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Personal Budget and Financial Assessment

Unless you find a new job quickly, becoming unemployed will almost always require a change in spending. The Budget Building Tools and Resources page has several worksheets you can use to measure and track your spending. They’ll help you gain a handle on your weekly or monthly cash flow and determine a realistic budget.
In this section, we’ll look at ways to trim your spending to meet that budget.

The first step is to assess your current spending and distinguish between wants and needs. Identify the essentials you pay for each month, including housing, utilities, food, work clothes, transportation, insurance, and other obligatory bills. Then use the suggestions outlined below to trim back on these necessary expenses.

All other expenditures are fair game for elimination. These may include dining out, entertainment, hobbies, gym memberships, and household and personal care purchases that you can postpone until your finances stabilize.

Budgeting tips

None of the following cost-cutting measures will, by themselves, solve your cash flow problems, but together these strategies can potentially save you hundreds of dollars each month.

  • If you have more than one vehicle, try to leave one in the garage. When you can, carpool with neighbors, or use public transportation. If a second or third car is merely for convenience, rather than necessity, selling it can bring in cash and reduce your monthly car loan payments. Using rideshare services once or twice a week can be far more economical than owning, insuring, maintaining, and fueling a second or third vehicle. Consolidating errands and shopping trips can also reduce transportation costs.
  • Trim your gas and electric bills by instituting energy-saving measures throughout your house or apartment. Plug drafty windows and doors with weather stripping. Avoid using the clothes dryer or dishwasher during peak hours when electricity may cost more. Install a programmable thermostat, unplug all unused electrical devices, and lower the temperature on your hot water heater.

 Saving when shopping

  • Prepare and eat more of your meals at home, and pack lunches rather than buying them. This may be one of the fastest ways to trim your expenses, since eating out and ordering takeout food several times a week can add significantly to your food bill.
  • Look for bargains on gently used clothing at thrift shops and second-hand stores.
  • Check out “dollar” stores for household essentials. Compare the unit prices (price per ounce or per gallon) with prices in regular stores, to ensure you’re not actually paying more for a smaller amount.
  • Reduce expensive impulse buying. Make a list of essential purchases before you go shopping, and buy only what is on your list.
  • Buy items in bulk, purchase generic brands, and shop sales in the grocery store.

Other ideas

  • Get your family involved in reducing expenses and generating family income. Explain that everyone will need to scale back on discretionary spending for a while.
  • Contact your creditors, explain that you've lost your job, and ask for lower monthly minimum payments. Creditors are far more likely to work with you if you’re proactive, rather than waiting until you've missed one or two payments.
  • Apply for any government benefits that you or your family may be eligible for.
  • Unemployment benefits are taxable, so you should understand how this impacts your annual tax return filings.
  • Sell items you no longer use or need. Borrow, trade, or barter with neighbors for items and services.