How to Survive a Furlough

It’s a sad state of the world we live in but furloughs are becoming a common business practice when companies are navigating tough times. We’ve seen furloughed government employees during government shutdowns. Now during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing thousands of furloughed non-governmental workers. 

The positive side of the furlough is that employees retain their employee status. Many companies continue providing health care benefits and employees will return to their jobs once the furlough is over. 

The negative side of the furlough is the stress of paying bills and the uncertainty of the future. Employees feel powerless and desperate for alternatives. Luckily there are some steps to take to prevail over the difficult times. I’ve highlighted some ideas below and you can also watch our video on surviving a furlough on YouTube. 


Tips to Survive a Furlough

ej4 Blog - Tips to Survive a Furlough Graphic

1. Evaluate Savings

Look at your savings account and determine how long you can survive without an income or with an adjusted salary. According to CNBC, only 41% of Americans could cover an expense of $1,000. Of those, how many have a three to six-month emergency fund?

You’re going to need to manage your expenses a little more carefully. Now is the time to break out the jars of pennies you’ve been saving. Check your old purses, coats, and jeans. We’ve all found a dollar bill in last year’s spring jacket. A little extra cash can go a long way. 

Beyond your available cash, evaluate your inventory of food and household items. Consider this part of your savings. Is your gas tank full? Do you have enough toilet paper, hand soap, and cleaning supplies? Don’t forget about your pets. Do they have a supply of their food, treats, and preventative medicines? Your home stash represents money you don’t have to spend right away. Watch our course on savings here.

2. Create a Budget

If you don’t have a budget, you need to make one. If you do have a budget, take a look and see where you can scale back. Prioritize your “must-haves” like rent/mortgage, utilities, food, and transportation. Look for ways to scale back your spending:

  • Do you need cable, Netflix, Prime, and Disney+? Prime renews annually so you may already be locked in. Consider pausing the other services. 
  • Getting carryout from a restaurant can be very expensive. Spending $10 for a sandwich at a deli or buying a loaf of bread and a pack of luncheon meat can provide lunches for a few days. Make your coffee at home and try a frozen pizza instead of delivery. The savings will start adding up.
  • Meal delivery services charge a delivery fee and you tip on top of that. Consider eliminating this budget item.
  • Go deep into your pantry. Create your own version of the TV show “Chopped” with that box of pasta, can of tuna, and can of peas! 
  • Add a little bit of water to your dishwashing soap to help it last a few extra washes.
  • Watch our course on creating a budget for more tips. 

3. Minimize Credit Card Use

Your credit card may be your lifeline during the furlough. Do your best to limit the spending to the absolute essentials like food or utilities that accept credit cards. 

  • Hold off on buying that new lawnmower unless your old one no longer works. Then look for a used one. 
  • Stop that mystery box subscription with samples of make-up and spa products. 
  • Check your other recurring charges and pause or cancel those that you don’t need to survive the furlough.
  • Call your credit card company to negotiate the terms and possibly get the interest rate lowered, remove past late fees, or adjust the minimum payment. 

4. Apply for Unemployment

The rules may vary from state to state but in general, furloughed employees can claim unemployment benefits for their time without pay. Each state has separate rules for collecting unemployment, waiting periods to collect benefits, and requirements that the applicant provides proof of an active job search.

5. Update Your Resume

Furloughed employees very often return to the same company in the same position but many need to quickly look for work to supplement their savings. Updating your resume will be a high priority. We offer a course on this topic in our career planning library that you might find helpful. 

Think about your big accomplishments and recent contributions in your current role. Highlight the attributes that set you apart from others in your field. Keep your layout simple, easy to read with clearly marked sections, and breathing space. Proofread your resume. Have someone else proof it as well. 

We provide more helpful tips in our article "How to Make Your Resume Stand Out."

6. Consider Temporary Work

Many companies are seeing a higher demand for their services and are hiring more temporary and part-time workers. Grocery stores and warehouse clubs are adding staff to help stock shelves, deliver product, and sanitize the store at night. 

Another interesting idea is to become a mystery shopper. Companies will pay you to shop and dine via the drive-through and curbside pick up at many of the establishments you already frequent. You evaluate the food, speed of service, the accuracy of order, customer service, etc. Some companies require you to go through an application process when they are looking for specific demographics. Others have rigorous processes to follow and forms to complete but you will get paid for your time and reimbursed for the purchases. 

7. Stay Motivated 

Create a schedule to keep you focused and motivated. Figure out what time of the day you are most productive to conduct your job search activities. Make time to improve yourself and read, complete online learning, and listen to podcasts. Check out ej4’s video library to view some of the same full courses our clients use on topics like communications, leadership, and customer service. 

8. Care for Your Health

While you are on furlough may be a perfect time to address your personal health and manage stress. Make sure you get enough rest, eat right, and exercise. Keeping a positive attitude can be very difficult during a furlough. Listen to motivating music, light a candle or use an essential oil diffuser. Wear your favorite comfy clothes at home. Download a meditation app to quiet your mind and help you focus. 

There is no doubt it is incredibly hard to get through such a stressful time like a furlough or layoff. Be gentle with yourself and do your best. If you need to cry, let yourself cry. If you need to scream in anger, grab a pillow and let it out! Then try to choose to have a positive attitude and take steps each day to help your situation.  

Additional Resources

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