Losing a job can trigger strong emotions and cause you to rethink your financial future. Here are some ideas on how to cope from Mark Raberger, Head of Health at MetLife Australia, and Glen Hare, a financial adviser at Fox & Hare.

It’s understandable that when one person in a relationship loses some or all of their income, the other can feel vulnerable. How can partners help?

Mark Raberger: Focus on some positive things you can both do. It's about the surety of being in it together. Each person's wellbeing can be affected in four main areas: mental, physical, social and financial. So, while you might be affected financially, there are plenty of things you can do about the other three:

  • Keep up your social life. Sometimes when people lose a job, they might become a recluse and curl up under the doona. So, without forcing the issue, you can help them address both the mental and social health areas by keeping engaged with friends. Social interaction is incredibly important.
  • Keep physically active. The temptation to have a lot of downtime because there isn't a job to go to can quickly impact physical health. Encourage each other to get out and be physically active, such as making time – yes, that means regular dates – to go for walks or bike rides together. Getting out into the fresh air for even mild exercise is good for your mind as much as your body.
  • Keep on learning. There are also good benefits to be had from learning new skills. Encourage your partner to engage with an art or craft they enjoy. We often wish we had more time on our hands to learn new things.
  • Keep a good sleep routine. The other big area to focus on is sleep. When people are anxious or distressed they might find their sleep is heavily affected. Knowing this, encourage each other to have good sleep hygiene. By this I mean, have a before-bed routine: switching off your device  at least an hour before sleep; finding calmer, more relaxing things to do instead of thinking about finding the next job at 11 o'clock at night.
  • Wake at a similar time each day. You can encourage your partner to get up and get ready for their day, just as they would if they were still going to work. If you can do some exercise together before you go work, that will be useful too.

So, it’s about staying active: physically, socially and mentally.

What areas of health support are available?

Mark: When a household has income, some people might think they can't afford to get the right support, though there are some good free or subsidised options:

On the financial side, what are some positive steps people can take to cope when there's less income available for the household?

Glen Hare: Whenever we're working with a couple, we always talk about 'household income', because we want to encourage that shared sense of purpose in maintaining a household together. So, while one person might be earning less at the moment, they could have more time to look after things like groceries, cleaning and organising social events – all things that contribute good benefits to the household – and then of course, make adjustments when they're working again. We want both people in a couple to be on the same page and making decisions together.

Mark: I agree. While one person might contribute more money to covering expenses such as groceries and bills, rent or mortgage, it's important to make shared decisions about how money is spent for the household. Both partners can also look at which areas they can make savings, especially discretionary spending, where you can easily adopt more affordable alternatives.

What are some good areas where household expenses can be reduced?

Mark: If there's one positive about the lockdowns during COVID-19, it's that many households rediscovered ways to enjoy time at home instead of going out. So rather than paying restaurant or pub prices every time you want to catch up with friends or family, we're socialising at each other's houses.

Glen: We've seen a lot of our members review all their subscriptions during COVID-19, so they can save monthly expenses such as subscriptions to magazines, streaming services, gym memberships, which all add up. If you can save $100 a month by cancelling some subscriptions that gives you more money to put into savings or investments that will grow. I think COVID-19 made a lot of people reprioritise some of their big lifestyle aspirations, like international travel or new cars or renovations. Every time household income changes you have an opportunity to review what's important to you – you can learn a lot about what's really important to you.

Thinking about what's really important in life, what are some other opportunities for resetting personal ambitions?

Mark: If you're not currently in a job or have reduced hours, you have more time to focus on your career goals, which is a positive. Especially if you were working in an industry that was hard hit by COVID-19, you'll find a lot of businesses are rethinking what work-life balance means.

So, it could be an opportunity to think about what kind of work will give you a better work-life balance. A simple example is that people who live a fair way from their employment or their previous employment could see it as an opportunity to look for work closer to home.

It might also be a catalyst to upskill or even retraining so you can pursue other career options – see it as an opportunity, rather than a loss. We've seen more education providers offer discounted or free courses, and there are some government supports available for retraining.

From a mental perspective, while you're looking for a new job doing some training and research about new career options is a good way to keep your mind busy – it'll keep you active and give you something to look forward to – and building new knowledge is rewarding in itself.

Further reading: How to cope when your partner has reduced income and how to deal with financial stress