Unemployment can be good for you

Op-ed: Unemployment Can Be Good For You

Written by Helen Costa*, Edited by Cara Lau

This is part of our Op-Ed series where we feature third-party opinions and thoughts on the ways finance affects our lives. The authors are not so much giving advice, as they are sharing experiences. Some will make you think, others will inspire, and we hope all of them will give you something to talk about.

It has been said that the five most stressful life changes are as follows: birth of a child, divorce, job loss, death of a spouse, and the purchase of a home.

I experienced two of those changes in less than a year.

My now ex-husband moved out of our home, at my request, in May. That summer I found a new apartment, one more suited to my single income lifestyle. It was a great apartment, and I loved my new home and newfound independence. After years of unhappiness and uncertainty, I had found stability and control in my life.

Christmas and New Year came and went, and I continued to enjoy my new life as the long winter set in.

Then, one bright March day, I lost my job. My position was deemed redundant and as of 2pm that day, I was officially unemployed. I was given seven weeks severance. I remember the panic that rose in my chest as I rode home on the subway that afternoon, as all the worst-case scenarios relentlessly flooded my brain. I felt like I had lost all control over my life once again.

I told him straight up that if he didn’t want to deal with this, he was welcome to cut bait, no hard feelings.

I had started dating an amazing man just before Christmas, so this was our first big challenge as a couple. I told him straight up that if he didn’t want to deal with this, he was welcome to cut bait, no hard feelings. Who wants an unemployed girlfriend?!? Fortunately, he laughed off my offer and told me “Don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t the end of the world.” Since we weren’t living together there was no tangible burden on him as a result of my job loss.

The next day I sat down to tackle my budget and devise a plan. I looked at my severance, my savings, my investments and my monthly bills. I am a frugal person by nature, so when it came to redirecting my spending and cutting back, it wasn’t difficult. I prefer home cooking over restaurants, visiting the library over trips to Indigo, and Netflix to cable. I felt a little better about the future thanks to my sensible spending habits. I had three non-negotiable financial obligations. In order of importance: rent, cell phone and internet. I took my lump sum severance pay and paid three months up front on each. Since I wasn’t commuting, I no longer needed to spend $100 + a month on a Metro pass, I no longer had the temptation of buying lunch, or that mid-morning trip to Starbucks. I felt a million times better about the situation once I sussed out my finances.

Seven weeks passed and no job prospects were on the horizon. Time to take advantage of those EI benefits I had been paying into for 20 years. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the amount I was eligible for would cover my monthly expenses and then some. It was significantly less than I was used to earning, but I could make it work, and I did. I feel like I should mention at this point that I was very lucky to have a boyfriend and friends who would pick up the cheque on occasion, knowing that I was sans employment. I’m forever grateful to these friends and won’t forget how they helped me through this period in my life, both emotionally and financially.

To be honest, a failed marriage, unemployment, and financial stagnancy made me feel like I was failing at life.

Speaking of emotionally, I did my best not to dwell on the darker side of my unemployment – the unanswered job applications, not saving or contributing to my RRSP’s for several months. This was the first time in my entire life that I didn’t have health benefits. What if I had to go to the dentist? On top of that, my dog had a health scare that I had to go into debt $1200 to fix. To be honest, a failed marriage, unemployment, and financial stagnancy made me feel like I was failing at life.

As time wore on, I discovered that I had no problem filling my days. I looked for work online, took a night class at a local college, learned three new computer programs, took on creative projects, ran almost every morning, and spent a lot of time outside with my dog. This was the first time I had had an entire summer to myself since I was 16. There was a bright side to all this, I just had to remember to take a step back and acknowledge it.

I was unemployed for a total of six months. That September I found a job that I love, at a great company.
This experience taught me a lot about myself, and my resilience as a person. The idea of losing my job was always a terrifying thought, but I survived, and it’s no longer something I fear because I’ve lived through it and come out the other side.

Illustration by Yana Vorontsov. *Name has been changed by request.