Leaving Your Job: The Money Factor

<b class="credit">Chris Guillebeau</b>
Chris Guillebeau

Last week I addressed the question of how you know when it's time to leave your job. One aspect I didn't really talk about was the money factor. After all, if you leave your job, you leave the money that went with it, and that's probably the biggest concern anyone has when they're contemplating a departure. It's also a highly personal concern, but I'm going to let you in on my experience anyway. (After all, I hosted a personal finance radio show for six years, so I'm used to talking about money, right?)

I was lucky when I decided to leave Marketplace. My husband's salary is generous enough that he can cover our monthly mortgage nut. (And in the bonkers real estate market that is greater-Los Angeles, that's saying something.) We did the math, and agreed that while it would change our lifestyle fairly dramatically, we could pay the bills on his income. We hoped that my new career as an independent writer and producer would provide enough supplemental income that we could still enjoy the things we like to do -- but we had no guarantee that would be the case. I had been the primary breadwinner, and we took a significant hit when I up and left my job without having another one lined up.

One key factor is that we do not have children. We have four pets -- and trust me, they don't come cheap! -- but we did not have to worry about college funds and all the other expenses that go along with having other family members to provide for.

Another money-related aspect I had to consider was getting off the salary track. I'm not talking about the mommy track (see previous paragraph), but the penalty any worker faces in leaving the traditional salaried workforce. Throughout your career, your income presumably increases with each opportunity, each job you jump to. Sometimes, of course, this doesn't happen; for example, if you decide to go from a job in the corporate world to a job with a non-profit. But generally, you will make more with each successive career move. When you strike out on your own, you are leaving that trajectory behind. Yes, there is every possibility that this will result in an even greater income, should you succeed as an entrepreneur/independent contractor. But the risk is that that will not happen, and if/when you do go back to a salaried occupation, you may not be able to pick up where you left off.

My husband and I decided the risk was worth leaving a very good salary on the table. Our lifestyle is different, but so far, I've been able to make enough as a freelance writer and producer that the sacrifice hasn't been painful. But I am on track to only make about half of what I did last year, and a good chunk of what I have been able to bring to our household income was through a generous book deal, which will be parsed out in payments over the next year and a half or so.

I'm well-aware that many, if not most, Americans aren't as lucky. They don't have the cushion of a well-paid spouse, and they have children to factor into any career-changing decision. Some of you may think that disqualifies me from talking about leaping without a net. I disagree; it was still one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, for all the reasons I've laid out here. But I'd like to hear your thoughts. Share your stories in comments section below and email me at jobsedit@teamaol.com.

And come back here every Wednesday morning for my next post. Maybe by then we'll all have shared a piece of this week's Powerball jackpot.