Lessons Learned from Being Unemployed

by “singlemom”

I prep because I’m a former farm girl who grew up with a year’s worth of food sitting in the cellar at any given time and because I’ve had to start over several times with little more than the clothes on my back.  Once you’ve spent some time shivering without enough blankets or skipping meals because there’s no food, you do everything you can to prevent that in the future.

My kids, like many of this latest generation, have never experienced lengthy power outages, financial collapse, war, or being stranded at home for days on end because of the weather.  They’d roll their eyes and say “Mom’s getting ready for Armageddon again” every time I’d toss a pound of beans in the grocery cart.  “Don’t eat the Chunky soup.  Mom’s saving it for the end of the world.”  

Well, our TEOTWAKI came when I lost my job.  As the only wage earner, we had no income whatsoever until I found work.  Taking inventory that first day, we discovered that we had enough supplies on hand to get us through several months, so our savings could be reserved for paying the bills.  That doesn’t mean it was easy.  We still had to ration everything, and we weren’t as prepared as I’d thought.

Buy more dish soap.  Yes, I could’ve grated the bars of Ivory that I have in storage or mixed up a batch of Borax and washing soda, but I like using dish soap on my dishes.  When you’re home all day, you use a lot more dishes, so the dish soap is going to go fast.

There is no such thing as too much toilet paper.  Again, when you’re home an additional 45-60 hours a week, you’re going to use more than you’d expected.  Double the amount you thought you’d need, and then buy as much more as you can.

If you plan to bake bread, you’re going to use 4-6 cups of flour for each batch.  That 50 pounds that you carefully packaged in mouse- and bug-proof containers isn’t going to go very far.  You’ll also need a lot of powdered eggs.  Make sure you’ve rotated your yeast.  Don’t wait until you’re in dire straits to try making bread and tortillas.  You’ll have a lot of fun laughing at the end result, but you’ll waste your supplies.  If you’re getting your recipes off the Internet, carefully read the reviews that follow. 

The cold-weather sleeping bags and fleece and wool blankets come in handy when you turn the heat down to lower your utility costs.  Socks, slippers, and baggy sweatshirts become the norm 24 hours a day.  Those frilly sheers look lovely on the windows, but I really should’ve bought the thermal curtains when they were on sale.

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, buy more.  You’re stressing out about finding a job, so you’re going to drink more.  And if you’re drinking more coffee, you’re also using more of what goes in it, whether it’s creamer, sugar, or flavorings.  I thought we had plenty of powdered creamer set aside, but it went quickly, and I didn’t want to use the powdered milk, because it was needed for cooking. 

Buy more powdered milk.  I thought we had a decent amount, because the kids won’t drink it.  I didn’t stop to consider just how much of that powder is needed to mix enough milk for baking and cooking.

Buy more canned vegetables and meats.  Once the real meat is gone, you’ll be more dependent on vegetables to add flavor to your meals, and you don’t realize just how many you use until they’re no longer available.  TVP is a great substitute…once in a while.  While not big meat-eaters, we’re also not vegetarian, and canned meats can add flavor to a wide variety of dishes.

Stock up on canned and dehydrated potatoes.  They’ve always been a comfort food for us, and we didn’t have enough.  Canned potatoes taste “tinny” and dehydrated ones never rehydrate fully.  Instant mashed potatoes don’t taste real.  Deal with it.  The only other option is to live without potatoes.

Stock up on a variety of sweets.  Hard candies and freeze-dried fruits won’t cut it.  You need Jell-O and canned fruit, instant pudding, chocolate chips, and M & M’s.  A couple containers of Cool Whip in the freezer is a help.  Molasses and cocoa powder store well.  We could live without fresh meat, eggs, milk, and pre-sliced bread, but when the chips are down, we want dessert.

Salt.  We haven’t used added salt in decades.  The ex had high blood pressure and the daughter has potential kidney problems.  We always got enough from the processed foods we ate regularly.  When you start cooking all your meals from scratch, the only salt you’re going to get is from the occasional bouillon or packaged gravy mix.  We were eating well-balanced meals, but I started feeling shaky and sick.  Out of liquid Gatorade and unwilling to open the canister of powder, I licked a spoonful of salt.  Nasty, but it did the trick.  Don’t underestimate your body’s need for salt.

Stock up on garbage bags and bags for cleaning up after the dog.  We live in a community that has mandatory immediate dog-doodie duty.  When you’re home all day long, the dog wants out more often, just because he can.  You’ll also be doing more housework and clearing out all that “Why did I keep this” junk.  Your garbage men might learn to hate you, but you’ll only hate yourself if you run out of garbage bags.

Don’t forget dog food.  We generally have at least 50 pounds of dry food, but I wish I’d bought a couple cases of canned food.  It has a good shelf-life, and it would’ve lowered my stress levels.  He’s big, he’s old, and he’d never understand if I tried to tell him to go on a diet.

Fill your gas tank.  We’re all advised to keep the tank full for any emergency, and the inability to buy more is about as urgent as it gets.  You don’t want to head to an interview or, God forbid, the ER, and realize the gas gauge is on “E.” 

Follow Grandma’s advice and always have a little black dress on hand (for you guys, that would translate into a button-down shirt and tie, preferably with dress slacks).  Don’t forget nylons and heels.  You really don’t want to show up for a job interview dressed in blue jeans, work boots, and a t-shirt, and you don’t want to call the electric company and tell them you can’t pay your bill because you spent that money on a new wardrobe.

Buy several cookbooks.  Not the fancy ones using bay scallops, escargot, and spun sugar, but the ones published by your local church, a good old Betty Crocker, or better yet – one from the Depression or war years.  You may not need to know how to make a squirrel casserole for 12 people, but knowing how to bake cakes with nothing but flour, water, and a magic wand is a good skill to learn.  Be willing to experiment with new dishes and adapt the recipes to the foods you have on hand.  My daughter’s a food major, so we made good use of the African and Indian cookbooks she’d collected.  They use a lot of lentils, rice, split peas, and root vegetables, all of which we had.  Now is not the time to follow a traditional American meal plan.

After all that:  Take time to relax.  Keep to your old schedule.  If you’re used to going to bed early and getting up in the wee hours, keep doing it.  Renew your acquaintance with old hobbies.  Finish reading that book that’s gathering dust on your nightstand.  Call an old friend.  Bake cookies with the kids like you did when they were little.  Make sure you argue over who gets to lick the spoon.  Dance in the rain.  Volunteer at the local soup kitchen to remind yourself that you still have a good life.  And always remember – “This too shall pass.”


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