Helping Clients Get Their Finances in Order Before, During, or After Job Loss
By Kimberly Zimmerman Rand
When a client loses their job, considers a career transition, or plans to leave a position to provide caregiving, address health/mental health concerns, or increase their education, career practitioners can guide them through the logical next steps for job search, networking, and other employment considerations. It is also important for clients to consider the financial implications of a gap in employment and ways they can take action to reduce the impact caused by a lack of consistent income.
How to Have a Money Conversation with Clients
While career practitioners provide coaching around salary negotiation, most probably do not have client conversations about finances in general, like savings and debt. When a client loses a job, or voluntarily leaves a position without another one lined up, they may have concerns about how long they can afford to be unemployed, whether they have enough money saved to pay bills, and/or how they can supplement their lack of income in the short term.
For those who grew up in households that did not discuss savings, debt, or money management, or who did not learn about personal finance in school, such conversations can be an uncomfortable – or even taboo – topic. Discussing money can bring up feelings of shame, inadequacy, or anxiety (Rand, 2017b).
Money conversations can start early in the coaching relationship as clients discuss their target salary range. Practitioners can encourage clients to talk about what they want to achieve with their employment income – fulfilling their values and goals – as this can take the pressure off discussing specific dollars and cents (Rand, 2017a).
Values-based questions are a helpful place to start: Do they want the enjoyment of an occasional fun night out? The security of knowing that if their car breaks down, they have the emergency savings to fix it? The satisfaction of eliminating oppressive student loan debt? By discussing clients’ goals, and acknowledging the associated price tag, these conversations can be less emotional and more pragmatic.
Financial Actions Clients Can Take
Career practitioners can share the following suggestions with clients in anticipation of, or in response to, a reduction in employment income:
- Take stock of assets. Clients can use a balance sheet to track what they “own” minus what they “owe” (Campbell, 2022). This can help them determine their savings, investments, and personal possessions, as well as what could be sold to generate cash, if needed. Career practitioners can discuss alternative sources of employment, such as temporary work and gig work, to provide supplemental income during unemployment.
- Understand employee benefits. Clients who lose their job often lose more than a paycheck, such as employee benefits like employer-sponsored health insurance or assistance with student loan repayment (Indeed Editorial Team, 2021). In the case of health insurance, a layoff counts as a Qualifying Life Event (HealthCare.gov, n.d.) and makes an employee eligible to either join a spouse’s health insurance plan or purchase a policy directly from the Healthcare.gov website. Alternatively, a layoff makes an employee eligible for COBRA benefits, an additional 18 months of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.). If navigating through government resources and services feel overwhelming to a client, practitioners can make additional referrals as necessary.
- Take advantage of unemployment resources. After a layoff, a client’s company might provide severance – a number of weeks of income tied to their number of years of service. Clients who are laid off can also apply for unemployment benefits in their state of residence.
If household income is below a specified threshold, they may be eligible for public assistance including food resources and help with utility payments. Information can be found on the US government website Benefits.gov, or on the United Way’s nationwide service and resources database at 211.org (also accessed by dialing 211). Career practitioners can also refer clients to state-sponsored career centers, which often host job fairs, training programs to develop new skills, and job search support groups.
- Track household expenses. Clients can take a three-month look back at their actual spending, which can be broken up into four categories:
- Fixed expenses: occur each month and do not change, like rent
- Variable expenses: occur monthly, but increase or decrease, such as groceries
- Occasional expenses: occur every few months and tend to be less predictable, such as tax or holiday gifts
- Unexpected expenses: are not planned and can significantly disrupt one’s cash flow, such as a car repair or hospitalization
Once real spending has been tracked for three months, clients can review each category and determine their spending priorities. They then can take concrete steps to fortify elements of their financial life. For example, clients can reach out to their credit card company to request a lower interest rate, or request a budget billing option from their utility companies to establish a consistent payment each month. Such an exercise can also help career practitioners discuss salary expectations with clients or the appropriate rate to request for freelance work to meet those expenses.
- Prepare for emergencies. Everyone should have an emergency fund or emergency budget to cover their most important expenses such as groceries, rent/mortgage, insurance, utilities, medical expenses, transportation, and childcare (Nagle, 2020). Once clients determine their monthly emergency budget, they should multiply that amount by three to calculate the amount of emergency savings they need – assuming it takes three months to find their next job (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, n.d.). Emergency savings can come from regular earnings, or from a windfall amount like a tax refund. Discussing emergencies with clients and their comfort level with saving for this, is often helpful before a change in employment.
Ask for support. If conversations about money cause feelings of shame, anxiety, or inadequacy, practitioners can suggest they speak to a therapist. They can search for mental health professionals with expertise in financial well-being on the Financial Therapy Association’s "Find a Financial Therapist" site or Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” site.
When a client loses or leaves a job, the above activities can help ensure that their finances are in as strong a position as possible. Armed with knowledge of their assets and plans for managing their unemployment, clients can experience their time between jobs as a minor speed bump instead of a major pothole.
Campbell, J. (2022, Feb. 14). How to create a personal balance sheet and determine net worth. Money Management International. https://www.moneymanagement.org/blog/how-to-create-a-personal-balance-sheet-and-determine-your-net-worth
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (n.d.). An essential guide to building an emergency fund. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/an-essential-guide-to-building-an-emergency-fund/
HealthCare.gov. (n.d.) Qualifying life event (QLE). https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/qualifying-life-event/
Indeed Editorial Team. (2021, Feb. 26). Employee benefits: Examples of the most common employee perks. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/pay-salary/most-common-employee-perks
Nagle, C. (2020, April 14). Tips for making and managing an emergency budget. National Foundation for Credit Counseling. https://www.nfcc.org/blog/tips-for-making-and-managing-an-emergency-budget/
Rand, K. (2017a). How to talk about money. Dragonfly Financial Solutions blog. https://www.dragonflyfinancialsolutions.com/talking-about-money/2017/10/26/how-to-talk-money
Rand, K. (2017b). Why you don't like to talk about money. Dragonfly Financial Solutions blog. https://www.dragonflyfinancialsolutions.com/talking-about-money/2017/10/20/why-you-dont-talk-money
U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). FAQs on COBRA continuation health coverage for workers. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/faqs/cobra-continuation-health-coverage-consumer.pdf
Kimberly Zimmerman Rand is passionate about people living their best lives through household finance. As a consultant, trainer, and coach, and principal at Dragonfly Financial Solutions LLC, she engages her talents to help others deepen their knowledge, develop their skills, and become more confident in their relationship with money. Kimberly is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and Financial Fitness Coach®. She holds a Master of Social Work in Social and Economic Development and Nonprofit Management from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Colby College. She can be reached at dragonflyfinancialsolutions.com and at linkedin.com/in/kimberlyzrand/