How I Was Able To Afford To Quit My Day Job

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The start of 2015 brought a lot of articles about how to be your BeST SeLf, which is always a trend, if we’re being honest. This year I noticed the articles urging you to quit your job, and claiming that the time is now, were just as popular.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the enthusiasm of these articles. The caged feeling that comes with going to a job you hate everyday, instead of pursuing something you want, is enough to drive anyone crazy. Unfortunately, blindly quitting your job will send you into a frantic financial state that will drive you equally crazy. Often we skirt over the nitty-gritty implications of actually pulling the trigger and quitting. We see only the good, without considering that we still have to pay rent, buy food, pay bills, etc. (And if you’re in your 20s or 30s, you also have impending wedding gift costs to reckon with.)

When I quit my job, I can’t say I was walking away from a lot of money. I left an entry-level advertising job, so paying my rent of $1000/month was already a stretch. I debated asking for a raise, but honestly, a) it would’ve been tiny and b) I wouldn’t have given me a raise. I was writing before work, after work, during my lunch hour and at any other free moment. My heart was clearly not in my job, and that’s not the way to get a raise. So I figured if I was going to live on a paycheck-to-paycheck budget anyway, why not actually pay my dues by doing what I wanted and make my budget a little tighter?

I announced to my parents that I was going to stop contributing to my 401(k) and get rid of my affordable benefits. (To their credit, they took it pretty well, probably because I would never ask for financial help to fund my decision.) I gave my notice at work and during my exit interview admitted that I would be leaving my job to make less money with no trace of regret. I’d planned ahead enough that I wasn’t too worried.

If you’re hoping to quit your job, here are 6 suggestions for making it happen without setting yourself back financially:

1. Plan ahead as much as you can.

By the time I quit my job, I’d saved up enough for 3 months rent, groceries, bills and car payments. Trying to save when your rent alone is about half of what you make in a month is a challenge. I started heavily limiting the amount I could spend in a week. I also paid off my credit card before I quit because the steady paycheck I used to pay it off no longer exists.

2. Think about how expensive healthcare is.

At my old job, my benefits cost me about $40/month. Insuring yourself privately costs at least $200 a month for benefits that are about half as good. I didn’t even consider Cobra or private insurance. Obamacare is income-based (particularly in the lower brackets) so I am currently lucky enough to get by spending very little on health insurance. Because the insurance for lower income brackets doesn’t cover as much, I crammed 3 doctor’s appointments and a dentist visit in the last week of my company health benefits

3. Have a drop dead date.

By this I mean have a date where you will, if nothing else pans out, walk into every restaurant in town and get a serving job to insure some financial security. I was lucky enough to have a freelance contract when I quit. My plan if I don’t have another supplement to my income (another freelance contract or a side job ranging anywhere from script reading to research to copy writing) is to pick up a waitressing job.

4. Try to line up something before you quit.

Do a trial run by putting your apartment on airbnb (and find a friend you can stay with). Call around and see if anyone you know needs help looking after their cats. Be open to anything and everything. If finding a waitressing or petsitting job is soOOOoo beneath you, then quitting your job probably isn’t the right move. I’ve done some bizarre things in the past month to supplement my income and will do so until I’m able to get staffed or fully support myself freelancing.

5. Wait for the right time.

I understand that this is the last thing you want to hear when you just want OUT of your job. No one wants to take a deep breath and rationally remember that if you leave your team in a bind, that’s not going to reflect well on you. But it’s the truth. If you’ve lasted this long, you may as well get a good reference out of it. Also, if you’re coming up on a year or four years, check into what your 401(k) matching policy is. I waited it out until I could collect as much as possible before leaving.

6. Train yourself to actually follow the financial rules you put in place.

I’ve always been on a budget, but when I had a full-time job it wasn’t the end of the world if I broke my own rules. So I did. Often. When you quit your job, that’s not an option anymore. Once you get rid of your main source of income, you actually need to follow your rules. For me, it involves generic food brands, not buying drinks at the bar and avoiding eating out. (Life hack: if you order seltzer at a bar, they won’t charge you 90% of the time.)

If I do eat out, I have an approved list of restaurants where I know I can spend under $10 on a meal. (Spoilers: Most of them are Ramen bars.) There will always be times when you can’t avoid going out to eat because of someone’s birthday, or going out of town. For those times, I’ll split a meal, or eat a bit before and then order an appetizer. It takes discipline but it’s doable, even if you’re as food-obsessed as I am.

Above all, know yourself, know your limits and situation, and work hard. If you want it, and are willing to work for it, you’ll be able to make the move.