6 Tips for Living Without Your Unemployment Benefits

The U.S. unemployment rate is now 8.3 percent, down 0.2 percent from last December. It's been on a steady decline since October 2009, when a then-current 10.9 percent at the height of the economic downturn--the highest in 27 years--wasn't exactly the country's proudest or most industrious time.

Although current unemployment statistics sound promising for people in search of work (with 243,000 jobs created this past January, according to reports), there's a great deal of speculation that genuine jobless numbers are significantly higher than what's been suggested. Last June, Forbes echoed a sentiment lamented by many a job seeker: That the official employment rate, according to the magazine, doesn't include people who are underemployed, have stopped looking for work, or whose unemployment benefits have expired.

Counting the uncounted. The Huffington Post elaborated more on this last month, citing what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics coins the masses of Americans as "not in the labor force." Essentially, they're the chronically unemployed who haven't sought new work in more than a month's time, a staggering 1.66 million people who, if counted, would spike the standing unemployment rate to 9.2 percent, back roughly to January 2011 rates.

Then there are the "99ers." Loosely affiliated with the Unemployed 2.0 message forum, they're part of the supposedly uncounted who've exhausted their maximum 99-week unemployment insurance benefits. Struggling with unemployment, the loss of a job, and the daunting search for its replacement, can leave a negative imprint professionally, psychologically, and socially on anybody. But when unemployment benefits end, so do many Americans' only source of income. It's led to an increase in the total loss of health benefits for many, or moving past the brink of homelessness. Everyone across the spectrum, from young and old professionals, as well as military veterans, have been affected.

Shifting focus after unemployment money ends. If you're unemployed and your government-subsidized benefits have expired, you don't have to give up hope. Changing your focus and reemphasizing key priorities in your efforts can not only improve the chances of securing new, gainful employment quicker, but help maintain your standard of life without falling into financial or personal trouble.

1. Make your job search your new job. Get disciplined. Seeking new work should become a full-time, if not overtime, endeavor. Make it a habit to get up early each day as you would for work and spend as much time allowed applying to new employment opportunities. Look in your local newspaper, meetup websites, or to friends, family, and colleagues for networking opportunities--like job fairs--that could put you closer to that next opportunity.

Consider relocating to a new city or state for new job opportunities or more affordable costs of living. Casting a wider net will increase your chances of finding new work faster. Clean up your resume and scour the Internet for job postings on sites like Indeed, which collects employment advertisements from various sites across the Web. If Internet access is limited or unavailable, use your local library, which may grant extended or unlimited access for free to card-holding members.

2. Cut back only to the necessities. If expired benefits have made a financial crunch more burdensome, food and shelter are the two most important amenities. Until you've found new employment, make it a rule that there is no more disposable income in your household. If cell phone, Internet, or cable aren't absolutely necessary, cancel them, or seek out cheaper subscription plans or calling cards. The same goes for auto insurance. Explore thrift shops and discount stores for clothing. Save your pricier clothing on business attire for your next job interview--which will come.

Set up a new family budget and prioritize the expenses that matter most. Stem completely all expensive purchases, and curtail using credit cards to avoid debt. If possible, consult with a financial planner if maximizing your spending and saving is difficult. Some experts suggest that in light of losing unemployment benefits, paying off secured debt, like home mortgage and car payments, and holding off unsecured payments, like credit card bills, is best.

3. Consider your health. If you lost your health insurance with the end of a job, and COBRA benefits are too costly, consider visiting community clinics. Many offer the same specialized medical care as a conventional doctor's office, and at a reduced cost. Emergency room visits are expensive even when insured, so emphasize preventive care with your doctor before a trip to the hospital for urgent care is needed. Do your research--some doctors are willing to negotiate a lower office visit cost for people without insurance, too.

4. Get back to school. Take courses at community colleges and attend professional networking events and seminars to brush up on your existing skills, and to learn others. If tuition is cost-prohibitive, seek out scholarship aid or register as a matriculating student. Branch out to learning different subjects or majors--uncovering a new skill set could lead to a successful career change. New education can also lend a competitive edge to older professionals facing unemployment, looking to compete in a younger job market.

5. Connect with family. Many unemployed people are faced with foreclosure and sadly, homelessness. Parting with or selling one's belongings is crushing, but to lose a home is devastating. At all costs, if the loss of your home is inevitable, connect with family or friends for shelter.

Sometimes there's no greater support network than family bonds. LiveScience reported in October that 51 million Americans are living under one roof with multiple generations of family members. Due to the recession, it's an increase of 46.5 million people from five years ago.

In 2008, there were 6.2 million multigenerational households, 5.3 percent of all households in the U.S. By 2010, that number had jumped to 7.1 million households, or 6.1 percent.

6. Seek out help. If unemployment benefits have run out, there are still other programs you may qualify for. Many families can obtain food stamps, Medicaid, or assistance from social service programs. Don't write off your state employment development department. With changes to policy, there could be an unemployment benefits extension for you. Above all else, take no shame in visiting a homeless shelter, food bank, or soup kitchen if other options are unavailable.

Most of all, take the time for yourself. Volunteer with your favorite nonprofit, charity, library, or church. Resume your exercise and fitness regimen. Start an online diary or blog and document your experiences with unemployment--what you've learned, and what advice you can give to others.

Unemployment can be a time of personal and professional growth. Although you're not working, unemployment can work for you. Make it a fulfilling time and remember that the unemployment is temporary, but the changes you make will last your lifetime.

Paul Sisolak writes for www.GoBankingRates.com, which provides readers informative personal finance and investing content, as well as the best interest rates on financial services nationwide.

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