Surviving Unemployment – Part 1, by SwampFox


There’s an old saying, “When your neighbor loses his job, you call it a recession. When you lose yours, it becomes a depression!” Dealing with unemployment is something we all face at one time or another in life. For many in the USA and around the world, 2020 has given us a refresher course. Unfortunately, COVID-19 not over yet. The incoming Biden administration is not likely to be friendly to liberty – economic and otherwise. Some state governments have become emboldened by their success at implementing draconian regulations. The risk to our economic security is quite real as we enter 2021 and the years that follow.

In the last two years, I’ve had three experiences with unemployment and changing jobs. I’ve dealt with it in the past, and was trained early in life by my parents in the basic skills of managing money and surviving on less. I have maintained a preparedness lifestyle largely due to this training. It might not be a huge crisis like an EMP, nuclear war, or massive natural disaster that affects you. A small event like unemployment has the potential to affect you in major ways, and if you are unprepared it can ruin your life. And unlike a national or global disaster, this private disaster is almost certain to occur someday. Luckily, some of the same preparedness techniques you use for the big disasters will help you with this personal one.

Before Unemployment

I will start with some good news! Your lifestyle is the thing that will affect your unemployment experience the most – however it is also the thing you can change the most! Part of the American dream still exists, and still benefits people who live prudently and act responsibly. You can somewhat insulate yourself from the effects of unemployment.

I’m in my early 30s, single, male, no children. I have a college education, property, and a stable work history. However, my fields of education and work tend to preclude working remotely. In some cases, those aspects are an advantage. In other cases, those aspects are a disadvantage. Your age and life situation will certainly dictate your response to unemployment. Consider your own life situation carefully. Compare yourself to the typical hiring demographics around you, and investigate the local employment rate. In my area, I’m fairly fortunate that there are large, well-established companies. The unemployment rate is much lower than other areas in the USA, and the economy is healthy. It is difficult to achieve a balance between living away from population centers in a safe area near your retreat, and having plenty of good employment options. If you suspect some aspect of your life is going to make it difficult to find work, the time to change and plan for the future is now, not after you lose your job.

My parents taught me even when I was a child, “Always live beneath your means.” In other words, spend less than you make and stash the rest. It is an excellent basic principle. Statistics vary, but surveys reveal that the majority of Americans don’t have enough cash in reserve to cover an unexpected $400 or a $1,000 expense without borrowing or begging friends and family to chip in. That is a terribly insecure situation. Some people have no choice but to exist with this insecurity, but the vast majority of people can do something about it.
Whatever your life situation, whatever your occupation, you have the ability to create wealth and preserve it.

One saying that is always on my mind comes from Ecclesiastes 11:2, “Give a portion unto seven or even to eight, for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” With those words, wise King Solomon gives us both an investing principle and a lifestyle. Diversify what you have, and keep something of value in reserve. For me, that means a balanced combination of the following items, which are mostly tangible:

1. Currency, for immediate and longer-term spending.
2. Stocks/ETF’s/bonds for currency growth during good times
3. Precious metals, to preserve non-currency value in bad times.
4. Real property, as a base of operations.
5. Quality tools, to build a living or work in a trade.
6. Food/fuel/supplies for immediate daily life and long-term.
7. Items that can be easily traded, as well as used for gifts (or bribes)

By keeping a balanced life, you can survive unemployment when it arrives. Remember that the biggest way to keep value is not to spend it. I have observed that the majority of Americans spend too much money on services. Enhance your savings by spending less. Transition to cheaper Internet and cheaper phones. Cut out television and entertainment services. Cut down what you spend on car insurance and other forms of insurance, unless you anticipate an urgent need in the near future. Eliminate your debts and reduce luxuries. These are all broad categories, but they are good life principles.

The less you pay in services, the more you will save and the fewer bills you will have each month. At this point, I only have regular bills for property tax, phone, Internet, electricity, and car insurance. In an emergency, I could immediately cut the three utilities and postpone all insurance, leaving only the taxes. My regular monthly expenses add up to only 30% of my monthly income. That isn’t because I have a great income…I simply refuse to spend when I don’t have to. In an emergency, my life is structured so I can spend even less.

Maintain your skills outside of work, even while you have a job. Learn new things. Every skill you learn is a service that you no longer have to pay somebody else for. And every skill you possess can be turned into a service you can offer if you have time. If relevant, you can list these skills on your resume. Remember to maintain your work-related qualifications and continually update your contacts and your resume. It is much more difficult to start from zero when you lose your job.

Losing a job is demoralizing, and you won’t do your best work when you are worried. Having a contingency plan in place will make you feel much more secure. I have personally experienced both sides of this in one year. The first time, I was already looking for a job. My resume was polished, I had contacts, and the day my boss let me go I already had an interview scheduled for the next morning and two scheduled for the next week. Needless to say, that transition was almost seamless. The second time was a surprise layoff just four months later. I was unprepared, my resume was not updated, and I scrambled to begin the application process. That is not a good start in a bad situation.

During Unemployment

Surprise! The worst has happened. The boss has let you go, and your personal crisis has arrived. What do you do now? There are some steps you need to take immediately. While I’m not the kind of person who wants to rely on the government, you should go ahead and file for unemployment the very same day, if possible. The benefits may be meager, but something is better than nothing and it takes the government a long time to get your case processed. When I was laid off from a construction job, I filed the same day and it took five weeks for the first check to arrive. Luckily, I had savings and was in a comfortable position. If you are one of the majority of Americans who can’t cover a month of bills with savings, that five weeks could be a disaster.

Don’t be ashamed to file for your unemployment insurance benefits! Remember, you’ve paid into the system all these years, so you might as well get some of that money back. Follow the rules, do it honestly, and make sure it isn’t your only safety net. If your employment ended suddenly and against your will, challenge the decision. Whether it was a layoff or a termination, assemble all relevant documentation and submit it with your unemployment case. Demand that your employer provide the reason for your layoff or termination in writing. The government often uses termination as a reason not to give out unemployment benefits, so make sure you have evidence on your side. In my case, I was laid off but my employer chose to disguise it as a termination. I submitted documents and testimony to my state, and the government investigated. I received an official letter which stated the results of their findings – that I had done nothing wrong. Not only did my challenge secure my unemployment benefits, but it also lets me tell future employers that I was not terminated but laid off. Securing your good employment history is important!

After you have dealt with your previous employer and the government, begin the process of searching for work. Hopefully, you had some leads before your last job ended, but if you haven’t, the first week is the most important. I’ve noticed that it takes most employers at least two weeks to get around to a resume. If hired, the hiring and document-checking process often takes 2-3 weeks. Even in the best scenario, you’re looking at a solid month between your final day at your last job and your first day at the next job. This is why the first week is the most important. The more contacts you make in that first week, the more likely your unemployment period will be brief. Unemployment is now your job, so treat it like one. Get up early in the morning, get dressed, and go to work. Work hard all day. Maintain a schedule, and resist the urge to succumb to laziness and despair.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)


  1. All very good advice. If ye are prepared ye shall not fear. But in today’s society it doesn’t take much to knock person or a family out of stability down to its knees.

  2. Good suggestions!

    Initiative counts for a ton. I knew a guy who was let go once, and on his way home that day he stopped by a competing business (still in his uniform!) to inquire if they were hiring and to tell the manager he’d bring his resume as soon as he could go home and get a copy. Less than two weeks later he was full time at the new place.

  3. A very informative and concise description of the “unemployed” state-of-mind for a successful return to the workplace. It really begins while working and earning a paycheck, not when you’ve been surplussed. Plan ahead and position yourself for surviving by anticipating possible contingencies and your responses, don’t dilly-dally in registering your change of employment status and avail yourself to all training available from your local Department of Labor. Do not be a Victim, you must be a Warrior!

  4. Good article. My experience was more alone the lines of a strike at my place of employment. the first wo strikes were a 3 day and later a 2 month strike, and I / we were prepared for both strikes ( I did projects around the house, plus a little fishing ), but not the strike of may first of 87. When I would apply for jobs, I was told they weren’t hiring even when I showed them the classifieds or advertisements. I was out just short of 2 yrs, we survived because of my wife being a nurse and worked at a hospital. We didn’t get a divorce or lose our house, like a lot of them did, but it was close. After that I / we went a 180 degrees in our spending and savings, from living pay check to pay check to watching our spending and other ways , garden, coupons etc. Now my wife isn’t here to enjoy life with me, wondering how long before I see her again. ( wondering how long before Obiden and Oharris will make an executive order telling me that I can’t live this way or that way, not to mention something about a covid or vaxcine card or passport. boy, talk about bulls— )

  5. In Jan ’91 I went from 50K a yr as a regional sales mgr to $235 per week unemployment checks. Then in Feb had a heart attack and by pass and all the recovery time that entails. While recuperating I started following business opportunities in the newspaper and auctions caught my eye. I spent several weeks having my son or wife drive me to the different locations. About six weeks later I started buying at the auctions and selling thru flea mkts, advertising, etc. We managed to survive the “depression” we were in. After being out of work for 2 1/2 yrs I finally found a job as a prison guard. With my wife driving a school bus we managed to get thru.

    I kept my side hustle while working nights at the prison. After a long convoluted road we now have a fairly successful printing and sign business . I tell people I am semi-retired with a part time business I manage to work 70 hours a week at sometimes.

    The key to surviving any unemployment situation is to be prepared financially if you can. As the article says reduce out go until the in come gets stable. The other key is DO NOT GIVE UP. There is always a way to find income. As a struggling student I shoveled snow off walkways to have money for heating oil in the winter. I cleaned windows for stores on the weekends to buy a small window A/C unit and to make my car payment.


    1. Hello Old NC Prepper – Your story is an inspiration, and I am sending up this note to thank you for sharing it!

      Loved this from your post, and can completely relate to it: “I tell people I am semi-retired with a part time business I manage to work 70 hours a week at sometimes.”

  6. I once read about a guy standing on a street corner like a pan handler, only his sign said “unemployed, please take a resume.” He wound up with multiple job offers.

    1. Good comment. One of my church friends knows somebody who obtained a lifelong career by using that exact method. I guess it is a way of demonstrating initiative and standing out from the rest!

    2. Same experience…I spoke to an attractive young woman standing with a sign at a McDonalds’s drive thru exit in Colorado Springs. I asked her if she had applied anywhere for full time employment…her response “NO, I average about $300 a day standing right here for just a few hours a day. I have a very nice apartment right over there.”. Answered that!

  7. The item about most people being unable to afford a $400 expense is a myth. The question was actually about how they’d pay it, and many would use a credit card, then pay off the balance on the next statement. So Americans aren’t quite as bad off as it seems. But most probably don’t have much more than that either.

    But unemployment definitely isn’t enough to live on. As a young man (22 years ago) I lost a job and more than half my unemployment went to the mortgage. Didn’t leave much left over, but I found a “cash under the table” job part-time until a found steady employment.

    Today, my wife and I make sure we can live on one income (either of ours). We split bills, and we each save half our income (though I’m counting spending on food reserves in that half).

    My new job for the last 21 years involves giving advice to employers and workers on employment laws. Had one question from a woman who was laid off, but worried that her manager would give a bad reference, and worried that asking potential employers not to call her manager would be a red flag. I asked if she’d had good annual reviews, and she had. So I advised her to provide one or two years of positive annual performance reviews with her resume. It worked, and she got the next job!

    One of the more interesting items I found in the course of my job was a survey on retirement savings. Don’t recall exact numbers, but something like half of Americans aged 55 had only about $17,000 saved for retirement. Pretty scary, since I had more than that saved when I started this current job 21 years ago!

    1. I’ve seen various numbers in the media. A couple of articles such as these:

      Your source is definitely interesting! I like the tables with the exact answers to the questions, as it gives more depth to the subject. When faced with a $400 expense:

      18% plan to borrow long-term on a credit card
      11% plan to borrow from family
      4% plan to use a bank loan
      2% would use a payday loan shark
      12% simply wouldn’t be able to pay by any means!

      That’s 47% of people who I believe have a pretty awful plan for a rather small expense, not including the number who would use a credit card and avoid final payment for a month or so. And 14% who responded to the survey indicated that a $400 expense meant that at least some of their bills would go unpaid. Personal ethics may vary, but I believe in avoiding debt and in paying my bills on or before the due date. Proverbs 22 gives us guidance:

      Verse 3, “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.”

      Verse 7, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

  8. Oh, and one related item about unemployment! If a terminated worker files for benefits, and the employer challenges, the employer can expect to lose about two-thirds of the time (the fired worker will get benefits). I worked as a manager for several years, and during that time had to fire two workers. One never filed for benefits, although we would not have challenged if she did (we would have lost).

    The other did file and was denied benefits, but she’d been fired for… basically stealing from the company (reporting hours to get paid for time that she wasn’t actually working). Never did hear if she challenged the determination; if she did, I doubt we would have contested it, since it’s not worth the time. There would be a hearing, and I’d have been required to testify before a judge… just easier for the company to let it go.

    1. I always asked for a letter of resignation when someone quit. Half of them still filed for unemployment, but it helped the business that employed us win the case.

  9. Never turn down an opportunity. About 25 years ago I was working in a combination sawmill/planer mill. I was making decent money. Then thanks to the government, the mill was shut down. Because of the situation the same government offered us schooling/training as part of our unemployment benefits.

    Pre-employment (first year) electrical was one of the courses offered. Now I really didn’t know if I wanted to be an electrician, and take a 4 year apprenticeship, but I figured it would pay the bills until I decided what I wanted to do.

    25 years later, I’m still in the trade. Being in the oil patch ( oil and gas sector) has meant that there have been some slow times, and some periods of unemployment along the way, but it’s always paid the bills, has allowed us to pay off the mortgage, and put a little by in savings. Not a lot, not enough to retire, but enough that we’ve never had to worry about the bills. And if I was unemployed for a long period, there’s always side jobs for an electrician. Everybody has something electrical that they need fixed.

    All because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I just remember somebody telling me one time that if you get a degree, or a trade certification, that you don’t have to use it, but nobody can take it away from you.

    1. That’s an important lesson, just because you don’t know what you want to do or what you should do, don’t just do nothing…

      I was an assistant manager at an auto parts store as a young man, I knew the store was struggling but it still was a shock to get a call two days before Christmas to say “Don’t bother coming in today, I’ve shut down the store. When I went to get my last check one of our customers was there and offered me a job in his mechanic shop to help me out till I could find something. I struggled along with very few tools a very little practical experience for a while but Bill was patient and a pretty good teacher and I turned into a pretty good mechanic and eventually ended up making a very good living at it and later became a fleet manager in charge of over 400 pieces of equipment supervising a dozen mechanics.
      All this to say a busy work job to help make ends meet turned into a a very fulfilling career for me that probably never would have happened if I’d have just hung around waiting for another job in the parts business.

  10. Surviving unemployment begins months and even years before the unemployment. My son is benefiting from Covid in that he has a decent blue collar job right now. He is working 80+ hours a week and even worked 12 hours on Christmas (double pay plus holiday pay). Why, because those people who would normally work those hours are getting an extra $300 a week from unemployment so they don’t want to work. So how does this relate to surviving unemployment? Simple, in a blue collar field sooner or later he will be unemployed. So while he is working he needs to save a huge portion of his income. Not save to buy a new car or go on vacation save for the bad times that always cyclically occur. Surviving that unemployment that will inevitably happen is 100% up to him now. If he saves all that time and a half pay PLUS 10% of his regular pay then when unemployment happens he will easily survive. If instead he buys a muscle car, takes vacations and weekends at the casino he will be living in my basement when the unemployment grinch hits.

  11. This is yet another excellent and timely feature article — especially given all the economic upheaval resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. We have experienced disruption in our industry related to everything from the risks of exposure to shut downs to unresolved liability concerns for business owners. We have the added personal complication of extraordinary vulnerability of people within our household.

    It hasn’t been a total loss, but the disruption has been severe. Recognizing the tidal wave of disaster coming from a distance offshore, we took immediate steps to shore up every aspect of life. Thankfully we had been preppers for a very, very long time — and we have become significantly self-sufficient. As challenging as the disruption has been, it could have been so much worse — and the news is filled with the heartbreaking stories of people in crisis.

    In addition to praying for the safe landing of every person and family and household, we also pray that what we are all enduring now will bring many more to the preparedness lifestyle. The crisis at hand is a tough one, but it is not the last of its kind — and those that will follow will probably be deeper and more difficult.

    In this surreal season of life, we have remained remarkably productive — even in the face of disruption. We would encourage everyone through this experience. Take hold of the opportunities — big ones and small ones. There is always good work to be done in steadying the present, and advancing the foundation of the future.

  12. Timely article. Thank you.

    One thing I learned later in life, was to pay attention to trends. At the time I had 5 young children, I was suddenly laid off. It was a shock to the system as a single mom. I had been so incredibly busy caring for my family and home and working and commuting, that I scarcely had time to breath. I never watched the news or read a newspaper. I had no idea what was going on in the world. IF I had just taken 5 minutes a day to pay attention to business trends, economics, etc., I would have seen the layoffs coming. God was with me, however, and I walked into another job the next week, but only because of the grace of God that someone I knew recommended me to a company she had gone to. After that, I paid attention and was able to adapt to changing business needs and directed my personal skill development in positive and fruitful directions. Not saying “gee I didn’t need God after that!” Of course I did, and I prayed continually.

  13. What a timely article. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    I took a different approach to the cost of insurance then what the author suggested. Instead of canceling insurance as suggested to save money, I greatly increased my deductibles for all my insurance policies. So, instead of the standard $300 deductible common here for auto insurance, my deductible is $1,000. This change really reduced my premiums while still covering a major asset. To make the change, however, I had to work hard to always have the cash money in savings should I need it.

    1. A great suggestion, if one’s insurance company allows it. Unfortunately, mine does not permit reducing the deductible. I have my vehicles on “state minimum liability” policies.

      However, with one phone call I can have them freeze some of my policies. Tell them I’m not driving, or am using only one vehicle. One thing I do regularly is freeze a policy when a vehicle is down for a lengthy repair. Since I do much of my own work and my stuff is old, it makes sense.

      If you plan to have “odd” requests, it helps to have a good relationship with your insurance agent. I’ve been with the same insurance company for more than a decade. My agent knows me well, and doesn’t seem to mind helping me out.

  14. Good article and good advice. But you are incorrect about you paying into the system, at least in the state I operate my business.
    Employees do not put money into their unemployment account. All funds contributed to both state and federal unemployment insurance account is from the employer, not the employee.
    This is part of the price of doing business. And business owners need to reduce their expenses when times get hard.
    I never enjoyed laying people off, and am more than willing to sign my employees up for benefits. As I was in a similar situation 46 years ago
    Looking forward to part 2

  15. In our area of the South, anyone who has a skill set is very busy – everything from plumbing to carpet, to handyman etc. It seems that how-to skills are never out of demand and more things seems to break in the wintertime. A friend of my daughter’s made a fortune on lovely homemade cakes for the holidays. Where there’s a will there’s a way for sure. Looking forward to part 2.

  16. About 6 years ago the company that I worked for liquidated completely. I decided to start my own consulting company doing what I had done for that company and others previously. 6 years and a lot of stress and hard work later I own my own consulting company, can work from anywhere with internet and cell service, paid off my mortgage 23 years early and live a practical/frugal life happily. It was a terrifying transition and a lot more work than I ever anticipated but I wouldn’t change a thing.

    You can learn a valuable lesson from Winnie the Pooh…

    “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think – Christopher Robin”

  17. The majority of the time “Employment” depends on “Ambition”…. The amount of ambition a person has can be directly related to the “Gene Pool” they came from… If you are that unemployed person, step back and look at your parents… How are they doing at their career? If they are doing well, follow their lead.
    Now, if they are not doing so well, you will have to identify those negative traits you inherited and work diligently to change them. If you can’t see what you inherited, ask a close friend to “critique” your ambition. Don’t get your feelings hurt when the friend replies. This is what a true friend is for. You are the only person who can change the course of YOUR life.

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