Copyright: <a href=''>wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
“Peter hides it well, but I know he is miserable, and the tension in our house is unbearable at times,” Pamela confesses to me over coffee.
Pamela’s husband recently lost his job. She is nervous about spending a single unnecessary dollar, and the only way she agreed to meet me is after I offered to treat her – a frank and necessary reality.
“I wish I could help him, but he balks at any suggestion I make, as if I’m the cause of this problem.” Pamela’s story is increasingly familiar in this economy.

While the unemployment rate is falling, there are still big layoffs. Peter’s job loss was a surprise after 22 years, and it has him bitter, angry and frustrated. His wife Pamela is worried about their finances, but doesn’t dare talk to Peter about it. She urges him to search the job market each day, but he gets upset with her “nagging.” She sometimes argues back, frustrated with what she sees as indifference.
“I am tempted to push him out the door each morning to look for another job. We need him to work! …but I’ve never seen him this upset, and I don’t want to make him angrier.”
Pamela sees how this affects the kids too. Normally talkative, Alex, seven and Rachel, four, are now quiet at the dinner table. They both now need a nightlight to go to sleep and Rachel started wetting her bed again.
“I don’t know what to do.”  Pamela feels caught between helping and hindering Peter, uncertain how to improve their finances or their family situation.
Her bewilderment is understandable. Until someone has been laid off themselves or had their hours cut back, advice or services to cope with a new financial reality is almost invisible.
Yet with the gig economy now outpacing traditional employment[i][ii], you may begin to recognize this situation in yourself, in a friend, or through an acquaintance.
So how does someone like Pamela cope with a reduced (or non-existent) income and a newly jobless husband, while maintaining some stability for herself, her children and her marriage?

1. Be a Good Listener

Let him rant and rave if he needs to. Keep the focus on his feelings and words, not on the stress you may be feeling.
Deep breath! Always remember to take a breath before you respond. You will be less likely to react emotionally, and more likely to answer objectively. Provide the solid support that he needs right now.
Understand that his frustration is his own. When you react with blame, sarcasm or frustration of your own, you become part of the problem (and you don’t need another problem.)
Don’t allow his frustration to turn into verbal attack. “I am here to listen, but not if I become your verbal punching bag. Let’s focus on your feelings, a solution, or we can talk about it later.”

2. Offer Help but Then Step Back

Offer open-ended questions.
·       “Is there anything I can do to help?”
·       “How can I make each day easier for you?”
·       “The Lanigans have invited us over for dinner this Saturday. What is your preference?”
Offer neutral comments, requiring no answer.
·       “I read a local article about your industry. It is on the couch if you are interested.”
·       “The kids and I are going to the park in an hour. You are welcome to join us.”
·       “If you want an objective eye on your resume before you send it out, I’d be glad to help.”
·       “The news mentioned a website today that offers free job coaching and resume writing. I’ve left it near the computer.”
      Respect his answer, or lack of one.

      3. Cut Spending at Home
Estimate monthly bills.
·       Pull out the last three months’ utility bills and record how much they cost each month. Add mortgage or rent and insurance onto this. Use an excel spreadsheet or other personal finance software, if possible.
Estimate other monthly expenses.
·       Record grocery, gas and auto, entertainment, household, medical, pet, clothing and miscellaneous expenses. Find these expenses through recent credit card statements, bank record of ATM purchases, and receipts. If you use cash, record the cash you withdraw and estimate where it is used.
Cut out restaurants, movies, soda, alcohol, delivered pizza, snack foods, candy and clothing. Ask yourself, “Is this essential for family health or can I put it on a wish list for when we are employed?”
Search for lower prices: Buy bulk instead of singles; Use coupons; Check the dollar store (some have grocery sections, and paper and cleaning supplies).
Determine a new budget. Utilities and rent/mortgage are fairly static (though unplugging cords and turning off unused lights help). What can you afford to spend on groceries, clothing, and car expenses? $1200 a month is doable for a family of four.[iii]$800 a month is even possible with creativity. Is this in relation to groceries only?
If you have space in your budget, add back in a few inexpensive treats.
·       One bottle of low-cost wine for Friday night.
·       Buy frozen pizza one night, instead of take out. Or have the kids help in making a pizza? Fun family thing to do.
·       Search for a “kids eat free” night at local restaurants.
     These treats make it less likely that you’ll blow your budget due to frustration.

4. Keep Family Healthy

Don’t cut spending by eating fast food. It will cost you more in the long run in low energy, weight gain, and medicine. The price of a Fast Food combo meal is between $5-6 per person – or higher, or you spend $3-4/serving on some home cooked meals that provide leftovers.
Cut out junk food – it costs money and fills the family up with empty calories. If this habit is a hard one to break, purchase good quality chocolate (the more cacao, the better) and eat a single square, slowly, as a treat.
Cut out prepackaged dinners (boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen dinners, ravioli in a can, or packaged muffins), and cook fresh and basic:
·       Dry noodles, cooked, with tomato sauce and spices from your cupboard
·       Small portions of meat, chicken or pork purchased on sale, or eggs
·       Vegetarian protein is less expensive and can be quite tasty: beans, rice & lentils
·       Homemade muffins, made with whole wheat flour, fills a tummy for longer than refined flour or purchased muffins
·       Cut up large carrots (not prepackaged small ones) and celery, serve with ranch dressing for dip
Choose vegetables that pack vitamin punch. Fresh or frozen over canned, bright colors over all one color (more variety of vitamins).
Cereal – choose lower sodium, minimal sugar (glucose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup), whole wheat versus refined, fewer preservatives, no added color. Cost? Look for sales: less than one cent per gram for value (400g box should be less than $4.00). Oatmeal is one of the best cereals for cost and health. Add cut up pear and a bit of brown sugar to cooked oatmeal.

5. Source Out Friends for Help

You may need to rant and rave too. Ask trusted friends for an ear.
Offer to babysit alternate weeks for friends in exchange for the same. Keep it simple. Five o’clock to seven thirty is time for an early dinner out (a picnic in the park or your back yard), a long walk, or relaxing on the couch with your husband. An early pickup time means your children get to bed on time and you can do this mid week.
Ask a friend if they can edit a resume (yours) or encourage your husband to ask one of his friends.
Join a farmers’ cooperative with friends. Splitting delivery of healthy local produce may be cost effective.
Host a potluck dinner, and keep in touch with friends in a low-cost way.

6. Maintain perspective

Above all, remind yourself that this is temporary.  Don’t get caught up in negativity. Keep your eyes open for opportunity, trust your intuition, and act on ideas and information.
In the end, I reminded Pamela that Peter will work through stages of emotions naturally,[iv]and life will start to feel better. Her family, and others affected by this unemployment crisis, will weather this storm and come out the other side.
Leigh Harris is a Career Catalyst, Life Change Agent, and a mother who practices creative family budgeting. She can be reached through her website or on

[iii][iii]Car expenses include gas, but not insurance and registration
[iv]See Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying for a better understanding of the stages of grief
Connect on Facebook:
Follow on twitter: