Can You Live on Unemployment Benefits?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Being unemployed has taught Cindy, a former airline contractor from Cincinnati, an unusual lesson: If you want to save money, try freezing your milk.

“I had no idea that you could freeze milk, but it turned out to be a brilliant discovery,” said Cindy, who asked not to be identified for fear of people knowing she lost her job. “Milk is not cheap and being able to store it in the freezer has been incredibly helpful to manage my expenses.”

This revelation fundamentally changed her approach to grocery shopping and saved her valuable dollars in the process. Now, rather than buy a new carton of milk each week, Cindy, 34, has taken to buying milk in bulk, freezing it, and only taking out a carton when she actually needs it. She applies the same technique to buying loaves of bread as well.

It might sound like an extreme way to live, but to Cindy, who has been unemployed now for just over three months, “desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Cindy is just one of 15 million Americans who are now unemployed, and among the nearly 6 million recently laid off workers who started collecting jobless benefits in the third quarter of this year.

Like many of these workers, Cindy has little choice but to lean heavily on her weekly unemployment check of $330 to help pay her bills. But while she appreciates the money, it is still only about 40% of what she earned at her previous job. As a result, she must resort to all sorts of financial acrobatics to make ends meet, whether that means forfeiting eating out and replacing her cell phone with Google’s free calling service, or negotiating with her energy company to freeze her heating bill for three months so that the cost doesn’t go up beyond her means.

The difficulty that Cindy and other out-of-work individuals around the country are running up against is that unemployment benefits are rarely enough for most Americans to live on for very long.

“I am surviving on these cost cutting measures for right now, but it’s very tight getting by and I’m not sure how long it will last,” she said.

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