How to manage on one income when you or your spouse gets hung out to dry
For Ron Mattocks, a successful Houston, Texas-based blogger (clarkkentslunchbox.com), getting laid off might be the best thing that ever happened to him. But that didn’t make the transition from successful salesman to stay-at-home dad of five any easier.
In November 2007, Ron had been recruited to do sales for a Houston homebuilder. By mid- February 2008, he was laid off, another casualty of the U.S. economic crisis and company downsizing. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a call from his wife (at the time his fiancée) – just as he was driving home to tell her the bad news – spelled further disaster.
“She was crying, and I thought maybe she had heard the news already. Before I could say anything, she blurted out that she had just lost her job.” He decided to wait until he got to their home to divulge his own news, which he says he delivered in a calm, collected manner. “As a former member of the military, I knew the worst thing to do was to panic in front of her or the kids.”
The couple immediately launched a plan to get back on their feet. “We decided that we were going to start our own freelance writing and design firm. Within three months, my wife, a graphic designer, got a few contract jobs. It didn’t take long before they wanted her full-time.”
Ron himself wasn’t so lucky. “I busted my tail trying to find a traditional job, but in 10 months, I didn’t receive even a call. And when I finally did, I couldn’t even get past the phone interview. I assumed I’d be able to get a new job right away. I’d never had a problem before. That’s when things got tough.”
Canadians can learn a lot from their American cousins who faced the worst of the recession. While we weren’t hit nearly as hard, every family is at risk of losing the security of a double income. This is why Preet Banerjee, a money expert on W Network and senior VP, Pro Financial Asset Management in Toronto recommends being pro-active. “Unless you are willing to change careers into one that is recession proof – think healthcare or education – all industries are potentially vulnerable.” He recommends building an emergency reserve of three months’ worth of expenses, as well as aggressively paying down non-mortgage debts such as lines of credit and credit cards, and learning to live within your means. “Run a surplus; it is the fundamental building block to successful personal finances,” he says.
Ron agrees. “No one’s indispensable in this economy. I was an award-winning sales manager with a long list of tangible results. I was well respected and brought a lot of value to the table, yet I was still let go. It can happen to anyone. All of us need to cut back on spending and save more as a contingency plan.”
Having a plan will also help your family feel reassured. Kids will notice the stress of your waiting for the shoe to drop just as they would the stress of not having a job. Toronto-based marriage and family expert Dr. Karyn Gordon says it’s important to be honest with children while at the same time reassuring them that you, the parents, have everything under control and that you have an action plan. “It is important to not let them feel the burden.”
That was a top concern for Ron and his wife. “We made sure not to say anything to freak them out, and we kept them focused on school and activities,” he says, adding that it was important to ensure that their children felt safe. “We shared legitimate good news with them so they could see things were getting better. We also took the opportunity to teach them about the responsible use of money and why it’s good to save it.”
come, the experts agree that it is important to be honest with the family about what has happened and what needs to happen now. You need to set expectations with the family. These might include switching to “emergency mode” (see right).
Good Job Hunting
Be realistic. Accept that looking for a job has become your full-time job and there won’t be results overnight. The average time between jobs is six to eight months depending on your skill set, experience and demand in your field. Lay out a strategy and identify your goals, says Ron. Consider upgrading your education and take opportunities to network in your field. Or, you may need to make a career switch. Ron warns against having high expectations. “Anticipate rejection. You will not get your first, second or even third choice in the job search. Your plan will not go as planned. Expect delays. If you expect this from the start, it will lessen the blow.”
He also recommends sharing all the details of your job search with your partner. “Don’t be afraid to share feelings, even if they are not always cheery.” And if your spouse is the one looking for work, let him or her vent; try not to get defensive if your spouse’s frustration involves you. “Try to be sensitive to the laid off parent,” says Ron.
Typically, women handle the news better than men do; the statistics of laid off men suffering from depression is greater than with women. Ron knows first-hand how that can feel. “Keep in mind that it’s not your fault, so don’t blame yourself or feel guilty,” he says. “At first you’ll have a period of grieving over being laid off and you’ll want to be alone, but get over it as quickly as possible.” His advice? Look for ways to stay connected to others, such as:
- Making it a point to talk with friends
- Joining a sports league
- Finding other dads going through the same situation through online networking.
Indeed, networking is key to securing a new job. Allan Kearns, career coach with Toronto’s CareerJoy, recommends using tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to reach out and stay connected. “Community is where opportunity is.”
For Ron, who had always wanted to be a writer, opportunity came where it was least expected. “With my back up against the wall, I started writing in conjunction with my job search, and over time, my writing turned into a published book along with serious paying gigs in a really tough job niche. I don’t make as much, but I’m happier about what I do.”
Being laid off also gave him the chance to become closer with his children. “I was able to bond with two new stepdaughters who hardly knew me, and it set the tone for a positive relationship. At the same time, I was able to focus on the needs of my three boys as they coped with divorce.”
The key to success is doing it as a family, Ron says. “Whatever you do, don’t shut off from your spouse. If you do that, you stand a chance of losing your best ally. Stay positive, keep your sense of humour when possible. And stick together.”
Published in May, 2011.
Paula Margulis is a Toronto-based freelance writer and a doting auntie.