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by SixFigureStart | February 04, 2009

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Unemployed and wondering how to survive on $405 a week? Here are a few tips:

Coupons: Heard of the coupon-crazy lady?
Well it?s time to join her club. They not only save money, with most grocery stores doubling manufacturer?s coupons, they end up saving, sometimes if planned right, double!

Best avenues to get coupons: Saturday?s newspaper; manufacturer?s websites (Proctor & Gamble, Pepsi, Stouffer?s, to name a few); coupon clipping websites?yes some of them are paid, but there are many that are not (try RetailMeNot.com; couponcabin.com; coolsavings.com; Valpak.com; couponcabin.com, etc.); Frequent shopper cards: Most retailers track your purchase history and send you coupons that you can use, e.g.: Grocer stores like Super Fresh and Wegman?s; Apparel and footwear stores like Dick?s Sporting Goods and Famous Footwear; and the latest to join the fray? Target. And you don?t need a card to get the coupons, just shop there and they?ll track you!

Subsidizing on habits: Gallons instead of bottles?
Are you one of the health conscious bottled-water drinkers? Consider this: A gallon of Poland Spring costs $1.59 and lower depending on where there might be a sale. A 24-pack of Poland Spring 16.9 oz bottles retails for $5.49 unless on sale. The same amount, i.e., when transferred into disposable plastic bottles, is 7.5 bottles, which means your 24-pack of bottles will last you roughly three weeks. So you save $1 every three weeks? A savings of $18 annually. And you can save more by searching for coupons on the gallons. Also, store brand gallons always cost less than name brands like Poland Spring.

Not savings enough to make it worthwhile to lug those gallons home? Consider this: The water purifiers from PUR cost anywhere from $25 and up for the ones that you can attached to the water faucet. How much does that save you? Sixty-five dollars annually.

Taking advantage of a bad economy: Target the utilities

Phone and Internet service
This might just be the perfect time to call up your phone and internet provider and informing them of your unemployed status. Many newspapers have reported that not only will they work with you on maintaining your service; they will incentivize to hold on to their customers in tough time. Even they don?t incentivize, it?s worth a try to poke them for a temporary reduction in the service fee.

Gas and electricity
Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), the gas provider in New Jersey offers equal payment plans, i.e., you can prefix an amount you can afford to pay on a monthly basis and regardless of your consumption, that?s what you will be billed monthly. Just pay the excess, if any, at the end of the year.

Budget, budget, budget
You probably don?t want to hear this, but even the roughly $1,600 you?re getting a month can be budgeted in a way to last. You may even not have to use that plastic credit card. After basics like rent, utilities and commute, whatever pithy amount is left must be divided into money per days. For example, you spend $1,000 on rent, $100 on utilities, $81 on the monthly Metro Card in New York, leaving you with $419. Even if you slot $200 of that for food (or $50 a week), you have $219 left for other necessary expenses like the phone/internet/cable bill, the dry cleaner to get your suit ready for a job interview, car insurance if you live in a suburb?in which case the $81 for the Metro Card would go instead toward gas, and might I dare suggest saving $50 of that?

Yes, you may have to forego eating out every week, you may have to curb the urge to shop especially with most retailers screaming off heavy discounts on almost everything in their efforts to clear inventories, and you may even have to not do the bi-monthly manicure ladies: but it?s time we realize that saving is a necessary tool for survival now and not a luxury anymore. And that till you don?t land another job in this aggressive market where you are competing against many more people at varied levels of expertise in your field, you have to make the most of the $1,600 you are getting.

Change your shopping habits
If you?re the person who?s used to heading to an assortment of stores to buy daily products, etc. this might be the time to condense these frequent visits into one planned visit. Regardless of what product it is, it is a fact that you?ll find it cheaper at a grocery store than a drugstore, simply because of the economics of high volumes of inventory and sales, the super stores are able to pass on the savings more effectively to the consumer than the drugstores. Make a list and stick to it. Also, never head to do your limited shopping on an empty stomach. Research suggests that when we are hungry, we tend to buy more of what we might not need, or afford. It also helps to go once a week instead of stopping in every day. The less you navigate those aisles, the less you will be tempted and therefore, spend.

Tip for the manicure/pedicure-obsessed: Sets for these start at $30 and are available at drugstores, departmental stores and online. And if you follow the advice up above about searching for the right coupon, you might even be able to bring that price a few dollars down. A onetime expense of $30 can help you save roughly $500 to $800 a year depending on how regularly you visit the salon.

Important note regarding taxes: Even though you are unemployed the IRS will tax you. Yes, your unemployment check is taxable. The IRS suggests you make quarterly payments to avoid falling behind. I suggest depositing that $50 to $75 that you can spare every month into a savings account that pays interest (Believe me, there still are some of these around!?A highly recommended one is the virtual savings account offered by ING). And make some money off of those savings before sending in that quarterly tax payment.

--Posted by Aman Singh Das, Vault Editor

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