Over the course of a career, most of us will endure a bumpy patch here or there: moments of feeling overworked, unchallenged, underappreciated, disappointed, badly bossed – or just plain bored. They’re awful. But they’re usually brief.
I’m not talking about those times here.
I’m talking about a different kind of on-the-job unhappiness, the kind that settles over you as you come to realize “oh-I-hate-this-job,” or worse, “this place is toxic.”
Recently, I wrote about the pains and perils of getting Stuck in a Joyless Job, where I shared 5 Smart Steps to breaking free, whole and hopeful. Step 2 was about money. I called it the Escape Fund. (You may know it by its more alliterative and colorful name that you can easily find online.)
One reason for setting up an escape fund is obvious: the bigger your financial cushion, the softer your landing. But there are other, often more powerful reasons to have a well-planned and well-funded escape fund. The very process helps you move forward, out of the “quitting fantasy” and onto a very real path toward something better.
Here’s how to get started.
Take financial stock of what’s at stake.
For most working people, a lot of our well-being and security are entangled with our employment. The idea of disentangling from it all can be overwhelming. Because of that, talented people end up languishing in toxic jobs for far longer than necessary. The simple truth is, you can’t overcome your fears until you can name them, quantify them, and make a plan for mitigating them. So just do it. Start with your paycheck. But don’t stop there. Create a comprehensive list of what your current job affords you – and assign a monthly dollar value to each. Include (at least) the following:
- Your salary
- Your incentive compensation
- Your healthcare*
- Your other subsidized insurance (life insurance, long-term care, etc.)
- Your retirement plans (and matching contributions)
- Those other perks that hold financial benefit to you (e.g. tuition reimbursement, adoption reimbursement, use of a company car, etc.)
- Training opportunities
* A sobering reminder about healthcare: your continued health care is the most complicated and, I would argue, the most important part of your plan. Keep in mind that, if you’re currently using employer-provided or subsidized health insurance, there are two losses you need to mitigate:
You can temporarily retain your insurance through COBRA – but your monthly premiums will cost you more
After your COBRA benefits expire, you will need to buy your own coverage in the marketplace.
Create a budget and start saving your money
With your Step 1 list and monthly expenses in hand, you now have a sense of how much money you’ll need to cover each month of potential unemployment. These are facts that can be both empowering and sobering. Yes, you dream of walking out tomorrow, with the old Johnny Paycheck song playing in your head while in reality, you might not be able to quit tomorrow, or even six months from now. But with a realistic budget in hand, you will know when you can make your move. You’re on your way. And that is powerful.
Cut your costs
How many sacrifices are you able and willing to make to save up faster? A quick 12-month peek backward at your bank and credit card statements might prompt some good starter questions like, do I need to spend that much on clothes/take-out/memberships for the next year? This, in turn, might lead to the liberating realization that maybe you can make even deeper cuts now in order to gain greater freedoms sooner, which leads me to #4.
Eliminate debt as fast as you can
Am I talking about credit cards and other revolving debt? Sure, let’s start there. Most of the time, your ability to save money toward a big goal is horribly hampered by debt. So understand that, if you’re carrying any revolving debt, that’s the first place your new savings should go. Cutting your monthly credit card bills will supercharge your savings.
What about your car? Can you consider getting rid of your loan or lease expenses in favor of something more affordable? Going a giant step further: housing. Same question. Not everyone can (or should) sell the big house on the lake to rent a studio apartment for the next year (or even buy a slightly smaller house on the same lake). I get it. Especially in a year of so much upheaval and unpredictability, your emotional health – and that of your family – may very well rely on your home staying exactly where and what it is. But you can still look for ways to cut your housing costs, from refinancing your mortgage to reducing utility bills.
Boost your current income
From the little to the life-altering, you probably have at least a few ways of adding revenue to your monthly budget. Not every idea is a good or healthy one for every person. But the list of possibilities is long. Start with the standards, below, then expand on it with your own ideas:
- Turn your marketable skill and leverage your network to book freelance work (but be sure it does not undermine your non-compete or other obligations to your current employer);
- Turn a hobby into a side hustle (if producing sellable crafts or cottage industry-level foods is in your wheelhouse, you might want to try this )
- Go full Kondo: turns out, Marie Kondo is right. There really is “life-changing magic” in tidying up. Decluttering and selling all that stuff you don’t need is not only liberating, but it can also be surprisingly lucrative.
Try a short-term, part-time job. A word of caution: this is not a good idea for everyone – and not every part-time job is a good fit. Running yourself ragged and telling yourself that you can function just fine on 3 hours of sleep is rarely compatible with masterminding a better new career and lifestyle. But if you choose carefully, you might just find a sweet little gig that speeds up your savings plan.