Productive Things To Do If You’ve Been Furloughed With Back Pay

One of the greatest benefits of full-time work is getting paid whether you work or not. I miss that.

How awesome is it to paid when there is a snow day? How good does it feel when you’re out sick or injured for a week and the paycheck continues to roll in? When you're sipping Mai Tais on the beach thanks to your four weeks of paid time off plus national holidays, life is pretty good!

Now imagine if you got furloughed for a month or more during the holiday or busy season. What a wonderful opportunity to spend time with the people that matter the most to you.

Although you miss the bi-weekly paychecks, you’ll eventually get paid once the government reopens for business. Almost all government workers got paid during the previous government shutdown. Expect the situation to be no different during the 2019 shutdown.

Now compare this work and pay situation with that of an entrepreneur or freelancer. If the entrepreneur doesn't work, and if his or her employees don't work, the entrepreneur does not get paid. Entrepreneurs don’t have a safety net as their full-time colleagues do. And therefore entrepreneurs must always have contingency plans.

In 2018, I got something worse than a furlough. I freelanced the entire month of October but didn't get paid because the company I partnered with decided not to pay their contractors. But not to worry, the company paid all its employees for the work they did in October and provided 1-2 weeks of severance pay.

Freelancers like myself, however, got screwed.

So you see, if you are furloughed with back pay without having to work, life could always be worse. Therefore, it's always good to focus on the positives and take every opportunity to do good.

In my case, I took my October robbery and decided to aggressively diversify my clientele. Further, I now insist on more upfront payment just in case. And don't worry about me. I have plans to make them pay me what they owe.

Nobody swindles a Financial Samurai and gets away with it.

Productive Things To Do If You've Been Furloughed

1) Spend time with your family. The #1 complaint working people have is their inability to find work-life balance. It's usually the case where the complainer is working too much and feels guilty about not seeing enough of his or her family.

Well now is the time to spend quality time with your family even if it's for no other reason than you have nothing else better to do. When your kids flee the nest or your parents pass away, you will regret having not spent more time with them. Money truly compares in importance compared to family.

2) Do a deep dive into your finances. Most people set it and forget it when it comes to their finances. Use this time to discuss your budget, your expenses, your savings rate, and your financial goals with your partner or family members. Make adjustments as you see fit. Managing your wealth should become routine, like brushing your teeth.  

After a tremendous recovery since 2009, you may want to spend more time protecting your capital. What a shame it would be to make so much money only to lose it all. 

3) Start the side hustle you've been putting off forever. A furlough is a good reminder of how dangerous it is to depend on only one source of income. The key to financial security is to generate as many income streams as possible so that if one goes down, your team of other income sources can keep you afloat. Get out there and start a side hustle!

The average financially independent person has at least five different sources of income. Meanwhile, no one income source accounts for more than 40% of their entire income. It's important to build new sources of active and passive income to truly be free

4) Brand yourself online with a website. During times of uncertainty, you want to plant your own flag on the internet. The law of attraction dictates that if you put yourself out there, other people with similar interests will come.

Don't let the big social media sites own your brand. They've already gotten filthy rich off you in the process. Build your own internet brand and get rich off yourself. 

5) Take an affordable local vacation. Given you don't know exactly when the furlough or financial troubles will end, you probably don't want to take an international vacation or a vacation that is hard to get to. Instead, consider vacations within a five-hour drive so that you can return to work more easily. 

6) Follow up with neglected friends and family. There is undoubtedly a long lost friend you haven't contacted for at least a year because life gets in the way. Make a list of three people whom you used to have great relationships with and reach out. Use this time to meet up and get reacquainted.

Happiness is all about having a good network of people you enjoy and trust. If you want to increase your happiness, work on building your relationships. 

7) Look for a new job. If you're furloughed or your company is going through financial difficulties, you should probably aggressively start looking for new work opportunities before things get worse. A furlough of any kind means there is serious dysfunction.

Getting ahead of the curve will likely increase your chances of finding new work. Just like negotiating a severance before mass layoffs will likely not only garner you a bigger severance and more job choices. 

8) Build a larger emergency fund. Most people shouldn't feel too much anxiety during a furlough because most last no more than one or two months. Further, if you're going to get your pay eventually, covering a couple months worth of expenses shouldn't be that excruciating.

However, if you are feeling anxious, then it's important to not only build new income streams, but also ratchet up your savings so you won't feel the same level of anxiety during the next emergency. Bad things happen all the time, so it's wise to have at least six months of liquid living expenses at any given moment. 

9) Work on neglected house projects. Houses, cars, and machines tend to get neglected over time because we're too busy doing other things. Use the furlough to fix broken items around the house, clean up the yard, change your house filters, clean the gutters, tune up the car, and grease those old tools. You'll feel great catching up with all the deferred maintenance. You'll likely save money in the long run as well. 

10) Pretend you've retired early. If you've ever wanted to test drive early retirement life, now is the time to pretend you are retired. See how life is like without a steady paycheck. Record your feelings, good and bad.

If you're feeling great during the furlough, then you just might be closer to retirement than you realize. If you feel incredibly anxious because of financial worry and you also don't know what to do with your free time, you should probably keep on working. 

Make The Best Of Difficult Situations

Productive things to do if you've been furloughed with back pay

When we were growing up, we'd get three months of summer vacation and at least two weeks off for winter vacation to unwind. Once we started work, long vacations became a thing of the past.

Over time, we lose our physical and mental health. Stress starts building up inside our increasingly overweight bodies. Our minds start to deteriorate as we don't give our minds enough time to reset through meditation and creative work.

Take advantage of a furlough. Use this time off to unwind.

Life is never going to go exactly the way we planned. But we can always take some action to improve our chances for a better life.

If I ever get the opportunity to be furloughed from a job with back pay, I'd use part of the time off to catch up with my family. Then I'd use the rest of the time off to aggressively look for more meaningful work with more stability.

I won't be beholden to the government or to a single company for money. It's just too risky not to diversify my income streams.

If You Want To Quit Your Job

Hate your job? If you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy, I recommend negotiating a severance instead of quitting. Think outside the box! If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you can not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training.

When you get laid off, you're also eligible for unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.

Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye, on how to negotiate a severance.

I first published the book in 2012 and have recently expanded it to over 200 pages with new resources, strategies, and additional case studies thanks to tremendous reader feedback.

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37 thoughts on “Productive Things To Do If You’ve Been Furloughed With Back Pay”

  1. Sam,

    Just a suggestion that your experiences in collecting what’s owed to you by company that screwed you and the other freelancers would make a good post.

    Regardless, good luck and look forward to your next post.

    Semper FI,


  2. As usual, love your blog, Sam! It is a model for my own pursuits. That said, I am a furloughed NASA Engineer. Your suggestions for being productive are spot on! I especially loved the last one about pretending to be retired! I’m fortunate enough to not have money worries, but that did not come without a lifetime of hard work, saving, and investing. Here are some things I have done as I enter my 33rd day of no pay. First of all, I am just over 2 years from retirement (currently age 53) and the plan is to do other things part-time in my retirement. So, I’ve been practicing that post-NASA retirement routine – and love it. J. Stoco mentioned that federal employees have serious ethics restrictions for side-employment – really the restrictions mostly involve working on contracts related to your government work or trading stocks that are tied to government contracts. But most side-hustles are easily approved and that just takes a simple form to fill out.

    Other stuff to keep busy? Well, I’m an avid gym rat, so I have been hitting the gym pretty hard all these days at home (I have a full pro gym in my home), so I am up on staying healthy. My wife and I are enjoying hanging out with each other and going to Starbucks after lunch and making mid-day trips to Costco (no lines!)- those simple things are bliss. I have stepped up my already lucrative swing-trading, so my net worth continues to go up with zero working income. I am putting the final touches on my 2nd book, titled “Millionaire Engineer” – see my website, and now a 3rd book is in the works. I’m also a rock guitar player so I’ve been able to put down some tracks and compose some music, which is really satisfying to me. Lastly, this has been a great time to do a self and family check-in and reflect on what is important, especially as my daughter is in the midst of high school and we start contemplating college for her.

    One thing is for sure, for anyone on this post that is second guessing planning for your future – do it! Because, as federal employees just found out, the future can happen right now and take you completely by surprise, and if you don’t have the means in place to deal with a bad financial situation, it only goes downhill from there. The trouble is that so many furloughed employees will have a hard time recovering from having to drain their backup resources. Even worse, many are going into debt for lack of a backup plan. The only bright light is that we will likely get backpay – hopefully. Hope everyone is doing well out there and I wish you all the best.

  3. Mary Jenkins

    As a furloughed federal employee I appreciate these tips. I am starting a business and my goal is for my business to become my full time source of income. I have learned a lot from this shutdown. I love your blog by the way.

  4. Haven’t been furloughed yet, NASA JPL employee and so far we’ve been holding on while other NASA sites have closed for the shutdown. Problem is, we have funding through likely first week or two of February, and then the furloughs will start.

    We’re government contractors, though. That’s what’s kept us paid. Also what will get us in the end since furloughed JPLers won’t have funding for missions unless they’re already flying, Mars Insight, a few earthbound science missions, and that’s it. I’m currently 45% time on active missions and you need to be 51% to be safe from possible furlough. That also means no pay, no back pay, and potential no job after the furlough ends. Contractors aren’t getting paid, government worker or not, and they won’t be made whole for time lost.

    I’ve been told I can take vacation time, if I have it available, or go on unemployment if it comes to that. As you can imagine, this is causing a bit of a rumble at JPL. I wish the news wouldn’t focus on just those Govt employees who are getting a paid vacation. There are many of us wondering what the next few weeks will hold if the shutdown continues.

    Luckily I have savings to weather the storm, and active job prospects should it come to that, still I worry about some of my coworkers. Tough times ahead if this doesn’t get resolved.

  5. My husband is furloughed right now as well as many others in our community. We are in a suburb where most seem to have strong emergency savings, but not all. One neighbor mentioned that he lives “paycheck to paycheck like most people” and that the credit union at his agency is furloughed as well. He was sweating it. It is real for a ton of people in the DC area. A lot of preschools are offering tuition assistance for affected families, too.

    I consider our family to be really fortunate to have over a year of emergency savings. We worked hard at building that. DH is spending a ton of time with our young kids, we are savoring time as a family and couple, and we’re trying to be mindful about our spending so that we can avoid having to dip into our investment funds. We won’t be going on vacation but we are really grateful for all of the quality staycation time at our home together.

    Having another adult home to help me with our three kids has been amazing. But, DH will be happy to work again. He loves his job and loves serving the country.

  6. Of all the activities mentioned above, in my opinion, vacation is definitely the worst way to spend your hard earned money. You could take a break from work at the same city where you live or even visit your parents and spend time with them. It never cease to amaze me how stupidly people spend their hard earned money taking two to three vacations every year. After some time you wont even remember where all you have been or how you spent the money. If you disagree, all I can say is enjoy the vacation !

  7. Triffin's Dilemma

    This is all theatre. We’re being prepped for the 2030 agenda I’m afraid with AOC as a photogenic Millennial Pied Piper.

    Not sure if Trump is part of the cabal as a Pied Piper for the right as well or truly a nationalist. Some things he’s doing are good, but others…

  8. Nice post Sam. I have been a long-time reader and enjoy the blog. You have helped a lot of readers, including myself.

    I’ve used your ‘how to start a blog’ post and affiliate links this week, so hopefully your affiliate checks are in the mail and on their way! You can check out the link if you need a good laugh. Your 2-3 posts per week will be the gold standard I’m going to hold myself to.

    Please keep up the good work and don’t sell! We need Sam, not a ghostwriter.

  9. All of your suggestions are good if people have an emergency fund. If you look at the statistics of how few people in the US actually have an emergency fund, I would venture to guess that most of those furloughed do not have one.

      1. I agree. After a layoff during the last recession, I wised up and started saving. I started with a $500 emergency fund and would go on to have a 15 month emergency fund.

        Let this time period right now be a motivator to save. There’s no better time to start than today.

  10. I do not like the term “Welch”. This comes from the mistaken belief that Welsh people were supposed to be dishonest. As a person of Welsh descent, I am proud of my country and our desire to work for the community. I am amazed that, in these days of careful use of adjectives to describe ethnicities, the term persists. I am sorry to hear how badly you were treated, Sam, but I hope that it wasn’t one of my race.
    And I believe that you have Welsh ancestry as I always enjoy your messages to encourage all of us to achieve fiscal responsibility.

  11. It just struck me – I know exactly what to do.

    I get a list of what someone will not do and how much it would cost if the person did them. Then I send them a check for the uncompleted tasks, and the person gets to complain that my check arrived after they did not do the work.

  12. Thanks for this post Sam. I would definitely make good use of a shutdown. The perfect time reevaluate your career, spending time with family. Definitely a smart move the use the time to build another stream of income. Being dependent on income from the government which can take weeks or possibly month to arrive is just too risky.

    I do wonder about the type of consultancy work you have done for a whole month and did not get paid for??

    Thanks for this insightful articles. Best regards from The Netherlands.

  13. quantakiran

    Really good post Sam. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t get paid. Although I have an emergency fund, I’d still be anxious to see money coming in.

    And if it was because I was retrenched, I think I would be more miserable because in my country the waiting time between jobs can be anything from a few months to two years (and this in the engineering profession)!

    But this caught my attention:
    Nobody ever welches on a Financial Samurai and gets away with it.

    Sounds so sinister, it’s piqued my interest as to how a contractor can recoup funds from a failed company?

  14. Let’s please also remember and recognize the hundreds of thousands of government contractors (like myself) who might be furloughed WITHOUT backpay. There are far more contractors than federal employees and the picture isn’t quite so rosy for them. Furthermore, it’s not as simple as “picking up a new side gig,” since many of us will need to get approval from ethics boards to do that work—and the ethics board might be furloughed and may not be able to process your application to do outside work. I am a fiscally responsible, save-until-it hurts kind of person, so I have a large cushion and will be just fine. However, I just wanted to make sure we don’t oversimplify and misrepresent the shutdown as a relaxing, back-paid vacation when it’s not for many contractors.

    1. Fair points. But if you’re furloughed and don’t get paid, wouldn’t that be a fair outcome since you didn’t work?

      It’s much worse to work, and then not get paid.

      This post doesn’t make it sound like people are just kicking back. On the contrary, There’s a list of 10 productive things that people can do.

      1. We’re in a situation where we are required to work and not getting paid. And yes, can’t get a side gig in the meantime because it needs approval from people who aren’t working. Furloughed but mandatory….pretty awful place to be right now.

        1. I think it’s BS furloughed workers can’t get a side gig.

          Can one do it on the down low? How would they find out you’re doing some tasks online or assembling furniture or driving a car? And even if they found out, are they going to punish you for trying to provide for your family?

          That doesn’t seem right.

          1. Ethics board is pretty straightforward. Side gig is fine as long as it isn’t a conflict of interest or a conflict of commitment. There’s a form to fill out, manager approval, and a few more rubber stamps. They ask all employees to fill out the form yearly. I have a side job I report to the ethics board, it’s not an issue at all.

            You wouldn’t want to do it on the down low. FBI background checks for my side of the house, not to mention if they did find out you’re probably facing some serious shit. It’s not a big deal to work a side hustle legitimately, though. Now, is the ethics board working to approve it? As long as you report when the furlough is over you should be a-ok, though.

  15. Quite a lot of government workers are not well paid and they can’t afford to wait to get their pay. This includes some who are being forced to work like TSA. Most people can’t afford to do some of the things you suggest for very long… The savings they have are in their house and retirement account if they have them. I’m guessing a lot of lower paid government workers will find new jobs if this goes on for long as for the moment unemployment is low…

  16. That’s a great outlook to have on the situation! I think I would be the same if I was in that situation – making the most of my time off.

    It baffles me that just because the government can’t agree on something then a massive number of workers don’t get paid and don’t go to work. This would never happen in a company!

    1. Ben, there is no one more protected or relatively better paid than a federal government worker. Overall, people who work for a “company” can only dream of being a federal worker.

      The CBO recently said

      ” Overall, total compensation for federal workers was 17 percent higher, on average, than for comparable workers in the private sector . . . ”

      The cost of providing benefits for federal civilian workers from 2011-2015 was estimated to be 47 percent higher on average than for comparable private sector employees. CBO said the biggest factor in the difference in the cost of benefits was that much of the federal workforce still falls under systems that include a defined benefit pension, a concept that has largely disappeared in the private sector.”

  17. If I was furloughed I’d probably use the extra time to be with family, destress, work on side jobs and organize the house. I’m on a big declutter, organize kick right now. I got some inspiration from Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix.

    Sorry to hear about your October situation. Hopefully that gets resolved! When I was doing a lot of freelancing I had to chase several of my clients repeatedly to get paid. Fortunately I always got paid eventually but it took a lot of poking and unnecessary chasing and following up.

    Helpful list of tips for furloughed workers. I hope things get resolved soon.

  18. It’s definitely best to make good of a bad situation. Use times of uncertainty to grow and get stronger.

    I’m always trying to build new sources of income streams so I don’t have to rely on my company forever.

    You make some great suggestions on productive things to do.

    It’s nice that taxpayers are able to pay for the 800,000+ furloughed workers who get a break. Same can’t necessarily be said if you work for a money losing company.

  19. Triffin's Dilemma

    Got news for ya. What Trump is doing is brilliant. Too tough to cut down agencies by appropriations. Just shut the whole thing down and starve all the useless bureaucrats. This could go on for years. The economy will be restructured like it or not as the USD loses reserve status.

    Just heard the Saudis are building a refinery in Pakistan to supply China demand. This oil will not be USD denominated.

    1. Like how you think, Triffin’s dilemma, this is the best outcome. All the Democrats have to do is fund the $5 billion wall, which all of them supported until they now have to damage the Trump brand in time for 2020. Here is the bottom line that Democrats haven’t absorbed: There is nothing in it for Trump to concede. The public loves this, and it is hilarious.

      Is there one reader of Financial Samurai that has been inconvenienced? If so, how…exactly? If the media weren’t force feeding stories about pawn shops and Uber drivers that missed one Federal paycheck, would any normal person even know there was a shut down? Exactly. I hope this goes on for years, because every day the truth becomes more clear.

      1. I haven’t noticed a difference in the shutdown yet, but that’s because I haven’t gone to any national parks, flown anywhere, or done my taxes yet. I’m stuck here in my house during the rain storms taking care of my boy.

        With the stock market doing very well so far in 2019, I do wonder whether an extended shutdown will give rise to public skepticism on exactly what and how much the government is doing, and whether we need as big a budget as we do.

        Already, the shutdown is costing 50% more than what Trump wanted for the wall. So we’re really wasting lots of time and money now.

      2. Inconvenienced? Yup majorly. Working without pay, having to cancel all my auto deposits so I can live off my emergency fund while I protect people and property.

  20. Fluctuating income (for whatever reason: irregular income, layoffs, government shutdown etc.) can lead to some difficulty when it comes to creating and sticking to a budget. Because of the unpredictability, it’s hard to say what money will come into your possession next: both how much and when. Some months will provide a windfall while others may be on the negligible side. Sometimes your ultimate boss won’t comedown from his ridiculous position on funding for a project which won’t actually change anything (re: walls and what not). This is why an emergency savings fund and diversified income sources are so important.

    The trick is being able to ride the wave with flexible income sources and flexible expenses to match. It is important to know your baseline level of expenses by creating a bare-bones budget. This includes the absolute essentials like housing (rent or mortgage), utility bills, groceries, childcare (if applicable), and transportation. These are the non-negotiable necessities. Make sure you include monthly contributions to your savings in this count too if you’re trying to build your wealth and margin of safety in the very lean (unneeded, in this case) times.

    Great post and suggestions for how to spend idle time as a result of the government shutdown.

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