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7 steps to survive a furlough

If you're facing unpaid time off from your federal job thanks to sequestration, use these tips to survive on a smaller paycheck.

By Stacy Johnson Mar 4, 2013 2:02PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News


Money Talks News logoIf you're a federal employee, unpaid furlough days might be in your future.


Image: Man with calculator (© Siri Stafford / Photodisc Red/Getty Images)Until the sequestration unfolds in coming weeks, we won't know how many will be affected, or how badly. But there are dire predictions floating around. For example, according to The Washington Post, the Pentagon estimates that most of its 800,000 civilian employees could lose up to 20% of their paychecks for a period of 22 weeks.


It's an unpleasant possibility for many federal employees. In addition to our sympathy, we're offering some tips to help anyone in similar circumstances. Read on for ways to manage on a reduced income without going into debt or losing quality of life.


1. Consider what you'll save.

While you won't be earning money on your furlough days, you won't have work-related expenses either. For example, if you drive 30 miles round-trip to work, using roughly one gallon of gas, buy lunch out, and wear a dry-cleaned suit, your typical spending might look like:

  • Gas -- $3.76 (average national price on March 2).
  • Lunch -- $15.99 with tip.
  • Dry cleaning -- $10.

If you have one forced day off a week, you'll save about $30, or about $120 a month. Small comfort, but it's something.


2. Trim the fat from your budget.

If you're making less money, you'll have to either cut back or dip into savings. But spending less might be easier than you think. Look at recent expenses to see what you might be paying for but not using. For example:

  • Gym membership -- $29.99.
  • Tanning membership -- $24.99.
  • Streaming video subscription -- $9.99.

Once you spot leaks, call and cancel.


3. Wipe out unnecessary expenses.

Cutting out the extras, even temporarily, can help. You probably have a few expenses you could cut out without sacrificing your quality of life. For example:

  • Cancel cable -- potential savings of $75 a month. 
  • Keep the cable but ditch the premium channels -- $39 a month.
  • Drop your land line -- $30 a month.
  • Eat out one less night a month -- $25 a month.

Don't stop there. Look over your expenses for the last few months and see what you can trim without feeling the loss. Like concerts? Find free ones. Like live sports? Drop pro and go amateur. Like dinner out with friends? Host potlucks instead. Like to buy e-books? Get them free at the library.


4. Cut food costs.

In 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average American family spent $6,458 yearly on food -- or $538 a month. To save: 
  • Shop salvage grocery stores. Buying dented cans and damaged packages can save you 30% to 50%.  
  • Use ads and coupons. I've saved up to 50% by planning my meals around the weekly sales.
  • Make a list before you go and only buy what's on the list. That simple move could save you 10% because you avoid impulse purchases.
  • Buy generic. Shop the store brands on the bottom shelf and you could save 30% or more. 
  • Prepare it yourself. It's ironic that the costliest food is often the least tasty and nutritious. If you have more time on your hands, use it to prepare more meals from scratch. You'll eat better and spend less doing it.
5. Dip into savings cautiously.

If you have to dip into savings, do it sparingly. Granted, the purpose of an emergency fund is for emergencies, and a 20% pay cut certainly qualifies. But do everything you can to reduce expenses first. Otherwise you might find yourself short when something even more urgent comes up.


A company I worked for years ago cut my hours, so I dipped into savings whenever I needed extra cash, assuming things would turn around. They didn't, and I found myself short when my car broke down.


6. Apply for unemployment compensation or loans.

Rules vary by state, but in some places you may qualify for unemployment benefits if your hours are significantly reduced. The U.S. Department of Labor has a list of unemployment offices by state.


You may qualify for a short-term loan from the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund. The loans are interest-free and up to $1,000, but have short repayment periods. You can read more and get an application at the FEEA website.


7. Make extra money

Use your furlough days to make some extra cash outside the office. Holding a garage sale is an easy way to make some extra cash. If getting up early on the weekend isn't your thing, sell unwanted stuff online.


You could also baby-sit or pet-sit in your free time. A friend of mine makes anywhere from $50 to $100 a week baby-sitting and she only works one or two days.


There are other ways to work from home, but be careful not to get ripped off.


No job is safe anymore

The term "government job" has long been a symbol of security. Those days are apparently over. So even if you've dodged this particular bullet, now's a good time to take stock. 


If you don't have a savings account, start one. If you're not tracking your expenses, do it. If you don't have an emergency plan, make one. And if you've ever wondered how you could pick up a little spare money on the side, now's a great time to turn your hobby, talent, or interest into a part-time gig.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Mar 4, 2013 5:38PM

lunch out, $15.99? What, every day?  tanning membership, really? daily dry cleaning?  Really?   Is this unrealistic or is it just me?

Mar 5, 2013 5:54PM

 we are down to the basics and have been for a long time,   still have to pay house payment and car payment,   when is all these cutting back going to stop.   especially when we barely have enough left over for groceries and gas.    Sorry .  my husband and I do not have the luxury of going out to eat daily  or going on vacations etc. etc.   this furlough is going to put us and others out on the streets with no home  to live in.               we don't have a savings account ,  we pay house ins. and car ins with it ...thats it..                  

Mar 5, 2013 9:01AM
What about if you have no job at all?  How do you save money?
Mar 18, 2013 2:23PM
Make extra money is always my favorite choice.  In not just in furlough time, but to have an extra $1,000 a month can make a big difference in most people lives!  I am happy for the furlough because I have more time to make more money in my online home business.  Who doesn't love Leverage and Residual Income!
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