If you struggled to find a new—or any—job in 2013, the start of the New Year should be particularly encouraging. We’re in a big election year: Senate, gubernatorial, congressional, statewide, state legislative and ballot initiative campaigns all across the country are looking for staff.
If you are looking for a job right now, you’re focused on crafting the perfect application or working your network to help get an interview. These things are critical, but the start of the New Year is also a great time to do a little long-term planning. There are several things to think about that could really benefit you next November when the coming election is over.
Develop a Budget
Yawn. It’s not particularly fun to keep track of every dollar you’re spending, but it’s incredibly important to do, particularly if you work in politics. Having a personal spending plan helps you know what you need to make in your next job, what your budget needs to be for living expenses, and what kind of money you can save for that (usually inevitable) post-election unemployment period.
Developing a budget takes some work. First, you need to figure out how much money you are spending each month. Start a daily spending diary in which you record every single expenditure for one month. This will help to determine your spending habits. Make sure to factor in all monthly/annual bills, as well as interest rates to get an accurate sense of what your budget is.
Once you know how much you will spend each month of the calendar year, compare that to how much you are making each month. Ideally, your monthly expenses are equal to or less than your monthly income. Planning for unemployment requires living within your means and saving a specific amount each month.
Surely you’ve heard that you should have a savings account that can be used in case of emergencies, like job loss or sickness. In politics, saving money is not for emergency situations, it’s because a period of unemployment after an election is almost guaranteed. Now that you’ve developed a personal budget, you can start to figure out how much money you will need to save in order to survive three, six, or even nine months of unemployment. Don’t forget to factor in the expenses and income you won’t have while working. For example, you will have to pay for health insurance once your employer no longer covers you. Ask how much COBRA will cost or price out a new policy on www.healthcare.gov.
You may be able to collect unemployment insurance to help offset some of these expenses, so do some research to get an idea of how much and how long you may be able to rely on this support before you determine how much you need to save while you’re actually still getting a paycheck.
Start a Special Account
It can be helpful to have a designated “Rainy Day” account for that postelection period. Most banks don’t offer these types of accounts by name, but you can easily add a savings account for this purpose at any institution. Making sure this account is easily accessible (as a checking or savings account, rather than an IRA or stock investment) is important.
The Amalgamated Bank works with a lot of political staff and, working with Democratic GAIN, has begun to offer special assistance in creating these accounts. They will even help you set up automatic transfers from your paycheck to the account once you figure out what amount you’d like to save each month.
The good thing about working on campaigns is that the hours are intense and you don’t have a lot of free time to be spending money. The salaries are usually attractive for this reason. But remember, political staff are often paid a bit more because the gigs are short. Saving what you think you need to survive unemployment may be more challenging than you think. Consider living in supporter housing or living with a roommate to reduce your expenses.
If your salary isn’t negotiable when you start, ask to be paid through the end of November, or for your health insurance coverage to extend through the end of the year. And try to stay as healthy as possible so you don’t incur health-related expenses after the election. If nothing else, ask your volunteers for fruits and veggies, and get a little exercise each day.
Ashley Spillane is the former executive director of Democratic GAIN and the architect of The Atlas Project’s innovative Online Toolkit. She has worked on Democratic political campaigns for the past 10 years.