With reports of bar specials, food deals, free gym memberships and half-off golf for furloughed workers, we could be misled into believing that the government shutdown has been a nice long break for more than 800,000 federal employees.
For most, unexpected unemployment has been anything but a vacation. With families to support, bills to pay and the length of the shutdown unclear, furloughed workers face uncertainty. Will the Senate pass the back pay bill? Can credit card bills be delayed? What about the mortgage payments?
Some commentators think the shutdown could be over by October 17, when legislators are pressured to negotiate on the budget and debt ceiling simultaneously. But if the last few days are any indication, a financial plan that relies on Washington's deal-making prowess is probably not the way to go.
For furloughed worker who are under immediate financial stress, here are five tips for staying on top of your finances:
1. Reach Out to Your Creditor
If you're concerned that you can't make a credit card or mortgage payment, call your creditor. Many banks have set up special arrangements just for furloughed employees.
TD Bank, for instance, is providing furloughed customers up to a $1000 loan without interest or fees. Capital One also announced that it will work individually with customers to defer payments and waive fees for late payments and out-of-network ATM withdrawals. Virtually all the big name banks (Citi, Chase, Bank of America, etc.) have announced that they will work with customers on a case-by-case basis.
2. Stay Away From Predatory Lending
If you're a furloughed worker, predatory lenders will have few qualms about adding insult to injury. Now is not the time to pawn valuables or take a high interest loan. The repercussions could be far worse than the current situation.
3. Part Time Work
For many furloughed workers, freelance and part time work is a great way to keep cash flowing. Blen Corp, a D.C.-based IT firm, and 1776, a Washington startup incubator, launched unfurlough.us to connect furloughed employees with startups. Since the site went live on October 3, roughly 40 jobs and 40 freelancers have been listed on the website. The opportunities look promising, but 40 jobs certainly won't cover several hundred thousand people. Depending on your skills and interests, many more freelance and part time opportunities can be found on Elance, TaskRabbit and Craigslist, among other websites.
4. Watch Your Spending
Although many local D.C. businesses have offered special discounts for furloughed employees, watch how much you're spending on dining out and entertainment. Drink specials have a way of turning into not so special deals. Make sure you have budgeted for food and housing, the two true essentials.
5. Enjoy Things That Money Can't Buy
Since the shutdown began, social media, blogs and newspapers have been filled with heart-warming stories. From parents who are spending more time with their kids to people who are breaking ground on their dream projects, now may be the time to step outside of your comfort zone. Whether you volunteer for a local non-profit, go to your first Meetup, start that novel you always planned to write or call up old friends, the shutdown could be some the of the most valuable time you have this year.
The last government shutdown, which began in late 1995, ended in 21 days. We can only hope that Congress will beat that record. The good news is that last time all furloughed employees were paid retroactively. Nevertheless, do not be surprised if back-pay is taken hostage in the current environment of political jockeying. Hope but do not plan for the back pay. And remember, in the past few days the public has been reminded of just how far-reaching and important your work is -- everyone is rooting for you to get back to work.