personal finance

How to Cope When You Get Laid Off From Your Dream Job

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

In 2018, Haley Sacks was laid off from her dream job — working for Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels — and she felt devastated. “I was completely unprepared,” she says. But sudden unemployment forced her to get serious about a side project she’d been quietly pursuing: creating funny, educational content around personal finance long before financial influencers (“finfluencers”) were a thing. “I wanted personal finance to be cool and aspirational,” she says. “I wanted people to talk about it at brunch with their friends.”

Sacks, now 32, started posting videos about investing and money management under the name Mrs. Dow Jones. Her tone is light and gossipy, like having finances explained by a Real Housewife; she wanted to target young women who were sick of being told to spend less on lattes, and it caught on. Today, she has over a million followers on Instagram and provides financial education through online courses and a newsletter. 

Here, she discusses dealing with layoffs, being the friend who always brings up finances, and her favorite advice for people who hate thinking about money but know they need to do it more. 

You know what it’s like to lose a job. What do you tell other people who are worried they might be on thin ice at work? The layoff scene lately is rough!
When I was laid off, it was scary and horrible and heartbreaking. I had no clue it was coming. But of course, even if you do, you can’t just save up an emergency fund within two weeks. In my case, I was used to living cheaply and working odd jobs — I’d been a babysitter and worked at Pilates studios for years — so I could piece things together. And the job I got laid off from hadn’t paid me very much to begin with. But the first thing you want to do if you sense a layoff might be coming is tighten up your spending. Postpone any big purchases. You’re trying to extend your runway as long as you can.

It can also be helpful to make a budget based on what you’ll be eligible for in unemployment benefits. If you go to the Department of Labor website for your state, there’s usually an online calculator that gives you an idea of how much money you’ll be getting each week and how long those benefits will last. Review your employee handbook and policies and see if you can get paid out for unused sick and vacation days, what your severance deal is, and what’s up with health insurance. And always download your emails. You might lose access to your work account and you want to keep all your professional contacts and a paper trail.

I also recommend seeing if you can find ways to side hustle. In my case, my side hustle became my next full-time job: creating content for Mrs. Dow Jones. Freelancing or having a side gig is an underrated way to hedge yourself. Then, if you do lose your main source of income, you still have some other money coming in. Plus it broadens your network, which will help you find a new job if you need one.

Finally, if you have a sense that things are looking bad, Google “warn notice” and the state where your company is located. It should take you to a government website where you can search your company’s name. The 1988 Warn Act requires companies with more than 100 employees to provide notice of at least 60 calendar days before a closing or mass layoffs.

In your case, you didn’t wind up getting another job — you started your own company. How did you manage that transition?
At first I was like, Okay, I could go try and beg for a new job at Comedy Central or something like that. But then I realized that those jobs were risky too. There was no way for me to have job security unless I gave it to myself. By then, my idea for Mrs. Dow Jones had proof of concept, and there was product-market fit, and I was in a good position to run with it. But obviously that’s not the case for everyone. No matter what, getting laid off is horrible. For me, it was literally heartbreak, even though in hindsight it was also a blessing in disguise because it forced me to try something new.

Your background is in comedy. What got you interested in personal finance?
When I was younger, I thought money was lame and I wanted to work in a creative field. I figured I would rather be caught dead than have a budget, because all the cool girls didn’t give a shit about their finances.

Then, when I got the job with Lorne Michaels, I wanted so badly to be respected and taken seriously there. And on the first day, they sat me down and asked me about 401(k)s and health insurance, and I was like, Oh my gosh, I have to figure this out. It was clear in that moment that I needed to become fluent in that language. So I did what any self-respecting millennial does: I went to the internet and searched for those terms, and I was really uninspired by what came up to learn from. So that sparked the idea — someone needed to do it better.

How did you figure out that you could be that person?
My dad and my mom both had worked on Wall Street, so I knew that wealth was really about investing. But like many other people, I got overwhelmed by the jargon and the Patagonia vests and all of the different tools that Wall Street uses to make us feel like we’re incapable so that we give them our money to invest for us.

Once I started reading and researching, though, I had an aha moment. I was like, (a) this is not that hard, and (b) it’s really interesting. The first book that really set me on fire was Warren Buffet’s Ground Rules. It’s basically just about being a level-headed investor and taking advantage of compound interest. And I was like, Oh. I can totally do this. From there, I just continued to read at least two books a month. I still do. It’s a lifelong pursuit.

The good thing about starting off as a layperson is that if I can figure this out, you can too. I think that if I had a background in banking instead of in comedy, I wouldn’t have been able to think outside the box — the finance world is very serious and buttoned up. But instead, I’m coming at personal finance from the same place as my audience. My audience is wondering how to invest. They’re wondering how to not emotionally spend. They’re wondering how to manage finances with friends. These are all issues that I’ve faced as well.

Also, I want finances to feel chic and powerful and fabulous. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about here. There’s no reason to avoid it. Now I am the person who’s always bringing up money with my friends, even when they don’t want to talk about it.

How does that go?
I’m always going to be the one who’s just asking the questions. “Oh, you’re getting married? Congratulations. How are you splitting finances?” Or, “You’re having a kid? That’s amazing. Are you doing a 529 account? How are you paying for child care?” I don’t really care if it makes people uncomfortable because I want to normalize it. It just comes with the territory of being friends with me. I’ve tried to just push through the awkwardness and own the identity of being the person in the friend group who’s going to be nosy. You can’t really ask for permission. You have to just be the change.

What are some money practices that you personally do?
The biggest one that really changed my life is a monthly money date. Some people in the personal finance space are like, “Follow my method and then you never have to look at your finances again.” But I firmly believe that money is a relationship, and like any relationship, you need to spend time with it. Most of us do not have the habit of looking at our finances every month. We’ll ignore it, push it off, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. But facing your finances, even if you don’t love what you see, builds so much self-esteem because you’re like, Damn, look at me. I am actually in control of my financial life.

It also puts you in dialogue with your finances. I always find an issue. I always have to call AmEx and dispute a charge or chase an invoice or whatever. So the money date is huge, and I do it on the last day of every month. It’s almost like hygiene.

I also invest as much as I possibly can. I know that the best day to invest was yesterday, and the second-best day to invest is today. What I invest in — and what I tell my followers to invest in — is the S&P 500, low-cost index funds. My dad is a private wealth manager at Goldman Sachs. He manages very successful people’s money. And I’ll talk to him about this stuff and it’s basically the same strategy. There’s no big secret.

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How to Cope When You Get Laid Off From Your Dream Job