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How to adjust to the downturn

Job loss, pay cuts and income freeze. These need not mean the end of life as you know it. Here's how you can manage your finances and weather this recession.

Babar Zaidi | Print Edition: April 2, 2009

During the Great Depression, one in four Americans did not have a job. Today, that number is more like one in 10. So things are really not as bad as they can get, claim some experts. What they forget is that the recession this time around is global and almost every working person is feeling the impact.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that if the global recession continues, more than five crore people across the world would have lost their jobs by the end of 2009.

What such studies don't reveal is the number of people who have had to take salary cuts, and an even larger number who work in organisations that have announced a bonus freeze. And these companies are spread across the world. It's all very well to say that India is not in a recession; the fact is that thanks to outsourcing and a hugely globalised economy, job insecurity is rife in the country. We all know people who have been asked to leave, many of us know that we won't get a bonus this year, and those who do get it, realise it will be a fraction of what they would have got in happier times.

There's nothing we can do except make the best of what we have. Surveys show that job and career Websites are reporting a perceptible rise in traffic, not just to find jobs but to look for tips on recession-proof jobs (education, healthcare, security, etc), or even part-time work. There are tips galore on how you should sell results, not skills, how you should prove that you can either make or save money for your company, and how you can negotiate a better structured salary so that you don't miss the bonus payment.

Over the next several pages, we take you through the various ways in which you can cope with job insecurity or even job loss. We look at viable alternatives to a full-time 'office job'-by building your existing skills, by striking out on your own, even by taking up part-time or freelance assignments.

For those who still have jobs but are forced to take a pay cut or deferred bonus payments, there are ways of negotiating your existing work and salary to allow you to manage. We even look at how a job loss could have a positive impact on your career. Through all these, there runs a constant thread: how to manage your finances.

Whether you consider moonlighting, part-time work, entrepreneurship or skill-building, it's vital that you keep an eagle eye on your finances because jobs are not the only victim of the recession. Prices are going up even as salaries fall or dry up. Yes, the writing has been on the wall ever since the sub-prime crisis hit the US, but we in India have believed that we would be insulated from its ill-effects.

The RBI bolstered this view, when, in its mid-term policy review in September 2008, it estimated that the GDP would grow by 7.5% this year.

A professional in a sunrise sector, who won't get any variable pay this year, and whose salary of Rs 70,000 a month will be cut by 5% from April 2009. 
- EMIs (home and personal loans) constitute 50% of his salary.
- 5% of his annual income, or Rs 40,000, will be gobbled up by the Ulip premium that he has to pay in March 2009.
- Finances are stretched as he was banking on the variable component and possible salary hike this year.
- After the pay cut in April, his monthly budget could go awry, with 60% of his lower income committed to EMIs and insurance premiums.
- But all is not lost as he can still manage by rejigging his finances.
Pune-based Vineet Mahajan was so confident that the US economic crisis would not affect him that he bought a house for Rs 40 lakh in late 2008. Mahajan's monthly income was Rs 70,000 and the home loan EMI worked out to Rs 30,000-or over 40% of his salary. He believed that his bonus payment and performance-linked incentives would more than take care of the loan repayment. In fact, he was so confident that he added a personal loan (to buy furniture), increasing his EMI by Rs 7,000.

Mahajan was in his happy bubble till about a month ago, when his company announced that due to low sales, cancelled orders and a sagging bottom line, there would be no variable income next year. And from April this year, employees also have to face a 5% salary cut. In very non-financial terms, Mahajan is in hot water. Apart from the fact that from April, he will be spending over 50% of his income to repay his loans, he also has to shell out Rs 40,000 as annual premium on a Ulip that he bought last March. If he doesn't pay, the policy will lapse and the premium will be forfeited.

It may be cold comfort, but Mahajan is not as badly off as the people who have lost their jobs. Here's a bit of good news. You can still meet your financial commitments. It calls for changes in your investment and spending patterns, as well as some adjustment in your current lifestyle, but these changes will pay off.

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