I remember the moment I realized I could quit my job. I was at brunch with my boyfriend late last year, complaining about how much I wanted to leave my job. This had become a common conversation topic, but while I’d been looking around, I didn’t have anything else lined up yet.
As I took a bite of my biscuit, I thought about the budget I’d been reviewing that morning and the sizable cash cushion—about $25,000—that I now had.
It struck me: Could I use some of that money to give myself the gift of time?
That’s exactly what I ended up doing. It’s now been three months since I quit my job, and I’m so grateful to have had that time to pursue creative projects and plan my next move. Here’s how I’ve made it work.
1. I started saving well before I needed the money.
If I’d waited till I decided to quit to start saving money, I would’ve had to stick around longer or jump immediately to another job. Thankfully, I’d always known saving money would afford me more choices down the line, so I’d kept a generic “future” category in my budget—which includes my emergency fund (about six months of expenses)—in addition to contributing to a retirement and regular investment account.
When I first moved to New York from D.C. four years earlier, I contributed about $100 each month. But every time I got a raise, I’d improve my quality of life a little (upgrading to getting my groceries delivered, for example) and increase my savings a lot—eventually reaching $400 a month.
In total, I had about $28,000 saved when I walked away from my job.
2. Once I’d decided to leave, I created a budget.
Before I handed in my notice, I needed to know how far my money would stretch. Using an online budgeting tool, I distributed my savings into budgets for necessary expenses (rent, food, transportation)—then gave myself a little wiggle room for extras like travel and networking coffee dates.
I learned I’d need about $2,000 per month to live comfortably, though I’d have to be mindful. I’d buy cheaper groceries, do my own laundry instead of sending it out and scale back on dinners and drinks out.
Since my goal was not to drain my savings, I figured I had about six months of runway. I envisioned that after two or three months off, I’d be ready to work again—even if it was just freelancing—so that seemed like more than enough buffer.
3. I thought through the worst-case financial scenarios.
Life often doesn’t go as planned, so I wanted to prepare for the worst. I decided I’d pick up freelance work or even a job at a coffee shop should an unexpected expense pop up, or if I struggled to get interviews. And if living in New York became too expensive—say, my rent increased by more than I could afford—my parents said I could move home for a while. It wouldn’t be ideal, but I was okay with these temporary solutions.
4. I stuck to my budget and picked up part-time work.
I haven’t been completely without income. A couple months in, I was ready to work again and found a couple steady freelance gigs that cover half my expenses. I’m still exploring full-time opportunities, but now I don’t feel rushed.
Some things in my life have changed, too, but they’ve been conscious decisions. I ultimately decided to stay with my parents this summer—not because I couldn’t afford to stay in NYC, but because I wanted the break and preferred to use that money in other ways, like for traveling and financing other creative projects. Through thoughtful choices like that and other saving strategies—like having friends over instead of going out and using airline points for travel—I’ve stuck to my budget.
I’m sure I’ll get a full-time job eventually. But, surprisingly, I haven’t felt restricted without the full-time salary. Instead, I’ve felt more free knowing I have enough money to cover expenses, and I’m not being tied down by a job—and other life choices—that aren’t fulfilling me.
May 24, 2017