How leaving work changed my personal money
Melody and Ian Karl were not happy. It was February 2021, and the couple were living in Houston. The winter electricity crisis began in Texas, leaving it without running water or heating. But that was not all. Ian Carley, who used to work as a quality manager for a company in the oil and gas industry, is tired of his job. She paid the bills for sure, but it left him feeling overwhelmed and unsatisfied.
“It was 35 degrees in our house, and we were sitting on the couch, and I said, ‘Wait, why the hell are we here?'” said Carl, 43. “
“He didn’t like his job, the power grid was precarious and we two professionals had jobs. We started thinking, OK, how do we get out of this?” said Melody Carly, 43, who was an academic librarian.
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They did the math and decided that Ian Karl could quit his business if they sold their current home and moved somewhere with a lower cost of living. They settled in Cut Bank, Montana. Melody Carl took a job as a remote library system manager, and Ian Carle set up his own artisanal chocolate company, a passionate venture that began in the early days of the pandemic.
In total, the two together took an annual salary cut of $100,000 and now made about $70,000. They said they had to give up on fancy nights, but those kinds of temptations don’t exist in a small Montana town anyway. Instead, they enjoy more economical activities such as walking and gardening.
“You don’t even know how much stress is on you until it wears off. It’s ironic that I’m much happier here than I used to be,” said Ian Carley.
Last year, more than 40 million people left their jobs. The so-called Great Resignation feeds people who are tired of unfinished work, exhausted by demanding jobs and struggling to make ends meet. While some people are now in a stronger financial position and are paid higher, others have faced financial hurdles. They’ve made it work by opting for part-time gigs on the side, giving up some luxuries or, like Karles, moving somewhere less expensive. And despite the added pressure, many feel the decision was worth it.
The Carles feel that they are living a more purposeful life. Several times a week, they sell Ian Karle chocolate bars at local farmers markets, and they keep cats indoors (no compensation for this last task). Melody Carl grows beets, rhubarb, asparagus and more in her garden. The couple lost some income, but think they’ve found something bigger.
“We both can’t even believe what we were doing before this,” Melody Carl said. “This is the best decision we have ever made.”
Karles represents a group of individuals and families who made a change and are now dealing with the financial consequences, for better or worse.
“The pandemic has really prompted people to think and assess their living conditions,” said Cliff Robb, associate professor of consumer sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We’ve seen a lot of different business opportunities become flexible in their structures, so people are starting to completely reevaluate them.”
We asked readers who made this reassessment how it affected their financial lives. These are some of their stories.
‘I was still very nervous about quitting’
In June 2021, Natalie Hanson, 26, left her position at her hometown newspaper in Chico, California, where she covered city government affairs, housing and homelessness. She said the pay was low, and she faced almost constant harassment online because of the topic she was covering. The emotional toll became unbearable.
“I’ve been self-sufficient since high school. I worked all the way through college,” Hanson said. “But I was still very nervous about quitting.”
She found a new journalist job at a local daily newspaper in Oakland, California, with a significant salary increase. But the cost of living in Auckland was much higher than what Hanson was used to in Chico, about three hours north of the Bay Area. Her rent doubled, and her car insurance went up.
In May, Hanson resigned from this job and secured a role as a reporter for the Courthouse News Service. Although the job came with a raise, and Hanson brought in an additional $800 each month to write freelance articles for local nonprofits, she plans to move to a cheaper apartment in the city by the end of the year.
Was it worth? Despite the turmoil, Hanson does not regret her initial decision to quit her job at Chico. You now live in an area you love.
“I never expected to be able to afford to live in the Bay Area until I turned 30 as a journalist,” she said. “He was very certain that there were possibilities. However, you have to be very careful financially.”
‘Don’t pay the bills, but it’s very rewarding’
Susan Woodland, 67, quit her job as a collections director at a New York museum in May 2020. Her role required a lot of administrative work, which she didn’t enjoy, and when the pandemic hit, she faced the decision to either lay off other staff in her management or leave her own position. I went with the latter.
Now self-employed for museums part-time, Woodland is able to do hands-on work with her collections, something she finds very satisfying. “It was the best of both worlds. I could set my own schedule. It doesn’t pay the bills, but it is very rewarding,” she said. “It was a tremendous emotional relief to leave her nine-to-five job, and now she is ‘free to make much less money,’” she said. But on my own terms.”
She gets some income from investments, which helps her cover her living expenses. She was always eager to save, even when she was young, and this was an extra help. “Every time I got a small raise — it could have been $20 a week — my parents said, ‘Save half,'” Woodland said.
Was it worth? Money is certainly a bit tight now, Woodland said, but quitting is still worth it.
“I knew I was paid too little.’
For some, quitting smoking has led to new financial freedom. Last summer, Maeve Connor, 35, quit her job as a marketing manager at a budget truck and gas station. “I knew I was getting paid very little,” said Connor, who lives in Portland, Oregon. She also couldn’t shake the feeling that she wanted a more meaningful job, so she started applying for jobs.
Soon, Connor landed a job as a communications specialist at Central City Concern, a local homelessness nonprofit, where she now makes $63,000 a year. “It has had a huge impact on my quality of life,” she said. “I buy fancier groceries now. I have big savings. I’m trying to figure out if it’s ever possible to buy a house, and that wasn’t a question I was asking before.”
I’ve also been able to pay for driving lessons (“I couldn’t afford it on my previous salary, and it turns out I’m really bad at driving and need a lot of lessons.”), an engagement ring for her wife, and a trip to New Orleans. “I didn’t stress about the money at all while we were there,” she said.
Was it worth? Connor is satisfied with her transformation, especially given that inflation has driven up prices and her monthly rent has increased by nearly $100 this month. “If I’m still at my last job, I don’t know how I’m going to deal with this stuff,” Connor said.
‘We haven’t quite wrapped our heads around it yet’
Rachel Sobel, 53, quit her job as communications director for the health insurance company in February.
She had started her job during the pandemic, so she was feeling isolated at work, and after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, she knew she had to leave. “I don’t have a lot of good hours in the day,” she said, “and I felt like giving them all to work.”
Sobel, who lives in Chicago, was able to join her husband’s health plan, which made quitting her job possible. She said her husband’s salary is just enough to cover living expenses, but things like vacations, home improvements or sudden expenses aren’t possible at the moment.
“There was a bit of regret and panic” at first, Sobel said. She’s still not quite sure how the finances will go. “We haven’t wrapped our heads around everything yet.”
Now, she works as a freelance journalist, editing, writing, and consulting, making up for some, but not all, of her old salary. Even the necessary expenses have been postponed.
“We live in a 100-year-old house,” she said. “There’s always something that needs to be done, and we’ve had a timeline of things that need to be fixed, but now we need to reevaluate that.” Part of her basement ceiling is starting to collapse, but she doesn’t have the money to fix it at the moment, which was a source of frustration.
Home issues that might have been simple repairs before are now a headache. “My car is getting old, and if it needs a $1,000 repair, I’ll probably just sell it and not own a car,” she said.
Perhaps most difficult is the fact that her daughter is a graduate student living out of state, and her visits are no longer affordable. “Whereas before I could easily justify a weekend trip, now it would be a financial hit,” Sobel said. She’s launching a creative group with some colleagues, and hopes to increase her income to half of what she was earning full time, at a minimum.
Was it worth? Despite all the new challenges, quitting smoking was worth it for Sobel. She said she felt like a more cohesive person.
“I exercise again, I cook more, I work in my garden, I walk more time with my dog,” she said. “I feel better both physically and mentally.”
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