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Strong savings can aid after a job loss
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A job that seems secure one day can be gone the next, leaving those without an income struggling unless preparations were made before the job loss.
In West Point, the Bryan Foods plant closed at the end of March, putting more than 1,600 people out of work. In nearly every community across Mississippi, some people lose their jobs almost every week.
Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said a savings is the best defense against financial ruin.
“Chances are high that every family will experience job loss or some type of costly emergency, such as an accident, major illness, or significant auto or home repair. These things are especially difficulty for single-parent families,” Shaffett said. “Those families or individuals who have saved three to six months of living expenses will be able to survive.”
This emergency savings helps families weather financial storms of all types. Emergency savings should not be used for vacations or planned purchases such as a new car down payment, home furnishings or optional renovations.
“Use this emergency fund to pay for housing, food, utilities and a vehicle note until the person finds a new job,” Shaffett said. “Eliminate all extra spending in that household until income is back to normal.”
Building a savings equal to three to six months of basic expenses takes time and requires discipline. A budget is a good way to manage spending and set aside money for a rainy day. Shaffett said the budget is as important before as it is after a job loss.
“When there is a surplus, you may be able to get away with wasteful spending, but when there's not enough money to go around, that's when a budget is most important,” Shaffett said. “You have to be more careful and make decisions based on your priorities.”
Mary Linda Moore, family resource management area agent in Alcorn County, said a budget is not hard to develop, but it takes discipline to stick with it.
“Everyone should sit down and put pen to paper and work out a budget,” Moore said. “If you don't, money just slips through your fingers in ways that you may not even be aware of.”
To create a budget, keep a journal for one month tracking where every dollar is spent. Categorize this spending at the end of the month, using labels such as eating out, recreation and gifts. Moore said it will become obvious where the money leaks are.
“Limit spending in categories over which you have the most control,” Moore said. “You can't do much about your house mortgage, car note or electric bill, but you can set limits on discretionary spending.”
Next, determine needs versus wants. Food, clothing and shelter should be near the top of the list, followed in most cases by transportation or sometimes medical care. But the first item in a budget should be savings.
“If you are gainfully employed, savings should be the No. 1 item in your budget. You have to pay yourself first, and do that by putting money into savings,” Moore said.
With a savings account of three to six months of bare minimum living expenses, families can survive a job loss, even when that loss is unexpected.
The MSU Extension Service has many more tips on budgeting, financial planning and living on a reduced income in its Healthy, Wealthy, & Wise newsletters available online.