How to Survive an Income Crisis and Come Out Better for It

Last week, as a grateful family and community welcomed home 8-year-old Leia Carrico, and her 5-year-old sister Caroline, who’d been missing for two days in the Northern California wilderness, I was moved to tears by the bravery of these adorable girls and their stunning ability to move quickly into survival mode.

Two cute kids hiking in the forest depicting the need to be able to survive a crisis

Stock photo

Could you live through such crises? How about an income disaster? If you get the infamous pink slip tomorrow, will you know what to do? 

Don’t panic

It is essential that you keep your head and your cool, as demonstrated so aptly by young Leia who told reporters, “We needed to find shelter fast!”

The first few minutes of any crisis are critical. If you lose it now, you will waste precious energy. At the moment of impact, take a huge deep breath and stay calm. While a job loss can be a devasting shock, it is not life-threatening. There is a way out and you will find it.

Rally the troops

Your attitude will make or break your ability to lead in a crisis. Equate survival with adventure and exciting new opportunities, resiliency, and creativity.

Every person in the family should be assigned one key responsibility. Even the very youngest can be named the family’s official “smiler.”

Change your attitude and your feelings will follow. Declare that from now on in this family only positive, can-do attitudes are allowed.

Stop spending

Just stop. If it is not necessary to the preservation of life, don’t spend a nickel on anything, for right now.

Activate benefits

Start with unemployment. Find out the steps to activate any unemployment benefits you have so you get that first check at the earliest possible time (probably six weeks).

You may have to stand in a line, but you do not have to allow yourself to feel humiliated. Choose gratitude instead.


RELATED: Don’t Throw in the Towel—Find a Solution!

Hoard lump sums

If you walk away with severance pay, vacation pay or other lump sums, hoard them. Do not pay down debt or buy anything with this money. You do not know how long this challenge will last and you may need that money for basic survival supplies.

Take inventory

You need to know exactly what you have with which to survive. Anything more than a pack of breath mints should be considered a gold mine. Maybe it’s not first class food, but you will be able to live on the staples in your pantry and the stuff in your freezer.

Pull back to the minimums

If you have been paying more than required on your mortgage, loans and credit card balances, consider pulling back to the very minimum required until your income stream is restored.

Cancel all non-essential services

Cancel the nail and hair appointments (learn to cut your kids’ hair); fire the lawn guy, housekeeper, cab drivers (walk or take the train.) Cancel cable TV, Internet service (sign up for a free service before you pull the plug on your pricey ISP—check here for a good overview with resources); paper delivery, dance and music lessons. You can reinstate services later.

Find the way out

You may get rescued tomorrow. But it’s more likely that your rescuers are not aware of your plight. For now, you have a new job and that’s to find a job. And you will.

For me, the best part of great survival stories is when the survivors through tears of joy say they are better for having made it through. Some even say they are thankful for the experience.

That same joy will be waiting for you, too!


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4 replies
  1. Ed
    Ed says:

    I’ve been through it more than once. Some career fields are more sensitive to the ups and downs of the economy. Mary’s article has some great advice. One important thing to add though (especially if you’re in an industry that is quick to layoff in a downturn) is to plan for the next crisis before it hits. Live BELOW, not just within, your means. Pay down debt if you have it and start that emergency fund. The last time I was part of a layoff, I was disappointed but not worried. I knew my bills could be paid with unemployment benefits. I was more concerned about coworkers who I knew had credit card and student loan debt in addition to car payments and hefty mortgages. I wouldn’t have been able to function had I been in their shoes. This was before I had a clue how bad and long the recession was going to be. Even with minimal expenses (using many of Mary’s tips), I exhausted unemployment benefits, savings and retirement savings before I got back on my feet. The 07/08 recession was the toughest downturn I’ve experienced. I got through it without taking on debt or defaulting on anything and consider myself very lucky to be able to say that. I wondered for a long time how I’d ever feel financially secure again. I’m back on my feet now and I’ve been paying off debt and squirreling money away into savings like I’m in a race against the clock for the next crisis. The sense of security I have now knowing I can survive a missed check, layoff or unexpected bill a thousand times better than anything I might have done without to boost my savings.

  2. Anne
    Anne says:

    You mention switching to free internet service, so you have suggestions or recommendations? I didn’t realize there were any free internet services still available!

  3. Carmen Williamson
    Carmen Williamson says:

    One thing not mentioned or considered is establishing a second source of income. If you have a job that requires 40+/- hours per week, your boss has you by the shorts and knows it. Whether you get that flea market booth , or do taxes at night, having a 2nd source of income relieves the stress and gives you an edge with your employer. When I was younger I was always looking for work because jobs ended, companies closed, or it wasn’t what it was hyped. As an adult one should strive for options and not be bound to an employer for fear of missing a paycheck.


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