The Cohort: How to manage your money when you’re struggling

The Cohort is a Poynter newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media.

Last week I paid off my credit card. On the day I was laid off, I had $0 in credit card debt, and it took more than 530 days to get back to that spot. 

My debt was the most visible, constant reminder that I was going through something, even after I started my next job. Every cocktail forgone and every travel idea pushed aside reminded me that I was paying the price — literally — for getting laid off. It was something that was always on my mind, but I found it hard to talk about.

Alicia McElhaney started SheSpends to talk about money in a way that’s comfortable, but smart. SheSpends has a weekly newsletter and Facebook group to connect women in a conversational way. 

“It’s important to save as much as you can, but that’s really hard on a journalist’s salary,” McElhaney said. If you feel a layoff coming on, you may want to temporarily contribute less to your 401(k) to have more money for emergency savings.

Amanda Eisenberg, the editor for SheSpends, started freelancing in case she lost her full-time job, which gave her a portfolio and connections with editors. 

“The preparation aspect is vital for women. Women are typically big preparers,” Eisenberg said. 

If you do lose your job or just find your bank account to be a little stretched, there are resources available. When money was tight for McElhaney, she reached out to her credit card company when she needed an extension one month and they worked with her since she had never missed a payment. She also recommends researching the benefits offered by your city, such as food banks and health insurance.

“It’s there for those struggling for the time being,” she said, acknowledging that it can be really hard to ask for help.

And if you need to put things on a credit card to make it work, that’s OK.

“Going into debt is not the end of the world. That’s what it’s there for,” she said. 

In the SheSpends community, they address the emotional and psychological effects of being laid off, too. 

“We want to make women know it’s OK to feel that way,” Eisenberg said. 

They recommend being open about being laid off. 

“If you put something out into the world, women will want to help you,” Eisenberg said. 

The number one question I got when I reached out to my networks was, “What are you looking to do?” So be sure to have a good answer. University alumni groups and professional organizations like JAWS are great places to reach out to. 

I had a feeling that layoffs were coming, but I didn’t expect them to happen so quickly after the election or be so deep. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I wish I had acted more on the red flags. If you’re fearful a layoff may be coming, you can do some digging into the company’s finances if they are public. 

Allison Prang, a breaking news reporter at the Wall Street Journal, urges women to know who owns your company and check out the filings. EDGAR is an online search tool that makes it easy to find what the company reports publicly. 

When looking at quarterly reports that go into public companies' earnings, she recommends comparing the quarter to the same quarter the previous year. For example, compare Q2 in 2018 with Q2 in 2017 instead of Q1 in 2018. Some reports have a “guidance” or “outlook” section that will predict how they’ll do in the future, and annual reports often note any big risks. Public companies also typically have earnings calls about their quarterly reports, and you can read the transcripts using Seeking Alpha.

“Don’t be overwhelmed by how wonky [the report] looks. Companies aren’t necessarily straightforward. Like politicians, they can spin you in their own way or be fluffy and opaque. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get to the real story,” Prang said, recommending focusing on the numbers. 

Looking at stock prices can be useful, too. 

“The market is a way of measuring confidence in a company,” Prang said. 

If you have the opportunity to ask questions at a company town hall, she recommends inquiring about a diversity of income sources and how the company stacks up against competitors. It can be useful to ask point blank for their outlook and if they see the challenges translating into layoffs. You might not get a direct answer, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. I’m a big believer in using your journalism skills to make your career better, too. 

Getting laid off impacted my finances in a huge way. All of my financial goals were pushed back by at least two years, and it takes constant self-reminding that it’s OK. We can’t control everything, and we have to roll with the punches. Do what you can to prepare, do what you have to do to survive and know that your network is ready to support you. 


Things worth reading


Do your homework

When we are comfortable talking about money, we can better negotiate our salaries and ask for help when we need it. Talk to one friend about money this week: how much money you make, how much money you’d like to make, what you pay in rent, how much you have left on your student loans. Pick something and work it into a conversation. Show the people around you that it is OK to talk about money. 


Focus on the work

I'm an independent woman and I like to be pampered (woman in bathtub)
Credit: Katie Zhu on Instagram

Katie Zhu has a great illustration project happening over on Instagram. For 100 days, she’s publishing stylized portraits of women to explore the false dichotomies of life, relationships and identity. (And today’s her birthday!)

 

 

 


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