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Making the Most of Under- Employment

How to be productive when you’re not on the clock.

When my husband and I moved to California a year and a half ago, we had no jobs lined up, only a spot in grad school. Upon arriving, we settled into our new town and immediately started applying for jobs. After we arrived in California, it was about two months before we found work, although even then I was underemployed and continued looking for work. But we look back upon those months as some of the best we’ve had. Although money was tight, we decided to make the best out of our situations.

Most likely, you've been in a similar position, or you may find yourself in one in the future. Though the unemployment rate is on the decline (the most recent jobs report finds it at 8.5 percent), 59 percent of Americans still believe the economy is worsening (according to a new Gallup poll). And regardless of the state of the nation, twentysomethings are still likely to encounter tough times, big moves or life changes—like going back to school or having a spouse do so—that leave them with a little more free time. Here are some of the things we did that helped us not only survive, but thrive:

Learn to live on very little money.

We achieved this mostly through becoming coupon masters. We studied our store circulars, made use of the great resource of Money Saving Mom and learned how to get many products for free. Now that we’re both in grad school and working, this skill still comes in handy. In addition, it forced me to learn my new city very quickly.

Host a TV or movie marathon party.

During our months of unemployment, we planned a fun day for a Lord of the Rings marathon. We didn’t have friends in our new town at this time, but if you do, invite some close friends. If you don’t have the DVDs you need, make use of free trial memberships for Blockbuster, Netflix or another movie rental company, or try your local library.

Get healthy.

While we were unemployed, my husband lost 40 pounds and I lost 25. We had time to cook fresh, healthy meals and we made use of trial memberships at the local gym. We also went for bike rides, long walks and played tennis. These activities not only led to physical health, but they lifted our moods. I know that many people gain weight during unemployment, but you can buck the trend. And, to be frank, one of the best ways to save money is to simply eat less.

Become a great cook.

Learn to make soups, sauces and other things that you typically buy canned from scratch. Try to make demanding recipes that you’ve never had time to learn. Beef bourguignon, anyone? Learn to make your favorite dishes from your favorite restaurants at home. (I plan to tackle Tikka Masala next summer.) Not only will this save you money, but you will hone your cooking skills and reap the rewards for life.

Tackle a project you’ve never had time to do.

Build a bike, start a garden or write a book. Pick something that engages the unused parts of your skill set. I tackled a family tree project, and I guarantee that my husband was glad I had something to occupy myself with.

Volunteer your time.

You might not have funding to contribute to great causes, but you do have the time. Clean the local park, visit the local nursing home or email your church’s pastor to ask where they need some hands on deck. Explain your situation so that people realize you might have to reassess your commitment when you find a job.

Foster important relationships.

One of the reasons our months of unemployment were some of the best months we’ve had since being married was because my husband and I were able to spend a lot of quality time together. Those months were like a second honeymoon for us. If you are unemployed and your spouse is not, ask him/her how you can serve them and do it. Married or not, seek to serve and love others in your life. Call your grandma and ask her questions about her life. Email an old teacher and thank him for his contribution to your life. Write a snail mail letter to a friend. Pray frequently and spend time listening to God.

Have you ever spent time unemployed or underemployed? What did you do to make the most of that challenging time?

Laura Ziesel is a seminary student at Azusa Pacific University and a freelance writer and editor living in sunny California with herhusband. She blogs on matters of faith, gender, church culture and moreat She is also a contributing writer for The Redemptive Pursuit, a weekly devotional for women. You can find her on Twitter @lziesel. This article was reprinted from her blog with permission.



Lisa commented…

Unemployed ($303 a week for a family of 3) and under employed with WAY TOO much house payment. In addition to a few not-to-pleasant things (learning to swallow my pride and go to our Church's food pantry), I became an even better FRUGAL cook. I figured out that we had food stamps left over for months after I found a job so I tied our budget to that level--and it had to feed the 3 of us, the dog, 2 cats and provide all the laundry stuff etc. I learned to make laundry detergent and mined the thousands of great blogs out there written by real people going thru the same struggles or doing it all intentionally for a better future. Thankfully my kids were elementary age and didn't care if their clothes came as birthday gifts our hand-me-downs from friends--that really, really helped. I became an expert Clearance Shopper for anything we needed.

I learned that we lived just fine with no tv, an old car and out-of-style furniture. We got to know the librarians by name and got books and movies free while we were there. I got to know the produce and meat managers and got some unbelievable deals. I learned to ASK--it saved my hundreds (that I honestly did not have) when a friend of a friend fixed my AC for nothing--wouldn't even take gas money. Why? He'd been there, done that and was "passing it on" so to speak---which is what I do now. I buy someone a bag of groceries or drop a gas card in her purse when she's distracted at Church. I offer to help people move. I pass on good cheap recipes.

Best thing I learned: Be content with what you have and let the Jones run themselves ragged keeping up!



guest commented…

Great article. While I was pregnant with my first, my husband was laid off for few months then found a job, then to be laid off again when our daughter was only a few months. It was mostly tough on my husband as he felt like he failed to provide for his family but thankfully, he became very productive and kept himself busy all day. I was still working part time during pregnancy and he would come out to my work and bring me lunch and I would come home to a clean house. He even bought a bike and rode it all over the city rather than driving which costs gas. I really treasure the extra times we've spent due to his lack of employment because now he's working crazy long hours at a big firm.


Thudula commented…

.$800 Month Maximum RENT.



Anonymous commented…

I work part time from home, and watch our 3 year old daughter. I have been looking for part time work. Anyways A friend and I started our own web blog that I have dedicated several hours a week to. Since this is not paying the bills yet I keep looking for more work. When My husband was laid off a few months after my 4 year old daughter had passed away we flipped storage units, he did odd jobs like painting apartments etc.. until he got another job. During which time I really wish I had known how to coupon. We currently are still paying catch up from the medical bills of my daughter that passed etc... So now we live on less, and yes at times it is very stressful, but I am learning how to use my administrative talents in different ways. I just tell myself some days just remember God has a plan, and does not want me to stress.


guest commented…

Great article and I dont want to sound negative or offend but it's much easier to be underemployed when it's two people working together (husband and wife). It's a joint adventure. However, single doing it alone or a single parent not so much. I agree with this author but it is much more emotionally draining and taxing when there's no one else to depend on or struggle with.

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