smart spending

Downsize your costs in 4 weeks

An open planner, a gold pen and days of the month in the background in blue
  • Layoffs can mean going from two incomes to one overnight.
  • Reacting quickly and staying proactive are key to economic survival.
  • If small savings steps don't work, you may need to make bigger moves.

If your family -- like so many others -- just received word of a sudden layoff, it's important to take stock of your situation and immediately make changes.

"All progress starts by telling the truth," says Louis Barajas, a Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based financial adviser who primarily counsels working families.

Sit down as a family and discuss the job loss. Express feelings of anger, sadness or worry. Once you've done so, get down to the business of saving money.

Here's how to right-size your financial life in one month.

Week 1: React quickly

It's important to react quickly once you've been laid off. Denial can be your undoing, says Barajas, author of the book "Overworked, Overwhelmed, and Underpaid."

He's seen clients tell themselves, "I'll find a job in a month." Meanwhile, the family doesn't cut expenses promptly as the shell-shocked worker goes through the job-hunting motions.

"They're walking zombies," he says of laid-off clients.

That's a recipe for disaster, particularly as family savings dwindle or bills start to go unpaid.

“I don't care if you've never cracked a cookbook in your life, you can eat for pennies on the dollar at home.”

Instead, take a proactive approach. Apply for unemployment right away, says Steve Economides, who, along with his wife Annette, wrote "America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money."

When Steve was laid off, he waited a week and a half to apply for unemployment -- only to discover that unemployment isn't retroactive.

"It starts the day you apply," he says.

Week 2: Adjust the family budget

In the second week, Barajas suggests creating a financial plan. Write out the next three month's unique expenses -- everything from regular monthly bills (e.g., mortgage, utilities, auto expenses) to occasional payments (e.g., annual property tax and insurance bills, school supplies).

Once you've listed these expenses, immediately drop the nonessentials, such as music lessons or gifts.

The Economideses -- who are raising five children while dispensing frugal tips from their Web site -- suggest tallying what you have to spend in food, recreation and clothing. To pay for these expenses, use cash instead of relying on cards or checks.

"If you have money in your hand, you'll spend less," Annette Economides says.


Creativity makes the money last, she says. For example, a family that limits itself to spending $15 per week on entertainment and dining out might limit itself to a $1 bargain movie, dinner at an inexpensive all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, or hot chocolate and dessert at a coffee shop.

Unemployment could last a few weeks -- or several months. Barajas suggests creating a list of financial resources you can tap in an emergency. List any credit, equity, savings or retirement funds on which you can draw.

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