I knew leaving my position at an established company to join a startup was a risky move. Unfortunately this proved itself irreversibly true a mere few months in, when a vacancy in funding meant there was no longer a spot for me. I was let go. Initially I wasn’t too broken up about it; the newfound freedom felt like heaven. But soon enough, reality set in. And then panic. New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. How will I pay for my life? For anything? I was paralyzed with fear.
As I set out on what seemed like a daunting stretch between then and a new job, I hoped to find a middle ground between the two. Perhaps even engage in a little Funemployment (capital F!), which everyone’s fave dictionary describes as “a happy time in one’s life when one is not employed and is not wanting to be employed.”
This was…easier said than done. But after three months in occupational limbo, I think I’ve finally got my hands around it. If you’re considering taking the plunge (or were forced to), here are my six time-tested tips as to how to put the “F” in front of unemployment.
Get that side money.
Unless you’re sitting on a nest of golden eggs, money is likely going to be an immediate concern. I discovered a surprising number of ways to make some extra money. I plied my services on TaskRabbit (I can put together IKEA furniture and so can you), I signed up for Poshmark to sell off stuff I didn’t need and I registered for focus groups, which still exist and pay handsomely for your time. You can find them here!
But my best paying side hustle was definitely AirBnB. It was my savior. All I did was figure out the market for a place like mine by checking out similar spots in my hood, then I took some nice photos and got it up on the site. (Tip! The title and photos go a long way. AirBnb takes professional photos of your place for free if you want.) I booked multiple guests to maximize my income and hired a cleaning service to tidy and change the sheets between stays (I charged guests a cleaning fee). In one month alone I made 150% my rent. So easy. No joke.
Budget to no end.
Along with husting for funds, learning to budget was crucial. Not knowing where my next paycheck was coming from provided a real fiscal kick in the butt. You don’t need to be an accounting whiz to set some savings aside with a user-friendly wealth management site like Betterment or Mint. I budgeted for food, entertainment and rent. This seemed daunting at first, but once faced wasn’t too scary. I put my credit card payments on minimum for a while, too.
Unexpected perk! My period of unemployement — sorry, funemployment — provided ample opportunity to explore my extreme couponing side. (Remember that show?!) I downloaded an app called the Krazy Coupon Lady and became a frequent visitor of a site called Coupon.com — both addicting in the best way possible. One unexpected area I saved money? Workouts! All sorts of studios offer donation based ‘community’ classes and some are fully donation-based. I played tourist in my own city, taking advantage of free museum nights and countless events I hadn’t had time to enjoy when I was full-time.
Stick to a schedule!
During my early panic phase, I started to wake up later and later, and the days started to get darker and darker, both literally and figuratively. One of the hardest parts about being unemployed is the loss of routine. As my job hunt dragged on, I quickly discovered that I need structure in my life.
You’ll have to find your own groove with this one, but I found it best to set up a weekly schedule on Sunday and divide my days into intervals. For example: On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I set aside five hours for job hunting, reaching out and replying to emails and networking meetings. I tried to schedule interviews on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then slotted passion projects and volunteering into my remaining days.
Also important: set your alarm for the same time every day!
Pursue a passion project.
When you’re not working a full-time job, the world is suddenly your oyster. Volunteer at an animal shelter, start training for that half-marathon you’ve always wanted to run, join a book club. Find your thing and actually do it. I’m going for my driver’s license (I’m a city kid, don’t judge). These type of experiences broaden your horizon and open up new life pathways. And it might sound corny, but be a ‘yes’ person. Put yourself out there and chat with as many people as possible. This can lead to opportunities that you now have the time and room in your life to explore.
See about taking a trip.
This might seem counterintuitive, but travel is something many of us don’t have the freedom to do when employed. And there are ways to do it on a budget. Take a cheap train (or an off-season, mid-week flight) to visit a new place or an out-of-town friend. One upside to job hunting is you can do it anywhere. Stretches of unemployment also present a time to use racked-up credit card points, if you have them. This may not work for everyone, but I was lucky enough to have not used any points after years of credit card usage and was able to do some travel for free. If you are new to points, visit The Points Guy — he knows his shit. If you don’t have any, consider getting a credit card and start accumulating them up now.
Remember you’re not your job.
You, I, we, are not our jobs, though sometimes our identities can be wrapped up in them. You are a person with hopes, dreams, fears, talents. Equally, there is no shame in wanting a certain lifestyle, but at the end of the day, you are also more than your latest purchase. Now is the time to explore the parts of you that aren’t tied to your occupation or your things. We so often jump directly from school to full-time work, and lack the resources to explore the unknown. Sometimes the unknown is just what we need to develop and grow.
I’ve been exploring said unknown for three months now, and I can safely say that I’ve shaken off the paralysis that was holding me back at first. Through the above I’ve learned to embrace this time off between gigs. I now have my driver’s license, a new bond with my two-year-old niece (ample babysitting time) and a set of abs I can see thanks to daily yoga. I am excited about the present as much as the future.
Photos by Archive Photos/Stringer and Gerry Cranham/Stringer via Getty Images; collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.