What to do when you’re running out of money (tips #10 and #11)

Tip #10. Don’t spend every waking minute looking for work; you’ll burn out.

Job hunting is exhausting, particularly if you’re feeling a lot of pressure to do so. Take breaks from the process during the day and the week. If you’re totally unemployed at the moment, use the off-time to do something constructive. Want to get the garage cleaned out at last? Break ground for a garden? Pick a project and set goals. (Have a structure to your time or it’ll all trickle through your fingers. I’m not kidding.)

Tip #11. Volunteer.

One of the things you should do while you’re out of work is volunteer. There are a lot of good reasons to volunteer. First, it’s going to get you out of the house. This alone may be something worthwhile, because you’re less likely to curl up in a depressive ball in front of the TV. Second, you’re going to meet new people, which is always a good idea when you’re looking for work. Third, and most importantly, you have a chance to do something for a cause you feel connected to. You can work to end world hunger, help out in a homeless shelter, donate time at your church, whatever you like. All of these add to the overall communitas. It primes the pump in the community, peoples’ lives are improved a little because of this… and it frequently leads to new jobs and job opportunities.

What to do when you’re running out of money (tips #8 and #9)

Tip #8. Market yourself heavily.

Go to STC and other professional meetings. (Bring your updated resume and your portfolio; you never know.) Sign up with several of the networking websites. My favorite is Linkedin.com (check out my profile if you like) but there are many others. Think outside the box, too: come up with non-traditional, off-the-beaten-path places to market yourself.

Tip #9. Use job websites.

Register on as many of the free job websites as you can. Post your resume and then update it slightly every couple of weeks: when you update your resume, it shows up again in the “new/updated resume” listings and you’ll repeatedly bring yourself to the attention of companies and recruiters. (Hint: An “updated” resume can be one that has an extra space after the end of a sentence.)

What to do when you’re running out of money (tips #6 and #7)

Tips #1 through #5 were all about identifying just how bad things may be. As Magid’s Law says, “It doesn’t matter how you get there if you don’t know where you’re going.” Armed with the information about how much money you really need, you’re ready to start looking for ways to get it.

Tip #6. Don’t panic!

Panic leads to desperation, which can be the kiss of death to an otherwise successful job search.

Tip #7. Update your resume.

Whether you’re freelance or captive, looking for a little work on the side or a whole new job, your resume should always be updated so you can give it out at a moment’s notice to anyone. If you’re not good at resume writing, enlist the help of colleagues who are. (For all you writer types, the Society for Technical Communication is a great place for people who can help you do this. Also put together a portfolio if you don’t have one. A portfolio is a powerful tool for selling you as a candidate to an employer. The STC‘s a good place for that, too.)

What to do when you’re running out of money (tips #3, #4, and #5)

Tip #3. Plan your finances.

Lay out your monthly finances in a spreadsheet. Put down everything even if it’s only once a year (property taxes) or once in a lifetime (wisdom teeth removal). You need to see the whole picture before you can figure out what you can cut or reduce and how much money you need every month. The Mint.com website has a number of tools and resources for this part of the process, but just googling “planning your personal finances” or “personal finance budgeting” will give you lots of resources to play with.

Tip #4. Cut down on the expenses!

Tips #2 & #3 will have given you information on where your money’s going… and chances are there are a lot of things you don’t truly need or that you can be more frugal about. Eliminate unnecessary and luxury expenses and be more efficient about shopping for necessities. If you can’t reduce your monthly expenses by 10%, you’re probably not trying hard enough. (Remember, I said this wasn’t going to be fun.) Reducing expenses is a good policy in general: go check out The Millionaire Next Door from the library for a lot of good ideas on things you can do.

Tip #5. Identify how much money you need to be bringing in.

Once you’ve got your finances laid out and have reduced your expenses, figure out how much money–or how much more money–you need to bring in every month to survive. Things might even be not as bleak as they first seemed: when you put a number down, it can make your goal more concrete and less daunting. For example, you may discover that you only need to find an extra $300 a month in net income, which may mean taking one extra shift a week, writing a couple extra articles a month, or finding one additional short-term contract assignment a year. Seeing the difference down on paper may help you identify a way to cut your expenses that much more to survive on what you’re bringing in.

What to do when you’re running out of money (tips #1 & #2)

The first stage is to get your finances in order, as follows:

Tip #1. Don’t panic!

This process is not going to be fun, but getting completely wigged out and running around won’t help. Being as calm as you can and approaching things methodically can make most of the problems more manageable.

Tip #2. Stop using your credit cards as much as possible.

Most people don’t have a good idea of what it costs to use their credit cards. If you’ve $10,000 of debt and you’re getting an 11.99% interest rate, you’re spending $100 extra every month in interest. It’s difficult to survive without at least one credit card—try buying something online without one!—but you should use them with caution and care. Dump the ones you don’t need and look for credit cards that will offer you a better interest rate and pay them off as fast as possible. You may even be able to get a better interest from your own company; phone them and ask. There are pitfalls when shopping for credit cards and consolidating your debt but there are advantages, too. Google “reducing credit card debt” for details on what to do and how to do it. (The two best tactics for this are to always pay more than the monthly minimum payment and reduce your highest interest debts first.)

What to do when you’re running out of money

It doesn’t matter if you’re a contractor or a captive, the economy sucks right now. There’s a very real chance that you may find yourself out of work or underemployed. Maybe it’s only a sub-prime mortgage that’s nailed your finances, maybe your property taxes have gone up, maybe your car’s died. Maybe you aren’t actually in debt but you don’t have any savings and you feel like you’re riding on the edge of disaster. No matter, you’re suddenly looking at a lot of debts and not enough money to cover them.

Almost everyone I know has been there. I’ve been there. It’s no fun. But I am fortunate enough to have survived this and I want to pass on a few tips to you about things you can do to weather the storm with your stomach lining intact.

Prison and writing

There are many connections between being in prison and writing for a living. A few of them are good, most of them are not so good, but none of them are the things I’m going to talk about.

Some years ago, I was talking to my stepmother on the phone. I was near the end of a book at that time and I asked her if, as I suspected, she had noticed a stage in the writing of any book that I just became really grumpy with the project and had a hard time working on it, regardless of how much fun the book was and how much money I expected to make from it. She said, “Oh, yes!” and told me a story that I think will be interesting and educational for all of us in this silly business.

(Background: my stepmother was on the police force for 20 years. She was the first woman to graduate first in the class at the Tucson Police Academy and she worked her way up through the ranks to become one of the very few woman police chiefs for a major metro area in this country. I’m enormously proud of her.)

Elaine said that the worst point for escapes and attempted escapes is right before prisoners are due to be released. This has been recognized in incarceration for decades. This is because you’ve been incarcerated for however long and you can see the end in sight but it’s not there yet and it really pisses you off.

What they generally do for prisoners as they get to be short-timers is put them in solitary and lock them up tight so they can’t get out. This isn’t really done out of any sense of charity for the prisoners, who don’t appreciate being put in lockdown at all for some odd reasons. No, the jailers’ idea is to prevent escapes because it looks bad on their records. But it’s still the best thing you can do for the prisoners, too, who don’t need to try to escape and get time added to their sentences.

Elaine said that this can and does happen as close as 2 weeks before release: The prisoners just hit the wall and they say to themselves “I’m due to get out of here and I can’t take it any more!” She says that you can see that the end is in sight and you really resent the last effing bit!

Elaine went on to say that this is much the same with any major project. She went through much the same thing, she says, when she retired from the force some years ago. As she was getting down to the last couple months of her 20, she was having more and more motivational problems with heading to work. However, she had structured it so she had enough vacation time to give her an escape hatch if she just couldn’t deal with it, so she could phone in on vacation for her final 5-6 weeks if she needed to. 🙂

What can we learn from this?

1. Writers will always feel cranky right near the end of a project.

2. Possibly the best kindness an editor or publisher or manager can do for a writer is to tighten the thumbscrews and make sure they don’t leave their desks as the deadline approaches.

You’ve Had an Accident. Now What?

Before I get into the series on documentation plans, I thought I’d post something totally different that a friend requested I post. I wrote this after dealing with a rather serious auto accident in 1993 that finally got resolved in 1997 and even required me to sue my own insurance company. When I began the process, I didn’t think that that was a good idea, but after I got jerked around egregiously by the company I’d been paying premiums to for a couple decades, my reluctance evaporated like spit on a hot griddle.


Someone pulled out from a stop sign too early and broadsided you at 30mph. You’re definitely banged up. What do you do now? This article will describe what you should do from the minute the accident occurs to make your life easier and to minimize problems getting suitable compensation from the insurance company.

  • Call the police and don’t move.
    Get the police there as soon as possible. Don’t depend on others to call them. If you’re injured or trapped, say so and request immediate medical attention. Until the police or emergency services arrives, don’t get out of the car unless your car is on fire or likely to be hit again, even if you don’t think you were injured! If you’re suffered a serious trauma, you can compound the injury (sometimes fatally!) by moving around without a cervical collar or back support. Furthermore, getting out of the car may actually increase your chances of getting hit by a passing car.
  • Be careful about saying too much.
    You’re required to speak to the officer at the scene if s/he asks you about the accident. Before you say anything, breathe deeply and think. Describe the accident as completely as you can. If you’re simply too rattled to give a description, say so. Request a copy of your statement. Get the officer’s name and badge number for your records. You’re not required to speak to anyone else. Don’t.
  • Write down what happened as soon as you can.
    As soon as you can, write down your complete recollection of the incidents occurring before, during, and after the accident. Describe everything you can remember, no matter how trivial: your physical feelings, weather, road conditions, traffic, behavior of other people… everything. Save a copy for your records. If your insurance claim goes to arbitration or trial, read this statement whenever you’re asked, “What happened?”
  • Get checked over completely.
    You may not need to go to the ER, but you should get checked out ASAP to document your condition. Be sure to mention every single pain, bruise, and feeling and verify that the doctor has written this down in your exam record. (ER docs don’t always make a note of conditions such as deep bruises if there’s no apparent trauma, but that doesn’t mean that these conditions aren’t real.) If you’re seeing a chiropractor or osteopath, get a full range-of-motion exam done within a couple of days, too.
  • Start a day log.
    The pain you may be in immediately after an accident is as nothing compared to the pain you’re going to be in two days later. To accurately document a claim for pain, suffering, and lost productivity, you need to keep a careful record of how you feel each and every day and what effect it’s having on you. Include any changes in your senses (particularly vision and smell), appetite, sex drive, memory, sleep patterns and dreams, or your ability to focus and work. You may make several entries a day for the first few weeks. Also be sure to record your emotions: depression, anger, and confusion are typical even several months later.
  • Don’t trust the other person’s insurance company.
    Regardless of whether you’re at fault or the victim, count on the other insurance company to circle their wagons. Give them the minimum necessary information; don’t admit or sign anything.
  • Don’t completely trust your insurance company, either.
    Your agent may be a great guy, but your insurance company is not likely to be on your side for a claim for productivity loss or pain and suffering (there are wonderful exceptions to this). While you should work with your insurance company, be aware that your and their interests may diverge, particularly if they’re going to be called on to use your underinsured motorist coverage. Remember that the first layer of insurance adjusters is often there to wear you down. If you are getting a lot of resistance, be sure to ask the question “Do you have the power to say ‘yes’ to what I’m asking you?” If the answer is “no” (usually), shift the focus of your argument to “Well, I’m wasting my time dealing with you. Who has the power to say ‘yes’?” You’ll at least be talking to the right person.
  • Consider hiring a lawyer, but don’t get one “just because.”
    Whenever you can settle something amicably without a lawyer, the world is a better place. But if the insurance companies are being difficult, you will need to get a good lawyer and have them go to bat for you. It’s always prudent to talk to a lawyer early on to find out the possible advantages of having representation, but remember that not all accident cases should be litigated. (And if you do get a lawyer, follow their advice.)
  • Don’t settle your claim too early.
    You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s true. Many deep tissue traumas don’t manifest until 6-12 months after the accident. If you settle too early and then have the onset of significant accident-related pain a few months later, you have little recourse for obtaining additional coverage.
  • Be reasonable.
    Nobody ever gets everything they deserve or want in the way of a settlement. Even with a good lawyer and a large insurance policy, you’ll only get a percentage of what you can claim for damages. Be prepared to compromise. If the insurance company makes you a settlement offer, discuss it with your lawyer and then sleep on it. If you can live with the offer and your lawyer recommends it, consider accepting it. Once the case is settled, you can move on with your life, which is the most important thing of all.