5 Tips for Surviving a Work Furlough

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- More than 800,000 U.S. government workers got a pink sip, of sorts, last week, as Uncle Sam Inc. closed its doors until Congress and the White House work out a deal on the federal debt ceiling.

What's a furloughed worker to do?

Steve Siebold, the author of How Rich People Think, has a few financial pointers for furloughed federal employees, who have not experienced a full-blown government shutdown and its after effects since 1995.

The key for cash-strapped federal employees is to be able to access cash quickly and cover any gaps in household income -- especially if a rainy-day fund isn't available.

Here are some other tips from Siebold:

Talk it out. Siebold advises being upfront with your friends and family to let everyone know these are going to be lean times if the furlough goes on indefinitely. "Let them know you'll be focused on the true necessities in life rather than the luxuries," he advises. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about, because this wasn't your fault."

Make a list. Separate your "needs" versus your "wants." Shelve the latter altogether. "In the list of necessities, prioritize from most important to least important and figure out what must be paid immediately and what can lag a bit," he says. "This will help figure out exactly how much money you need right away and for the near future."

Be honest about debt. Make sure to contact your creditors, such as your mortgage company, credit card company and other firms, and let them know what's going on. Creditors are much more amenable to helping you out if you get ahead of the problem and keep them apprised. "Because this is a crisis situation that isn't your fault, many creditors may work with you or offer some kind of assistance, such as postponing your due date," Siebold says. "Check with your mortgage lender, utility company, credit card companies, etc. Don't be afraid to ask if there is any kind of discounted rate for furloughed government workers."

Channel your inner entrepreneur. Siebold is big on the notion that there's no such thing as job security, making a furlough a great time to become your own boss (at least for a while). "The key to running a successful business and making money is to find problems to solve that people are willing to pay for," he says. "It can be anything from a lawn care service, maid service, handyman business, pool cleaning company or even a grocery shopping service."

Go back to work, but part-time. Do what you need to do to get by, Siebold adds, and that includes finding part-time work. "Desperate times call for desperate measures," he notes. "Even if it's a job with a much lower skill set and lower pay, or even temp work, you have to find income." Don't let it bring you down -- and remind yourself it is only temporary, and that you need to remain mentally tough and remember that you're not alone, he says.

Watch out if you're considering unemployment; you'll have to pay it back if the government provides you with back pay.

Another warning from Siebold: don't use credit cards, as tempting as that option may be. Debt adds up fast with plastic. If you have to use a credit card, use a low-interest card to keep the debt tally down.

People in the private sector are already accustomed to dealing with layoffs and cutbacks. Federal government workers now know what that toxic feeling is like, and the best way out is to adapt the same financial survival practices that private-sector workers have been using for years.

-- By Brian O'Connell

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