I Dreamed I Got Fired & Now I’m Fired-Proofing My Finances

…plus a checklist for those of you who would also be up a creek if you got fired or laid off.

fire-proofing your finances if you get fired it doesn't have to be a nightmare the nightmare of losing your job

The Nightmare of Being Fired

Why is getting fired so scary to a six-figure lawyer? Oh I’m ‘bout to tell. you.

Does anyone else dream regularly? I had to keep a dream journal during my high school AP Psychology class and that thing was FULL. Guys, can you imagine reading 100 high schoolers’ DREAM JOURNALS? I mean, Lord. I’m having secondary embarrassment just thinking about it.

Anyway. I’ve always dreamed a lot and this week was no different. The market was down (first of all, unless you plan to retire tomorrow, DO NOT PANIC. Markets dip and rise), I moved last weekend, which came on the heels of my wedding bonanza and international travel…so naturally I haven’t been in the office as often as usual, despite actually working. Foreshadowing: dreams mimic life fearssss…

My boss and I have a good relationship. I like working for him and learning from him. He’s a totally reasonable guy who would never fire someone for no reason, or honestly, even with reason, without giving them very explicit (and legitimate) opportunities to adjust their attitudes or behaviors or whatever.

But Thursday night, near the end of a stressful week, my brain went into anxiety overdrive and I dreamed that my boss summarily fired me. He called me into his office and told me I’d been terminated and I’d need to leave immediately. The “firm” was a hybrid of my current firm and a couple of places I’ve worked previously, and so the situation was obviously not real, but the shame and stress of being fired felt so. real.

Even in the dream, all I could think about was how I didn’t have another job lined up yet, how much debt I have, and the minimal access I have to liquid assets. I have plenty of credit, but I also have lots of financial obligations. It was sheer panic.

If you’ve never been fired or “asked to leave a job” within a certain timeframe, I can tell you that it is a level of humiliation I never want to experience again. And I definitely don’t want to experience it again without having money. in. the. bank.

Imagine being fresh(ish) out of law school with six figures of student loans, minimal savings, no alternative job prospects, and a 60-day window to save yourself from utter financial ruin (and after that 60 days possibly having to tell prospective employers you were fired). Hyperventilation is quite possible in that moment.

Fortunately in the legal world, most firms don’t outright fire you; they ask you to leave and give you a 60-90 day end date. It’s called “terminating ongoing employment.” So you don’t have to reveal your status to potential employers as having been fired, since you aren’t actually unemployed or fired at that moment. If you leave before your time is up, you’ve technically voluntarily left your firm. It’s a compassionate way to handle professionals who are bad fits for firms, but it is still horrible if it happens to you. Especially if you feel it was unjustified.

In my dream, however, my boss, unprovoked, fired me on the spot. No grace period. No explanation. Just “you’ve been fired and you need to pack your things and leave.” I remember wandering around the “office” in a trance, unsure how to act around the people who knew my boss had just asked me to leave the building.

But it all kept going back to money in my dream-brain.

I woke up breathless. I reminded myself I hadn’t been fired. Then I had a moment of actual, non-dream panic. What if this is foreshadowing? (It wasn’t, as far as I can see…) It was definitely unchecked anxiety from past experiences, and I had to talk myself down from that ledge first before figuring out why I’d freaked out in the dream so much.

Aside: Being able to identify causes of anxiety and assess the “validity” of the concern are two of the MANY benefits of therapy. If you can identify that the perceived threat isn’t a real threat, it’s much easier to tame the anxiety.

Related: Mental Health Costs Should Be Non-Negotiables & How Much I Spend on Mental Halth Maintenance | Mental Health Roundup: 13 Posts to Combat a "13 Reasons Why" Mindset: How to Pay for Therapy or Manage the Crushing Emotional Loads of Life and Debt

Then it hit me as I was lying in my bed, surrounded by the many boxes I had not yet unpacked: I haven’t been fired, but if I lost my job, I’d be in a realll bad situation.

I write about money, damnit! What’s wrong with me?

I’ve spent so much money this year - on things I purposely chose to prioritize over saving extra money, but SO much spending nonetheless. As I mentioned before, I have very little saved outside of my maxed-out 401k. I have an emergency fund and an investment account that would cover maybe 2 months of expenses. And $100k+ of open credit line. I’ll write about financial priorities in another post soon. I feel mostly confident in my financial choices this year, but that doesn’t mean they’re indefinitely sustainable.

The Dream Lit a Fire in My Financial Motivations

Not “FIRE” per se….I’m not on the FIRE path yet and may never be. But waking up sweating over the financial consequences of losing my job (which I truly don’t think is imminent, but who ever does besides the guy who maybe never shows up to work on time and drinks on the job after 4PM every day, you know?) made me want to fired-proof my finances ASAP.

I spent all day Friday thinking about how I needed to reevaluate my finances for the new year because this time next October, I do not want to be worried that if I were suddenly unemployed, I couldn’t pay my bills for very long. Being semi/unemployed or under threat of running out of money has to be the single worst feeling in the world besides like, dire illness, a bad breakup, or loss of a loved one.

Trust me. I’ve lived it. (That’s also a story for another post.)

So what am I going to do? How am I going to “Fired-Proof” My Finances?

(1) I’m going to sit down and make a budget. I know. I should already have a budget. I’m embarrassed I don’t. I need to figure out how much of my money is going where.

(2) I’ve already negotiated some of my bills, moved in with a roommate (thereby lowering my rent and probably most of my bills), and I’m going to cut my personal training from 2x/week to 1x/week and pick up classes for the other day.

(3) I mentioned in my recent 6-month recap that I want to sell at least $50 worth of items per month until Christmas, so I’m going to do that and hopefully exceed it. I made my FIRST Poshmark sale since May yesterday, which is nuts. But hey, it’s progress!

What are my new Fired-Proof goals?

I don’t know yet. And that’s ok. Right now I’m just feeling the burn and it’s inspired me to refocus my efforts on building a liquid assets cushion. So that’s pretty much it at this point. I don’t think I’m going to try repaying debt super quickly. I’d rather make sure that if something goes disastrously wrong, I will have the cash flow to pay for it.

This year is pretty much a lost cause because of all the travel I have planned, but I’m trying to finish out the year using points as much as possible and that will help immensely with the cash outlay and get a really solid plan into place for the new year

Who knew one nightmare could completely adjust my financial plans for the next 12-15 months??

Don’t Wait Until You’re in a Bad Spot to Think About How Your Finances Could Handle a Bad Spot

If you’re also in what seems like a steady, safe situation but you’d be up the proverbial creek if you suddenly lost your job, I’d recommend you make some changes to your situation as well.

Prepare Now So You Won’t Be Screwed if You Lose Your Job

Here’s a quick list of things to do to put yourself on steadier ground that doesn’t involve a Dave Ramsey-style debt repayment plan:

  1. Create/save for an emergency fund if you don’t have one.

  2. Cut your bills where you can, but don’t go insane (I’m talking mindful reduction of electricity usage or negotiating your cable bill, not going Krazy Koupon Lady on your grocery list)

  3. Build a basic budget (even if it’s using Mint to track your spending for a month or two and then seeing how much you spend in each category).

    You’ll be able to tell where your money is going and where you can plan to spend less.

  4. Use cashback credit cards and transfer all the cash back to a savings account and/or use a travel points credit card to offset as many of your travel expenses as possible. Still budget for those travel expenses and transfer the difference between your budget and the points you used to your savings.

    Cashback Example: You spend $100 at the grocery store and receive 5% cash back, which is $5. Instead of thinking of or budgeting your grocery spending now as $95, keep your grocery spending at $100 and move the $5 into your savings account. You could also do this with coupons but that’s pretty aggressive.

    (Travel Points Example: Budget for your trip as though you don’t have points. Say you budget $1,000 for your trip to Mexico and you use points to purchase your flight worth $300. You can then transfer $300 that month to your savings goals.)

    (Opposite example: You budget $1,000 for your trip to Mexico and you use points to purchase your flight worth $300. Instead of having only $700 left for the rest of your trip and $300 in your savings account, you spend the full $1000 on hotel/food/souvenirs because “the flight was free.” This is a totally valid way to use your points and what I do currently. But it won’t help you save more money, if that’s your goal.)

  5. Set up slightly larger auto-transfers to your taxable investment and savings accounts if you already invest/save outside of retirement funds.

  6. Transfer as much of credit card bills or other bills accruing interest as you can (car loans, whatever) to a 0% interest balance transfer card so that you can focus on building cash rather than repaying debt at lightning speed.

    Here’s a current list of good balance transfer card options. I’m eyeing the Amex Everday for myself, actually. If you’ve never tried balance transfer cards, Stephanie at Poorer than You just refinanced student loans onto a 0% interest card and does an awesome breakdown! It’s really simple if you get your ducks in a row. Make sure you DO NOT ACCRUE NEW DEBT if you’re also doing #4.

After my nightmare, having cash available at the moment is more important than having no debt (especially since my student loan balance won’t be going away anytime soon). I’m now taking steps to that end, since I really hate nightmares and want to minimize real-life nightmare scenarios…I mean, who wouldn’t, right? :)

If you make enough money to cover your expenses and pay your debt minimums (plus have some left), doing something like what might be a good solution for you as well.

If you’re relatively low-income and still trying to get to a place where you aren’t spending more than you make, I’d recommend getting a cushion between your income and your bills by focusing on a basic emergency fund + aggressive spending reduction + side hustling/increasing income + ruthless debt repayment for a little while.

Has anyone ever been fired and had NO money to their names? What did you do? Who else is now wanting to build their safety net as quickly as possible? Share in the comments!