My Story: Surviving a Job Loss

contributed by D

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I'd like to share a few things I learned during the 3.5 years following September 11, 2001, when, for all intents and purposes, my thriving consulting business went down the tubes. There were, of course, many tragedies as a result of the terrorist attacks that day, but the economic devastation left in the wake tends to get swept under the rug.

At any rate, within a month of that unforgettable day, I found myself without a single client. For the sake of illustration, I'll also say that prior to that day, I'd been fortunate enough to have one full-time contract and three part-time contracts, as well as a variety of freelance projects. I was raising my rates every six months and still turning away work because there weren't enough hours in the day to keep up!

So, after the initial shock, I took stock of the situation. I worked in the information technology industry and that particular market was harder hit than some others because of the increased frequency of offshore contracting. (I'm not passing judgement; it's simply a statement of fact.) Freelance contracts had also dried up; people who'd been hounding me for months no longer returned my phone calls, if they were still at the other end of the phone at all.

I'd made a lot of money in the three years prior and I'd managed to have very little debt and put away a bit of money. Still, in the very expensive DC metropolitan area, I also knew that my savings wouldn't last for long. Obviously, I had to find something else to do.

First, I took stock of what I had to offer. I lived alone in a three-bedroom house, I had good marketing and people skills, and I had a lot of extra stuff that I could get rid of.

In some places, living alone in a three-bedroom house may have continued to be a liability and moving to a studio apartment might have been the best alternative. But in the hot and expensive DC housing market, I quickly understood that the spare rooms I'd turned into an office and a guest room could mean the difference between staying afloat or sinking. I furnished both rooms simply (with castoffs from the family as well as eBay and thrift store finds) and then rented them out. I used local housing bulletin boards to advertise (for free) and, given the market, I decided to focus on short-term renters so I could charge more. I was rarely without a full house in the following 3.5 years. And between them, my renters paid in full every month for the house and the utilities.

Next, I sought out some freelance marketing jobs that I found via online bulletin boards and networking. Yes, I do mean product demos in the grocery store, or at the mall. At one point, I even took the train out of DC every morning at 5 a.m. to do product demos on the way to NYC. Whatever it took to bring in some cash.

Discovering eBay was a real eye-opener for me too. I'd bought a lot of things there to furnish my rooms and, in doing so, had already established a user ID and a positive feedback score. I decided to give selling a try, since I had a lot of extra stuff that I'd been meaning to clear out anyway and all the necessary technology at my fingertips. Within a matter of months, I was consigning items from some friends and then through friends of friends. What was too big to deal with shipping, I posted for sale on the same local bulletin boards that I used to rent my rooms. It became a daily routine walking the 5 blocks to the post office to ship off eBay sales. (Good exercise too!)

One day on the way home from another shipment, I happened across a perfectly nice solid wood bookcase that someone had set out for the trash. After that, I paid more attention. Some of my best trash day finds included a new (still in the box) leaded crystal bowl, several antique wooden bed frames, an entire set of cookware, a fully functional vacuum cleaner, and a teak dining table with six chairs. What I couldn't use myself I posted to the bulletin boards.

Three and a half years later, I finally found a full-time job, but I'll never forget the lessons I learned during those tough times. I won't say I came out unscathed, but I survived and I never once had to resort to unemployment, food stamps, or food banks. And I even managed to have some fun along the way.

The key to survival, from my experience, is flexibility.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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