I Lost My Job Because of the Coronavirus—Here’s How I’m Paying My Bills

With a few lifestyle changes, I am now saving well over $1,000 a month. Plus, my ample downtime has led to the unexpected silver lining of finally launching my dream business.

I happily devoted more than 40,000 hours of my life—that’s 70 hours a week over the course of my 11-year tenure—to my employer, a catering business in Tempe, Arizona. After attending Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, I’d worked at various bakeries, bars, restaurants, and country clubs before landing the position. Once there, I diligently climbed the ladder from pastry chef to sous chef to executive chef. Aside from absolutely loving my time in the kitchen and the leadership responsibilities of mentoring my hand-picked team, I’d also injected myself into the operational and sales sides of the business. I would have contentedly stayed there forever.

On March 11, a full week before Arizona Governor Doug Ducey had even ordered the closure of all bars and restaurants statewide, I was laid off. You see, the catering industry was hit first because so many events were being canceled due to size restrictions on gatherings. Plus, we were already coming off a slow season. As one of the top-paid people in the company, I was the first to be let go. If you’re thinking of canceling a major life event, here’s what event planners would do.

For the next couple of days, I was kind of in a trance. I had worked 70-plus hours a week for so long, that I didn’t really understand how to pivot forward. My career and purpose had just been pulled out from under me. Then, two weeks later, my husband lost his job, too.

So we did what most people would do: reviewed our finances, researched what to cut out of your budget during a pandemic, started to cut spending everywhere we could, and then began to look for new income streams in an effort to sustain ourselves. Here’s how those efforts paid off.

Rented out a spare bedroom

Income: $650/month

My husband and I have a three-bedroom home and quickly realized we don’t need all that space to ourselves—renting a spare room is one of 50 ways to make more money in 2020. It just so happened that one of my former coworkers, a pastry chef with whom I have a great relationship, was looking for more affordable rent so that she and her boyfriend could save up to purchase a home. They moved in and it’s been such a blessing for all of us—extra income for us and an easy way for them to save for their future.

Canceled streaming services

Savings: $67.98/month

Next, we canceled our subscriptions to Netflix ($12.99) and Hulu + Live TV ($54.99). Honestly, we could have taken this step a long time ago—we weren’t even using the services because we worked so many hours. I’ve never been a person who came home and turned the TV on anyway, so we don’t even miss it.

Canceled landscaper

Mowing the grassstoncelli/Getty Images

Savings: $80/month

We decided it was no longer necessary to outsource our biweekly lawn maintenance, so we let our landscaper go. My husband traded some tools that were laying around the garage for a lawnmower and took over those duties. We realized that pre-coronavirus, we were living in a world where we had to have these things because of our busy lives. But once our world changed, it became clear that we really didn’t need to spend money on help. We’re capable of doing this ourselves, so why were we paying someone to do it for us? However, we’ll still hire our landscaper for bigger projects, like trimming the trees.

Canceled pool and home cleaning services

Savings: $215/month

For the same reasons, we decided to cancel our pool service as well ($95/month). Our neighbor just so happens to service pools, so he offered to show us to how do the maintenance ourselves. As a thank you for his tutorial, I’m helping him set up QuickBooks for his business to automate his invoices. We also canceled our house cleaning service ($120), which we’d relied on once a month to do the big stuff we never had time for, such as the baseboards, windows, fans, and grout lines.

Consolidated credit cards

Savings: undisclosed

Before my husband got laid off, we decided to apply for a new credit card and transfer all of our credit card debt onto that one card—a zero-interest balance transfer credit card for 21 months. While it was nothing insane or unmanageable, we did this just in case we got to a point where we couldn’t make a payment our cards in full each month, so we wouldn’t get hit with interest charges. Basically, it’s a safety net move for us if we get to a point where we need to park some debt somewhere until things get going again. Plus, it will free up some cash flow to help invest in my new business without having to draw from our savings. We work hard to maintain great credit and we intend to keep it that way.

Changed grocery stores

Close-Up Of Shopping Cart In SupermarketJenwit Ritbundit / EyeEm/Getty Images

Savings: varies

Between the incredibly long lines to even get into Costco and the fact that we couldn’t even find the food we wanted because panicked customers were hoarding products, our grocery shopping routine needed to change. We’d driven by WinCo Foods numerous times and I’d always meant to check it out, so we decided to give it a shot. I’m so glad we did because they are so much less expensive than even the big box stores. They still have the same meat I would buy at Fry’s or Safeway, but it was so much cheaper. We really like their bulk grains section. Also, there’s no membership required. Here are 12 things you need to clean after returning from the outside world during the coronavirus pandemic.

Started cooking more

Savings: varies

While we obviously want to support our favorite local restaurants, we’ve really cut back on ordering takeout food. We’ve started cooking dinner with our new roommates. And we plan accordingly, which helps save money—for instance, we’ll say tonight we’re going to have spaghetti and meatballs and then tomorrow we’ll turn the meatballs into sandwiches. If you’re looking for recipes, this Italian grandma is hosting a virtual class to teach you how to make pasta.

Relied on DIY home repairs

Savings: varies

Our dishwasher recently broke, and instead of calling a repair person I watched some YouTube videos to figure out the problem myself. After working in kitchens for so long, you just become knowledgeable about plumbing and electrical issues. You also become less intimidated about trying to fix things yourself. Here’s a list of 40 home repairs anyone can do.

Secured other financial aid

Getting hands on in the savings processPeopleImages/Getty Images

Income/savings: varies

I filed for unemployment when I was laid off and my husband will be doing the same as soon as his one-month-long severance package ends. We’ve also dipped into our savings account to make ends meet, and will be researching the steps to make a withdrawal from our 401(k) if needed. Thankfully, my husband’s student loans were automatically deferred, so that’s a $350 per month savings right now. Finally, our $1,200 stimulus checks are also a big help.

Launched a consulting business

Income: TBD

Yes, COVID-19 came in and shocked us, but it’s also brought me an unexpected silver lining. For years, in my limited free time, I had been working on launching a restaurant consulting business called Taking the Wheel Consulting—but ultimately, I was too scared to leave my job. I had been with the same company for so long that mustering up the courage to find success on my own felt impossible. I knew I would eventually have to dive into unfamiliar territory by ripping the band-aid off—and being laid off made me do just that.

Above anything else, my beloved food and beverage industry was now suffering badly, and I needed to concentrate on supporting the people first—the foodservice industry is deemed “essential” for a reason. My friends have lost their jobs and many businesses have closed its doors without knowing if they will ever re-open. This reality pushed me to finally take the initiative by diving into my business the way I should have months before.

Harnessing all my years of industry experience, I recently hosted a free Facebook Live workshop called “From Crisis to Cash Flow” for restaurant, bar, catering, and hospitality owners and managers to provide tips to help weather this storm. Additionally, I’m currently prepping an upcoming ten-part series that will help them prepare for reopening once the restrictions have been lifted.

Amazingly, even during all this chaos, I’m now living in a place of peace. I feel great, I’m waking up excited each day and looking forward to the future. We were so caught up in all the distractions of our pre-pandemic world, that losing my job actually forced me to step up and become the person I was meant to be for those whom I’m meant to serve. I discovered an opportunity to help our industry on a global level and I have been blessed with now having a platform to do so. I’m grateful for that. Here’s more on what to do when your whole life gets canceled.

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By Rebekah Goldman, as told to Jill Schildhouse
Jill Schildhouse is an award-winning writer based in Phoenix who regularly covers travel, health and wellness, personal finance and e-commerce. Her bylines have appeared in Reader's Digest, The Healthy, Oxygen, AAA, Brides, Vegetarian Times, and Phoenix Home & Garden magazines, among others. She earned a BA in corporate communications from Northern Illinois University. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin