I know what it feels like to lose a job. In early 2003, I lost my six-figure television job as a Wall Street Journal reporter for CNBC. Like millions of others in corporate America, I, too, was laid off in a cost-cutting move.
After my layoff I didn’t immediately rein in my spending. I even made some serious money mistakes that I’d never advise anyone else to make. For example, I took $80,000 out of my 401(k) plan.
I tell you my story in the hopes that you won’t be ashamed of the money mistakes you’ve made or that you can even learn from the mistakes I made in the past and not even make them.
Here are 5 tips for saving if you’ve been laid off, fear you might or just need to save more.
1. Don’t raid your 401(k). If you lose your job, leave your 401(k) with the same account if you can. Otherwise roll it over directly to a IRA or Roth IRA without taking any as cash. You will have 20% withheld for taxes if you took cash. And there’s a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you’re under age 55, as well as the missed opportunity of tax-deferred growth.
2. Pay bills on time. I know that is easier said than done for some people. You can save hundreds of dollars a year on late fees if you simply pay your bills as you receive them or set up automatic payment plans.
3. Curb eating out. You can save $1,825 a year by cutting out an average of $5 a day on fast food purchases and $3,650 a year for an average of $10 a day. Take a week or two and track your restaurant spending habits. Tabulate every bagel and coffee. You might be surprised by how much money you’re wasting on these purchases.
4. Become a frequent library patron. Borrow videos, DVDs, CDs and books from the library instead of purchasing them. If you’re used to buying even just 10 DVDs a year at $10 – $30 a pop, or downloading 50 MP3 music files a year for $0.99 – $1.99, or renting several videos a month from Netflix or Blockbuster, you’ll save hundreds of dollars a year by simply borrowing them from the library instead.
5. Take a level-headed friend shopping with you. If you’re the type who just can’t stop spending, bring a friend with you who can keep you focused. Don’t bring the friend whose Visa bill is constantly more than her rent, but do bring the one who knows not to squander rent money for a new pair of shoes one doesn’t really need. A friend with a good head on her or his shoulders will keep you from making outlandish purchases and wasting your money. Take that friend’s advice without holding it against her or him.