I woke up on a recent Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. with a slight hangover and nowhere to go, except maybe to my laptop to casually browse the internet for some sort of inspiration. I no longer had to program my alarm for 7:10 a.m., and it was no longer of a pressing nature to get to the gym before going to work because, well, there was no work, and truth be told, no desk job was forcing me to be bound to a desk. I could do Zumba in my living room at 2 p.m. if I wanted to, provided my downstairs neighbors weren’t feeling too cantankerous.
I had just gotten laid off the day before, which is a weird thing in of itself. If you’ve ever been laid off, you know that it feels like a funky breakup, because you know it’s not you. You performed excellently! They sincerely wish you the best in your future endeavors! They’d endorse you in a heartbeat! I enjoyed my job and I had nothing negative to say about my employer, but I suddenly realized that in less than 24 hours, things had changed rapidly: The way I walked changed; the way I purchased a bag of spinach at Trader Joe’s changed—it was once with joy, and now it’s with hesitance. Do I need that source of iron? Do I really? Can’t I just get iron from thinking about iron? All of this existential crisis in the middle of a sea of Hawaiian print T-shirts because of a lost job.
I had gone from Girl With A Full-time Writing Job and a Gorgeous Apartment In Carroll Gardens to…Girl with A Gorgeous Apartment, which naturally, must be paid for. I signed a lease, and I wasn’t about to move home—I live with my boyfriend; it’s not like you can just say, “Hey, Significant Other! I’m gonna sublet my half of the bed ’til my work life sorts itself out, okay?”
After all, there was —there is—hope that it will all work out. Part of losing your job is having a blank slate. Shall I go to the gym, or make an egg? Should I shower, or get some writing done? I can apply for jobs, go spinning with the stay-at-home moms, and go to Trader Joe’s whenever I’d like because suddenly, I have eight whole new hours in my day! The world is new yet again!
But moments awash in hope—like the recurrent thought: I’ll spin with the stay-at-home moms and get to go to Trader Joe’s at noon on a weekday when it isn’t a congested supermarket purgatory!—are met with moments of brute force, like realizing that getting severance is just my old job paying me to spend time finding a new job. Those moments are also met with feelings of downright fear—financial fear. I had no idea until recently how expensiveeveryday tasks are! And that is when hit me: I’ve got to cut back. Like, everywhere. Because no matter how much I spin with the moms or don Lululemon workout gear while dancing through Trader Joe’s on a Tuesday, I am not one of them. I realized it might behoove me to note the not-so-obvious places to cut back, such as:
Coffee. I prided myself on ditching my luxury name-brand coffee for $1.95 coffee from the store around the corner, but $1.95 times seven days a week still adds up to $13.65 a week—money that could be put away in emergency savings.
Name-brand soap. I love to lather my body in the finest of Dove soaps, but you know what’s cheaper than Dove? CVS brand soap, that’s what. A regular box of two bars of Dove soap is $4.49, but the CVS brand is $3.59 and with a CVS card, I can get my second half off. This pretty much applies for everything that has a CVS or Walgreen’s variation. CVS diet cola and Walgreen’s ibuprofen, I love you.
BYO Restaurants. Without a job or any place to show my shiny happy face at 9 or 10 a.m., drinking on a weeknight seems far more alluring that it previously did. Yet I know that whenever I go out to eat, my bill skyrockets not from my side order or kale or artisanal cured meats, but from my drinks, and big bills are not a good idea right now. Cocktails in my neighborhood are roughly $12 to $13—or $5 if you like the taste of rubbing alcohol mixed with sugar (delicious!) and wine is usually $9 to $14 a glass. That adds up quite quickly, and all of a sudden you have a $75 dollar whiskey and bitters bill. Do that once a week and you’re looking at $3,900 a year. That’s roughly the price of a mediocre health insurance plan, and we all know that without a job, you’re gonna need that!
That said, a bottle of wine is like $15. Hell, I can get a box of Franzia for that. I can walk into a BYO establishment with a box of Franzia, and sure, I’ll get some weird looks from the rest of the clientele, but who’ll have the last laugh when I can pay for a trip to the ER when I trip over a cable wire in the middle of the night?
By getting the hell outside. At first, I thought that sitting inside would be good for me, as I wouldn’t find myself lured by the seductive calls of coffee shops, boutique clothing stores, and bars, but the internet is its own destructive hellhole for the unemployed. First of all, there’s Seamless, which has become porn for me. I look at it longingly, dreaming of $14 Pad Thai. No $14 Pad Thai. I can DIY with ramen and peanut butter now. It will be Pinterest-worthy, assuredly.
Then, there’s Facebook. While before, I’d scroll past some girl I went to high school whose name recently changed, I’d think, “She’s married. Oh, she’s a teacher.” Now, I think, “She has a JOB,” because employment has become the single most coveted and necessary thing in the world. This would make me want to console myself with retail therapy. Bad idea, Schlossberg.
But the worst thing about losing your job isn’t having to cut back—it’s the fact that every time you pull out your wallet, wondering if you should or shouldn’t buy that pack of gum (YOU SHOULDN’T), you’re met with the thought: You’re not purchasing this because you don’t have a job. Remember that? While you can forget about it at times, it’s still a deep feeling that echoes with every choice you make. Every home-brewed cup of coffee tastes like a layoff, even if it gives you the caffeinated energy to vigilantly search for a new job, or to go to spin class, or to go to CVS to buy discounted soap, or to drink some Franzia, because really—the choice is yours. It’s your day. You have the whole day to decide.
Which is liberating, really—although is probably most productively spent by continuing to hunt for jobs. But you—and I—already knew that.
Mallory Schlossberg is a writer living in Brooklyn. Perhaps you’ve seen her at Trader Joe’s?