(This series chronicles the experiences of Leslie Jacobs, Founder of “Les Mess.” You can find Part I of Leslie’s remarkable story here).
Five months after being laid off I had my first job interview, I was not thrilled with the idea of having to dress up and drive 45 minutes to get to this job—so I turned it down. I wanted a job making my $75,000 with benefits close to my hometown. I did not want to drive, especially in inclement weather (which makes up half the forecast in Connecticut where I live).
I usually did well with money—saving a few shekels every paycheck and putting the whole thing in the stock market. Every day when I would see how the market was going down, I would tell myself, “What goes down must come up. So don’t worry.”
I realized that I did not want to work for someone else. I was done with the political climate of working for someone who did not have the dreams I did. I was done with working for someone who was insecure, needy, and just plain boring.
But, I was also lucky. In Connecticut, my unemployment was almost $600 dollars per week. My expenses were under $1,000 a month, so I was making good money. Plus, with the 99 weeks unemployed individuals would receive—I could live, travel and save money without all of the drama of working for a living. Yes, luck was on my side.
I was very happy — especially after the first snow storm left a few inches on the ground and I didn’t have to drive in that wet stuff. In fact, I very rarely left my home during the first months of 2009 due to the cold and snow. I was writing about being a professional organizer for a local newspaper and receiving speaking engagements where I would donate money to my favorite charity, an art organization.
In fact, since there were no jobs to be found, the art organization became my second home. I spent days calling businesses to ask for donations of furniture, money, and food. I also became part of their board of directors. I was doing what I loved for free and having my unemployment checks pay my bills. I considered myself retired and realized when unemployment ended I would find a job or create one. I was not worried at all.
I also stopped watching the evening news, a staple in my life since the Walter Cronkite days (I interviewed him in 1978 for my school newspaper and loved him before that meeting), because it was so depressing about the unemployment news.
In addition, I started to clip coupons to save money. Before I was laid off, I never bought anything with a coupon. Today, that is all changed. I hunt online for coupons before I go out to buy anything. I will spend time on the computer and ask friends of mine to give me their coupons so I can save as much money as possible.
I also started going out to art exhibits and other free events for the food. I just didn’t want to spend my unemployment money on food that I could find at these events. If you look on line in your town, you will find a plethora of events that are free, serve food, and sometimes they are even fun to attend.
In my small circle, I knew most of the people in my city who were anybody. Some of these people are not my friends. You see, I have a mouth that I use to express my opinions and, whether warranted or not, the political people knew how I stood on many issues.
In fact, while on a cruise (which I had paid for the previous year in full), I received phone calls from the council asking me if it was true that I wanted to be on the board of education. It was and I was appointed for a one-year term. It was a lot of work, but I also received dinner during our bi-monthly meetings. I also liked helping my city get the best education for the children.
That said, I must be honest and say that it was political. Oftentimes, the decisions were based on money as rather than what was necessarily better for the city. Then, you have the parents who call to complain (and some call very early in the morning). It was a good year, but I decided then, unless an issue really bugs me—I’m much happier out of political office for good.
In the summer of 2009, my best friend suggested I write a book about my life on unemployment and teach others how to get the best out of it. Making a list of free services we receive as US citizens I started with the library, Medicaid, food stamps, and housing and how people were using these services to survive.
It was then I got the biggest shock of my life. If you are poor, you get everything you need to live for free. On the other hand, if you are rich you can afford everything and mostly the rules do not apply to you. However, as middle class I was not gaining any ground. Instead, I was losing some. It was time to turn my life around—if I could.
Please stay tuned for Part III of Leslie’s story.
Leslie Jacobs is a professional organizer, writer, playwright, and creator of the ONLY card organizing game in the world called “Les Mess.” She appeared in magazines and on television, most notably the Fox News Channel and the Nate Berkus Show. Jacobs gives seminars and speeches on how to get and stay organized. To buy her book, Survival in the Unemployment Line, please go to her website LesMess.com or Amazon.com.