Unemployed (or Preparing to Be)? These Sites Could Be Your Best Friends
If your income is threatened or interrupted, putting a tight grip on your outgoing cash is essential. Many deal sites have popped up on the Web in the last year, each with a slightly different product focus and approach. Uberi spends about half its time looking for consumer tech deals (TVs, printers, and the like), and the rest gathering listings for things important to families and small businesses, such as food, paper, and clothing. The deals appear in random order, not categorized, so you must scan through them; the link in each one leads out to the product page at the corresponding retailer's site.
The site tracks deals at many large retailers such as Amazon and Wal-Mart, which offer discounts on various things every day. Amazon has so many that Uberi presents a "discount table" linking you directly to listings of on-sale products by category and by discount level (10 percent to 90 percent).
If you are the official (or unofficial) purchasing agent for a business or a large household, checking the listings at Uberi to see if they match your needs has the potential to make a real difference when you tally up your costs at the end of the month. (Also recommended: RetailMeNot.)
The Internet is a great place to start the process of finding a job, but getting hired happens as a result of direct, face-to-face contact with other people. Meetup provides a platform where anyone, regardless of where they live, can find or set up groups of local, like-minded people with specific shared interests or goals.
More and more employment-related groups are forming on Meetup, as a quick group search on the site reveals. I searched Meetup for groups in my neighborhood (using my zip code), and found several nearby. In such groups you can learn about job opportunities that aren't advertised, about job fairs and other events, and about people inside or outside of the group who can help you (directly or indirectly) get your foot in the door somewhere.
With the economy on the wane, Americans are getting serious about saving money again--savings deposits were up 5 percent in January. It's a good time to consider SmartyPig, a savings Web site backed by a real FDIC-insured bank that attempts to make saving money more fun (and more successful) by adding social networking elements and Web widgets.
Say you're saving up for a trip, a wedding, or a down payment on a house. You tell the Pig when you want to meet your goal, and the Pig suggests an automatic monthly payment amount that will allow you to reach it. You make payments into your account as you would with any online bank. You can then install a SmartyPig widget at your Facebook or MySpace page; this gets your friends involved, which might make you more feel more accountable to your savings goal. SmartyPig even provides an easy way for your friends to donate cash to your cause.
Here's a cool new site that falls under the "moral support" heading. Recessionwire was founded by three journalists--a couple of Conde Naste Portfolio online editors and a freelancer--who found themselves, uh, underemployed. The three decided to vent their frustration by starting what they termed a "user's guide to the recession."
The site offers news and analysis on the economy ("Recession Briefing"), perspectives, work (or out-of-work) advice, spending tips ("Recession Concessions"), inspiration (spotlights on people who see opportunity in this economy), and insights.
While the site offers a lot of serious news and information, perhaps its best quality is its ability to give you a laugh or two during rough times. Recessionwire takes a decidedly humorous and irreverent approach to the economy and its effects on people. Here's a quick excerpt from Joe the Trader's blog: "The jury may still be out on broad societal shifts, but the public quickly volunteered to be judge, jury, and executioner for the Wall Street fat cats. Even in the halcyon days of 2006, Wall Street guys were called douchebags."
Wise Bread is just one of a whole new wave of frugality sites. It's essentially a group of blogs with a discussion forum attached. The blogs cover ideas and advice on personal finance, career, frugal buying, green living, and ways to do everyday things more easily and cheaply ("lifehacks"). For instance, when I checked today I saw a blog about how the bailout package might affect your mortgage, a piece on cutting down your use of plastic bags, and a bit titled "Beware the Pretty Things: Four Reasons I'm Keeping My Ugly, Old Stuff". Every day the site features deals from around the Web, as well as advice from an expert on retirement planning and other money matters.
While the site offers many creative ways to simplify your lifestyle and save money, it also makes a big deal out of finding ways to keep some of the luxuries you enjoy, by paying less for them. That makes sense to me; simply removing all the fun things from your life can make you feel morally defeated by your financial woes.
More than anything, I like the cumulative message of Wise Bread--that there is nothing wrong (and a lot right) with living within your means. At a time when debt, both personal and institutional, is wreaking so much havoc on so many people's budgets, it seems appropriate to ditch the idea that buying new and on credit is the proper thing to do, and that those "pretty things" we think we want will lead to happiness.
Whether you are employed, underemployed, or unemployed, I hope you will check out some of these ten sites. All have something to offer regardless of your employment status, even if it's just a quick laugh or a little inspiration. And, as always, I invite you to let me know about sites that have helped you manage money, find a job, or keep your mind right during these hard economic times.