This is an independent entry of my blog, the unexpected retirement. May you find the information useful in getting you to a wonderful and happy retirement. We all want to retire well! You can find related blogs below this post.
When I found myself out of a job at 58 years old, I wasn’t overly concerned at the time. I had an okay severance package, employer covered health care for 4 months, and a decent savings account. What I didn’t realize is that finding work as an older executive (I was in Sales), would be so very challenging.
The Department of Labor, reports that from January 2013 to December 2015, there were 3.2 million workers displaced from jobs they held for at least 3 years (7.4 million in total if we eliminate the 3 year factor). In January 2016, the re-employment rate for workers ages 25 to 54 was 73%. Reemployment for those 55 to 64 was only 60%, and forget about it if you were 65 or older. Of those older workers, a measly 27% were reemployed.
I was one of those displaced workers in October of 2016, and it was startling to learn that I only stood a 60% chance of finding new employment. Yikes! I was certainly not ready to retire. I realized that I needed to get a grip on the things I could control, and try to take stock of the things I couldn’t. With that in mind, I created a checklist for those who may find themselves in a similar position hoping to make things a little easier for you.
1) Return the company cell phone.
Many of us are provided with company phones. While the company may allow you to keep your device, my advice is don’t. Who needs an old Android device, when for $10.00 a month, I could have the latest and greatest? A company may let you stay on their data plan, and this may be tempting (it’s certainly easier than going out and finding a new provider), but don’t do it. You will find a data plan that will fit your new budget. It’ll be a better one, a cheaper one. Trust me.
2) File for unemployment immediately.
States have different laws regarding the collection of severance in parallel with unemployment. You may live in a state where you can collect both (California), or you may live in a state where you’re told that severance needs to run out before you collect (NY). Regardless, you need to file so that the Department of Labor can make their determination as to when benefits will start, and how much those benefits will be. I couldn’t collect NY State unemployment until after my severance pay was finished, but even so, the bureaucrats insisted I file the week after I lost my job.
3) Cobra benefits need to be clearly understood.
My company would pick up the entire cost of Cobra for 4 months after my lay-off. After that, the cost would be $1,200.00 per month. Of course I took the free Cobra, and of course I dropped the expensive option when the 4 months was up. They key is for you to know your options. If your ex-employer is not picking up a sizable amount of Cobra, chances are Cobra is way too expensive for you. There are alternatives, and you can find them online. Note that for those making less than $22,411.00 a year, you can qualify for Medicaid.
4) Once you understand your medical coverage options, get to the doctor.
The beauty of not being employed while still retaining health coverage is that you finally have the time to take care of yourself and go to the doctor. Anyone over 50 needs to have the following tests done:
• Blood tests (for high cholesterol, sugar levels, and possible deficiencies)
• Bone density test
• Prostate cancer screening
• Mammogram (and pap smear if under 65)
• Skin cancer screening by a dermatologist
Don’t forget about the more routine exams such as getting a physical and vision test. You should get your flu shot, and refill any prescriptions you have. Ask your doctor for a 90 day prescription. They are generally less expensive than the 30 day ones.
5) Clean up your social network pages
If you’re like me you have lots of connections and friends. Too many! Make sure the people that you’re friends with, or linked into are okay for prospective employers. I point this out because I had a few nieces and nephews who held nothing back when it came to talking about their indulgences at various parties, which were quite frequent. While, I myself am known to let loose on occasion, I certainly don’t publish these facts.
Employers look at your social networks, in particular LinkedIn. I also removed anyone who I felt did not have my best interests at heart. There are always some people who will take great pleasure in your new unemployed state. Whether that pleasure stems from jealously, self-righteousness, or what, I don’t know. I do know I did not want them seeing my every activity. When you’re unemployed and looking for work, there’s enough negativity to go around (some of it comes from inside us). I don’t think it’s wise to keep in touch with those who may bring you down.
6) Organize that budget.
Just in case you may be long term unemployed, (I’m going on 5 months right now), it’s time to take a hard look at your assets and your liabilities. You will be amazed at how resilient and savvy you can get when it comes to money. Currently, I’m making $430.00 a week from unemployment. That’s a huge drop from my old salary, which was more than four times that amount. However, once you have all that time on your hands, it’s almost fun to start slicing away at your expenses.
Sadly, the first thing I dropped was my 401k contributions. Not only was I ineligible for the plan through my employer, but I could hardly afford to sock money away at this point in my life. From there, the budgeting got a little more fun.
I switched to an IP phone, something I long held back on due to frequent power outages in my area. I loved my landline, which always worked even on the darkest of days.
I quit smoking. That was an $80.00 weekly savings. I started using my wood stove instead of cranking up the electric heat. That was a $200.00 monthly savings. I just cancelled Netflix, not only to save money, but I found that recently, whenever I wanted to watch a movie, I had to rent it from Amazon rather than stream from Netflix. Netflix simply didn’t have the movies I wanted to see. I cut Sirius from my car which saved me over $100.00 per month. I had been disappointed with Sirius. They were slowly chipping away at the reasons I listened. They cut out OutQ, Martha, The Book Channel and, Rad Classics. Why would I pay for music when I have so many other options these days?
Anyway, the list of budget saving ideas goes on and on. You just need to take into account what you’re spending, and whether that spend is really worth it now that you’re unemployed.
The other thing you need to figure out is, what dollar amount do you need to bring in at this point in your life? Once you budget properly, and are living on the pittance that unemployment give you, you may find out that you can live on way less than what you’re used to. Or, you may need to continue to work in order to save enough money for retirement. You may need medical coverage. You just need to determine whether you need a full time job, part time job, another stressful executive job, or a low pressure job that simply satisfies your monetary needs.
7) Get the job resume in order.
No matter what you decide on, you should have a resume on hand for when the perfect job comes up. Sometimes, even volunteer work requires a resume. For us older folks, my unemployment counselor gave the following advice. “No more than 10 years of work experience on your resume.”
For me, that sounded counter-intuitive. I have all this experience, and I’m supposed to forego all that because I have to seem younger than I really am? Yep. The key is getting your foot in the door where you can wow prospective employers with your charm and expertise. If you list 30 years of experience on your resume, employers will quietly shuffle your resume to the trash. Employers are scared of older worker’s salaries (we did make a lot), and their outdated skills. While those fears are far from the reality, having a resume that acts as if you joined the workforce 10 or 15 years ago rather than 40 years ago will help you score that interview.
8) Have fun!
Being laid off from your job doesn’t have to be a morose event. If you’re like me, you’ve toiled for over 40 years and need to look at this unemployed state as an opportunity, a glorious and wonderful opportunity. We have a rare chance to reinvent ourselves. There are unlimited possibilities when we think about where we want to put our efforts and energies into. We can actually relax for a bit. Lets take up that home improvement project we never had time for. We can visit with family and friends since our free time is no longer squeezed into two tiny weekend days. We can learn something new. Try something new. Being over 50, and being laid off is a rare gift of time that, as employees, we never really had. Enjoy it!