In September 2015, I came to a serious realization: I needed to quit my job—even if I didn’t have another one lined up.
For over a year, I’d been working at an employee wellness firm. While I adored my coworkers, the work was unfulfilling. Worse, my small firm had been acquired, and the new leadership team replaced our rules and culture with theirs. They took away benefits like maternity leave and reduced our vacation days. We actually made one of those “worst places to work” lists twice. Usually peppy and optimistic, it suddenly felt like all I could talk about was how much I despised my job and dreaded going in.
So I made a plan to leave. I had $15,000 saved—from unspent graduation gifts and diligent saving habits—but wanted at least $20,000 before taking the leap to be sure I could cover expenses long enough to find a new gig. Here’s how I prepared for potential unemployment—without draining my savings or hurting my career prospects.
1. I sorted out my health insurance first.
Covering my rent, car payment and grocery bills didn’t scare me; they’d held steady around $1,300 for years. What did scare me was health insurance. I’d never had to figure it out on my own, and I wasn’t sure I could find an affordable plan.
Thankfully, doing some research dispelled my worries. I picked the second-cheapest plan on the healthcare exchange for $190—just $30 more than what I paid as an employee—which offered decent coverage. (My co-pays increased and my physician network decreased, but I was 26 and healthy, so I took a calculated risk.) I enrolled six weeks before giving my notice, which ensured continuous coverage.
2. I picked up two side gigs—and saved the extra income.
Even before things got tough at work, I wanted to eventually transition to a more writing-focused career. So in late 2015, I picked up two part-time gigs to help me gain experience and another income source: a blog manager at my neighborhood gym and a remote editorial internship.
The gym paid a few hundred bi-weekly, and the internship provided a small stipend—all of which I funneled to savings. Between October and when I quit my full-time job in May 2016, I saved an additional $9,000. Having these side jobs also helped prevent any gaping holes in my resume.
3. I optimized my budget.
When you’re considering giving up a steady salary, suddenly small expenses you never thought about start adding up. That $10 monthly subscription to beauty samples? That’s $120 a year I couldn’t afford. And cable? As much as I love Bravo and random “Harry Potter” marathons, I didn’t need it. After I cut that and started paying for Internet only, my then-boyfriend (now fiancé) Chris and I saved $45 a month, or $540 a year, each.
I trimmed other expenses, too. I ordered water at bars (yes, bartender friends—I’m that person), scaled back on eating out and tucked my credit card away in my sock drawer so I wouldn’t be tempted to rack up charges. Every dollar spared was added to savings, which totaled about $25,000 before I quit.
4. I got buy-in from my partner.
At the time, we’d been together four years and living together for two, so I had to take him (and our cat Mila) into consideration. After asking what Chris thought about me quitting—to which he answered, “Yes, please, stop complaining and do something about it!”—I posed some key questions: If it took a long time to land another gig and my savings started dwindling, what would we do? Would he consider moving somewhere with lower rent?
Without hesitation, he told me he’d do whatever needed to be done, which was a big relief.
5. I strategized my next career move.
In April 2016, I started applying for new jobs. By the time I left for good in mid-June, I was a finalist for two. But, honestly, I was scared. This was the second job I’d ended up hating in three years. So, yeah, I wondered if the problem was me. Was I being a stereotypical, whiny millennial? What if I hated the next job, too?
So I devised a Plan B: Keep the writing internship and scout as many freelance jobs as possible once I was officially unemployed. This would help explain a resume gap in full-time jobs, provide income and give me space to carefully evaluate my next move. Because I’d saved enough for many months off, I didn’t need to jump at every opportunity.
That ended up being a smart plan. One of the companies considering me turned out to be a bad fit—they kept changing the job title and description—so I took myself out of the candidate pool. But the other one was right: I accepted it that July, just a couple weeks after leaving my job, and I still work there.
As for all the money I saved? I invested $20,000 and kept the rest in my savings account, where I could easily access it in case, you know, I decide to quit my job again. (Just kidding—but it’s nice to have the option.)