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Fired. Terminated. Laid off. Quit. No matter what happened, you find yourself without a job and without a regular income. Thanks to recession and the changing dynamics of the economy, many of us will go through this scenario and experience one or more bouts of unemployment in our lifetimes. How do you protect your finances when this happens to you? It’s easy to panic. Go ahead and panic. Get it out of your system.

Feel better now? Unemployment is a financial setback some will face in these unstable times, but it doesn’t have to be disastrous. No doubt about it, this will be a tough period in your life, even if you have savings to tide you through. The key will be staying focused and proactive. The most important thing you can do while you are unemployed is to maintain control of your finances. In this article, we discuss reducing your expenses, tapping into resources available to unemployed folks and finding things that are free. From unemployment benefits to health care, here are financial tips to help anyone get through a job loss and survive.

Cut Out All Unnecessary Expenses

The first thing you need to do is understand where your money is going and has gone. If you aren’t already doing so, track your spending and see where your money is going. Then you’ll know what to cut. This is a great time to make coffee at home, cook homemade meals, and get rid of the cable.

Use Unemployment Resources

One of the first things you need to do after job loss is to sign up for unemployment benefits. The fastest way to do so is online. It can take a few weeks to kick in, but having any amount of money coming in is a relief. You can still collect even if you are working a temp, freelance or part-time job: Claim the hours and money earned on the unemployment forms, and where it asks you who your employer is, write down “self.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, is another way to put food on the table while you are unemployed. Each state has different requirements, so check with your state to see if you are eligible and apply. Once you’re in the program, you’ll be able to use your credits at supermarkets — and sometimes farmers markets — to keep you and your family fed.

Staying healthy can seem daunting without insurance. If you were laid off or let go through no fault of your own, you are legally entitled to stay on your employer-provided plan through COBRA. You’ll have to pay the premiums, however, and that can be a considerable expense. If you can afford to stay on, then it’s absolutely in your best interest to do so. But if you can’t and become uninsured, then your best option is to look for the local health clinics in your area. They take payment based on a sliding scale.

One rarely discussed aspect of unemployment is mental health. It’s vital that you keep your spirits up during this time, but it’s no coincidence that anxiety and depression haunt the unemployed. Check around your area for sliding scale or free mental health services. Also check if your area has meetings of the Recovery International group. These are groups that follow CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) principles to help people manage anxiety and depression, and they are free.

Free Is Your Friend

While you are unemployed, free is going to be the sweetest word you’ll hear. And just because you are looking for a job doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun. Take advantage of this time to get to know your environment. Take long walks or jog around your neighborhood or local park. Start hiking. Getting to know Mother Nature doesn’t cost anything and helps get you out of the house and away from the computer.

Check the local listings for free events. For instance, most major museums have free days. Websites such as Goldstar.com often have complimentary tickets for events as well.

The public library is also a great place for resources, including career and job hunt classes, literary events, books, etc. It’s also a place where you can borrow movies and CDs for free, so you won’t have to feel bad about cutting cable. Best of all, there’s usually free Internet to work on job applications.

Food pantries and pet pantries can help you and a furry loved one stay fed while you are looking for your next job. FeedingAmerica.org provides listings of food banks all across America. Pet food pantries serve a similar function so that you won’t need to choose between feeding yourself or your pet. Search for them in your area.

Unemployment is a difficult time, but you can use these tips to help you maximize your financial resources, and you will survive to find another job.

Image: iStockphoto

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