When our heating bill came the other day, I almost fainted. It was $479, an insanely unacceptable number. Upon further inspection, it showed that because I wasn’t home when the meter reader came for the month, our gas usage was estimated at nearly double of our actual use.

“Boy, I wish I was home all day,” I thought. “That way, I could have been here when the meter reader showed up and our bill would have been accurate.”

Well, the only way that’s going to happen is if I lose my job. And with the way the publishing industry has been going in the wake of the recent economic crisis, I should be thankful that I’m employed, never mind fully employed, with benefits, sick days and vacation time.

Because I know a lot of folks who ARE able to be home when the meter reader comes, and they’re not too happy about it. Unemployment in my home state of New Jersey has finally come back down to double digits – 9.8% — but other parts of the country are still seeing high unemployment rates.

Getting laid off can be scary. While I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced it firsthand, many friends, acquaintances and family members have lost their jobs in the past year. Some have qualified for unemployment; others have dipped into meager savings just to stay afloat. A few have found jobs and then found themselves back at the unemployment office after a few months, while others have been searching for upward of a year with no luck.

It’s discouraging. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, some people are finding ways to keep themselves occupied and, at the same time, increase their marketability.

Some Ideas of What to Do when Unemployed?

Besides the obvious (sending out resumes), there are other things the newly-unemployed can do to increase their self-worth and make the most of their “free time”:

Take continuing education classes

Many community colleges offer courses that help people improve their career skills, and the per-credit tuition is not overwhelming. Also check with your state unemployment office – they may pick up the cost of the class.

Start a new career path

Go back to school and get an education so you can get your dream job, instead of settling for a position you hate.

Set up alternative income streams

Diversifying your income can help keep you and your family afloat if you or your partner are laid off from your job. A blog that generates income is one type of side gig that can bring in some extra funds. As I’m a writer by trade, I always have a few freelance gigs that I work on part-time, in addition to my full-time job. Or offer your time for paid short-term jobs such as babysitting, delivering pizza, or doing home repairs for others.

Cultivate a hobby

It’s the perfect time to really delve into a hobby that interests you – without spending a lot of money, of course. If you have a camera, work on your photography skills – you could eventually earn income by photographing special occasions for friends and acquaintances. The same goes for sewing, knitting, or other crafting skills. Being unemployed doesn’t have to send you into a black hole of despair.

By using the time to further yourself, you can make yourself more attractive to potential employers – and perhaps bring in extra income streams in the process.

This is a Guest Post by Nicole