Furloughs: Yes, you can survive them

9 Dec


Furloughs often feel like you're right in the middle of this place, getting ready to do battle with exotic snakes. Stay a step ahead of those snakes.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

When you’re faced with a furlough, you will want to choke the first person who says this to you. How can anyone look at losing pay — when they may already be rolling pennies for gas — in any sort of positive light?

I won’t sugarcoat it for you. Furloughs are hell. There is nothing good about them. The only iota of positivity about furloughs is that they’re better than permanently losing your job.

Life when you get the announcement, when you’re on the furlough and when you get that first cut paycheck will be horrible. However, there are ways you can make it (somewhat) less traumatic.

Save, save and save some more

I know this may be next to impossible for some of you who are already poorer than dirt. Believe me, I’m here right now. But as soon as you know a furlough is coming, start saving every single dime you can save.

First, try a set system: How about saving five bucks a week? Maybe $10 or $20 if you’re slightly more fortunate? Remember this: A little bit is better than nothing at all.

Look at what you can cut back. I’m not saying you have to starve, but there’s always some sort of little thing we’re always on which we’re blowing money. For example, I would buy AT LEAST one pop a day from the office vending machine. I’ve cut that out (except for some days when I’m desperate to wake up). Guess what? I have an extra $5 a week!

Space out the days (if you can)

One of the positives about how our company’s furloughs have worked is that we’re allowed to space out furlough days if we like. I know that our company has doled them out per quarter (three months). So if you take one furlough day every other week, for example, it’s less of a financial shock that half of a paycheck.

Keep in mind your timing versus the time you have a major expense due. My biggest expense, by far, is rent. So, when selecting my furlough days for this coming quarter, I’ve kept that in mind. I selected days that would appear on paychecks less critical that others. I sat down and figured out when pay days come for January, February and March. I then figured which days I would get the “rent paycheck”. I made sure to avoid scheduling a furlough day during pay periods for which I would get the rent paycheck. Correction: I avoided it as much as possible.

Some companies, though, do not have this option. Many of them, like the state of Oregon, are giving their employees scheduled days. Others are making them take a straight week — or two weeks — off.

Piece of advice: If you are allowed to choose your furlough days, get your requests in ASAP. In my individual department alone, our management had to schedule a combined 150 days off for everyone. If you have a furlough during the summer, you have to figure in everyone’s vacation time AND the furloughs.

Occupational therapy

Now it’s time to wake up for that dreaded day of your first furlough day. You will be very tempted to lie in your bed in a pile of Cheetos crumbs while watching daytime TV. You MAY eventually take a shower around 3 p.m.

You often get this “mad at the world” mentality. I hate to say it, but no matter what you do, it won’t totally go away. But one thing you can do to lessen the sting is serious time occupation. The busier you keep yourself, the less time you have to dwell.

Get your **** together

Pardon my edited French, but come on, everyone has that one household chore from hell or extremely daunting task that has been eating him/her alive. This is the time to get it done.

Is your un-mowed grass to the point where your yard looks so much like an exotic wildlife kingdom that Jack Hanna wants you to lease it to him? Does your fridge look like a science experiment from hell? Do you have a closet that is just ready to frickin’ explode? Does your laundry pile look like Mount Everest and smell like a backwoods sewer plant?

You have nothing else better to do now. So get something done. Trust me, you’ll feel like a whole new person. Just last month, I made the major accomplishment of cleaning out my bedroom closet. It was to the point where all the junk inside was making shelves collapse, and I couldn’t really get inside. Now, I can actually go inside, find things relatively quickly and not risk breaking my neck. That’s a great feeling.

Get it out of your system

Clearing your collection of Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer and Milli Vanilli cassette tapes — and hauling it out to the heap — will definitely wear you out. You can seriously burn a lot of calories while doing super-heavy housework.

But when you get that done, don’t stop moving. I hate to sound like one of those crazed infomercial people, but exercise truly is a major stress-reliever. And what could boost your self-esteem more than fitting into your “skinny jeans” again? Heck, even immediately after a workout, you get a sense of accomplishment. You’re just proud of yourself for actually getting off your rear and doing that.

Day at the “spa”

After all of that hard housework and exercise, you’ll definitely want to clean up. But because you have more time on your hands, take more time out for yourself and your sanity.

Find some of that bubble bath you got for Christmas last year that you’ve never had the chance to use. Get all of those girly or metro (for guys) stuff out. Run some hot water in the tub and just kick back. Go ahead, let your toes get wrinkly. You deserve it.

Take in some cheap or free entertainment

You want to amuse yourself during this time, too. You can’t make it all about work because when your next furlough day comes, all you will think about is, “Great. I had to finish this damned quarterly earnings report in less than a day. Now, I go home to scrub cat puke out of the carpet — AGAIN — while I’m losing pay.”

With entertainment, I highly advise going with comedy or really, purely stupid stuff. You know? Those “guilty pleasure” shows? The ones you would be so embarrassed to let your friends know you watch — but you still watch them anyway?

Laughter is proven to have both short- and long-term health benefits. Do you not believe me? Check out this info from the folks at the Mayo Clinic. You also have the effect of “escapism”. By diving into something that’s really out-there or absurd, you suspend reality. Escaping a terrible reality for just a little while is definitely needed.

You don’t have to pay a fortune for this. First, you can catch a variety of broadcast TV sitcoms for basically nothing or, if you’re a little more fortunate, there are several great escape shows on basic cable. truTV (f.k.a. Court TV) is an excellent place for this, because there’s “Cops”, “Speeders”, shows featuring dumb criminals, etc. Do you believe your life stinks? Well, you could be that nasty drunk with mange who just got busted for assaulting his stepbrother-in-law with a broken Old Crow bottle.

Try not to face it alone — but be choosy

During any extremely difficult time, you do not want to face it alone. Make sure to surround yourself with friends and/or family. Just choose them wisely.

If it’s possible, try to schedule your furlough days with a friendly co-worker or another friend whose company is also furloughing workers. This person can say, “I know how you feel,” and really, really mean it. Make sure, though, to not make your time with them a total “bitch session”, during which you lament your furlough and blame everything and everyone who may or may not be responsible. You may also choose a (and make sure you understand this key word) SUPPORTIVE friend or family member. This person must be someone who lends a shoulder instead of pointing the finger. Don’t spend time with Aunt I Told You So, who slams you in every conceivable way because you chose a career field she hated.


Are all of these ideas fool-proof? No. Will they ease all of your pain? No. Losing pay bites.

Just remember this: Every morning you wake up, you were meant to be alive. Don’t act like you’re dead.


One Response to “Furloughs: Yes, you can survive them”

  1. 2berrys December 11, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    Great tips! I think this is just the opposite of getting a raise or better salary. People somehow managed to survive when they were making squat, and every time they started to make more money, most people adjust to their new level of riches rather than try and keep living within their old means. If they did, they’d see just how much money they could save. I’m still relearning this myself!

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