You've heard the story many times about good people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and find their lives turned upside down.
That's Debra's story, too. She's a vivacious 48-year-old single mother who's worked all of her life, up until one year ago. What's different about Debra is that in addition to looking for a job and trying to retrain for a new career, she's become an advocate for millions of others just like her.
Debra had been in sales at a small family-owned kitchen and bath business in West Texas, but within a year both owners died and the heirs laid off most of the staff. She knew she had the skills and energy to be a good employee, but she couldn't even get an interview for another job.
"I didn't realize it was this bad until it affected me," said Debra, who asked that her last name be omitted. "I want to work. If you've been looking every day for six months, you have to have good work ethic."
No More Extended Federal Aid
Like millions of others, she signed up to receive unemployment benefits, which helped her make ends meet. She checked online and found out that she was eligible for 99 weeks of benefits -- or so she thought. Texas paid the first 26 weeks, and then federal emergency benefits kicked in. But after just one week, the checks stopped coming. Congress had cut the aid to 73 weeks and at the end of 2013 eliminated federal aid altogether.
Online, she found many others in her same predicament. "This issue found us," said Katherine McFate, CEO of the Center for Effective Government. "People started sending us their stories, and we became their voice."
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%That led the group to start "Witness Wednesdays," a series of weekly events that began in June at which members of Congress push to reinstate federal jobless benefits. The Congressmen read the stories of individuals who have been out of work for more than 26 weeks, the standard definition of long-term unemployment.
The Senate approved an extension earlier this year, and a bipartisan group of eight members of Congress is pushing to get a a vote in the House. "We continue to see up to three million Americans who lost their benefits," said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., one of the co-sponsors and leader of last week's Witness Wednesday. "Congress seems to be oblivious. We want to show that these are real people facing the worst days of their lives. They deserve a vote."
"If you look at their stories and have one ounce of empathy," according to McFate, "you couldn't turn your back on these people."
Plan Doesn't Satisfy Boehner
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says the Republican leadership "is willing to look at any proposal that is fiscally responsible and creates private sector jobs." He says the plan being offered by Kildee and others does not meet those standards.
"It's frustrating," admits Kildee. "Virtually every issue is twisted to be a political issue. This is not a Monopoly game. These are real people."
Advocates for renewing federal benefits say that many of the long-term unemployed are seen as too old to hire but too young to retire.
Debra, the Texas woman trying desperately to get back into the workforce, has become a voice for many of the long-term unemployed. Her son is now in college, thanks to financial aid, and she is enrolled in a program to get a real estate license to start a new career. She says, "I thought for sure that after the first bill passed we had so much momentum, but I can't believe someone could be so heartless to not allow a vote."
6 Little Changes You Can Make to Save Big Bucks
Witness Wednesdays Promote Plight of the Long-Term Jobless
Most of us spend a ton of time researching our options when we first sign up for a plan or policy, then forget all about it and make monthly payments like a robot. But this can cost you.
If you've been on the same cell phone plan for a while, or you haven't looked at the terms of your insurance policies (home, life, auto) since you got them, it's time to do a review. Your circumstances may have changed, and new plans or deductions may have come out since you first signed up. Call up customer service (or your agent) and have them walk you through your options if you're having trouble comparing things on your own.
One of the biggest budget sucks is our own forgetfulness. We miss payments and incur late fees because we've misplaced our statement or didn't manage to get our mail out in time. We fail to save as much as we'd like because we just never remember to do it.
The easiest way to save yourself some money (and hassle and stress) is to set it and forget it. Sign up for auto-pay so your monthly bills are automatically deducted from your checking account. Have a certain amount automatically transferred each month from your checking to your savings account. Remove the human error factor, and your budget will be better for it.
We charge so much nowadays -- whether on credit cards or debit cards -- that it's easy to spend a lot of money without really registering it. When you have a set amount of bills in your wallet, however, it's extremely easy to see how much you've spent so far this month and how much is left.
Take those budget categories of yours -- groceries, entertainment, etc. -- and turn them into real, physical envelopes. At the beginning of each month, put that month's allotment of cash into each envelope. When you're running low, you'll know you need to be careful with your purchases. When you're out, you're done spending on that category till next month.
If you're prone to impulse purchases, imposing a waiting period on yourself is an easy way to break the cycle.
For large purchases, a 30-day waiting list is best. Write down the item that's calling to you, then wait 30 days before allowing yourself to buy it. You may realize in that time that you don't need it after all. Or you may forget why it called to you in the first place.
For smaller impulse buys, like that fancy new product you spotted in the grocery aisle, follow a 10-second rule. Before the item can go into your cart, spend 10 full seconds asking yourself if you really need it and how you will use it. Simply analyzing why you're getting something can disrupt the siren call of a product.
It's all too easy to blow $5, $10, even $20 on something, whether it's an extra meal out or a coffee on the run. In the grand scheme of things, it "doesn't seem like much" to us. But if you start thinking of your money in terms of the time it took you to earn that money, suddenly you find yourself evaluating your spending choices a little closer.
Figure out what you make per hour if you're salaried (if you're hourly, this will be easy). Let's say you make $15 per hour. For every $15 you spend, you'll have to spend another hour of your time at work to pay for that item. A coffee a day for a week can cost you an hour or two. And bigger items, like that flat screen TV you're eyeing? You get the drift. Framing purchases in light of time spent can help you make sure something is worth it.
In the end, a budget is simply a means of making sure your money is working for you. It allows you to see how much you're brining in and allocate it towards the things that are most important to you. If you can hold those bigger goals in mind, everyday budgeting becomes easier.
If you're wondering whether or not to buy something, ask yourself if that money would be better spent towards your big goal. Put a visual reminder in your wallet to keep you on task-like a photo of a sandy beach if you're trying to save up money for a trip. Viewing your budget in terms of what it will allow you accomplish-not the things it won't allow you to buy, can revolutionize your spending.