The Layoff Diet

Here at the ad agency office where I work, rumors of a shakeup have been swirling for much of the summer, which tends to put a crimp in one's appetite. As someone who routinely spends 75% of their income dining out (hence my lack of retirement savings), the very real possibility of soon finding myself just another out-of-work freelancer has forced me to reconsider my eating habits. Just in case. Which is no fun at all, since I don't have any other hobbies, unless you count sleeping.

All joking aside, it's stressful. Even if you hate your job (and who doesn't?), having no job at all is even worse. Whether you've recently been let go or you have a bad feeling you're about to be, unemployment provides an occasion to reconsider your spending and eating habits, to say nothing of your crying yourself to sleep habits. Lately, I've been wondering how other people adapt, how, when faced with sudden upheaval, they change their mindsets as well as their spending. So I did what any lazy writer does. I posted something about it on Facebook. Here's a sampling of what people had to say.

Revisit the Old Favorites

This was a very popular response, and I think it speaks nicely to the fact that cheap food also happens to be the food most of us ate during our younger, leaner times, i.e., the best years of our lives. My friend Kelly told me that, immediately upon losing her latest freelance gig, she went to the grocery store and stocked up on mac-n-cheese, which we all know is the culinary equivalent of crawling back into the womb. Slow or low times make me sentimental, that's for sure. A steaming bowl of bright yellow mac-n-cheese is the first step toward digging out the old high school yearbooks. Pathetic, to be sure, but enjoyably pathetic.

Buy in Bulk

If you're anything like me, you're fascinated by the bulk food aisle at your local supermarket. Not fascinated by the food itself, but by the strange mystery of who actually buys that stuff. I mean, this is a cultural divide, right? The bulk food aisle is the shopping equivalent of camping or jazz or putting your kid on a leash. Nothing wrong with it. It's just not for me. Yet when I asked how people respond to a sudden lack of work, I was struck by how many said they go big. Big as in bulk, because apparently it's cheaper. So there: mystery solved. The bulk food aisle is for the unemployed (and probably hippies). Good to know.

Stock Up

I'm too young to remember the days of bomb shelters in the backyard, but it seems many people respond to layoffs as if preparing for a nuclear disaster. "Really large bags of rice and many cans of tuna," was a typical response, the thought being: buy, buy, buy while you've still got the cash. This makes a lot of sense, though it's also pretty damn depressing. I can just picture myself, unshaven, disheveled, staring bleary-eyed at the Craigslist classifieds while forking tuna into my mouth by rote. It's like The Road, except 10 times worse.

This Is Not The Time To Be Healthy

In an interesting spin on the old saw that junk food is cheaper than veggies, several people told me that a sudden lack of income equals an immediate ditching of healthy habits. As Katie put it, "A lot more frozen veggies than fresh. You don't want to have to waste anything, and vegetables turn all of a sudden. Honestly, everything you eat becomes less healthy. White bread is cheaper than whole grain, and it's the same story across the store." In a related story, I just used an unexpectedly high ATM fee as rationalization for skipping the gym.

Shop More, Buy Less

This may seem irrational at first glance — shop more? — but as my old college buddy Holly explained it, "I shop more frequently and only buy what I need for a few days' worth of meals at most. That way there's no waste, and no crap, either." Huh. She makes a good point. I just got back from Fairway, and I can't even begin to tell you what I plan to do with all this lettuce. Probably throw it out next week.

Get Happy

Just because you're unemployed doesn't mean you're dead (right?). I mean, you can still get out of the house and mingle with your fellow humans. Especially if there's free food. As my recently-hired-full-time-employee-with-actual-benefits (bastard) coworker Will puts it, "I became an expert in bars that have free wings, free tater tots, and free pizza during happy hour. Did you know there's a place down near Port Authority that gives you homemade potato chips?" No, I didn't know that. Not only is that the best reason to step foot anywhere near Port Authority that I've ever heard, but free homemade potato chips actually makes me feel better about possibly losing this gig. You mean I'd still have something to live for? Good to know.

More frugal eating from the Unemployed Gourmand: