THE BLOG
09/01/2010 10:41 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How to Live on $0 a Day: Can You Afford a Job in This Economy?

As the "Summer of Recovery" draws to a close and labor day soon approaches, it's time to discuss what to do when after months and months of chronic unemployment (often referred to as "laziness"), someone actually responds to one of the 2,000 applications you've submitted over the past few months.

You may jump at the opportunity, thinking that a job will help you dig out of the hole you're in and restore a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Maybe you'll even be able to buy yourself something nice, like a steak dinner and some ant traps.

Not so fast, Kemo Sabe. Remember, economic realities have changed since you were last employed. In order to preserve the incomes of CEOs, shareholders and top executives, salaries have been slashed, workloads have increased and the cost of goods and services has skyrocketed. We know that taking a job will stimulate the economy. What you need to determine before embarking on the interview process is whether or not the job in question will stimulate yours.

The phone interview
Since the phone interview is usually conducted by an intern or low level recruiter who has no idea what the job entails, this is no time to worry about proving you're qualified. This is your opportunity to determine whether continuing the interview process is worth your while, financially speaking.

Ask the important questions. Does the job pay? Where are they located? Do they have free parking? If they don't have free parking, do they validate? Do they offer health benefits? What products worth stealing do they stock in the company kitchen Is it locked (you may be able to recoup the cost of the interview in food and office supplies). Do they give free tampons in the restrooms? And of course, what's the salary and what perks are included?

If the job listing is for a "senior" position, make sure to clarify whether they mean they're looking for someone with extensive experience or someone who is a senior in college. I can tell you from experience that one clarification can save you hours in drive time and a small fortune in gasoline, tolls and parking tickets.

Always ask how many interviews it's likely to take to get the job. Many large successful companies require 15 interviews and samples of bodily fluids before hiring someone. If you don't live within walking distance, the process can cost you an entire month's worth of unemployment checks. If they can't provide any guarantees that you'll be hired, you may be better off staying home and watching General Hospital. It won't cost you anything and at least you get medical experience for your resume.

The cost of an office interview

You'll have to present yourself in the best possible light which means you'll have to do something with your hair, enhance your wardrobe, or at the very least launder your tee shirt and sweatpants. Flip flops won't cut it, not even your dressy ones from Old Navy. You might also need to purchase a few personal hygiene products and have the water turned back on so you can bathe.

The good news is, you won't have to repair your teeth as chiclets make excellent temporary crowns (just don't accept beverages during your interview, which can be tempting because they're usually free).

Then of course, there's transportation which can cost you anywhere from $1.00 to $60.23 (gas, toll and parking, not including tickets for traffic violations). If you're up for a production job, the cost goes up significantly unless the airlines are running fare sales to China and Southeast Asia.

Estimating the salary to expense ratio

You may think that any salary is better than no salary, but that's not always the case. Remember, once you're employed, your expenses go up. The question you have to ask yourself is whether given the expenses incurred by working will be greater or less than the income you'll be taking home. In other words, will the job help dig you out of the hole, or put you farther in it?

Case in point: after doing the math, a friend discovered that the only way he could afford to take a recent job offer was if he kept his unemployment benefits. Sadly, he made the discovery after investing approximately $52.00 and four hours on his first (and last) interview.

Here's a list of some of the expenses you're likely to incur as an employed person:

  • Transportation/gas/tolls parking: Multiply the cost of transportation to the job interview by 300.
  • Wardrobe: You'll need new clothes. Not just any clothes. Clothes that are nicer than everyone elses' (but made in America). Otherwise, how will you get ahead?
    Don't forget you'll also need new underwear and some nice kneepads.
  • Electricity, gas and water: Now that you're working, being able to bathe and use your electronic devices is critical (although not at the same time).
  • Communications: It will be important that your boss can reach you at any time of day or night from every one of his/her offshore vacation villas. You're going to have to restore your service, buy a new iphone G4 (yours is a first generation, which is soooooo 2008). Buy a plan with a large data storage. Don't forget to add the price of a two year contract.

    Once you're back on the grid, the calls from old debtors will soon return. You may need to hire a lawyer.

  • Childcare/dogwalking/gardening/housecleaning: Now that you're working you're going to have to pay someone to take care of these tasks. You won't have time. You may even have to pay tuition for private school since the public school down the street is closing due to lack of funds.
  • Beauty and Grooming:
    Unless you're under 35, this can get costly. In order to succeed in the current business climate, you'll have to look young. It will be all the more difficult since you're working 18 hours a day and not sleeping well. Also remember than now that you're short on time, you'll need to pay professionals to do things like dye your hair, give you facials inject botox , perform plastic surgery and fill meeting rooms with smoke and bad lighting. This can take thousands of dollars off your gross monthly income. Even if you're under 35, you still may need botox to mask the look of disgust and contempt you feel in company meetings (consider it a business deduction since it's crucial to keeping your job).

    If you've been using chiclets for teeth in the interview process, you'll have to do something more permanent. Check your dentist for potential costs. Make sure you're sitting down.

  • Fast food: Now that you're working, you need to keep your energy up, but who has time to cook? Fast food can add up. And while most of those meals are pretty crappy, the good news is since you'll probably be eating while in front of a computer trying to meet some ridiculous deadline, you'll probably be too stressed and distracted to taste them. Your consumption of 3.00 vente half skim lattes and energy drinks will also increase substantially, especially if you don't have a prescription for Adderall.
  • Healthcare: Even if it's included in the benefits, it's going to cost you. Whereas when you weren't working, you were relatively healthy, you'll find yourself a lot more sickly when employed. Stress, exhaustion, poor eating habits will force you to spend your entire deductible on tests trying to figure out what's wrong with you (stress, exhaustion, poor eating habits). Expect your anti-depressant dosage to go up.
    • Taxes Unless you're making 300,000+, at least 30% of your income will go to taxes and insurance. That means whatever the given salary is, 30% of it will be stimulating the economy. At least you'll be getting a lot of bang for your buck. You'll be paying for wars, the salaries of your elected representatives and mindless bureaucrats, the company formerly known as Blackwater, Afghan and Iraqi warlords, Halliburton, interest on our debt to China, bridges to nowhere and the next election cycle.

      For jobs that pay over300,000 a year, only subtract .1% (the price of a good accountant). Try to get one of those jobs.

      Once you're back in the system, the government will also demand back taxes from the $12,000 you earned over the past three years. Prepare to shell out for an accountant and lawyer. You'd be wise to factor in the possibility of future salary garnishments as well.
    • Bank fees Now that your bank account is active again, they'll be charging you all sorts of fees. Since you no longer have time to go over your statements with a fine tooth comb and spend time getting bounced around from phone bank to phone bank to rectify the errors, you can expect to lose a substantial amount here.
    • Incidentals There are always surprise extra expenses that come with every endeavor. For example, a friend who has been working for the past two months has already incurred repair costs for accidentally driving her car through the garage door at 4AM on her way to work. Another had to invest in a new iPhone after stabbing his to death when an important business call was dropped for the 18th time. Be prepared with a cushion for these unexpected events

    If after crunching the numbers, you decide that economic circumstances make it impossible to pursue the job at this juncture, don't feel bad. Sure, some people will call you lazy, or irresponsible or selfish for not doing your part to help the economy recover because it's not in your best financial interest. Others will call you a savvy businessperson.

    ***

    Economic indicators suggest that this might be a good time to read my blog about being broke in France.