Work furloughs are meant to avoid layoffs, and losing a week's pay sounds a lot better than losing your job -- until the unpaid leave starts and you still have bills to pay.
In a strange twist on what is supposed to be a way to save companies and governments money, some are finding that furloughs are leaving more work for the remaining co-workers. A city in New Jersey is asking low-paid crossing guards to pick up the slack for its furloughed workers.
Furloughs are everywhere -- schools, private employers, and city and state governments, although the Nevada governor is asking for pay cuts because furloughs are resulting in unfinished work and poor customer service. A school district in Charlotte, N.C., doesn't allow workers making less than $32,000 a year to be furloughed.A proposed two-week furlough for civilian federal employees is estimated to save $5.5 billion, and would cut Congressional members' salaries by 10%. But how do all these people prepare for all this unpaid time off work?
Danny Kofke, a special education teacher and author in Georgia, told WalletPop that last February he was told he'd have to take eight unpaid furlough days this school year. To prepare, Kofke decided to teach summer school and use that money to make up the difference in his paycheck this year.
He said he was recently told to expect at least the same amount of unpaid days next school year. To prepare for that, he started working in the after school program one day a week and also plans on teaching summer school again this year. He created a "furlough fund" in a savings account and has the extra income automatically transferred to it every month when he's paid.
"We always try to be ahead of the game, just because of the unknown," said Kofke, whose wife is a stay-at-home mom to their two young daughters.
Other than working at another job, there are other ways to prepare financially for a furlough. It could be as easy as automatically moving a few dollars from your paycheck into a savings account. Or it could be a little more focused. Here are some tips from Dave Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies:
Identify Wants vs. Needs
Call a family meeting after tracking expenses for a month and look at where your money is going. Be honest. Tough times call for tough choices. This is an excellent chance to teach your children a lesson that will be of value to them for the rest of their lives.
Look through your garage and attic with an eye for things you no longer want or need. Have the kids go through their toys and books. Then hold a garage sale or take advantage of online auction sites. Remember that one person's trash is another's treasure.
Work OT or Get a Second Job
Although the news seems dismal on this front, it could be that opportunities exist. Your second job probably won't be something you'll want to make a career of, but the extra cash earned can see you through a rough patch.
Keep Health, Home and Car Maintained
Doctor and dental check-ups are crucial to remaining in good health. Basic care definitely falls under the "needs" category. Plumbing problems, roof leaks and electrical hazards must be taken care of in a timely manner or you run the risk of causing damage that could be financially devastating. Failure to change your oil and other routine auto repairs could result in a much more costly mechanic's bill down the line.
Create a Spending Plan
If you do not already have a spending plan, you need to create one immediately, according to Jones. The only way to assure that you are living within your means and not overspending is to know where your money is going each month. For those who have a spending plan, now is a good time to review the plan and make sure you are allocating enough money to savings and are paying down debt as quickly as possible.
Prepare for Unexpected Expenses
It is never too late to start saving. Begin with as much as you can per month and build the account to at least three to six months of living expenses.
Get Rid of Debt
If you are using credit to extend your income and planning to pay it off when you earn more, stop, Jones recommends. Try to avoid adding any additional charges to your credit balances and pay as much as you can each month to decrease your debt.
Postpone Large Purchases
It might be best to hold off on purchasing that new car, home or other large purchase until after the economy settles down. You don't know if a job layoff or other income loss may be in your near future that would make it difficult to meet the extra monthly payment.
A furlough Friday doesn't have to be a downer. You can turn it into a rap video, catch up on Oprah at home, or maybe best of all, find a new job that doesn't have furloughs.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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