December 22, 2011

It can happen to anyone without warning – you or your spouse suffers a job loss. It will likely take a while to find another one, and the new job may pay less. Your financial situation is suddenly and radically altered.

The emotional turmoil and stress on a marriage and family can be overwhelming. However, there are things you can do to keep yourself and your family mentally and physically healthy – and your marriage on an even keel – while you sort out your financial situation.

family meeting

Watch the negative thinking

Stressful situations can trigger “catastrophic thinking”: Nobody will hire an unemployed person my age. What if we lose the house? We will never be able to put our kids through college. We’ll have to work until we’re 80!

Then there is the shame and feelings of failure over not being able to provide for your family and give your children the things they want.

When you catch yourself thinking like this, remind yourself: “My negative thoughts are only that – my thoughts. They are not reality.”

Then find something to do to take your mind off it. You will soon realize how unrealistic the catastrophic thinking was.

Hold a family meeting

After you and your spouse have discussed the job loss, it’s time to tell the kids and enlist them in choosing the sacrifices to make. Tell them simply, “We can’t afford all the things we’re used to. We need to figure out what we can do without, decide where we can save money and think of some other, less expensive things we can do instead.”

People are more likely to embrace sacrifices that they had a voice in determining. This empowers family members and conveys that “we are a team, and we will pull through this together.”

Get everyone’s ideas about replacement activities. Hint: Many low-cost alternatives are even healthier than the ones they replace, for example, cooking meals together instead of eating out, participating in team sports, hiking and enjoying educational outings.

Put expenses through ‘money values’ filter

Write down everything you spent money on in the past month, as well as you can remember. Banking and credit card statements can help.

For each item, ask yourself whether it represents one of your core values. Would your family have felt any loss if you had not spent this money?

Then begin putting future expenditures through the same filter. If something is not necessary to your family’s well-being, you can eliminate it.

Can you drive less, stop buying prepared foods and gourmet items at the grocery store, and skip the Starbucks lattes? Do you need the lawn service? Can you do your own hair?

Schedule couple’s financial meetings

Financial problems can stress a marriage and reduce intimacy. You may disagree about spending priorities or job-search strategies. You can’t afford to do the things you used to enjoy together.

But you can take steps to keep money problems from ruining your marriage. Plan a time each week to balance accounts and pay bills, and then leave those issues alone until that scheduled time – no need to dwell on the stressors day in and day out.

Adopt a win-win approach in these meetings. Calmly discuss the pros and cons of the issues, and listen to your partner’s opinion. Look for compromises you can both live with. Don’t seek to win a debate.

Take care of your health

You may not be able to control your job and money situation, but you can control how you take care of yourself. Physical activity can become a family habit. You can start shopping for basic, healthy ingredients and cooking more nutritious meals for less money.

Drinking less alcohol or stopping smoking are good ways to save money. If you’re the one who lost your job, the free time can be a chance to eat healthier, work out more and get into great shape.

Notice what you’re thankful for

Many people have noted that going through a major life crisis taught them empathy for others who are struggling. They learned to value the important things in life – family, friends and health.

Take some time each day to notice what you’re thankful for. This can be a time for personal and spiritual growth.

A drastic loss of income is a major stressor. But with a family action plan, it doesn’t have to be a disaster.

This article was originally posted on December 22, 2011 and the information may no longer be current. For questions, please contact GRF CPAs & Advisors at