If you’ve ever considered walking out of a job, your first thought — after planning your dramatic exit — might be, “how can I survive without an income?” It’s possible, but it does take careful planning.
First, ask yourself: Why are you quitting, and is it really your best, or only, option? There are some circumstances where quitting is justified, but career experts recommend trying to stick it out until you can line up another job. Really consider whether the problems you’re facing at work, whether interpersonal issues or a lack of career advancement, would be different at another company, advises Alexandra Levit, a workplace expert. For example, could you achieve your goals with the same company but in a different role? “More companies are receptive to internal moves than ever before,” Levit says.
Being employed can also make you more desirable to potential employers. And if you’re able to work through challenges rather than leave them behind, you’re better equipped to share your problem-solving skills during interviews, says career expert Kathy Caprino.
But if quitting is still the route you want to take (no judgments here), here’s how to do it without draining your savings or going into debt.
PREPARE FOR AT LEAST SIX MONTHS OF JOB-HUNTING
Your friend who found a job almost immediately after quitting her old one? She’s the exception, not the rule. Levit says it takes an average of six months before you’re employed again.
So set realistic expectations. Caprino recommends making a financial plan that accounts for six income-less months. Ideally, if you're able to prepare ahead of time, you can save for this as a goal so you don't have to tap your emergency fund.
And hey, if you find something before then, all the better!
CHANGE YOUR LIFESTYLE ASAP
Alexandra Vaughn had been thinking about leaving her job for a while and began making small financial changes two months before giving notice. She trimmed recurring expenses and discretionary spending. Small everyday changes, like cooking instead of ordering takeout, taking public transit, or cutting subscriptions you no longer use, can add up.
BUDGET FOR JOB-SEARCH EXPENSES
Hair appointments and gym memberships may seem like they belong firmly in the “cut” pile, but if you’re interviewing or meeting new people at networking events, consider keeping them.
Aside from the confidence that comes from looking and feeling your best, “first appearances are everything,” says Levit. Regular exercise can keep you positive and energized during your job search, she adds.
There are ways to lower those costs though, like switching to a less expensive salon or gym. And if you don’t already have one or two great interview outfits, think about investing in ones that you can mix and match with the rest of your closet.
Also keep memberships in professional associations within your field. Even if they come with yearly or monthly dues, or networking events charge a cover fee, Levit says they can be worth it to help you land a new gig.
BECOME AN EXPERT ON YOUR HEALTH CARE OPTIONS
To say that COBRA is expensive is the understatement of the century. The process of signing up for it can also be confusing and long, so make sure you talk to your Human Resources department before your last day, if possible, to find out what your options are.
Vaughn paid for COBRA insurance for two months before turning to the Affordable Care Act marketplace because COBRA simply cost too much. Make a point to fully understand your coverage, too — Vaughn ended up paying for two types of insurance for one month due to a mistaken overlap.
CONSIDER A PART-TIME JOB
It's true: Finding a job is a full-time job. But you may need to make room in your schedule for a part-time gig. “I’m a big fan of taking all kinds of jobs throughout your life as learning experiences,” says Levit. “Retail, working at a restaurant ... you learn skills like client relations, time-management and multitasking. They may not be jobs you put on your resume, but it’ll be money coming in.”
RETHINK HOW YOU SPEND TIME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Unless your friends are also income-less, you may need to either cut back on get-togethers or find lower-cost ways to hang out. Vaughn asked friends to go for walks (free!) and suggested dinner dates instead of nights out drinking. A bonus side effect: “Now I might have one really nice dinner with a friend a month, and it makes it that much more special or memorable for me."
Spending time with friends and family can make it easier to power through days of sending out resumes and going on interviews. And when you finally land the perfect role, they'll be the support group cheering you on to your next chapter.