Did you get laid off? Start making these money moves right now

An emoji mind map illustration
(Los Angeles Times illustration; Apple)

Have you been laid off?

Take a deep breath, and take heart.

Layoffs happen to almost everyone at some point, said Barbara Ginty, a certified financial planner and host of the podcast “Future Rich.” And despite all the news about layoffs, the economy and labor market are still strong overall.

Unemployment remains an unusually low 3.7% nationally though 4.5% in California, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since there is always some churn in the job world, it’s virtually impossible for unemployment to reach zero. Unemployment below 5% is generally considered full employment.

Though that might not seem comforting, it does mean you can expect to find a job faster than if unemployment were higher. Still, job hunts are stressful and time-consuming, and you want to be smart with your money.


Here’s what to do now.

Don’t make any big decisions right away

“The first move that you need to do is honestly decompress and not make any sudden decisions,” said Cinneah El-Amin, the founder of the wealth building and career advice platform Flynanced. She got laid off from her full-time corporate job in February.

It’s easy to panic and decide everything about your life has to change immediately. But in the aftermath of any major life change — a layoff, a death, a divorce, a new baby — it’s wise to avoid major decision-making. Your first day of unemployment should not be the day you put your house on the market, cash out your retirement and investment accounts, or cancel your insurance policies.

With some careful strategizing, it’s possible to experience the city in exciting ways while staying on a budget.

July 5, 2022

Negotiate your severance

Like a job offer, a severance payment may be open to some negotiation. El-Amin recently posted a video on her Instagram account about how she successfully negotiated an additional $20,000 with the help of an employment attorney. You can also negotiate things such as getting a lump sum payout versus installments, changing your last day of work (for instance, moving it back long enough to get you another month of health insurance), and modifying other contract clauses.

El-Amin said she contacted a few law firms until she got a free consultation to determine whether she had grounds to negotiate. In addition to the extra severance, she ensured that she’d be able to talk about being laid off on her social media platforms.

One thing you don’t need to negotiate in California: a noncompete agreement, which isn’t enforceable in the state. The California Civil Rights Department has more information on what your employer can and can’t ask you to agree to.

Do a spending audit

To know how long your severance, savings and unemployment benefits will last, you need to know how much you spend every month on necessities. (The state has a calculator to estimate your unemployment benefits. The weekly maximum in California is $450.)


Having a personal budget would make it easier to audit your spending. If you haven’t made one before, I write a (free!) personal finance newsletter called Totally Worth It where I teach you how to make and maintain a plan for your spending and savings.

If starting a budgeting journey sounds too daunting right now, there is a shortcut. Open your banking website and download your last few months of credit card statements.

Start by calculating the bare minimum amount you need to keep living your life: your rent or mortgage payments, a pared-back grocery budget, transportation costs, debt payments, medical expenses, pet and child-care fees.

Then, scrutinize what you’re paying for. Yes, you need phone and internet access, but do you really need unlimited Wi-Fi? Does your paid-off car still need comprehensive insurance coverage? Can you buy your own internet modem and return the cruddy one you’re paying $10 a month for?

Take control of your finances with this eight-week newsletter course.

Dec. 8, 2021

Next, go to quality-of-life expenses like subscriptions, streaming services, your gym membership and restaurant meals. Take this opportunity to really do a life audit, Ginty said. You’ll probably find some easy things to cross off.

There might also be some things you’ve been paying for on autopilot that you could live without, at least for now. You probably don’t have to cancel every subscription service — you’re unemployed, not a monk; you can still watch TV — but do you need all of them? Are you really doing the workouts from your pricey personal fitness app, or could you switch to free YouTube classes and going for walks in your newfound free time?


Remember, this is all just temporary until you find a new job. You can rejoin Equinox once you’re gainfully employed again. But you might find that you don’t miss it.

Once you’ve got that basic unemployment budget in mind, you can calculate how long your money will last.

Negotiate with anyone who sends you a bill

You are about to have enough free time to tangle with customer service. Every bill that reaches your mailbox or inbox is up for negotiation. Call your credit card companies and ask if you’re eligible for a lower rate. Call your cable, phone and internet providers and ask to speak to the cancellation team. Tell them you’ll cancel or switch to a competitor unless they can offer you a better rate.

Art museums, botanical gardens, cultural marketplaces. Some of the best experiences in the state don’t cost a thing (aside from gas money).

June 8, 2022

Be strategic with your final paychecks

If you’ll still be getting at least one regular paycheck before your last day of work, make the most of those incoming dollars, El-Amin said. You can reduce your 401(k) contributions or other withholdings to squeeze a little more juice. (If you live with a partner or family member, they might want to do the same.) Start making budget cuts and putting more in savings now, not after you’re officially unemployed.

Evaluate your insurance and other benefits

Explore your options if your employer will no longer cover all or part of your health insurance premiums. You’re probably eligible to keep your current coverage through COBRA, though it can be pricey and is only temporary. But losing your job is considered a “qualifying life event,” meaning you can sign up for a different plan even though the annual open enrollment period has ended.

The first place to look is Covered California, which sells policies for people not covered by employer plans. Depending on your household income, you may qualify for large discounts on your premiums.


And if your spouse is eligible to get health insurance at work, you can join that policy, though you might not be able to change its key features (for instance, if your partner uses an HMO through their employer’s plan, you probably wouldn’t be able to switch to the PPO).

Definitely don’t cancel all your other insurance policies. As with your other bills, it’s smart to evaluate them and decide whether you need the coverage you’re paying for. For example, this might seem like a good time to save a few bucks by getting rid of your renter’s policy, but Murphy’s Law is just waiting to kick you when you’re down. Ginty said post-layoff seems to be when her clients are suddenly faced with ER visits, vet bills and car repairs.

Another insurance issue she sees: “A lot of people assume life insurance comes with them” when they lose their job. It doesn’t. If you have dependents who would rely on that money, start shopping for another policy ASAP.

Think about ways to bring in a little extra

In California, you can earn a small amount of money in wages without affecting your unemployment insurance benefits; the limit is $25 per week if your weekly UI benefit is $100 or less, or 25% of your benefit if you get more than $100 per week. If you earn wages above that threshold, that amount is subtracted from your weekly check. California’s Employment Development Department lists what qualifies as wages, which includes payment for work performed, tips, residual pay, self-employment income and severance.

So-called “passive income” is not considered wages. You could explore something like renting out a spare room in your house or renting out your car, pool, garage space or whatever else on various “Uber but for XYZ” apps. You could also sell things, including flipping items you bought at below-market prices on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.

At minimum, put whatever cash you can into a high-yield savings account. If you aren’t earning at least 4%, it’s time to open a new account.


Economically speaking, the vibes are off. Here’s what you should be doing with your money, according to financial experts.

Aug. 30, 2022

Brainstorm things you like to do that don’t cost a lot

Going on a job hunt doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to have fun. But if you were a regular at bottomless mimosa brunch and your local massage place when you were employed, you might want to think about how you can keep socializing and self-care on your agenda without blowing your rent money.

El-Amin said it’s important to build a buffer into your new budget: You might not be able to go out to eat as often, but a date night with your partner or an outing with your kids can still be a priority.

Your friends will be OK switching to game nights with frozen pizza and grocery store wine. This is the perfect time to tackle your tower of to-read books. Wouldn’t learning to make your favorite smoothie at home be a fun thing to do?

“Time to nourish and move your body, time with family and friends, that’s kind of the gift of being laid off,” El-Amin said.

Take this opportunity to think deeply about what comes next

It’s easy to go from working to diving into a full-time hunt for a similar job, said El-Amin. But let this be a reset. Did you like your job? Do you have other skills you’d like to leverage in your next position? If you can stretch your budget and go a few months without working, do you want to explore starting your own business or creative endeavor?

After being laid off, “I finally had as much time as I needed to find more ways to make more money,” El-Amin said. “I didn’t have to be beholden to the 15-20 hours I allowed myself to have outside of my 40-hour workweek.”


Getting laid off is hard. But with smart financial planning, you can feel prepared to handle whatever life throws at you next.