I am a 26 year old female and was retrenched in November 2020. It was an immediate termination. I was then an office manager/executive assistant earning $3,800 a month.
You think retrenchment only happens to people in their mid-40s and 50s, right? You’re wrong. I was let go three months into my new job in 2020, after being unemployed for almost a year. As of today, I have a grand total of $0 in my bank account, and this is how I’m coping.
Job hunting in during the COVID-19 pandemic was extremely tough
Before I get to my retrenchment, here’s a little backstory: I resigned from my previous full-time job in December 2019 to travel. I managed to tour Spain for the whole of January 2020, but COVID-19 happened and I had to cut my plans short.
Once I was back in Singapore, I knew I had to secure a job. I sent out hundreds of applications, but only heard back from two companies.
One offered me a position, but the pay was so low that I rejected it. I understand that it is natural for unemployed folks desperate for income to just grab any opportunity and accept the first job that comes their way. But I believe that doing such a thing will result in you bouncing from one demoralising, short-lived job after another.
Fortunately, an interview with another company (let’s call it Company A) in February had some progress. It wasn’t easy getting this job as I had to go through a total of five interviews.
Soon after, I finally signed a contract with them, securing a role as an office manager/executive assistant. Unfortunately, I was slated to start only in September as that was when my role required me to be physically present in the office.
That meant I’m still jobless until September, so I had to find a way to supplement my income during this period.
Unable to find other sources of income while waiting for new job to begin
I was frantically looking for part-time jobs to tide me over until my new job started. In fact, I had applied to over 300 listings — but received zero replies.
The Circuit Breaker period which happened from April to June 2020 further hindered my job hunting efforts as most companies weren’t hiring during that time.
Depleted all my savings within that period
Despite my utmost efforts, I remained jobless until September. I did a few freelance projects and gigs for some cash, but the pay was miserable and I eventually had to dig into my savings of $8,000 (which was meant for my 2020 travels) to get by.
And that was all the money I had saved up from three years of working full-time. I did not have any emergency savings stashed elsewhere.
Despite my appalling financial situation, I wasn’t too worried. I convinced myself that I was still young and had plenty of time to save up again, since I was going to start my new job with Company A in September.
Squirreled away my first paycheck
One of the biggest financial mistakes that I made when I started earning money again was that I splurged every time I received my salary.
I was so excited to see money being deposited in my bank again that I made big ticket purchases without a second thought and treated all my friends whenever we went out for meals.
I was so confident about retaining my job because Company A seemed to be doing well despite the COVID-19 situation and I never thought retrenchment could affect youngsters like me. I had a notion that retrenchment was a problem faced by people in their 40s and 50.
But it happened to me, and there was no way anyone could tell it was coming.
I was let go after three months into the job
It was a weekday morning like any other, and I was in attendance for a regular meeting with my boss and the HR manager at 10am. I didn’t suspect anything as I reported directly to both of them, and I thought it was going to be another usual meeting about office upkeep or an upcoming project.
I only sensed that something was amiss when my HR manager seemed nervous and started the meeting by reading off her screen. She began telling me about the company’s change in direction and as a result, my position will be made redundant.
Everything happened so fast, I had no time to process
The whole meeting lasted for around 10 to 15 minutes. I thought I would be given until the end of the day to pack and process the whole situation, but no. They told me to hand over everything immediately and pack my stuff.
Since I was still on probation, there was no retrenchment package. As they had recently paid me my monthly salary, they told me to leave on the spot. By 10.45am, I was already out of the office and unemployed. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t manage to collect my thoughts or even react.
I honestly didn’t see it coming since they just hired me about three months prior to my retrenchment. They said that their reason was that they’re moving away from traditional roles, I did not get fired because of COVID-19.
Retrenched with no savings
As mentioned previously, I had exhausted all my savings and the initial plan was to use this job to earn it all back.
However, three months of employment was too short for me to save anything. When I got retrenched, I was right back where I started — with $0 in my bank.
I was devastated, to say the least. I thought things were looking up for me and I felt really sorry for my parents as they had to continue supporting me again until I can get back on my feet.
Being 26 and still getting allowance from your parents is definitely not the best feeling.
Immediately cut down on expenses
Soon after I got retrenched, I took a good, hard look at my lifestyle and expenses.
Back when I was working, I used to take private hire transport wherever I go, no matter how high the surge may be. Thus, my frequent Grab rides were the first to go.
Now, I commute using public transport. If I really need to take private transport, I would compare the prices across Grab, Ryde and Gojek, and go with whichever is the cheapest.
To save more, I cooked instead of eating out. Whenever my friends wanted to hang out, I would ask them to come over to my place.
I also started tracking my expenses with an app and limited myself to $250 per month for food and transport.
When I changed small habits like this, I realised that I’ve been spending recklessly all this time. And since I didn’t track my expenses before, I couldn’t give a figure as to how much I was spending previously.
I used to think $250 wasn’t enough for my personal expenses, but now that I am forced to live by it, it’s actually quite feasible.
Fighting bills, household essentials and insurance concerns
While I could reduce my recreational spending, others essentials such as food, utilities, insurance premiums, phone bills and loan repayment couldn’t be put on hold.
All these bills were costing me a pretty penny, but I decided to continue paying because I felt it was my responsibility as my parent’s eldest daughter to contribute to the household.
Took on courses to upskill myself
As finding a job was tough, I decided to use this time to upskill myself to be more employable in the future.
With that, I registered for an SGUnited course for cloud computing. Thankfully, that gave me an allowance of $1,200 a month, which helps me settle some of my bills. I also took up a part-time degree in software engineering at NUS and signed up for Spanish classes.
One big financial lesson I learnt through this experience
You’ll never know what’s going to happen in the future so emergency savings are a must. Even though $8,000 isn’t much, at least it helped tide me through my first unemployment period. However, it wasn’t enough, as you can see, to ride me through my current situation.
I’m still struggling, but I’m sure I’ll make it out one day.
As told to Kendra Tan
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By Kendra Tan
Avid promo code hunter and haggler. Kendra doesn’t like paying full price for anything. She’s the best person to bring along if you’re travelling on a budget.