Unless living in your parents' basement is your idea of a good financial backup plan, failing to figure out how you'll make ends meet after you quit your bad job could make you even more miserable than staying there. So before taking that leap, be sure to to have a solid plan for paying your bills after you ride off into the sunset.
This holds especially true if your goal is to quit and travel, in which case flight and hotel costs can sink you into debt fast. Or perhaps you're gearing up to start your own business? Plan to bank even more money before you quit your day job, since new businesses often take a while to turn a profit, and may also require additional unexpected startup costs.
Whatever your reason for quitting, the golden rule is to save three to six months' worth of your fixed living expenses before leaving, according to Megan Lathrop, Capital One money coach and career workshops co-lead. "Having those reserves will give you financial comfort when leaving a job so that going forward you can pursue the notion of living your true values," Lathrop said in a phone interview.
Here's how to do the math fast: If you already have a monthly budget, multiply that by six. Not sure how much you spend each month? NerdWallet has a calculator to help you make a rough estimate; be sure to include stuff like your monthly debt payments and health insurance costs (since your employer won't be paying for you anymore). If your monthly costs add up to, say, $2,500 a month, you'll need to stash away about $15,000 to tide you over. Alas, if you have kids, you might need double that — or more.
We get it; life's too short to stagnate in a "meh" job. Quitting your job may sound scary, but you can do it with the right financial and personal resources lined up. Consider taking these four steps to play it safe.
1. Know exactly how much money you need to afford your life
Do you truly know how much money you spend each month? Tracking your spending behavior can be an eye opener. What's more, knowing exactly where your money goes each month is the best way to understand if you have the financial means to quit your job and where you should make cuts if necessary.
Start by calculating the exact amount you earn after taxes and don't forget to deduct any automatic transfers going to your 401(k) or other funds. Next, spell out your monthly expenses — creating a spreadsheet might help. Include your bills and any ongoing debts that must be covered. Look for ways you can cut back in order to make quitting your job a reality, then figure out what you can save each month. For example, getting rid of cable TV could save you $100 a month.
You should also start saving long before quitting your job is a glimmer in your eye. "Even if you are happy with your job, why not put away $100 a month through automatic transfer?" Lathrop recommended. "Check out a high-interest savings account for your fund or, if you are really ambitious, and have saved an excess amount of money, consider a ladder CD." A ladder CD allows you to withdraw money at various intervals, which provides some liquidity, as NerdWallet explains.
2. Find ways to make money after you cash your last paycheck
Just because you've saved three to six months' worth of income doesn’t mean you should chill for three to six months before generating new income. You can add to your stash without making a huge commitment by doing things like selling old tech equipment, getting paid to take surveys, test-driving websites and even selling your blood plasma. Also, cancel old subscriptions you no longer use, clean out and cancel any storage spaces you're renting and make sure to eat what is in your pantry before you hit the store.
If you're still in the planning phases of your career, find something easy to generate cash flow, Lathrop suggested. "If you aren’t going to see income for a while, consider renting your home or room on Airbnb, or do a home swap if you plan to travel," she said. "Or you could become a driver for a company like Lyft. I have a friend who, on her first day on the job, drove someone who ended up interviewing her for a job in the car. She started the job the next week."
If all else fails and you are running short of cash, don't forget to lean on your support system, whether it's a relative or close friend. Rather than taking any job to make ends meet, take extra time to truly find your passion and stay with someone who'll have your back for a few months.
"You could include a financial component to make the situation more comfortable and it doesn’t have to include just paying rent," Lathrop said. If you are a good cook, you could make dinner a few nights a week, for example — or contribute in other ways. As long as everyone has their space and autonomy, the adult family relationship can be extremely positive.
3. Expect the unexpected
Stuff happens. Maybe you'll need a root canal the second you drop your dental insurance. Maybe your roommate will move out, and you'll have to pay double rent for a month or two while you look for a replacement.
Without a steady income, it's harder to absorb unexpected costs in addition to your basic living expenses. That's where an emergency fund comes into play.
In addition to your "walk away from the man" fund, which you should use for everyday expenses, it's wise to have a separate fund dedicated to emergencies only. Creating separate accounts can help you focus on your goal and get there faster.
An emergency fund should have another three to six months' worth of living expenses in it, so if you need $2,500 a month to live on, you'll need a total of $30,000 for your "quit your job" and emergency funds combined. If you can save $1,000 a month, it will take you two and a half years to save that much. Save $1,500 a month and you'll get there in a year and eight months.
If you earn interest on your savings, these times will be a little shorter, but since most online savings accounts pay around 1% interest, it won't make a significant dent in the total time needed to reach your goal. (You'll have earned just $365 in interest in 30 months if you earn 1% interest, for example.)
4. Plan for the future
If you need a bundle of cash fast, it might be tempting to cash out your 401(k), but you need to resist that urge. The money you've squirreled away there is to pay for retirement; use it up now and you could end up broke by the time you plan to quit working for good. What's more, cashing out before age 55 comes with a 10% penalty and income taxes (unless you meet certain exceptions).
A better option is to either leave your money in the old 401(k) or put it in an IRA. Before you leave your job, ask the plan's administrator to handle the rollover, or you can ask for a lump sum from the old balance and then deposit it into an IRA — just make sure you do it within 60 days, or you'll be taxed on it. And remember that if you roll your money over to a Roth IRA, you'll be taxed on the balance as if it is income.
While saving for retirement on top of saving to quit your job may sound daunting, you shouldn't cheat your future self from financial stability. Those in their mid-to-late twenties should have about $10,000 or more saved for retirement. Those in their thirties are in good shape if they have closer to $35,000 dedicated to retirement.
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