How to Live Without a Job

It doesn’t matter how you got here. Learning how to live without a job isn’t the herald declaring the end of the world. It may seem like it, but it is a problem with many avenues for assistance.

Developing a comprehensive plan is the first step in a process that may be days long, or perhaps months long. But keeping your head in the game can make the difference between whether you succeed or fail.

We have pom-poms, and we’re cheering for you to succeed.

Remember that you are never alone.

Allow Yourself to Grieve but Stay Busy

Losing a job triggers a grief response. Although many people think they are suffering from depression, it is more accurately known as grieving.

Your entire life has just changed. You spent countless years in the same routine, working for the same company. And now that has been stripped from your life. Much like losing a cherished loved one, job loss leaves a hole in your heart.

Allow yourself to grieve.

Depending on which model you subscribe to, there are five to seven stages of grief that you will transition through upon finding yourself unemployed. Rick Galbreath chronicled seven stages in an article published by LinkedIn:

  1. Shock and denial
  2. Pain and guilt
  3. Anger and bargaining
  4. Depression, reflection, and loneliness
  5. The upward turn
  6. Reconstruction and returning to being functional
  7. Acceptance and hope

In discussing grief, some stages will be short, and others will progress over a longer period of time. Each person will handle the progression differently. There is no right or wrong way. Some people may even skip some stages, and that is perfectly fine.

The most important take-away is to allow yourself to grieve the job loss but do not allow it to consume you. If you feel that you need help through this process, don’t hesitate to reach out. There are organizations available that offer counseling for grief, both personal and professional.

Making a List and Checking It Twice

No, you haven’t magically become Santa Claus. But the habit of making lists and checking them twice is a great place to begin after losing your employment.

Lists will become your friend. Part of being displaced from your routine means a natural regression of your short-term memory. You don’t need to run off to have your doctor perform neurological testing. Rather than trusting your memory, develop the habit of making lists.

Some people will prefer one long list with assigned priorities, while others will create separate lists for different categories of tasks. Work within the scope of what is familiar and comfortable for you. If that means one long list with color-coding, do it. A convenient breakdown might be to create lists for each of the main aspects of your life:

  • Absolute must-do items
  • Job-search items (resume items, dry-cleaning that old suit, etc.)
  • Budget and household items (monthly bills, rent/mortgage, utilities, food, etc.)
  • Things to buy/bills to pay with your final paycheck
  • Daily perks and habits to stop doing (Starbucks, fast food, etc.)
  • Support network — list the people in your immediate circle that can/will help

You can break your lists into whatever manner works best for you. The important thing is to make the lists because your brain may not be as reliable as it used to be.

First Things First — File That Unemployment Claim

The first thing on your must-do list involves filing an unemployment claim if you are eligible for that benefit. It will not replace your lost wages, but it will help. It is not an automatic process, so you will have to jump through some hoops.

Every state has different rules regulating unemployment benefits and different filing procedures. Since it would be impossible to list them all here, we will include links so you can research benefit programs in your state of residence.

The basic process involves the following steps:

  1. Contact the unemployment insurance program in your state (or where you worked)
  2. Determine how to apply (in person, online, by telephone, etc.)
  3. Have access to the information you will need (addresses, employment dates, past wages, etc.)

The site recommends beginning your search at CareerOneStop. Using the search feature, select your state to produce a list of online links to the appropriate offices.

Each state has its formula for calculating unemployment benefits. They also have established minimum and maximum benefits amounts, which vary. To be prepared for this, you should have earnings statements from your last year of employment. Some states may require only two quarters, while others may use your annual earnings as an average.

Some states, like New York, offer a calculator tool on the website that will assist you in estimating your benefit amount during the application process. Not all states provide this tool, and rates may vary widely, so only use an online calculator if it is from your state.

Some states provide small stipends for dependents in addition to unemployment benefits, so have documentation for dependents available if needed.

At the end of the year, you will need to include unemployment earnings on your income tax filings. Make sure to maintain documentation.

Resume Tweaks Will Get You Hired Quickly

One of the requirements to keep receiving unemployment benefits is that you must be actively seeking a new job. You will be applying for at least two or three new positions weekly. This requirement does vary state-to-state, so check the conditions for your location.

To be effective in any job search, you should prepare in advance. In other words, update that tired old resume.

Exploring the Difference Between a Resume and a CV

Many employers have shifted to requesting a Curriculum Vitae (CV). There is a difference, and you should enter your job search with both. Curriculum Vitae is a Latin phrase that simply means the course of life.

Unlike a resume, which is generally one page and never more than two pages, a CV chronicles everything and can be over 10 pages long. Originally they were used mainly in the academic fields, but CVs are becoming increasingly popular as we transition to a more digital society.

In short, a resume will generally include:

  • Your name and contact information (make sure this is all current and correct)
  • Education (include high school/GED and any higher level of education)
  • Work experience (this will list your last 8-10 years with brief job descriptions)

The CV delves deeper into your background and should include:

  • Name and contact information
  • Your areas of interest
  • Education (degrees you have earned, certifications, schools attended, etc.)
  • Awards, individual honors, and grants you have received
  • Presentations and publications (include books, articles, presentations)
  • Employment/experience (jobs, duties, responsibilities, and accomplishments)
  • Professional memberships
  • References (this list should have accompanying letters of recommendation)

The differences in the two documents make each an essential part of your job search. A resume can be quickly adjusted to appeal to specific employment opportunities. Taking a look at your resume and tailoring it for each job is a great way to attract an employer.

A CV will be more static because it lists everything. Once it is complete, you only need to update it when you have additions to your life-list of accomplishments.

Re-check either document before submission just to make sure you have everything listed correctly.

Finding Resources for Extended Unemployment Periods

Your resume is updated, and you have your CV ready. You have filed for your unemployment benefits, so now you just wait, right?


You also need to make sure that you maintain your food supplies. If you aren’t eating, you won’t be healthy enough to embark on this new adventure. Especially if you have a spouse and children that are depending on you.

If you’ve never been in this position before, you likely have no idea where to turn. Not to worry. There is a myriad of federal, state, and local programs available to help you over these bumps.

Federal Assistance Programs

Who wants welfare? Mostly no one. But our government has social safety net programs available for you when you need them. It can mean the difference between keeping your house and eating and being homeless and hungry. Your taxes support these programs, so use them when you need them.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the most widely known and used welfare program. The funding comes from the federal government, but each state administers the benefits differently and has a different name for their program. Through block grants, each state has developed its program to accomplish the overall purposes of TANF. Through TANF, people can receive:

  • Food
  • Home energy assistance
  • Child care assistance
  • Housing assistance
  • Job training

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal food stamp program. Benefits are used via a debit card, called an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. SNAP benefits have relatively strict guidelines for eligibility and use.

Although we have only covered the basics here, there are many more programs that may be available to assist you during this period. If you have internet access or a library card, the wealth of information available is almost infinite.

A quick search for “help with bills” brought us to a government site listing links to gain assistance for telephone bills, medical bills, home energy bills, and prescription medications.

Remember, your tax dollars already paid for these programs. Social safety net programs are your insurance policy against homelessness and hunger. Use them.

Resource Links for State Agencies

To find out information about the TANF program in your state, the Office of Family Assistance includes a search tool. By selecting your state, the database will display the website of your state agency with phone numbers and addresses of local offices.

To find out more information about SNAP benefits and to apply, please visit their website and answer the questions in the eligibility finder survey.

The U.S. government maintains a website to assist people in finding benefits they may be eligible to receive. After answering the brief survey questions, the site will pull up a listing of programs for you. You may not qualify for everything the survey locates as it only covers basic preliminary questions.

The Lifeline program, operated through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assists people with telephone bills.

The National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program will assist people with hearing and vision loss to obtain equipment to make communication possible.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists in several ways from helping reduce energy usage with home improvements to help with bills. A local locator is available on the website. There is a clearinghouse site that contains PDF versions of most of the forms for each state. The forms can be downloaded, printed, and filled out in advance of an appointment.

If you need medical coverage, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Program (CHIP) are helpful for those that qualify. These are federally-funded, but state-controlled programs, so benefits and eligibility will vary. Your state may also use a different name to identify these programs.

If you had medical coverage through your employer, you might qualify to continue those benefits under the COBRA program. Generally, a more expensive option, but with pre-existing conditions, it can be a worthwhile investment.

Food Pantries, Soup Kitchens, and Local Churches

Filing for all the state and federal assistance programs may take some time. As with all things government-related, you must jump through the hoops. However, if you need help immediately, there are plenty of local options available with less cumbersome application processes.

Understanding what these programs are and how they work is part of learning how to live without a job. Many of these programs simply require proof of residency. Some ask you to attend short classes or to volunteer some time helping out.

Food banks and food pantries provide food for people to prepare at home. While most will have a permanent location, some may employ mobile delivery to some municipalities. In addition to supplying food, many pantries also provide nutrition education, holiday food baskets, school supplies, and other services.

Soup kitchens typically provide at least one hot or boxed meal per day. They are normally found in areas with a large homeless population. Some programs ask for a nominal donation if you can afford it.

To find pantries and assistance organizations in your local area, you can use the links provided below. Using Google to search for “food pantries near me” will also offer you listings from local churches, schools, and other organizations that are too small for inclusion on national lists.

If you are a church member, check with your church. Many churches have assistance programs for members that include both short and long-term help.

A critical thing to remember is that you are not alone. You are not the first person to find themselves suddenly unemployed. Reaching out to service programs that will help you is an important step in learning how to live without a job.

Resource Links for Finding Local Organizations

Feeding America is a network of food banks that provide 4.3 billion meals each year. Their website offers a zip code search feature to find out if they have a local facility in your area.

FoodPantries is a manually-maintained directory listing soup kitchens, non-profit organizations, and food banks. The single goal is to fight hunger. The site lists assistance organizations by state.

Ample Harvest has harnessed the power of the internet to allow 42 million people with home or community gardens to donate extra harvest produce to local pantries. They are located throughout the U.S. to provide a healthier alternative to people suffering from food shortages.

Need Help Paying Bills is a website dedicated to providing information on a variety of assistance programs, including local, state, and federal. They have included food banks, bill-paying and rent assistance, vehicle repair, and a lot more.

Thinking Outside the Box

All the essentials are under control. Once you have made sure that you have all the necessities out of the way, it is time to hunker down and add the little things.

Sometimes, you need an extra $20.00. But how do you manage that on a shoestring budget that barely covers your necessities? You think outside the box.

Finding new ways to make and stretch dollars is part of learning how to live without a job. Your resourcefulness may surprise you.

Sell Your Junque

Look around your home. When was the last time you played that game of Scrabble? How many pairs of shoes do you have? That bookcase in the corner hasn’t had a book on it in three years, and it’s just collecting dust.

There are a lot of ways to make some extra cash right now. Yard sales are straightforward. Some municipalities require a permit, but those are generally inexpensive. Setting up the sale takes some time and effort, but in the end, you will have bread and egg money.

You can also sell things by utilizing online apps or sales sites. These will display a photo of your item and allow you to list the specific information about it. Contact with potential buyers happens through the app or website. Sales can be paid for via cash, check, through a cash app, or an online bank such as PayPal.

These sites do well, but you pay a fee for the convenience:

There are also no-fee sales sites and apps:

Some sites will purchase your used items (mostly electronics):

Do not sell your child’s favorite stuffed animal. But by all means, declutter your home and life and use those dust collectors to get some cash. The drill you haven’t used in three years might be the gas money that gets you to the interview for your new job.

Save That Receipt

You’re almost a pro at this whole learning how to live without a job thing.

But here’s another small tip with some decent dividends. It doesn’t cost you anything except a few seconds of your time. It won’t make you wealthy, but a $10.00 Amazon card is still $10.00 you didn’t have before.

Programs and apps that offer returns for scanning receipts:

While we haven’t used all of these apps, we have been pleased with the ones we have tried. Please conduct due diligence and research what other users are saying. This list does not have all of the available programs out there.

The payouts are variable with each app, so it may take longer to earn rewards on some. The key is to use more than one app and double up on your rewards. You are always going to be buying groceries, and we haven’t seen any rules stating that you can’t scan your receipt into more than one reward program app.

Let your grocery purchases work for you.

Short-Term Loans and Credit Cards

We do not recommend signing new loan agreements or using credit cards if you find yourself unemployed. However, in some instances, these can work to your advantage.

Personal loans, if you have good credit already established, will usually have a lower interest rate and a longer period of repayment. Personal loans generally require collateral, such as home equity or other property of value. If you borrow enough to allow the loan to cover the first several loan payments, you will have breathing space during your job search.

Short term loans have a shorter repayment period and often come with higher interest rates. With that in mind, there are both advantages and disadvantages to short-term borrowing.

Advantages of short term or installment loans:

  • Can be used to improve your credit history
  • Approvals are generally quick (24-48 hours)
  • Requirements for qualification are not as strenuous
  • Pay-off period is shorter (six months to one year)

Disadvantages of short term or installment loans:

  • Can lead to repeated cycles of borrowing
  • Loan amounts are generally low
  • Interest can make them pricey for long-term projects

Committing to a new loan might not be the best idea during your period of unemployment.

Relying on credit cards to replace your paycheck has many drawbacks. Cards have limits, and the interest rates on them mean you will be repaying much more in the end.

Using credit cards can be advantageous if you find a new job quickly. Use them during the short period between starting that job and receiving your first paycheck. When you receive your first payment from the new job, pay the balance in full if you are able. At the very least, try to pay down the remaining balance within your first several pay periods.

Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and Other Short-Term Money-Making Side Jobs

If all else fails and you own a decent, newer model vehicle, you can supplement your income by driving for Uber, Lyft, or other taxi-style services. You will need a good driving record, vehicle insurance, and a willingness to drive.

Other delivery services offer opportunities also. PostMates, Shipt, DoorDash, UberEats, and Instacart are just a few.

Most of these programs offer daily payouts, so you can always earn a few extra dollars. The apps allow you to determine how much or how little you are available. These make great fillers in between job interviews.

The Job Search: Effective Strategies to Re-Enter the Job Market

Throughout all of this, the one thing you will need to do is consistently maintain your search for new employment. Setting daily goals, such as a set number of applications is a good start.

Consistency and routine are good habits. Waking up at the same time every day will help you stay in career-mode during your search.

If you need to refresh some of your job skills, you can look into local training programs. Many are offered free or at a low cost in conjunction with unemployment benefits.

Brushing up on your writing skills by writing application letters and cover letters is also helpful. Developing better communication skills is always beneficial.

Keeping Your Head in the Game

As you embark on the adventure of learning how to live without a job, remember that you must take care of yourself. Mentally. Physically. Financially.

Grief is normal. Anger, pain, guilt, depression, and the plethora of other feelings you will have are all normal. But normal does not mean debilitating.

If you start to feel overwhelmed talk to someone: your spouse, a therapist, a former co-worker. Talking about your feelings will help you to cope with the loss of your job. Allowing yourself to work through those emotions will get you on the road to a new opportunity.

Keeping your head in the game and staying as positive as possible will make a huge difference.

Good luck. We hope our resources and ideas will help you travel this difficult road.

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