Long-term unemployed need to take care of their psyches, pocketbooks

Posted: Friday, September 27, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) -- It has been almost 14 months since Frank Riggio lost his job as an information technology manager for a national retailer, and money is tight.

He's exhausted his unemployment insurance benefits and emptied his savings accounts. Now Riggio, 52, is covering the mortgage on his Baltimore home and day-to-day living expenses with occasional part-time jobs and cash from his Individual Retirement Account.

''You learn that you can live on less than anything you ever expected you could,'' said Riggio. ''Trust me, it isn't easy.''

As anyone who has lost a job can attest, unemployment can be devastating to your psyche and your pocketbook -- especially if it continues for a long time. Experts say that good strategies can help you weather unemployment, increasing your chances of getting a job and decreasing damage to your finances.

The first thing you have to do is assess your financial situation and, as Riggio did, cut back on spending, said David Bach, a financial adviser and author of ''Smart Couples Finish Rich.''

He said couples often stumble when either the husband or wife loses a job.

''They should be looking to cut their overhead 50 percent,'' Bach said. ''But people don't do that. They cut back maybe by 5 percent, and the bills pile up.''

Bach said anyone who loses a job should look especially closely at recurring monthly expenses that become luxuries when money is scarce.

''Do you need three phones, two cell phones, cable and HBO, all your subscriptions, the health club membership you don't use?'' he asked. ''That $19 here, $30 there can add up to hundreds of dollars a month.''

Bach also recommends that people go over their debt ''and do everything humanly possible'' to cut it down.

This can include calling credit card companies and negotiating a lower monthly interest rate. Or you can refinance your house, which at today's low interest rates can significantly cut monthly mortgage payments and free up money for more pressing things.

''And stop trying to keep up with the Joneses,'' Bach advised. ''Tell your friends, 'I can't afford to go out for dinner right now. Why don't you come over.' If they're real friends, they'll be more than happy to come over -- and chip in on a potluck dinner.''

At the same time they're grappling with money problems, the jobless also have to deal with emotional problems.

''After a while, you lose your self-esteem and begin to question your own skills,'' said Richard Bayer, the chief operating officer at The Five O'Clock Club, a career counseling and outplacement firm headquartered in New York. ''That increases your stress.''

Bayer said that with the economy still weak, it's important that the unemployed sharpen their job-search techniques.

''Some aren't targeting enough, they're searching too broadly,'' Bayer said. ''Or they're not targeting appropriate positions. They're going after job levels too high or too low.''

He also said there are ways to increase the odds that a job interview produces a job offer.

''Don't write a follow-up 'thank you,''' he said. ''Write what we can an 'influence letter.' Tell them your strengths, tell them what you can do for that company.'' Then follow up by staying in touch with the interviewer, he said.

Riggio, who is single, said he has found networking helpful in keeping him going. He's the president of 40 Plus of Greater Washington, a group that provides career counseling and volunteer opportunities for unemployed professionals. Riggio said his work with 40 Plus has made him consider a career change, and he's now focused on finding a job at a nonprofit organization that specializes in work force or community development.

''I probably will get a lower salary, but I've learned I can handle that,'' he said. ''And I like the idea of somehow making a contribution to the community.''

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On the Net:

www.fiveoclockclub.com

Bach's site: www.finishrich.com

www.40plus-dc.org



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