Bring on the advice columns

By now, things have gotten bad enough in the US economy that business columnists are starting to write that perennial favorite -- how to survive a job loss. I checked the number of stories on layoff advice in March and April 2007 and compared them with the same two months this year. The count rose from 29 to 68. Another unofficial indicator of recession. Kathy Kristof of the Los Angeles Times delivers the usual litany about applying for unemployment insurance immediately and asking for details on your severance package, unused vacation, COBRA health benefits and the like. It's a good rundown. But I found this passage a little ill-informed:

If your spouse is still working, your goal should be to live on the one income, plus unemployment benefits, without dipping into savings, Jones said. If no other family members have jobs (or you're single), you will need to consider cutting expenses to the bone.

The biggest mistake that the unemployed make is adjusting their budgets too late. People often assume that they'll get a new job quickly, so they're loath to cut out luxuries such as cable TV and housecleaning and gardening services. But that money spent early on can't be recovered. If it takes longer to find work than you anticipate, you can find yourself economically devastated in record time.

By cutting back immediately, you will have bought yourself extra weeks of solvency, Jones said. If you do get another job in short order, you can just as quickly rehire the gardener and the housekeeper and turn the cable back on.

The author doesn't account for the hardest part of being unemployed, and that is trying to keep things on an even keel for children. Dan and I have always kept regular babysitters through layoffs -- they are more sensitive to being out of a job than a gardener, and they would almost certainly find new jobs before we were able to rehire them.

We try in other ways to keep the bad news from affecting our kids' lives. For example, this time we eliminated their expensive gymnastics classes, but we're still sending them to violin and piano lessons.

Avrum D. Lank, a business columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, offers a realistic assessment on balancing your new jobless reality with the fact that life goes on. He quotes Michael P. Haubrich, a financial planner with Financial Service Group in Racine, Wisc.

Calculate how many months of your survival budget shortfall are covered by your liquid assets and credit lines. You now have your timeline to find employment before you have to make drastic financial changes.

I agree that drastic changes should be the last resort. During our first layoff, this really tore me apart, trying to act like everything was normal when it was not. However, having survived a few times, I look back and appreciate that we didn't panic and move in with our parents.