The government shutdown is already over two weeks long (but still shy of the record of 21 days). If you’re a furloughed government employee or contractor, you may have seen the first week or two as a extended, unexpected vacation. But now that your pantry is cleaned and your new year fitness routine has been established, you’re likely ready to get back to work – and start getting a paycheck again.
It’s easy to be cynical about Washington’s latest failure. Considering January is already considered the most depressing month of the year, the temptation to waste the shutdown days in worry, frustration or depression is great. But don’t. Like your grandma always said, every setback is an opportunity. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of a situation that’s kind of the worst.
1. Put your finances in order.
The tax man a cometh. This year, don’t wait until April 15 to do your personal financial audit. Perhaps there was no better time to get your finances straight than during your furlough. In addition to putting together your tax documents, evaluate your savings. Have you been ignoring that advice to create an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses? Now is the time to make a plan to make it happen. Just as you set aside money for a 401k or TSP, start setting aside a small fund each month into a high interest savings account that is separate from your checking account. If you’re a government employee, you got your last paycheck in late December. It’s now January, and you likely have mortgage payments, utility bills, and credit card expenses (from those holiday expenditures), coming due. If you have an emergency fund, you can face those expense knowing your family and credit score are safe.
Don’t have any emergency funds? Don’t stress – only 29% of Americans do. But spend some of your furlough days making a budget you can stick to, and make sure an investment in emergency savings is part of the equation.
2. Get some Training
If you’re a contractor lucky enough to still be getting paid even if you can’t get into your closed government office, your contract manager may be putting you to use on another worthwhile task – training.
“We take this as an opportunity to execute a training plan, and keep the employees up to speed,” said Paul Wilkinson, executive vice president for corporate strategy and business development at the 1901 Group. “Then the employees are ready to return to regular work when the shutdown ends.”
Even if your contract isn’t directing it, use the furlough time to catch up on training – not just the new releases on Netflix. Investing in professional development will remind you of your value, and keep your mind agile and current on workplace projects – even when you can’t work on them directly.
3. Activate your side hustle.
If you don’t have a side hustle, now may be the time to consider getting one. Side gigs can be great opportunities to pursue your passions or hobbies outside of the workplace, but during a furlough, they’re also a chance to ensure you still get a paycheck. The gig economy is active, and there are likely a number of freelance pursuits you can consider (side note – ClearanceJobs is always looking to hire freelance contributors). Just don’t look to trade on your insider knowledge as a government employee or contractor – that’s not a side hustle, that’s corporate (or actual) espionage. That doesn’t mean your only side hustle options are selling essential oils or leggings – just make sure the professional skills you are trading on don’t compromise any insider knowledge.
4. Update your career profiles.
January is the best time to look for a job. And the government furlough actually increases your chances of finding an opportunity, given the incredibly high demand for professionals with an active federal security clearance. Even if you are 100% positive there is no job you’d like better than your current one (shutdown aside), do your career a favor and spend a half a day updating your resume and your online career profiles. You keep your career agile when you understand the marketplace – and you can’t do that if you’re living on the sidelines.
The government shutdown won’t last forever. But if you take a few positive steps during your furlough days, you’ll ensure you reap something positive – not just delinquent bills and a TV coma.