Like a villain in a video game while I ducked and dodged, tucked and rolled the recession got me anyway. I am now one of so many without an income besides unemployment and no job offers currently in sight. My initial response was natural. I came home angry, dropped my bags, turned off the phone, went to bed and cried myself to sleep. It wasn’t even 3 o’clock in the afternoon yet.
Woman down! Woman down!
I woke up in the middle of the night to the crying of my two cats whom I’d forgotten to feed, fed them, went back to bed and woke up around 11 a.m. the next morning. I turned on the television, declined to get dressed or brush my hair, poured myself a bowl of cereal and for the entire day I watched news reports about the predicted forthcoming doom and gloom of the economy we are currently facing.
I needed groceries but couldn’t face going to the supermarket during the day in casual attire. Certainly everyone would know I’d lost my job and I wasn’t ready to make small talk about it. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone looking at me and feeling sorry. I wouldn’t even go out to the mailbox until after 6 p.m. and even then I’d get dressed as if I’d gone to work and had just gotten home. This continued for weeks.
One afternoon while I was in my closet looking for something, I knocked over a box of old memorabilia from my high school days. As I stood on the stepladder and looked down, the floor below me was littered with old love letters, cards, photographs and notes that I’d committed to scanning into my computer some day; as soon as I found time.
That was the day I decided to take advantage of the free time I was given, whether I liked it or not.
I got dressed on the spot, headed over to Staples and replaced my printer with an all-in-one device that printed, scanned and copied, put my old printer on eBay (which sold in a few days for about $40 less than the new one) and got busy. Since I’d been suffering with insomnia anyway, I sat for hours into the night, removing box after box from closet shelves, scanning journals, pictures, birthday cards, post cards, user manuals to electronics and gadgets I’d purchased and recipes I’d collected over the years. When I was done, I shredded all the remains which filled over 20 kitchen garbage bags to the very top.
I opened up the same closet again weeks later and marveled at the space I had relinquished and thought back to all the times I’d said I just don’t have any room for things that actually should be on those shelves. It was time to create my recession bucket list.
I cannot control the economy but I will control what I do with the free time it has unkindly bestowed upon me. And while my list is bound to transform, the mere exercise and luxury of taking the time to define what is important to me personally, beyond my salary, title or whose office I head off to every morning is an indulgence I may not soon have again once I am back to work.
Once I started with my scanning project, I was on a roll. I went online and discovered that many of the magazines I already subscribe to offer digital subscriptions which means less paper in my home and fewer trees killed for my reading pleasure.
I would no longer need a dedicated space in my home for magazines which often pile up for months with only one or two recipes or articles I want to refer to again. I now go online and at my fingertips are years worth of magazines I’ve been subscribing to and can flip through without so much as a paper cut. I can cut and paste the articles I want and file them on my hard drive.
I took every single book I own and decided which ones I wanted to keep, and those that didn’t make the cut were listed on Half.com, a sister site of eBay. More than half have already sold, I’m reclaiming even more space, and it’s like getting paid for cleaning out my closet. I’ve gone through every item in my medicine cabinet, tossed out old/expired eye drops, lotions, creams and cough medicines, and even went through all my makeup and kept only the ones that I actually use or don’t smell funny.
It took several weeks, but when I come home and I know where everything is, neatly organized in a labeled box or on a shelf, it is a sheer pleasure to call this my home.
Less TV/More Reading
I know I share the bad habit of clicking on the television without any intent of watching anything in particular with millions. I will sit down with the remote in hand and flick channels for 15 minutes trying to find anything to listen to (not even watch) while I am home. I now have days when I don’t turn the television on at all. Reading is engaging, listening is often passive, especially when not during shared conversation as with a friend. I read newspapers online for free. I am not swayed by the inflection in the voice of the reporter and sometimes I read the same story from different sources just to get a different take.
When I need something new to read, before heading out to buy a book, I check the New York Public Library whose digital library is one of the most extensive anywhere. I can download an audiobook in minutes and listen to it while I work and I don’t even have to leave home to return it. I keep a long queue of books I am interested in “reading” and when they are available, I get an email notifying me so.
I also take full advantage of Hoopla digital which is connected with the New Jersey library system. I have access to movies, magazines, audiobooks, research materials, books and all sorts of entertainment.
Take Advantage of Free Daytime Hours
I no longer wait for the weekends to get my hair permed, do the laundry, get a manicure or go grocery shopping. While my neighbors are driving off to work in the morning, I’m on the way to the wholesale store in which I now do my shopping in a third of the time it used to take me just standing in line at the checkout counter on a Saturday.
I get full attention from my manicurist during off hours of the day and a free pedicure to boot since there are specials during the week I was never able to take advantage of. Since I go less frequently now, I’m saving even more time and money.
And I do not have to tell a woman what a pleasure it is to be in and out of a hair salon in record time as opposed to squeezing in hours on a Saturday morning for that touchup!
Even with a sinking spirit and fear of the future economy, volunteering serves me twofold. It gets me out of my own head; I realize how fortunate I am even in my current unemployed state. While I am comfortable, have shelter and an abundance of food, so many don’t even have that. But even further, it’s networking. When this recession is over, the people I’ve met, lent a hand to or assisted will remember me. That’s good in any economy.
Maintain a Regular Bedtime & Morning Routine
As I admitted, the first couple of weeks, I barely rolled out of bed before 10 a.m. and rarely got to bed before 3 a.m., and even then I often needed a cup of chamomile tea just to settle down. Once I created my bucket list and had something more to look forward to than just sending out resumes and waiting for the telephone to ring, I had a reason to get up early and get to bed at a healthy hour to get a full 8 hours of sleep.
I can not recall the last time I was working and got even 6 full hours of restful sleep. I look better, my eyes are bright and I feel better overall. In the morning, whether I have an interview or not, I’m dressed, shoes and all. While I don’t necessarily put on stockings and a suit, dragging around in a robe all day with my hair pulled back and uncurled doesn’t make me feel like today is a day for accomplishments.
So my clock is set daily to 7 a.m. (which is a full hour later than my normal wakeup time once was) and I’ve set another alarm for 9 p.m. which reminds me that whatever I’m doing is no more important than getting the rest I need to stay positive and rejuvenated for another day.
Enjoy Spa Treatments
No, not the kind we book weeks in advance at a high-end salon, but the kind I can indulge in at home for almost nothing. I’m beautifully frugal, and frugally beautiful. I have always kept an arsenal of essential oils in my home and aromatherapy is part of my everyday life. I now treat myself twice a week to a full head-to-toe pampering that begins with a 15-minute steam facial for my sometimes problematic complexion and ends with me slathering on lotion right down to my toes after a steamy shower or a lavish bath.
All it takes is some Mr. Bubble and Epsom salts which can be bought cheaply in bulk and most of us have that at home. Afterward I feel nurtured, calm and beautiful and who couldn’t use a bit of that right now?
Get Frugal/Get Smart
I have a slight addiction to skincare products. If a lotion promises to heal, exfoliate, brighten, hydrate or soften like no other, it ends up in my closet. Right now I am ashamed to admit I have four 32 oz. bottles of lotion and each one has barely been used. There’s nothing wrong with any of them but while I was working, if I didn’t already have it, I’d buy it without consideration to the last ones I’d bought and left unused. Now that I am treating myself to home spa days, I am committing to using what I already have before adding more to my collection. As the bottles and jars slowly disappear from my shelves, I am more pleased to see space filled with what I want and use than cluttered baskets in which I can find nothing quickly.
I love clam sauce and linguini. On any day this is a quick meal for me. I’ve always bought cans of my favorite Progresso clam sauce in the 10 oz. can. Last week I bought six 6.5 oz. cans of chopped clams for only $6 and found a recipe to make my own. With a little chicken broth, seasonings I already have on hand and the juice from one can, I can make as little or as much as I want, without tossing half a can of the expensive sauce I normally buy because I didn’t finish it quickly enough.
My taste hasn’t changed and I’m hardly suffering. I’m just making better use of my money and resources.
Reduce Monthly Expenditures
More than ever, I need to account for every penny I spend and decide whether it’s necessary. I’ve always had basic cable as I barely watch movies or sports, but I did contact my service provider and just for asking, the promotional rate I was offered when I first opened my account with them was extended another 6 months, which reduced my cable and internet to only $69 a month.
My cell phone bill had slowly crept up to almost $120 a month as I now use it frequently during the day to follow up with agencies and contacts. Another simple phone call got it reduced to $80 and I was given 450 extra rollover minutes, too. Many don’t seem to realize that while we are hurting, so are the companies whom we support by giving them our service. They’d rather have some of our money than none at all and are often willing to extend perks to keep us from searching for a better deal elsewhere.
Instead of getting my nails done every two weeks, I now go every 3 weeks, sometimes stretching it to 4. Since my manicurist knows I’ve lost my job, every time I see her now, she taps me on the back of the hand and says quietly, “I’m making them extra strong for you!” She’s lost a lot of customers, too, and is glad to see a familiar face.
While these savings don’t seem like much, it offsets what it now costs me to be home during the day faxing, emailing, calling and cooking when I’d normally be in the office.
Tackle a Bad Habit
I smoke cigarettes and have been quitting for years. All it took for me was a frustrating comment from my boss or a lousy meeting, and I’d be in the elevator heading down to the front of my office building to light up. The stress of being home without work doesn’t make it an easier struggle, but I can’t blame a boss, coworker or my commute now. So, I downloaded an application for my PDA, entered how many cigarettes a day I normally smoke and it’s put me on a schedule. When the alarm rings, I am allowed a cigarette. Every day the time increases between each one until my goal date. How cool would it be to come out of this recession having shed the expenses (both health related and monetary) of this bad habit, looking better, feeling better and with an extra $8 a day in my pocket? It’s worth the effort and I am proud to say that as of today, I’ve not slipped up and sneaked a smoke between alarms. This, I’m sure, is working in conjunction with my other new practices, since it makes sense that when I feel good and feel I look my best, I want to do more to benefit myself.
Remember the Money I’m Not Spending at Work
In the months I have been unemployed, I have not bought one stale overpriced cookie from a deli, a high-calorie value meal for breakfast, a $3 cup of coffee nor a bottle of water. Not one, and I don’t miss it. I have never purchased those things unless I was heading to or from work. Convenience is ridiculously overpriced, and I’m pleased to be identifying and plugging the financial leaks that kept me financially strapped and dependent upon jobs that we all suddenly realize may so quickly be gone. I now pick up a twelve pack of gum from the supermarket, and an occasional big bag of chips or cookies which I divide into snack size zip bags for a quick snack.
My bucket list has brought me a sense of calm in this storm like nothing else. I am comfortable, I cook more often and eat much better, I spend my free time far more wisely than I have before and I even look and feel better than I have in a long, long time which makes me shine at interviews. For me, this recession has been a lovely blessing in a most unusual disguise.
How do you live well while spending less? I look forward to your comments.