightaway, says Woroch. To do this, grab your credit card and bank statements for the last few months, and make a list of the recurring purchases.

For “fluctuating expenses, like food, entertainment and gas,” Woroch recommended you make an estimate of how much you’re spending on those things. (An effective way is to find the total you spent on a certain type of expense — for example, eating out — and then divide that by the number of times you did it in the month.)

Consider using a free platform like Google Sheets to make a simple budget document that can add up your expenses. “This is going to give you a clear picture of where your money is going,” said Woroch. “And now, you can create an action plan to start cutting costs.”

2. Work out where you can possibly lower your expenses

To make the process of establishing a budget feel manageable, says Woroch, focus first on the nonessentials: Think expenses like entertainment (movie tickets, eating out) or clothing. By removing those — while you’re in this post-layoff situation — you’ll land on “more of a bare-bones budget, of just your essentials.”

But once you have that reduced budget, says Woroch, you may still find areas within your slimmed-down budget where you can save. “I think a lot of people focus most on cutting out those discretionary purchases and maybe limiting the impulse shopping and the ‘for fun’ purchases,” said Woroch, “but even on the essentials there are things that you can do. So now that you have everything outlined, you want to start making your cuts.”

Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do this all at once, cautioned Woroch: “It’s not like you have to do it all in the same day.” If you’re finding yourself feeling deluged by this process, “maybe spread it out and try to tackle one category each day,” she said.

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3. Zone in on your household bills — and subscriptions

“This is actually an area [for] a saving opportunity that a lot of people don’t think about,” said Woroch, “even on those essential bills.”

Zone in on those recurring bills, she says, and be on the lookout for services you just don’t need, or need right now. “Look [at] your cable plan,” she explained. “Maybe this is the time to get rid of those premium movie channels, get rid of extra DVR and cable boxes in the spare bedrooms and such.”

Even though these savings might not seem huge, “maybe only $5 or $10 savings here and there,” Woroch said, they will all add up in your mission to cut costs during this post-layoff period.

More Money-Saving Guides from KQED

Your next opportunity: Looking at your subscription services. An efficient way to do this is to look over the last couple of months of your credit and/or debit card statements for the company names of your subscriptions. (If you pay for any subscriptions with a money transfer service like PayPal, don’t forget to look there, too.)

Identify any services you don’t need and cut them, says Woroch — there might be some stuff in there you didn’t even know you’d been automatically enrolled in, perhaps after a free trial ended. “Or maybe your kids signed up for something you didn’t know about, which has happened to me,” said Woroch.

Your cellphone plan is a potential source of cost-cutting opportunities too. “If you have unlimited data, chances are you really don’t need it,” said Woroch — especially when you can access Wi-Fi at home, or for free at places you’re in, like malls or the airport. You can also consider switching to an online-only, low-cost wireless provider.

A person's hand is shown unplugging an electric power cord from the wall.
Some utility companies, including PG&E, offer rate plans that offer discounts for customers who reduce their energy consumption during peak hours. (portostock/Getty Images)

4. Lower your usage to lower your bills

With energy bills, you’ll usually be paying for what you use — so finding ways to reduce your usage, even temporarily, can add up to savings.

Woroch recommends getting into the habit of unplugging any gadgets you’re not using and only plugging them back in to use them. Doing this, she said, “can actually cut your bill by 10%.”

Try to run any major household appliances outside peak hours, advised Woroch — “early in the morning, late at night.” PG&E offers Time-of-Use rate plans: How much you pay is based on how much energy you use, and when you use it.

Another idea: If you have a washing machine in your home, only wash your clothing in cold water, for further savings on energy. If you have a dryer, consider switching to air-drying your clothes in a warm sunny spot indoors or outdoors. Try turning down your water heater, too.

5. Look at your insurance bills

A lot of people only shop around for auto insurance when they first buy a car, said Woroch, but you can get in the habit of what she calls “comparison shopping” even when that’s not the case.

“The reality is, rates change — they’re up now more than ever,” said Woroch, “and you could be overpaying, missing out on a cheaper option at a different provider” by not comparing what you could get elsewhere. Woroch recommends investigating insurance comparison tools online (but remember, if you sign up for a free trial to access a comparison service, just make sure you cancel it before you’re charged).

Woroch also notes that increasing your insurance deductible and bundling certain insurance services could also offer you savings on your plan.

You can also call your insurer, says Woroch, and negotiate for a lower plan by asking about:

  • Available discounts on autopay, or e-billing
  • Any new promotions on offer
  • Possible deals for being a loyal customer

By first obtaining a few speculative quotes from your insurer’s competitors, you’ll also gain information to use in the negotiation process. Yes, this might take a little time, but lowering your insurance bills will also save you money in the longer term, beyond this period after a layoff.

6. Turn to secondhand for purchases

After a layoff, remember to limit your impulse purchases, says Woroch. But for the things you really do need, “you really want to get savvy about how you shop,” she advised. That means thinking outside regular retail, or the places you’d normally buy something, and:

  • Consider finding the item on an online resale site, like Facebook Marketplace or Craiglist.
  • Look in a Buy Nothing group on Facebook for free items.
  • For household appliances like electronics, consider either holding off temporarily or looking at certified refurbished options if it’s a necessary purchase.
  • Look for coupons: There are sites that aggregate coupons that will usually require you to sign up first.
Young woman looking up in shopping aisle whilst holding her phone
Some supermarkets will mark down prices for food products that are approaching their expiration dates, says savings expert Andrea Woroch. (Smile/Getty Images)

7. Find savings on food and groceries

Imposing a temporary pause on all takeout — or at least limiting it — is one way to reduce your food costs quickly after a layoff.

At the grocery store, at a time when food prices are higher because of inflation, one of the most effective ways to save is by limiting your impulse to over-buy, says Woroch. Even though buying in bulk may feel more cost-effective sometimes, “what’s going to happen is some of that food is going to end up in the trash — and every time you throw away any food, it’s like throwing your hard-earned dollars in the trash,” she said.

Instead, she advises that you plan out your meals for the week wherever possible, and “look for recipes that use overlapping ingredients — meaning they use the same ingredients so that nothing goes to waste,” Woroch said.

“Once you have your meal plan set up, write out your shopping list, look to see what you already have at home in your fridge, freezer or pantry so you don’t double up,” she said. “And now you can figure out which grocery stores in your area have the best deals for the item on your list.”

Woroch also recommends what she calls “reverse meal planning” — that is, being vigilant at the store about which fresh foods are approaching their expiration dates. “A lot of stores will mark down meat, fish, poultry, even dairy that’s nearing its expiration date,” she said. And when you’ve acquired markdown food, you can then use a cooking app — or just do an online search — for recipes and meals that use those ingredients.

8. Lastly, apply for the benefits you’re entitled to

Remember, if your household income has been greatly reduced by you losing your job, you may be entitled to certain government benefits during this time.

For example, if you’re having trouble buying food, see whether you qualify for CalFresh food benefits (also known as SNAP or food stamps) to support your household. If you’re already using CalFresh, a reduction in your income might make you eligible for increased monthly benefits. If that’s your situation, contact your local social services office.

Make sure to read the rest of our KQED guides about other steps you can take after a layoff to better support yourself and those who depend on you:

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At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2023. We’ve published clear, helpful explainers and guides about issues like COVID, how to cope with intense winter weather and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger, and help us decide what to cover here on our site, and on KQED Public Radio, too.


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